Delegation hostile toward fees for use of school fields

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Howard County legislators virtually killed a bill yesterday that would allow the school board to charge fees for using outdoor fields as a way to improve their condition and approved a bill to ban leghold animal traps in the county.

"It's dead for this year," Del. Neil F. Quinter, the House delegation chairman, said about the school board bill after a morning discussion and voting session in Annapolis. The 11-member delegation delayed a vote on the measure, but several legislators said they want to kill the bill, and others expressed grave doubts.

School officials have said sports leagues complain about the condition of free school fields compared with those in county parks that teams pay fees to use. But the board is unwilling to divert classroom money for fields, and current law does not allow it to charge fees.

Chuck Parvis, the school official who schedules use of school facilities, said the board would use a public process to decide what fees to charge, and said the money would be spent on all school fields, not just those in wealthy areas.

Despite that, the bill got a hostile reception yesterday.

"I'm ready to kill it," Del. Shane E. Pendergrass said about the school board bill. She, like Del. Elizabeth Bobo, worried aloud about objections from the Savage Boys & Girls Club that some recreational leagues may not be able to afford the fees, which some western county groups want as a way to pay for better field maintenance.

"We're not giving up on it yet," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman.

"There has to be some answer on providing better field maintenance without impacting the school budget," she said.

The leghold-trap bill was approved with only three opponents - all western county Republicans who defended the traps as a way for farmers and rural residents to protect their livestock against predators or rabid animals. The key vote came from state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a eastern county Republican who voted in favor of the ban along with Columbia Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat.

Each local bill must be separately approved by the eight delegates and three senators. Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller opposed the bill along with state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman.

"We've had a lot of constituent e-mails about it. I understand what my constituents are telling me. I voted to represent them," Schrader said.

Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, said her group is happy with the leghold-trap bill, which, if approved by the full General Assembly, would end the use of what her group believes are inhumane traps.

"It's a great way to start the new year," she said, adding that fences and more benign traps that don't hurt animals are alternatives. Bills affecting one county are generally left to local legislators to decide, though every bill must be approved by the full legislature to become law.

Cody Kittleman, a West Friendship farmer and Senator Kittleman's brother, said banning the traps "is silly, but there's not much we can do about it."

In the future, farmers won't be able to trap and remove wild animals, he predicted.

"I guess we'll have to call the Department of Natural Resources and use tax money to have them removed," he said.

The County Council approved a leghold-trap ban in July, but it was ruled legally unenforceable because state law allows the traps. If the state law is changed, Howard would join Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in banning the devices.

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