Cumberland Times-News

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February 23, 2013

Bills with local impact continue legislative journey

Sheriff seeking amendment to panhandling bill passed last year

CUMBERLAND — From an effort to ban hydraulic fracturing to legislation that would amend panhandling legislation, bills that could affect daily life and the economy of Allegany and Garrett counties continue to move through the Maryland General Assembly.

Among them is the Maryland Hydraulic Fracturing Moratorium and Right to Know Act of 2013. The Allegany County Chamber of Commerce has taken a stand on some of the proposed legislation.

“The Allegany County Chamber of Commerce urges the ... legislature to allow the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Invitiate Advisory Commission to complete its work ... before proceeding with applicable legislation,” the Feb. 21 letter read.

Some members of the commission have said they want the industry to fund studies and are seeking extensive reviews before any drilling occurs. Others, such as Sen. George Edwards, have maintained extensive scientific evidence is already available, gathered from states where drilling has occurred.

The funding would be used for stream sampling, economic analysis and a review of the potential impacts of gas extraction on public health, said Delegate Wendell Beitzel.

Beitzel is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which is the first committee in the General Assembly to study and approve the governor’s budget, Beitzel said.

Marcellus Shale formations throughout the eastern U.S. harbor large untapped natural gas resources.

In order to get the gas trapped in the shale to the surface, chemicals, water and sand are pumped underground to break apart rock formations and free the gas. The process is called hydraulic fracturing.

The lack of studies of hydraulic fracturing — also known as “fracking” — is one of the issues those supporting a legislative moratorium on drilling have raised as a reason to halt permitting of drilling in Maryland.

The state moratorium bill, to be introduced by Delegate Heather Mizeur in the House of Delegates and others in the Senate, would prevent fracking from occurring in Maryland until the state completes a series of 14 studies laid out in O’Malley’s executive order on gas drilling, which also established the advisory commission.

Another bill would amend a panhandling law passed last year at the request of Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson.

While the law has discouraged panhandlers and allowed officers to crack down on the practice, it has interfered with boot drives by fire companies and other charitable events, Robertson said.

“I’d like an amendment which would allow an organization to apply for a permit for three or five consecutive days,” he said.

The current law authorizes only a one-day permit allowing activities that could be considered banned panhandling activities under the law. Robertson said he’d like a three-day pass.

In 2011, Robertson asked legislators for help in combating panhandlers in the county.

The delegation introduced and successfully shepherded the bill through the General Assembly in the 2012 session. It was then signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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