Delegates accept some bills, put off controversies


The Howard County legislative delegation approved last night a handful of bills for presentation to the General Assembly, but saved more controversial ones for another day.

It was a meeting more notable for what didn't happen than what did.

One of the bills passed by the delegation would establish a one-day, one-trial jury selection system. Another exempted the county from the July 1 expiration date for dog licenses.

A third authorized spending up to $70,000 to help restore historic Carroll Baldwin Hall.

But bills that have generated the most controversy in recent months received little comment last night. They included a financial disclosure bill and another that would permit an increase in marriage fees to help fund domestic violence programs.

In some cases, legislators postponed votes because they did not have enough support among the seven members present.

Del. Martin G. Madden, R-13B, postponed discussion of his ethics bill because one of its key supporters, Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-4B, was out with the flu.

"I didn't have the votes," Mr. Madden said later. "I need Don Elliott."

Mr. Madden's ethics bill would require anyone with a 5 percent interest in a rezoning request to submit an affidavit disclosing contributions of more than $500 to a Howard County official over a four-year period. Del. Virginia Thomas, D-13A, has opposed the bill, saying that it doesn't go far enough.

Legislators also postponed votes last night because they still had questions about certain bills. On a proposal that would allow an increase in the divorce filing fee of up to $30, to benefit battered spouses and children, Ms. Thomas said she was unsure who has authority over the fees and wanted the matter researched.

Ms. Thomas had originally drafted a bill permitting up to a $10 increase in marriage filing fees for the same purpose.

Mr. Madden, however, had opposed it, saying he saw no connection between marriage and domestic violence.

Mr. Madden proposed using the divorce filing fees instead.

He estimated that the divorce fee increase would raise $23,910, substantially more than the $15,620 that he said Ms. Thomas' plan would raise.

"If you want to raise more money, I have no problem," Ms. Thomas said.

The one-day, one-trial bill met with wide support. Currently potential jurors must show up at the courthouse for eight days over a four-week period to see if they are chosen for a jury trial. Under Mr. Madden's plan, a juror would be required to hear only one trial or wait one day for selection during a four-week term of jury duty.

"I think it is an excellent proposal," said Del. Robert Flanagan, R-14B. "I think it's going to help people."

The delegates killed by a vote of 5 to 2 a bill that would have set up a separate liquor license board in the county. The members of the county council currently serve as the liquor board.

"The current system is working rather well and I think we should keep it that way," said Sen. Thomas Yeager, D-13.

The delegation scheduled another voting session for Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 8 a.m. at the Lowe state office building in Annapolis.

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