In reversal, Del. Bates' bills will get a hearing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Howard County residents who want lower taxes or don't want all-day kindergarten will have a chance to testify about it to their state legislators - but only if they spend an evening in Annapolis.

Del. Neil F. Quinter, the Howard delegation chairman, said four local General Assembly bills he declared dead last month have been revived. But the location of a 7:30 p.m. public hearing Jan. 26 has been switched from Ellicott City to a hearing room in the legislative services building in Annapolis.

The four measures, all sponsored by Republican Del. Gail H. Bates, were among eight local bills filed after an Oct. 18 deadline.

Bates' bills would exempt the county from state-required all-day kindergarten, roll back the county income tax from 3.2 percent to 3 percent, give homeowners ages 60 and older a 50 percent break on their property taxes, and request $500,000 in state money to help build a multilevel parking garage in historic Ellicott City.

But Quinter last month declared Bates' four bills dead after a tie vote among the county's eight delegates on which of the late bills to consider.

He reversed himself this week after talking to other members of the delegation, who urged allowing hearings on all local bills.

Bates was pleased by the change of heart. "All along I believed we should hear all or none," she said. "I feel we have to be fair to everybody."

Quinter, a Democrat, had called Bates' measures "a fairly hopeless package of bills" that are politically motivated. They stand little chance of passage in the House delegation, which is composed of six Democrats and two Republicans. Local legislation must be approved separately by the delegates and the county's three state senators, two of whom are Republican.

The site of the public hearing was moved, Quinter said, at the request of Edward J. Kasemeyer, Senate delegation chairman. The annual 90-day General Assembly session began yesterday, making it harder for legislators to leave Annapolis.

"With people's schedules and obligations, it's the most practical way" to ensure good attendance, said Kasemeyer, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate budget and tax committee's capital budget subcommittee. The delegation has scheduled another public hearing Feb. 10 in Ellicott City to hear from constituents on statewide issues.

Moving the Jan. 26 hearing to Annapolis troubled at least one person eager to testify in favor of one of Bates' four measures - the proposed property-tax break for older homeowners.

"If they have it down in Annapolis ... I don't think that's fair to poor seniors who don't like to drive at night anyway," said Donald Dunn, 76.

Seniors need a property-tax break to let them keep their homes because of reduced incomes after retirement, he said.

The same bill was killed by the delegation last year.

Twenty local bills have been filed, and the delegation held a hearing Nov. 30 on the first dozen. The legislators are to meet Wednesday morning in Annapolis to begin voting on those.

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