ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Council met for a regular session to work on legislation affecting communities in the area.
It was no coincidence that the first bill introduced for discussion was designed to directly address the wage gap for Montgomery County Employees. The County Council recognized March as Women’s History Month, and Councilman Evan Glass introduced his bill — the Montgomery County Pay Equity Act to highlight the wage disparity between men and women. The act prohibits employers from asking potential employees about their past salaries when interviewed for jobs.
Glass explained that when employers ask about past wages, they often use that information to determine future pay, which often results in employees ending up in a low-salary loop.
“Individuals become stuck in a cycle in which they quickly become undervalued — a cycle that disproportionately affects women at a statewide level,” Glass said. “We know that in Maryland women earn 79 cents to every dollar a man makes, and that figure is even worse for women of color.”
Even small wage gaps can amount to a great deal when allowed to multiply. Glass gave an example of a worker being shortchanged “only” $100 per paycheck. At first, this might simply seem like a nuisance, but over time the gap becomes significant, he said.
“Year after year that missing pay gap can become large enough to pay for a child’s college tuition,” he added. “Make no mistake about it, this is a real problem in Montgomery County.”
After the bill’s introduction to the council, it was co-sponsored by the other eight members and given unanimous support.
“I think this is a great step in the right direction here in the county,” Councilman Will Jawando said. “It’s inexcusable, and I was shocked when (Councilman Glass) told me this was the case here in Montgomery County.”
The next step for the County Pay Equity Act will be a public hearing on March 26.
Another issue addressed during the meeting was efforts toward improving renters’ rights in the county. Councilman Tom Hucker introduced the Tenant Health and Safety Act, which allows renters to terminate a lease agreement with 30 days’ notice if they are living in unsafe or unhealthy conditions.
The bill states that if the landlord does not address problems such as mold, insect or rodent infestations, or other unhealthy living conditions, the renter would be allowed to move without having to pay a hefty fine for violating the lease agreement.
The Tenant Health and Safety Act, according to the councilman, was born out out of efforts to increase renters’ protection in recent years. The county has required more frequent housing inspections and added nine new inspectors to check the livability of buildings in Montgomery County.
“One result of these stepped-up inspections is the recent finding by our DHCA of more than 2,500 violations at the Enclave Apartments in Silver Spring,” Councilman Hucker said.
DHCA is the Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
Findings like these have helped shape laws that list mold as a violation of a healthy living environment. It presence has been linked to breathing issues like asthma in children, along with headaches and nausea, Hucker said.
“I believe any county residents should not be living in any unsafe and unhealthful conditions,” Hucker said. “And to free themselves from these conditions they shouldn’t have to pay a huge fee just to move out and into an apartment that doesn’t make themselves and their children sick.”
Hucker received support for the bill by other council members as well. Councilman Andrew Friedson explained that he bill is designed to weed out only the bad landlords by enforcing healthy living conditions.
“I think it’s a good example of dealing with these issues with a scalpel as opposed to a hammer,” Friedson said. “It’s quite clear that there is a small number of bad landlords, and most landlords are good. They want to treat their folks well; they want their properties to increase in value.”
He went on to explain that by protecting the good landlords, the council can also protect the families that live under their management. The bill, he said, continues the council’s work towards healthy and safe living conditions for everyone in Montgomery County.
The Tenant Health and Safety Act is expected to be discussed in a public hearing at the end of the month and will undergo a work session in mid-to-late May.