Officials divided over bills filed late


Howard County's legislators are bickering over a decision to kill four local bills submitted after an October deadline by Del. Gail H. Bates, while scheduling a Jan. 26 hearing in Ellicott City for six others.

A dozen other measures -- including County Executive James N. Robey's proposal to create a revenue authority -- were the subject of a public hearing in Ellicott City a month ago. But 10 more bills that were submitted late were not reviewed at that session.

"We followed the democratic process and had a vote. She didn't have the vote for her bills. I followed the exact same procedure we follow in the House [of Delegates] as a whole," said Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Democrat who chairs the county's House delegation this year.

But Bates, a Republican, accused Quinter of a "blatant abuse of power" and is complaining about what she called partisan politics. Two late bills sponsored by Del. Warren E. Miller, another Republican, will be heard.

"We've never done it this way before. I really have no idea why it's being done this way," Bates said.

Two other Democrats, Dels. Shane E. Pendergrass and Frank S. Turner, who was delegation chairman last year, said they opposed hearing any of the late bills.

"I voted 'no' for all of the bills," Turner said. "None of those bills that I looked at are bills that could not be done next year. People have got to start filing the bills on time."

Pendergrass agreed.

"If you're going to have a deadline, its going to have to mean something," Pendergrass said, adding that sponsors had months to submit their ideas.

Meanwhile, the county's three state senators want a hearing on all 10 late bills, according to their chairman, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat, further confusing the situation.

"Everybody's entitled to have their bill heard," said state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Republican.

The senators can have their own hearing if they want, Quinter said, "but it would be a hearing on a dead issue." Local bills must be approved by the county's delegates and senators, voting separately.

Bates' proposals include bills that would exempt the county from the state's all-day kindergarten requirement; to force the Robey administration to roll back some of last year's controversial income tax increase; and to give those over age 60 a 50 percent break on property taxes -- a bill that failed last year. Another measure asks for $500,000 in state funding for a garage in Ellicott City.

Days before Quinter announced a decision on which late bills would be heard Jan. 26, he criticized Bates' motives for her bills.

"Obviously, she's trying to make political points. It's a fairly hopeless package of bills," Quinter said.

The late bills that will be heard include Miller's proposals to authorize the school board to investigate problems on the school superintendent's staff; and to strengthen county ethics rules to conform with state laws.

When a grade-changing controversy erupted under former school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke, Miller noted, "the superintendent had to hire an investigator. The board couldn't get rid of the conflict."

As for ethics, Miller said that if state officials can't accept free event tickets from companies like Comcast, for example, county officials should not be able to take them either. "It's more a question of consistency," he said.

Quinter and Schrader are co-sponsoring another bill to require notifying county health officials when any health clinic serving more than 16 patients opens in the county. This is aimed at private methadone clinics.

Another Quinter measure would authorize school board negotiations with the teachers union for an agency shop fee -- a fee paid by nonmembers for services the union provides.

The final two measures would allow more luxury restaurant liquor licenses in the county to help corporate-owned chain restaurants expand, and to extend police bill-of-rights protection to county deputy sheriffs.

The annual 90-day General Assembly session is to begin Jan. 12.

In addition to the revenue authority bill, those heard by the delegation Nov. 30 included measures to allow the school board to charge community groups for using school fields, to increase the marriage license fee from $35 to $50 to benefit domestic violence programs, to ban leghold animal traps, to require General Growth Properties Inc. to pay more property taxes on undeveloped land, and to close a transfer tax loophole.

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