ANNAPOLIS – In an effort to boost the voice of rural Marylanders, lawmakers from the state’s non-urban areas want to give the Forum for Rural Maryland a place in state law.
Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer created the forum with Bush administration money for rural development. But Schaefer’s act was only an executive order, and could be rescinded without the Legislature’s consent.
A bill sponsored by the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and Southern Maryland delegations would replace Schaefer’s panel with one specified by statute.
In the process, legislators would change the panel’s name, using the Roman word “forvm” to distinguish it from similar groups.
Del. Kenneth Schisler, R-Talbot and chairman of the Eastern Shore delegation, said rural areas statewide face similar problems. The forum allows them to communicate with each other and with state officials about their common interests, he said.
Tyras Athey, who was secretary of state under Schaefer, testified in favor of the bill. He said “rural communities are slowly fading away, and some don’t know how to handle problems. We need an agency to do that.”
The new forum’s formal membership would consist of the governor, legislators from the three rural regions, representatives from federal agencies that serve rural interests and from rural private sector organizations. But it would be open to any Maryland citizen with an interest in rural development.
The bill establishes the forum as an independent unit of state government in the executive branch, receiving state funds and resources through either the Department of Economic and Employment Development or the Department of Housing and Community Developent.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s proposed 1996 budget for the forum includes $121,126 in federal funds and $9,700 in state funds. State funding would increase to $30,500 by the year 2000, reflecting greater staff support and operating costs. -30-