GAITHERSBURG – Legislators from the 17th District visited City Hall Monday night to brief Mayor Jud Ashman and the City Council on key issues addressed in the recently concluded legislative session.
Del. Kumar Barve (D), chairman of the Environment and Transportation Committee, discussed the “thorny” issue of stormwater management fees and securing reimbursement from Montgomery County for Gaithersburg and Rockville.
Barve noted that he drafted legislation to negotiate a compromise between the County and municipal governments that passed his committee and the House of Delegates by a wide majority but that it stalled in the Senate because the chairman there was “skittish” about the issue.
“I think I have a way around the problem. I don’t want to say what it is yet, but I think next year will be the charm,” Barve said. “I was very heartened to hear representatives from Montgomery County government tell me that regardless of whether a bill passes next year or not – and I’m very committed to passing a bill – that they felt that the negotiated compromise we were able to get to was a good template.”
“We’re appreciative for all you did to get it as far as you did, and we’re optimistic that your strategy will get it done next year,” Ashman said.
Early last year, Ashman and the Council were incensed to learn that the Hogan administration had scaled back funds for a long-planned interchange at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road and have since aggressively lobbied for funding the construction of the full interchange, arguing that the project is essential to the economic health of Gaithersburg and the entire upcounty region.
At last year’s legislative update, Barve said he had confronted Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn about the funding reduction, echoing the city government’s concerns.
“For the second year in a row, a bill was introduced by Delegate Kirill Reznick to basically force the governor to fund the interchange, and for the second year in a row we felt that discretion was the better part of valor and did not move forward,” Barve said. “We’ve been assured that the governor and the secretary of transportation are committed to the project.”
Barve said he expected the interchange project to get underway next year.
Barve said one of the most important projects his committee was responsible for in this year’s session was passing a ban on fracking in Maryland.
“It passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan margins, it involved the House and the Senate, and I think that’s that an example of what you can do when you spend two years examining the science behind an issue and building a coalition of business people and environmentalists,” Barve said. “You can defeat the oil and gas industry occasionally.”
Del. Jim Gilchrest (D) discussed the legislature’s effort to grant the state’s attorney general powers comparable to those of other state attorneys general to sue the federal government.
“We provided authority this year for the attorney general this year the power to engage in civil and criminal suits based on federal action or inaction,” Gilchrest said. “We laid out a number of specifics. We talked about the health and safety of Marylanders, natural resources and health of residents. It’s something the attorney general hasn’t had but now does.”
Gilchrest said the legislature had limited the use of antibiotics in livestock.
“That’s one of the ways that bacteria are becoming superbugs, so we passed a bill to significantly limit that,” Gilchrest said.
Gilchrest also said that he had worked to pass legislation granting state municipalities more authority over Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission projects, which Gaithersburg’s legislative affairs department identified as a priority last year.
In her remarks, Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D) said that the legislative session had begun and ended with overrides of Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes. In January, the legislature overrode Hogan’s veto of a law requiring 25 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources, and in the final week of the session, it overrode his veto of the Protect Our Schools Act, which prevents the board of education from privatizing low-performing public schools.
Kagan said the legislature had taken “preventative and precautionary measures” in response to the sweeping federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration.
“We were the first state in the country to ensure that if Planned Parenthood loses its funding that we will still provide reproductive health care for women and men,” Kagan said. Kagan also said the legislature was also concerned by the Trump administration’s proposed elimination of funding for cleanup efforts in the Chesapeake Bay.
“We’ve made so much progress on the environment that the idea of backsliding is just irresponsible for our economy, for tourism and for all of our health,” Kagan said.
“The legislature enacted a law that would provide paid sick leave for companies with 15 or more employees,” Kagan said. “This exempts our smallest businesses, which would face a hardship, but it really guarantees that employees don’t have to face a choice between staying home with a sick child or being sick themselves and going into work that day. We may or may not see a veto by this governor on that.”
Kagan expressed frustration that the legislature again failed to pass a law ending parental rights for rapists.
“Unfortunately, for the ninth year, a woman who was raped and becomes pregnant as a result continues, in Maryland, to need her rapist’s permission if she chooses to continue her pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption,” Kagan said. “The women’s caucus and I were disappointed that the conference committee was six men for something that so fundamentally affects women.”