A Howard County Council bill approved last month banning leg-hold animal traps is unenforceable because it conflicts with state law, county lawyers have concluded.
Based on a six-page legal opinion signed by County Solicitor Barbara M. Cook and Senior Assistant Solicitor Ruth Fahrmeier, County Executive James N. Robey said he would tell police Chief Wayne Livesay not to enforce the ban the council approved as part of a larger reform of animal-control laws.
"We don't have any authority to enforce it," Robey said.
The opinion leaves the county in the odd position of having a newly enacted law that has no effect, but Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Democrat and chairman of the county's House delegation, said he likely would introduce a bill in January to exempt Howard County from state law on this issue.
The legal opinion changed no one's mind on the issue of traps. Defenders of traps say they are a humane, effective way of catching elusive critters such as fox, beaver or nutria without hurting them - or local pets caught by accident. Animal rights groups call the traps inhumane and torture for animals caught in their metal jaws.
Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, said her group will support legislative action to enable Howard County's ban to take effect.
"It's unfortunate that state law is stifling the will of the people on the issue of animal cruelty," she said.
But state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, who with his son, Cody, farms in West Friendship, said he would try to block any such effort.
"People have no understanding at all of nature and the real world," the Republican senator said of the anti-trap forces.
Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he is unrepentant for refusing to remove the local ban that the council was advised was likely unenforceable before the council's vote.
The council's three Democrats defeated a Republican amendment to remove the county ban from the larger animal-control bill, but all five members then voted to approve the overall bill, which makes it easier to remove dangerous animals and raises fines for neglect or abuse.
"If nothing else, it sends a message to the state legislature. It will show the state delegation the council's desire," Guzzone said.