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Leopold's modest legislative proposal

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold is seeking state aid to defray the cost of environmental and food testing as part of a modest legislative agenda he has laid out at the State House.

Among the most noteworthy initiatives, Leopold is seeking a $100,000 reimbursement to cover the county's testing of at least 83 wells in West County in connection with fly-ash contamination of well water.

Leopold is also seeking permission to charge an impact fee on power plants, to administer polygraph tests to correctional officers and to boost matching stipends for teachers with advanced degrees.

The wish list is noticeably less bold than the one he announced his first year in office, when the Pasadena Republican pushed to ban panhandling on county roads, crack down on environmental violators and reform the school board election process, issues close to his heart during his 20 years in the House of Delegates.

This time around, Leopold said, he is taking a "prudent" approach, given the state's bleak financial picture.

"My main job is to protect the county from further cuts from the state," Leopold said.

Many of his priorities for this year would enable the county to generate more revenue from private businesses.

One would allow the county to claim part of the $1 million fine imposed on BBSS Inc. and Constellation Energy for their improper dumping of fly ash in Gambrills. The county spent $100,000 on its eight-month investigation, which found that the coal byproduct was contaminating underground aquifers. Under current law, only the Maryland Department of the Environment can receive revenue from the fine.

Leopold also wants the authority to charge more money for inspecting restaurants, collecting water samples, and for other services the county performs at the state's behest. The county loses money on these services, Leopold and others say.

"If we don't want our normal tax dollars to subsidize health inspections, we should support the bill," said County Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican.

The only bill that seeks direct funding from the state is a provision for the county's science, technology, engineering and math initiative.

Leopold wants the state to provide $500 bonuses for teachers to go along with the $1,500 in incentives they would receive from the county. The goal, Leopold says, is to boost the number of teachers who teach disciplines vital to building the future work force of engineers, mathematicians and scientists that serve Fort Meade.

"It's not only bricks-and-mortar infrastructure, but also human infrastructure," he said.

Other bills on the agenda seek minor expansions to county powers, such as allowing deputy fire marshals to conduct fire inspections, and to allow detention facilities to give polygraph tests to some new hires. A delegation vote was scheduled Friday on the last bill.

Del. Mary Ann Love, who leads the county's House delegation, described most of the agenda as "cleanup" of existing legislation, and she predicted no major obstacles to passing it. The Glen Burnie Democrat said Leopold is working closely with the delegation and amending his proposals.

Once the agenda goes through, many of the bills will need approval from the County Council, with which Leopold has been experiencing tension. Reilly said he and the other council members were not consulted on Leopold's priorities, and look forward to having their say if they pass through the General Assembly.

"He's not been overly engaging of the County Council. He's not asked for our testimony or support at the state level," Reilly said.

But Reilly agreed on the need to raise revenues amid $550 million in cuts in state funding and the slumping economy. He said Leopold's "style" will not affect the council's judgment.

A story in Sunday's Anne Arundel section on County Executive John R. Leopold's legislative agenda contained several errors. The county seeks to tap into the state's Environmental Trust Fund to research the environmental impact of local power plants. Also, the county wants to pass the cost of food inspections onto restaurants rather than seek state aid, and it wants to administer polygraph tests to those applying to become correctional officers.Also, a Maryland consent decree, not current law, states that only the Maryland Department of the Environment can receive revenue from a $1 million fine imposed on a fly-ash dump in Gambrills.The Sun regrets the errors.
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