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Senate considering "weakened" version of O'Malley's septics bill

Gov. Martin O'Malley's attempt to limit sprawl would be vastly weakened under an amendment offered on the Senate floor this morning by Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton.

The changes would leave more control of zoning in local hands, allowing them to have the final say as to whether vast portions of farmlands and forests are eligible for large developments.

"I think it seriously weakens the effort" to control development, said Sen. Paul Pinsky, the floor leader for the bill.

O'Malley's legislation is intended to curb growth in rural areas by limiting where septic systems could be installed. Counties would be told to divvy up their land into four tiers: The first and second would allow development and be on sewer systems or be in areas where sewers are planned. The third tier would allow some development in rural areas and the fourth tier would be mostly off-limits for building.

Under O'Malley's initial plan, the state would have the final say over how the land is categorized. But, under an amendment Middleton is offering with the governor's blessing, the counties would have the final say.

It is unclear that the Senate had the votes to pass the governor's plan in its initial form -- and several senators have said they've received calls from O'Malley asking them to support Middleton's change. Some believe that the House may pass a stronger bill, giving lawmakers another opportunity to re-write the bill in conference committee.

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