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Truancy bill would sentence parents to school; Council moves to limit privatizing of services, slaps tax on cigars


Parents of a chronically truant pupil could be forced to do community service at their child's school.

The City Council introduced an amendment to the municipal truancy law last night that would allow a judge to sentence parents to community service at the school for no more than 60 days.

"This is an effort to get parents involved in the school system," said the bill's sponsor, West Baltimore Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.

On Wednesday, the council will conduct a 5 p.m. hearing with Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and school system Chief Executive Officer Robert Booker on attendance in the schools and the effectiveness of truancy programs.

In recent truancy cases in Baltimore, pupils have missed as many as 100 days of school in a year.

About 22,000 city pupils failed to show up for the first day of school this year, despite a citywide campaign to increase first-day attendance, the school system said.

Under city law, parents can be fined $50 for each truant offense of a child. Subsequent convictions could reach as high as $300. Mitchell said the bill would give parents who cannot afford to pay the fines an alternative penalty.

"We live in a city where parents may not be able to pay a fine," Mitchell said.

In other action, the council introduced a bill that would make it more difficult for the city to hire private companies to perform municipal services.

Two weeks ago, the Board of Estimates approved hiring consultants to study whether private companies could handle such municipal functions as trash collection and management of the city's car fleet.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III expressed concern about the city's move into privatization.

Under the bill introduced by Bell, the city would be able to hire a private company only if the savings would be at least 20 percent for any service contract costing less than $1 million and $200,000 for services over $1 million.

"One of the criteria before we go out to privatize is that it's going to cost less," Bell said.

The bill would require the city to study the wages and benefits a company would pay. In the past, Bell said, private companies have won municipal contracts by paying their workers less.

The city became the second jurisdiction in the state to tax cigars yesterday, joining Montgomery County.

Under the measure approved yesterday, wholesale cigar sellers will pay 6 cents per cigar sold in the city. The wholesale tax will be 36 cents per package on pipe and smokeless tobacco.

A bill that would have taxed cigar sales in individual shops was rescinded after complaints from tobacco shop owners that the law would put them at a business disadvantage with surrounding counties.

Supporters of the cigar tax are hoping it will send a message to the General Assembly, which is expected to consider a $1 per-pack tax increase on cigarettes.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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