- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The fading industry of clam dredging in the Atlantic coastal bays of Maryland came a step closer to being shut down after the Senate voted yesterday to ban the practice.

After two days of debate, the Senate voted 29-18 to ban power dredging in the shallow bays between Ocean City and the mainland, joining Delaware and Virginia in banning the practice in the coastal bays. The vote was an about-face from an earlier Senate decision to reject a similar bill. The House has already approved a ban.

The bill does not affect mechanical dredging in the Chesapeake Bay.

Senators were persuaded by arguments that dredging in parts of the coastal bays could hurt underwater grasses or fish. The ban has long been pushed by recreational fishermen.

The debate centered on whether the ban would bankrupt clammers, whose numbers vary but are thought to be less than 10. Sen. Roy P. Dyson, St. Mary’s Democrat, said the economic misfortunes of a few clammers shouldn’t outweigh environmental considerations.

“The Atlantic coastal bays do not belong to three individuals,” Mr. Dyson said. “They belong to all of us.”

Though the bill would still allow the catching of oysters and clams with hand tongs, watermen and opponents said that was as unworkable as requiring farmers to return to horse-drawn plows.

“We’re putting them out of business by virtue of our actions,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Western Maryland Republican. “Period. End of story.”

The economic debate led to a proposal for state authorities to reimburse clammers for some lost income and the cost of the dredging equipment.

“Show these people a tad of compassion for what we’re doing here today,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Queen Anne’s Republican.

That amendment was rejected amid concerns a reimbursement clause could be added to many bills in the legislature. However, sponsors accepted a proposal by Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican, to delay the ban until next year.

Reached by cell phone on his dredging boat near Ocean City, clammer Norman Schuyler said the one-year delay helps him enormously.

“I’m going to tell you, hon, we were in trouble, big trouble,” he said. “We were going to lose homes and everything.”

The delay, which still must be approved by the House, could give clammers time to push for another reprieve, Mr. Schuyler said.

“They’ve so overstated what’s going on down here to get us out,” he said.

However, a sporting group that pushed for dredging ban applauded its passage.

“It definitely will improve the habitat and the environment down in those coastal bays,” said Richard Novotny, head of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association.

In other legislative action:

A bill providing public financing for state legislative campaigns is on hold in the state Senate until Friday.

The debate was postponed Monday at the request of Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s Democrat, who said he wants to study the possible fiscal impact of the bill.

Under the legislation, candidates who raise $6,750 in seed money would qualify for up to $50,000 for a Senate race or $40,000 for a House campaign.

Supporters of the bill say the postponement hurts chances for passage of the bill this year. The legislative session ends Monday.

Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday voted in favor of a bill that would automatically expunge police records of people who are arrested but never charged.

The bill was designed to lift barriers to employment that police records can create.

It passed on a unanimous vote, and the House already passed it on a 130-9 vote.

The measure requires law enforcement to expunge each police record relating to an arrest that doesn’t result in charges within 60 days after a person’s release.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore Democrat, said police practices of keeping records after a person’s release without charges is a big problem in her district. She said it hinders a person’s ability to get a job, a loan or a mortgage.

About 21,000 people were arrested and released without charges in Maryland in 2006.

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