Monday, November 22, 2010

Legislators Listened

Every autumn there is a tradition in Montgomery County and elsewhere for elected officials to hear about some of the issues on the minds of their constituents.  Recently, one of these sessions was held in Rockville and many of the Senators and Delegates elected in Montgomery County came to hear what county residents had on their minds.  The event was held in the County Council third floor Chamber and televised on the County Cable Channel as a live event.  Approximately 100 people were in the audience and about 40 additional people had signed up in advance to speak on a variety of topics.

In attendance were: Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Brian Feldman, both leaders of the County delegation and the following members in Alphabetical order: Senators:  Jennie Forehand, Rob Garagiola, Nancy King and Jamie Raskin.  Two newly elected senators also attended:  Roger Manno and Karen Montgomery, both are currently Delegates.  Delegates attending were: Kumar Barve, Al Carr, Jim Gilchrist, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Tom Hucker, Anne Kaiser, Ben Kramer, Susan Lee, Kirill Reznik and all the newly elected, but not yet sworn in, Delegates:  Sam Aora, Bonnie Cullison, Ariana Kelly, Eric Ludetke, Aruna Miller, Shane Robinson, and Craig Zucker.

The first speakers were members of the official Montgomery County community, the County Council President, the legislative liaison, and localities, as mayors from Gaithersburg, Takoma Park and Rockville addressed the legislators.  Representatives form Montgomery College and The Universities of Shady Grove also spoke.  The County Chambers sent representatives to speak to their priorities as did the League of Women Voters and others from workforce development and small business.

The mayors mentioned very many transportation concerns, increased traffic, failed intersections and the need to fund highway ramps, improve intersections and fund the Purple Line.  The Mayor of Rockville several times mentioned the impact of the approved Seneca Science Center and the White Flint development on local communities.   Concerns were voiced about the need for state transportation funding.

The academics addressed concerns about the need for continued stable support of education at the college level, and the chambers stressed as their focus for businesses to not be subjected to additional taxes, the necessity for a positive business climate and opposed combined reporting.   Many representatives from groups around the county spoke, some to opposite sides of the same issues.  Some supported the suggested alcohol tax, industry spokespersons opposed it.  The Committee for Montgomery pushed construction of the Purple Line, implementation of a gasoline tax, and opposed any return of teacher pension liability to the county.  They also asked for the county to do more outreach to broaden the tax base by attracting more businesses.

Two people spoke passionately about the need to retain necessary green space, keeping the Capital Crescent Trail intact and not building the Purple Line in its right of way, while others supported the need for the Purple Line, especially in light of BRAC.  The President of GOCA (Greater Olney Civic Association) requested that the state release funding for necessary grade separated intersection improvements at State Routes 97 and 28, soon to be impacted by the opening of the ICC.  He also asked for support of the HOA unpaid dues bill in foreclosure situations and opposed any fees for school bus transports.  Another speaker mentioned inadequate oversight of the banking industry in foreclosure proceedings. 

Several progressive groups spoke about the need to fully fund healthcare, perhaps with the alcohol tax, pass combined corporate reporting regulations, and increase transparency with legislative committee votes made public.  Others spoke about health care being a human right and needing to be considered as a civil right. They urged full funding of the Maryland Health Care initiatives.  Peace groups and Veterans against the War also spoke out of the need for military spending to be brought home to meet the cares of the American people in many areas of social concern.  Others spoke about the social costs of homeless and injured veterans.

The evening ended with the voices of social conservatives speaking out for fiscal responsibility and against support for immigrants or undocumented individuals. They further decried budget items spent on ESOL, in-state tuition at Montgomery College and voiced their perception that immigrant gangs have caused increased crime and an upsurge in gang violence.

So what should one conclude about this exercise in democracy?  First, the evening was one of civil discourse, even among disparate groups and among legislators from different perspectives.  All speakers were treated with respect; the few questions asked by the elected officials were relevant without any grandstanding.  Will this solve our dilemma of funding in a very tough budget year?  Probably not.  But for the people in attendance or watching from home, the evening allowed reasonable people to make their case, whatever their issue.  For a short while, reasonable people disagreed without being disagreeable.  This was ever so much better than the town hall meetings held on health care last year when people were trucked in with the sole purpose of being rabble-rousers.  This is the way our country should work.  Will the elected official return to Annapolis in January and enact each of these measures? -- nope.  But they and the petitioners who came before them have connected in a way that is uniquely American and a way that makes our country, state and county function in a more democratic manner.  I hope we can all support this.  I know, as do you, that one encounter does not pass a bill and that citizens who support issues must tell their elected officials, sometimes more than once, how they feel.  Nights such as this are a good beginning.  There were many issues such as local education funding, the death penalty, the environment, clean air and water which were not discussed.  There will be other meetings and those issues may arise then.

Do you disagree?  Do you believe that this exercise is pro-forma and that the lobbyists who function in Annapolis have much more influence than the voters? Was your issue not mentioned above?   What is your suggestion to make the system function better?  Let's hear what you have to say.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, by the time they get around to us "little guys" (that is, after "official Montgomery" as you call it speaks) ... it's too late in the night for me to stick around, so that's why I do not attend this annual event.

    One thing I want to see our General Assembly pass this year is to strengthen the cell phone and texting law to make use of a hand-held device while driving a primary offense, instead of a secondary offense with such a paltry ($40) fine.

    This bill was barely passed last year, and was watered down at the last minute by cowardly legislators. It's time that Maryland enact legislation about this matter as tough as California's, and that law enforcement professions are allowed to pull people over if they see them yapping on a cell phone while driving and issue a citation with teeth that perhaps will teach a lesson.


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