Council delays today's hearings after court ruling


The County Council has postponed public hearings scheduled for tonight after an appeals court decision issued last week pointed out that the county was routinely holding votes on bills a day too early.

The county won its legal battle against the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, which was trying to void a 1989 law that enhanced pensions for dozens of county officials. But the Court of Appeals decision noted that the council may not enact legislation earlier than 14 days after a bill's introduction.

In the lawsuit, taxpayer association President Robert C. Schaeffer argued that there should be 14 days' notice before a hearing. The appeals court denied the appeal, ruling that the three-year statute of limitations had expired.

Atwood B. Tate, attorney for the County Council, said the opinion makes two points. First, the state constitution says that the county must advertise a proposed bill "once a week for two consecutive weeks prior to enactment." The advertisement in the second week may not fall on the day of the bill's public hearing, Mr. Tate said.

Second, the 14-day period begins the day after a bill is introduced, and the hearing day may not be counted as one of the 14 days. So a bill introduced on the first day of the month tmay not be voted on until the 16th day of the month, Mr. Tate said.

The County Council's legislative days, the only time it may vote on bills, fall on the first and third Mondays of each month. So the practical effect of the opinion is that a bill may not be voted on at the council meeting that follows its introduction, but will have to wait until the next meeting a month later.

The only exception is May's budget session, in which every business day is a legislative day.

As a result, the 10 resolutions that were scheduled for tonight's meeting will be moved to Monday night.

The two bills that were scheduled for a public hearing tonight -- one that would impose a tax when the county sells economic development bonds and one that would charge detention center inmates $4 when they ask to see a doctor -- have been rescheduled for the council's May 1 meeting.

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