Ranked-Choice Voting, Tenants’ Rights Bills Fail To Advance

Ranked-Choice Voting, Tenants’ Rights Bills Fail To Advance

I-270, Beltway toll road regulations await reviews as General Assembly enters final days

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As the Maryland legislature nears its close at midnight Monday, several measures proposed by Montgomery County lawmakers have died or made little progress, including a series of bills aimed at holding up a proposed toll lane expansion for Interstates 270 and 495.

Three bills that would stall Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed $9 billion project, which uses a public-private partnership model, remain stalled in committee.

One, sponsored by Sen. Will Smith, a Silver Spring Democrat, and Baltimore City Democratic Del. Brooke Lierman in the House, would require a majority of jurisdictions affected by toll road projects to give approval before they can go forward.

Another sponsored by Del. Sara Love, a Bethesda Democrat, and Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Montgomery Democrat, would prohibit a state agency from taking property under eminent domain for a toll road.

The third bill, sponsored by five Montgomery Democrats, would require an environmental study before any public-private partnership can be approved. That bill passed the House on March 18 and is scheduled for a Senate hearing Wednesday. It is unclear whether Hogan will sign such a bill.

Several bills sponsored by Montgomery lawmakers this session have died:

– Sen. Cheryl Kagan sponsored a bill that would have allowed Montgomery County to amend its system of voting to a ranked choice system in local elections, where voters mark their ballots by ranking the candidates in order of preference. The bill didn’t advance past the Ways and Means Committee, but Kagan pointed to the fact that it passed the county’s delegation as a sign that there is “growing momentum” for the alternative method of voting.

“We’ve got time because we’re looking at 2022, and next year’s only 2020,” she said in referring to the next County Council election.

– Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, a Silver Spring Democrat, sponsored a bill that would have required landlords to state a reason, or “just cause” for evicting a tenant. The bill was voted down in committee last week.

– Del. David Moon, a Takoma Park Democrat, sponsored legislation for the second straight year that would have removed the exemption from the market property tax rate that golf courses and country clubs receive. The bill was defeated 13-11 by the delegation.

One of the more controversial bills discussed this session would have allowed terminally-ill medical patients to end their own lives with medication failed to pass the Senate, with a 23 to 23 tie in the chamber during a second read on March 27.

The assisted suicide legislation was sponsored by Smith, who departed last week for a military deployment in Afghanistan, along with Howard County Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass in the House. It was the fourth year since 2015 the bill has been introduced and failed to pass.

Kagan, a Democrat who represents Rockville and Gaithersburg, co-sponsored the bill and said the fact that it was amended 26 times was a factor in the bill’s failure to pass.

“Sometimes amendments can be clarifying and help a bill get stronger. [But] there was really a perception that the amendments were not helpful to the process,” she said. “We could have taken countless, dozens of hours reviewing each amendment.”

The legislature overrode a veto by Hogan on a bill that shifts alcohol and tobacco regulation to an independent commission from the comptroller’s office. The Senate version of the bill had been sponsored by Wheaton Democrat Ben Kramer, but it was the House version that ultimately passed, which was sponsored by Del. Warren Miller, a Republican representing Howard and Carroll Counties.

Kagan said she approved of the bill because Comptroller Peter Franchot frequently accepts campaign contributions from the liquor industry.

“The comptroller should be focused on taxes and processing tax refunds,” she said.

Franchot has said he plans to fight the bill in court.

In another veto override of Hogan, the legislature voted to give local school boards the authority to set their own calendars, which would reverse a 2016 law enacted by Hogan that mandated schools start after Labor Day. Kagan approved of the decision.

“Our school board members are re-elected, and they should have the authority to establish a calendar. We need flexibility to ensure maximum learning for our students, while also acknowledging religious holidays and inclement weather. The governor’s executive order allows for neither of things,” she said.

A bill sponsored by Smith and Love would allow Marylanders to designate their gender as “X” instead of male or female on any state-issued ID. The bill has passed both chambers, but the governor has not said whether he will sign it.

The legislature is to adjourn Monday.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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