ROCKVILLE – The General Assembly passed a series of funding measures with direct benefits to the city this session, though state legislators did not fulfill all of the City Council’s priorities.
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-17) and state Dels. Kumar Barve (D-17) and James Gilchrist (D-17) told council members Monday reported the city did not gain as much money back from the state in highway user revenue as the council members hoped.
Municipalities will receive a $19 million grant in Fiscal Year 2017, which matches current funding. It’s a reduction from Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) recommended level of $20.3 million.
The money includes $1,378,660 for Rockville.
The city is also due to receive $535,696 in base highway user revenues out of $7.4 million dedicated to municipalities.
Barve, who chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee, said House and Senate committee members “were not able to arrive at a reasonable, long-term solution.”
“That’s going to be the top agenda item next year,” he added, later explaining competing priorities from the Maryland Municipal League and Maryland Association of Counties was “really at the crux of ironing out the formula” for funding.
Council member Beryl Feinberg told the state delegation “we all need some predictability there” regarding long-term highway user revenue.
Another one-time rant to the city from the state secured this year sets aside $100,000 for the Rockville Swim and Fitness Center “to update and refurbish the locker rooms and other areas of the Center to be ADA compliant for visitors with disabilities,” according to the city document.
Council member Julie Palakovich Carr said the money “will definitely go to good use” at the center.
Local school construction, another priority of the city council despite the body itself not having control over school funding, received more money from the state.
The General Assembly voted to double the supplemental school construction funding levels for schools with significant enrollment growth from $20 million to $40 million starting in FY ’18.
Several schools in and near Rockville are overcapacity for student enrollment according to County statistics.
“So there ought to be more money for future years,” said Gilchrist.
Rockville won out on two of its other priorities:
Total repayment of Program Open Space funds that “were diverted to the general fund is achieved” by FY ’29. The program is due to receive full cash funding by 2019.
The $1.8 million in funding for Youth Service Bureaus will also be maintained and cannot be used for any other purpose.
While a bill to impose stiffer penalties on parents who allow underage drinking was not a part of the city’s priority list, a bill designed to do so that passed carried a tragic local connection.
Last June, Class of 2015 Wootton High School graduates Calvin Li and Alex Murk both died after riding in a car driven by a 19-year-old drunk driver crashed along Dufief Mill Road in North Potomac.
That death of the two men led state Sen. Brian Feldman (D-15) and state Del. David Fraser-Hidago (D-15) to introduce a bill dubbed Alex and Calvin’s Law.
It passed the state legislature on the last day of the General Assembly with fewer penalties than originally drafted.
The bill instead imposes increased fines on adults who “knew or reasonably should have known” someone under 21 years old “would operate a motor vehicle after consuming the alcoholic beverage and as a result of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or while impaired by alcohol, causes serious physical injury or death to the individual or another.”
Originally, the bill would have imposed a fine of up to a $5,000 fine and/or a year in prison for a first offense and a up to a $7,500 fine and/or two years of prison for an adult who obtains or attempts to obtain an alcoholic beverage for someone who is under 21 years old.
The version of the bill that passed the General Assembly lowered the fine to $2,500 for a first offense and $5,000 for a second of subsequent offense and eliminated the prospect of imprisonment.
Another clause does allow for harsher penalties for adults who “knowingly and willingly” provide alcohol to people under 21 who are not immediate family members inside their own private residence. There is also a religious ceremony exemption.
An adult convicted under that section of the bill would be guilty of a misdemeanor upon conviction, which would carry with it up to a year in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
The bill is due to go into effect Oct. 1, pending Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) signature.
Gilchrist acknowledged the bill “was watered down at the end,” adding he suspects “it’ll come back” in a future session.
“I’ll vote for any bill that’s stronger, but we’re limited to voting for what comes out of committee,” said Barve.
Kagan said concerns about 21- and 22-year-old college students being liable under the original version of the bill are secondary to preventing fatalities tied to underage drinking.
“The bottom line is that the word needs to get out that our teens should not be drinking, our adults should not serve them alcohol, and there needs to be consequences,” said Kagan.
The General Assembly also passed another anti-DUI bill, Noah’s Law, which increases the use of ignition interlocks for drunk drivers.
Carried by state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) and state Del. Ben Kramer (D-15), the bill was named after the late Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta, who died late last year after being struck by a suspected drunken driver.
Kagan also touted a bill she introduced to crack down on drugged driving, which also came as a response to Leotta’s death, as she noted the suspect had also taken drugs the same night before driving his vehicle.
Her bill died in committee both in the House and Senate.
It would have established a pilot program for certain police departments, including the Montgomery County, who have “reasonable grounds to believe that an individual is or has been driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance to request the individual to submit an oral fluid sample” instead of blood testing.
The reason for that is she said the oral swabs produce results within 7-8 minutes instead of waiting potentially months for a result.