Assembly session was mixed bag for county delegation

The Baltimore Sun

This was a strange year in Annapolis for Howard County's legislators and their bills.

Republican Del. Warren E. Miller, one of three GOP members in the county's 11-member delegation, had the most success with the passage of three delegation bills and one statewide measure. Meanwhile, county members of the legislature's Democratic majority saw their prime legislation fail.

"I'm basking in the glow of legislation. I think the advantage I had this year is I tried to bring those three bills to solve very real problems. It's hard for anyone to oppose trying to help those residents," he said, referring to residents of Cattail Creek townhouses in Glenwood whose shared septic system has never worked.

Two of Miller's bills are intended to protect homeowners using shared septic systems, and the third will make it mandatory that test results for water wells at rural schools are posted on the school system's Web site. In addition, he was chief sponsor of a successful statewide bill allowing residents to research state spending online.

Miller was on the losing side of the argument over speed cameras in the county delegation, which approved a local version of the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. James N. Robey. That measure was allowed to die in favor of a statewide bill supported by Gov. Martin O'Malley that was expected to pass easily. Instead, it died in the frantic final minutes of the 90-day session. Robey said he'll try again next year.

The other big issue for county legislators -- heavily supported by a well-organized citizens group called People Acting Together in Howard -- was a bill giving residents in Howard County mobile home parks the first shot at buying the land under their homes if the owner decided to sell. The bill was approved unanimously in delegation, but it mysteriously died in a Senate committee, despite a tradition of routine approvals for "local" bills supported by that county's legislators.

Paige Getty, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia and a PATH member, said her group was "profoundly disappointed" the bill failed.

"Our sense is that moneyed interests trumped the needs of these residents," she said.

"The story on the mobile home bill is the least clear," said House delegation chairman Del. Elizabeth Bobo.

The Democrat also saw two statewide bills she introduced defeated -- one to help people facing foreclosure and another to allow more residents to appeal local land-use decisions.

But for some county legislators, more was at stake than local bills.

"I spent a lot of my time this year repealing the tech tax and getting electronic video lottery machines outlawed in the state," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat who serves on the Ways and Means Committee.

Del. Guy Guzzone, another Democrat, said he takes comfort in helping to get a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for the operations of nonprofit human services groups -- double what O'Malley first requested.

"This was a huge victory," Guzzone said, because in most years, those groups received no increase, despite rising costs and demand for their services. He also pointed to expansion of state health insurance to more Marylanders, money for a fund to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the $2 billion deal to benefit Baltimore Gas and Electric customers.

Bobo said she valued new protections enacted for homeowners facing foreclosure and for environmental initiatives.

Republicans had a very different view.

"It was a session of discontent," said Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, referring to issues -- such as the tax on computer services and the rate deal with Constellation Energy -- left from the November special session.

"All of us came in January very frustrated by the special session, trying to fix problems we created back then," Kittleman said.

He added that "it was not much of a fruitful session" and was bad for businesses.

Democrats cited cuts to the state budget of about $500 million, while Republicans emphasized $300 million worth of new programs, plus higher spending for existing programs.

Some are just relieved that the frantic pace has ended.

State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer retired from his full-time state job in August, only to be caught up in the special session and then regular session frenzy as Senate Democratic leader.

"Whew," he said. "I haven't had any time off yet."

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