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Legislators plan for '99 session; Police training center, Agricultural Center expansion top list


Carroll County lawmakers will go to Annapolis this month with a full agenda, seeking to keep plans for a state police training center on track, toughen criminal laws and resolve the dispute over a $300,000 expansion of the Carroll County Agricultural Center.

This session, they don't want to return disappointed.

At the end of the 1998 session, members of the Carroll delegation complained that the needs of their fast-growing county were largely ignored. Though the county benefited from extra school-construction funding and an accelerated statewide income tax cut, the delegation found that mid-size and relatively well-off Carroll was overlooked in the rush to help larger or poorer counties.

"We got clobbered pretty bad last session," said Del. Joseph M. Getty. "We got minuscule additional funding."

Getty referred to a $250 million bill that sends money to counties based on the number of at-risk students in their schools. Carroll, with one of the lowest percentages of people on public assistance in the state, lost out, lawmakers said.

This year, Getty said, he hopes an organized and focused delegation will make the difference.

The delegation's powers will be tested when it fights for a $53 million police training center, the first of its kind in Maryland, at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

The state is considering whether to scale back the project. Budget deliberations will determine what happens to the Public Safety Training Center, where a $10 million driver-training course for police opened in September.

First phase at Springfield

The driver-training course was the first phase. A $5 million firing range is under construction, set for completion in August. The final phase calls for turning vacant hospital buildings into classrooms, offices and dormitories that could serve as many as 700 officers a day.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced in July that a police crime lab would be expanded in Pikesville instead of the expected move to Springfield.

The county delegation also plans to reintroduce legislation for a $300,000 exhibition center and arena at the Carroll County Agricultural Center in Westminster.

The bill to help fund the project had been introduced by Del. Ellen Willis Miller, the sole Democrat in the delegation last session, who withdrew it after residents of neighboring Winchester Park protested the project.

The entire delegation then resubmitted the bill -- which is the usual practice -- but it never got out of the House Appropriations Committee. County Republicans accused Miller of persuading the Democratic leadership to kill the bill.

This session, the now all-Republican delegation -- Miller lost her bid for a second term in the November elections -- vows to get the bill passed.

"I think we have an opportunity to make sure the money comes here," said Del.-elect Carmen Amedori, who takes Miller's seat. "It's something we have to fight for. We should fight for it tooth and nail."

Tougher sentences

Several members of the delegation also want to see tougher punishment for criminals.

After passing a bill that increased the maximum sentence for kidnapping and molesting a child to life in prison without parole, Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, who serves on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he plans to seek tougher penalties for other crimes.

"I want to continue that trend of stiffening penalties for rape and domestic violence," he said.

He also plans to push a bill that would add a gender clause to the state's hate-crime law. Under state law, a hate crime can be based on color and creed but not on gender.

Amedori said she will push for a bill that would establish criteria for judges when determining parental custody in divorce cases. Amedori and Getty have proposed legislation that would require law enforcement officials to notify school superintendents when a student is charged with drug distribution.

The bill had support in the 1998 session, Getty said, but it never left the Judiciary Committee. In this session, Getty and Amedori will serve on the committee and can give the bill a boost.

Anti-abortion bill

State Sen. Larry E. Haines plans to reintroduce legislation from last year, including an anti-abortion bill that was rejected in the Senate when a handful of swing legislators decided the measure was too broad.

Haines' legislation would make it a crime to perform a late-term procedure that critics call "partial-birth abortion."

During the procedure, a fetus is partially delivered, then the skull is collapsed to allow it to be removed. Those who defend the late-term procedure say doctors use it primarily when a fetus is so large that other methods of abortion are not suitable or pose a risk to the mother.

Haines also plans to introduce a bill that would give tax credits to parents whose children are enrolled in private schools and another that would reduce capital gains taxes.

Del. Donald B. Elliott, whose district includes portions of Frederick County, plans on overhauling the state's transportation trust fund, which pays for highways, the Port Authority, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and commuter rail. Forty percent of funds go to community rail, Elliott said, taking money away from road projects.

"We have a lot of projects in Carroll County," Elliott said. "These are important infrastructure highway projects that deserve attention, but money is being drained off by commuter rail."

Money is also needed for the Hampstead bypass and a planned Westminster bypass.

No tax for family farms

One of the delegation's most ambitious pieces of legislation will come from Ferguson, who plans to propose a bill to eliminate state income taxes for family farmers.

"Family farms are going by the wayside. It's a drastic move, but it's something worthy of debate, and we won't have it until someone puts a bill in," he said. "Family farmers are wasting away, and this may be the only way to stop everything from becoming corporate farms."

Getty is optimistic about the session, but he doesn't expect Carroll to receive a windfall.

He said smaller counties do not wield the power of jurisdictions like Baltimore, especially when competing for capital projects funds.

"There's a built-in bias that Baltimore gets half the bond bill money," said Getty. "That's something that the Carroll County delegation is not on its own able to correct. But we can chip away at the biases."

Pub Date: 1/03/99

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