Montgomery’s First-Year Lawmakers ‘Came in With A Purpose’
Newcomers successful in passing state bills on road safety, food equity and gender inclusion
First-year legislators from left, Vaughn Stewart, Lorig Charkoudian and Sara Love.
Bills on environmental protection, food equity and gender inclusion introduced by some of the 10 freshman Democratic delegates from Montgomery County were among those clearing the just-ended Maryland General Assembly session.
“A lot of us were ready to be loud and aggressive and push for bold, progressive ideas as quickly as possible, said Del. Vaughn Stewart, of Derwood.
Altogether, the freshman sponsored 21 bills that passed both chambers of the legislature, according to the General Assembly’s online database. The total does not include local bills sponsored by the 32-member Montgomery delegation.
Stewart managed to successfully shepherd one of his seven bills through the 90-day session. The bill will levy a fine between $150 and $500 on drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians, with the money going to education programs and infrastructure improvements.
Del. Lorig Charkoudian, a Takoma Park Democrat, sponsored 10 bills, including four on the topic of food equity. Two bills that passed include one that helps improve highway access to retail food stores. Another requires that all homemade, or cottage, food products sold in retail stores contain a label with information about the business; the bill would also require that the business owner complete a food safety course.
“[Food] is a fascinating place to look at policy, because it’s tied to health, the environment, the economy and so many things we’re trying to address through policy,” she said.
Another bill Charkoudian co-sponsored will require that Maryland utilities purchase 50% of their electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar and offshore wind. Currently, utilities must meet at 25% threshold.
Charkoudian, 46, said the freshman legislators have become close, in part, due to a mentorship program that delegation chair Marc Korman, a Bethesda Democrat, established at the beginning of session, in which more experienced legislators were paired with first-timers.
Charkoudian said her mentor was Del. Bonnie Cullison, of Silver Spring.
“She’s [Cullison] absolutely fabulous and very gracious with her time, and a lot of other folks have as well,” she said.
Stewart, 30, and other freshmen delegates say they felt welcomed by the older class among the 188 members of the legislature.
Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Montgomery Democrat who sponsored the Senate version of the Stewart’s pedestrian safety bill, credited Stewart with the creation of the bill due to him raising the issue of pedestrian collisions that have occurred along Georgia Avenue. Waldstreicher, 39, said Montgomery’s freshman class this year has been “incredibly effective” at passing legislation.
“This is a smart crew of legislators, so I’m not surprised by how many bills they passed. They came in with purpose,” he said. “They listened, they learned. They understood the procedural aspects of the job and used that to push forward aspects of progressive change.”
Korman, 37, said he enjoyed getting to know the freshmen legislators this year and said this is the first year there has been a mentorship structure within the Montgomery delegation, although the model has been used in the women’s caucus before, he said.
“There’s a lot of trial and error, but this job is very public, so you want to try to minimize the error after the trial,” he said.
Del. Sara Love, 52, who represents Bethesda, successfully sponsored legislation that would allow residents who don’t identify as male or female to designate their gender with an “X” on their driver’s license or on other forms of state ID. She said the fact that the bill passed easily surprised her.
“Knowing how long some other bills in that space took, I was pleasantly surprised that this one passed this year,” she said.
Love had also sponsored a bill that would have prohibited the state from acquiring property under eminent domain for public-private partnerships, such as the governor’s proposed expansion of the Beltway and Interstate 270. The bill was one of several this session that was aimed at putting the brakes on the project. Another bill, sponsored by freshman Delegate Jared Solomon, of Chevy Chase, would have required an environmental review prior to any public-private partnership.
Del. Julie Palakovich Carr, who represents Rockville and Gaithersburg, said Korman was her mentor and was “fabulous” to work with.
“He always had information I needed to know before I needed to know it, and he had great advice on how to navigate particular circumstances,” she said.
Palakovich Carr, 35, who stepped down from the Rockville City Council after she was sworn in as a delegate, said three of her bills passed this session, including one that allows the independent jurisdictions of Rockville and Gaithersburg to levy a hotel tax on rental services such as Airbnb, which currently are exempt from the tax that brick-and-mortar hotels must pay.
Del. Emily Shetty, of Kensington, was able to get two of her bills passed. One expands the number of child advocacy centers by mandating that the governor include $300,000 in his budget for that purpose.
Shetty said if there was one phrase to describe the three-month session, it would be “extremely busy.”
“The most surprising thing was how quickly the session went and quickly things have to get to the finish line,” she said.
Shetty said a number of her bills either died in committee or did not advance to the Senate simply because of time constraints. She said learning to work across the aisle has been key, as well as understanding the political dynamics of each committee. Her mentor was Del. Kirill Reznik, of Germantown.
“He gave me a lot of insight into the procedures and process both in terms of how a bill becomes a law and the rules on the floor,” she said. “Navigating Annapolis can be really tricky and having friends with insight is really helpful,” she said.
Asked what the most important lesson of his first year in office was, Stewart said the key is to listen to grassroots advocacy groups and craft legislation based on the wishes of constituents. He added that anyone thinking about running for office should prioritize door-to-door campaigning.
“What it’s about is hard work. So for someone running for office, get out and knock on doors. It’s much easier to craft a witty social media post. But it’s the other part that ultimately wins you elections,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org