Senate Strengthens Trans Equality Bill

MCTE-corrected-logo-300x111Logo for the Coalition of 44 Members

The Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014, also known as the Transgender Equality bill, passed second reader in the Senate today by a voice vote. Sen. Rich Madaleno (D 18-Montgomery) is the lead sponsor and Sen. Jamie Raskin (D 20-Montgomery) is the floor leader, as he is on the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a strong supporter of the bill.

The bill was strengthened by an amendment thanks to the hard work of a number of senators, including Sen. Catherine Pugh (D 40-Baltimore City) and Sen. Joseph Getty (R 5-Baltimore and Carroll) as well as Madaleno and Raskin. The Senate adopted an amendment sponsored by Getty that adopts a broader definition of gender identity so it includes individuals beyond those who have chosen to have and can afford gender reassignment surgery.

The Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality has strongly advocated for the bill. Its members include Equality Maryland, ACLU of Maryland, CASA of Maryland, SEIU, Jews United for Justice, Baltimore Black Pride, and Maryland NOW among the many groups who have allied to support the bill.

 

Bethesda Just Wants to Have Fun

County Executive Ike Leggett’s Nighttime Economy Task Force has made a number of recommendations to attract a more active nightlife to Montgomery. Sorry I meant to say MoCo. We’re all hipsters now here at 7S.

Aaron Kraut of BethesdaNow.com summarized the key proposed changes:

The Task Force will recommend the county extend the hours of operation for venues with alcohol licenses an hour, to 3 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and the Sundays before Monday federal holidays and 2 a.m. on weeknights.

That would match D.C. and Prince George’s County and prevent what Pohoryles said restaurant owners call “the mad dash,” the period when Montgomery County bar goers get in their cars and drive to D.C. for another hour of alcohol service. The rule would keep the half-hour “grace period,” in which last call would actually be half-an-hour before closing time.

Also part of the bar-friendly recommendations are changes to the county’s noise ordinance in specific urban areas.

The Task Force will recommend increasing the allowable noise levels for “qualifying arts and entertainment activities in these areas,” to 85 decibels, allowing those levels to midnight and ensuring nearby residents are informed of the law prior to moving in.

So basically more booze + noise = fun. Heck, I suspect any random group of college students could have told you that. The only problem is that downtown Bethesda’s prime demographic is not college students or recent college grads but empty nesters.

Neighborhoods near to downtown Bethesda are a combination of families and empty nesters. In six years on the Town Council of the Town of Chevy Chase, located directly east of downtown Bethesda, I have never heard anyone lament that the bars in Bethesda close too early and that they have to dash elsewhere to keep drinking.

The Task Force’s chair wants to reassure that the changes are meant to benefit everyone:

Heather Dlhopolsky, a Bethesda attorney and chair of the Task Force, made it clear the Task Force wasn’t just about catering to the 20-34 year-old crowd, citing the significant number of empty nesters moving to downtown Bethesda.

Nevertheless, the recommendations have provoked a backlash precisely from that group. Jon Weintraub provided this summary of the thoughts expressed at a meeting of over 40 condo owners from many different buildings in downtown Bethesda:

There is universal opposition to the County Executive’s Nighttime Bethesda proposal, if it means extending bar hours and changing the revenue ratio. It should not move forward! What can be done to ensure that the noise ordinance is not altered for downtown Bethesda?

Instead Weintraub wants to know:

What is the planner standard for public green space, library, and recreational facilities per 1000 units of development in the downtown?

What can the county and the planning board do to improve the quality of metro service to Bethesda given density decisions are tied to the presence of the metro?

The meeting was organized by Jon Weintraub with Jane Fairweather, a very successful local realtor who knows the Bethesda market extremely well and hardly one to object to changes if she thought they would make her market more and not less valuable.

No doubt some will deride their objections as those of anti-business older people who expect unreasonable levels of quiet and have confused the area with an assisted living facility. But my impression is that their objection is not to a vibrant nightlife but want it to fit in with the area’s existing strengths.

Bethesda is filled with restaurants and also has a large number of bars for that matter. However, the empty nesters who can afford to buy all those condos–and provide a lot of custom to these businesses–prefer it quiet before 2am.

The key to keeping Bethesda so successful is make changes that reinforce what is already attractive not just to families and empty nesters but also to many twenty and thirtysomethings. Middle of the night noise, drinking and nightclubs probably aren’t it.

The Task Force has a lot of suggestions to streamline the process of establishing a business that would probably be helpful to that end. Ironically, the one change that would please restauranteurs and bar owners the most is the one that they shied away from adopting:

Montgomery County operates as a control alcohol jurisdiction, with all alcohol purchases coming from a central DLC [Department of Liquor Control] warehouse. That has led to complaints from restaurant owners about the availability of special orders, such as craft beer, and the time it takes to fill an order.

Evan Glass, a Silver Spring activist and prospective County Council candidate, said the group should talk about how necessary the DLC is.

It’s a contentious issue, in large part because the DLC contributes $25-$30 million a year to the county’s General Fund. It also recently opened a new warehouse in Gaithersburg.

Glass suggested the DLC should at least keep a portion of that contribution to hire more employees who could help it be more responsive.

Most agreed that recommending wholesale changes, or the dissolution of the DLC, was too big a task for the Task Force. The final recommendation, when it comes out in the Task Force’s final report next week, will call for a study of the DLC’s effectiveness from the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

The irony here is that the Task Force attacked directly requirements that restaurants sell as much food as liquor. Yet, they’ve stayed away from a major barrier to locating restaurants here because alcohol is more expensive in MoCo and unique beers and wines are harder to obtain. The City Paper, practically the definition of urban hip, wrote about the issue back in 2007.

MCDCC Part I: Question B

AgainstQuestionB

You just gotta love that we have party central committees in the State of Maryland. Both Republicans and Democrats have them in every county of the State. It all feels so retro-Soviet. Why not Politburos? Or at least Praesidiums?

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee is currently not the peaceful backwater that one might expect of a relatively obscure organization of party officials. Instead, it is now the center of what some might call renovation and others a hostile takeover despite the recent announcement of a “unity” slate.

The fracas started with the passage of a bill unanimously by the all-Democratic County Council to eliminate “effects bargaining” with the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) designed to give the Police Chief more flexibility and control in the management of police officers. “Effects bargaining” required the Chief to clear all management decisions with the FOP.

The FOP vehemently opposed the changes and petitioned them to referendum in what became known as Question B. While intensely disliking the changes, it was only the latest in what the three non-school related public employee unions (FOP, the Firefighters, and MCGEO) perceived as bad treatment by the County on issues such as disability payments, furloughs and benefits.

MCDCC became involved through its control over the Democratic sample ballot. All precinct officials in the Democratic Party could vote on whether the sample ballot should endorse or oppose the proposal or take no position. At the urging of county councilmembers, the precinct officials voted heavily to endorse the proposal passed unanimously by the County Council.

The Central Committee has the power to change an endorsement of support or opposition by precinct officials to no position by majority vote. Urged on by Chair Gabe Albornoz, (Correction: Gabe was not Chair yet) MCDCC voted to uphold the decision of the County Council and the precinct officials.

The Democratic sample ballot thus endorsed the question. Whether or not it mattered, the voters agreed, voting by 58% in 2012 to keep the law passed by the Council despite vigorous efforts by the FOP and other government employee unions to overturn it.

Needless to say, the unions were NOT happy. More in Part II.

D13 Shenanigans Continue

So the machinations just keep on going in the District 13 House of Delegates race. Earlier today, I reported that D13 featured the unusual spectacle of husband (Nayab Siddiqui) running against his wife (Janet Siddiqui) and a niece (Vanessa Atterbeary) challenging her uncle (Frank Turner).

Today was the last day to withdraw from the race (i.e. get off the ballot), and lo and behold, School Board Member Janet Siddiqui has dropped out of the race. She had formed a slate with incumbent Dels. Frank Turner and Shane Pendergrass but not her husband.

The “All in the Family” aspect seems less strange (not to mention very awkward at home) than very calculating. Janet Siddiqui’s withdrawal from the race leaves it open for husband, Nayab Siddiqui, who is not currently an elected official.

Del. Frank Turner may have had an inkling that this might happen and encouraged his niece, former District 18 Candidate Vanessa Atterbeary, to jump in too. Pure speculation but it sure makes a lot more sense than the idea that she wanted to take her uncle’s seat.

UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun has more details.

Simmons and Frosh Makeup and Let the Dogs Out

dogbite voteVote on “Dog Bite” bill–Yea is the Responsibility Vote

Not all political feuds last forever. In a previous post, I mentioned how Del. Lou Simmons (D 17) had stated in the media that Sen. Brian Frosh had “reneged” on a deal and was “incompetent.” Frosh was also apparently feckless and disappointing.

Such a louse. But apparently, all is forgiven. In a recent Gazette article, Simmons now called Frosh “the indispensable man.” You can feel the kvelling all the way from Annapolis to Montgomery County.

No mystery why this happened. Frosh played a leading role in amending the Senate dog bite bill much closer to the much weaker version backed by Simmons. In his comments, Simmons went out of his way to say that the Senate did not cave to the House but he “doth protest too much, methinks.”

Because that’s what happened. Otherwise, why would Simmons have his Damascene conversion on Frosh? The version adopted by the Senate will enshrine the one-bite rule into law. This rule means that if a dog has not bitten before that the owner gets a pass on liability no matter the damage even if unprovoked.

I look forward to the State creating a dog bite database.

Kudos to Sen. Bobby Zirkin for fighting the good fight for a stricter interpretation that makes sense. At least his efforts now mean that owners with unleashed dogs that bite will now be held responsible. Above is the vote on the original Zirkin amendment to keep the stricter and more sensible interpretation.

Kudos also to Zirkin for at least making it so that unleashed dogs will be held responsible even without the first bite.

For the record, I don’t think dog owners who are walking a leashed dog should be held responsible if someone pets them without permission. But I don’t see why Simmons wants to allow one who lunges and maims someone to get a pass just because there is no evidence of a previous bite, whether or not one occurred.

 

Julius Henson will Run from Jail

I haven’t yet had time to profile this year’s legislative elections Baltimore City D45 but had to pass along this News of the Surreal. Julius Henson will be running for the Maryland Senate against incumbent Sen. Nathaniel McFadden from jail.

Henson is a former political consultant who was convicted of election fraud for doing robocalls to African-American voters telling them to stay home and not to worry about the election. He was working for former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich in a transparent attempt to suppress the black and heavily Democratic black vote.

Clearly, a “vile” and “corrupt” individual as one of my informants (not his opponent or anyone who works for him) described him to me. His apparent unending willingness to “play the race card loud and long” only adds to his lack of charm.

A Baltimore City judge has now convicted Henson of violating his probation by running for office. But Henson, who will no doubt revel in his notoriety while cooling his heels for four months in jail, has nonetheless decided not to drop his Senate bid. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham Jail he is not.

Fortunately, the entire Baltimore establishment has lined up behind longtime incumbent Sen. McFadden who should win if only because he is not corrupt. Meanwhile, more fodder for those who would mock politics as a honorable endeavor.

More Health Exchange Troubles for Brown

The Washington Post has the story:

A single flaw in Maryland’s troubled online health insurance system will cost the state an estimated $30.5 million in excess Medicaid payments over the next 18 months because the system cannot accurately identify recipients who should be removed from the rolls, a report by state budget officials said.

The State has fired the contractor for its health exchange website but this problem just does not seem to want to go away. If anything, the increased functionality of the federal website just heightens the glare of Maryland’s continuing problems. Not a good news day for Lt. Gov. Brown who would like the focus to turn elsewhere.

Moving Forward with RTS in Montgomery

RTSMap

Proposed Rapid Transit System Map

Montgomery County has adopted plans for a bus rapid transit system (RTS) of nearly 96 miles. This system includes not only the long planned Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) of 15 miles but a separately planned system of nearly 81 miles.

Proposed and pushed relentlessly by at-large Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich, the plan to add 81 miles is the most ambitious effort to expand public transit in the area since Metro. While other jurisdictions, including DC and Alexandria, are ahead of Montgomery in moving ahead with RTS, Montgomery’s is the most extensive network.

The above schematic map shows the proposed routes as well as the planned light-rail Purple Line and CCT. The map produced by Communities for Transit, an RTS advocacy group, uses the familiar Metro system design, which makes it look attractive but also misleadingly suggests that RTS is heavy rail like Metro. It’s not. Repeat: map looks like Metro; system is not Metro.

On the other hand, I understand the drive by proponents to avoid the word “bus.” In the DC area, people associate the buses with Metrobuses–the slowest still moving form of transportation ever invented. Drivers perceive buses as barely moving hulks to avoid and to pass. Though RTS is not heavy rail, it is also definitely not Metrobus.

RTS buses move much faster and are much nicer, more analogous to light or heavy rail cars. These buses are also designed to approach platforms at level–again like Metro or light rail–so there is no climbing up or down.

Greater speed than conventional buses is achieved because RTS buses usually travel in their own dedicated lanes. There can be two lanes on either side of the street along the curb or two in the median. Alternatively, in tighter areas, there may just be one lane that switches direction. Buses traveling in the direction of heavy traffic use the dedicated lane while buses going in the other direction travel with regular traffic.

In some areas with little room, the buses may have to travel in regular traffic in both directions. However, even in these areas, RTS buses can go faster than regular buses because they communicate to hold the traffic lights so that they can make the lights if they are close to the light but it’s about to change.

People often wonder why we don’t just expand Metro, like the delayed Silver Line in Virginia, or build light rail, like the planned Purple Line, instead. They reason is cost. RTS is far cheaper than either of these methods. This item from the Communities for Transit presentation caught my eye:

SLC BRT

In Salt Lake City, light rail would have been ten times as expensive as the RTS alternative. The price difference means that Montgomery can get far more bang for the buck with RTS. Indeed, the CCT was originally planned as a light rail but is now expected to be a bus rapid transit system, so that it is financially feasible.

The low cost is critical because, even with the Governor’s successful  drive to take measures to expand Maryland’s transportation fund, there is not nearly enough money for all of the State’s transportation priorities from roads and Baltimore’s Red Line to MARC and Metro (those elevators. . . ).

One of the most appealing aspects of RTS is the potential, and it remains just potential, to help weaken the battles between civic groups and developers. Developers want greater density while civics worry about the impact on infrastructure, especially the increased traffic.

The Montgomery RTS plan allows more growth to occur in the context of a system designed to address heightened traffic and also to spread development, along with its benefits and problems, around a much larger area rather than one or two nodes. It recognizes that Montgomery remains a spread out suburban area even as we develop multiple new urban centers.

According to Communities for Transit, RTS does produce additional investment:

Cleveland

And growth needs to occur to provide jobs and income, as well as to pay the taxes to regenerate our aging infrastructure and expand it. The key is to invest the public transit money wisely.

Howard D13: Shenanigans!

Niece against uncle. Husband against wife. It’s All in the Family Howard County style in District 13.

In honor of the downright News of the Weird aspects of the District 13 Democratic delegate primary, the usual district map has been moved below and replaced by nostalgia brought you by the MD Republican Party. (It’s all Alex Mooney’s GOP could afford for his last media buy.)

Nevertheless, today I focus on the Democrats. Incumbent Del. Guy Guzzone is running for the open senate seat. He has an astonishing $410K in his campaign account because he was thinking of running for Howard County Executive. This nice guy with vast funds in a Democratic  district should have no problem against the sole Republican who lost the GOP primary in 2010.

District 13

Howard County District 13

Guzzone has formed a slate with three delegate candidates, incumbent Dels. Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner and School Board Member Janet Siddiqui. Pendergrass has a robust $112K in her campaign account while Turner has $56K and Siddiqui has $45K.

All perfectly normal except that also running are Nayab Siddiqui, Janet Siddiqui’s husband, and Vanessa Atterbeary, Frank Turner’s niece. Nayeb Siddiqui filed an affidavit attesting that he raised and spent last than $1000. Vanessa Atterbeary has not filed a campaign finance report, or at least I cannot find it when I search for it.

Surely, not everyone related is related in District 13? Someone should call Shenanigans! on this play.

In 2010, Vanessa Atterbeary ran for the House of Delegates in District 18 in Montgomery County. The district encompassed Chevy Chase, Kensington, Wheaton and part of Silver Spring. She came in fifth–2509 votes behind the third place nominee, Del. Al Carr, and 989 votes behind the fourth place finisher.

Vanessa came across as a highly personable but politically inexperienced young woman. Her campaign used the hackneyed slogan “Now is the Time.” Even worse, one mail piece had the wrong district number (see below). Another featured pictures of Vanessa with elected officials that did not endorse her, leading them to repudiate the piece.

In short, she was young and had interest and potential despite having much to learn about both policy and campaigns. She hosted a fundraiser for Ken Ulman in 2012, so she dived back into politics quickly after she moved to Howard County.

Atterbeary

Campaign Mail Piece from 2010 District 18

One other Democrat, Fred Eiland, has also filed for the delegate race. Like Nayab Siddiqui, he has filed an affidavit, which makes me wonder if he is somehow related to Shane Pendergrass. The only other question remaining is whether N. Siddiqui, Atterbeary, and Eiland form a counter slate.