TAKOMA PARK – In the earliest report from the state legislative advocate for Takoma Park on its 2019 legislative session, progress on issues relevant to the city was described as satisfactory, although work remains to be done.
The city’s legislative advocate, Alice Wilkerson, described the session as successful, albeit with a fair share of challenges caused by a refreshed legislature. According to Wilkerson, three out of four committee chairs and all the vice chairs in the State Senate are new. There were also major changes to committee membership in the House of Delegates and leadership changes, including the death of House Speaker Mike Busch.
Both the state and Takoma Park are bracing themselves for the upcoming budgeting session, acknowledging that the road ahead is not going to be easy at both the state and municipal levels.
“A lot of really good conversations have started happening. I feel like the legislature has started recognizing they have big challenges coming up, especially when we’re talking about the state budget,” said Wilkerson.
Environmentally, the legislature was mostly in line with Takoma Park’s goals. SB 285, a bill that would ban the use of expanded polystyrene products in food service, was passed in the legislature’s respective chambers. Takoma Park’s city council banned expanded polystyrene in food service in July 2015, while Montgomery County’s ban (which has different provisions) went into effect in 2016.
The senate also passed SB 0516 — the Clean Energy Jobs bill that would provide grants “…apprenticeships and training to establish career paths in sectors of the clean energy industry…” among other facets, according to the General Assembly’s website. Takoma Park also supported this bill, and in a written testimony the council stated that “…without aggressive State support for our actions, such as aggressive renewable portfolio standards and workforce training to meet the needs of our clean energy industry, we cannot meet our own goals.”
Another issue brought up by the legislature was speed limits in and around the city. Councilmember Peter Kovar discussed an upcoming petition to lower the limit.
“Can you say a little about that, because we’ll shortly be receiving a petition from over 100 residents in favor of reducing the speed limit on part of Route 410,” Kovar asked.
The bill Kovar is referring to, HB 203, may allow Montgomery County to “…establish for a highway outside an urban district under certain circumstances from 25 miles an hour to 20 miles an hour…” according to the General Assembly.
Councilmember Jarrett Smith brought up the issue of marijuana and the work group formed by members of the General Assembly, advising Wilkerson to keep an ear out for the work group. Smith said he would like the city to be at the beginning of the conversations on the topic, so as to not be left behind and to have a “seat at the table.”
“The issues that the local municipalities have found, I think, we can learn from them. Where can you use it, the collection of the taxes, because you can’t buy it with a credit card; it’s a cash business,” said Smith.
Wilkerson noted that marijuana legalization is fraught with issues, ranging from how to decriminalize it to the position of different jurisdictions on it.
“With the medical program we have now, there have been challenges with some jurisdictions,” said Wilkerson. “Anne Arundel County has done everything it can to prevent dispensaries from opening there…(including) rewriting zoning…”