Friday, November 22, 2013

Howard Delegation Public Hearing Recap

Last night was the public hearing for the Howard County Delegation regarding local bills.  It was sparsely attended by the general public, but was well staffed by members of the Ulman Administration to address bills offered by the County Executive.  These are important, while wonky, bills that affect what you see built in your community and how local needs are met.  I thought I would give a brief run-down so that you know what our legislators are considering.

Ho.Co. 1-14 - Alcoholic Beverages - Population Restriction on Class A Licenses

This was introduced by Delegates Guy Guzzone and Warren Miller.  Essentially, this bill would pin the number of liquor licenses to the population to avoid saturating (whoops) the market with too many bars.  The reasoning presented last night was that when you have a high concentration of license holders amongst a smaller population, a "16-year-old" can try to purchase alcohol over and over until they reach success.   Maybe this is unfairly cynical, but it seems to me this bill is more likely directed towards protecting the investment of license-holders, with dampening underage-drinking a secondary benefit.  Nevertheless, I see tertiary benefits in directing these licenses to more dense populations to avoid "commuter drinking" wherever possible.

Ho.Co. 2-14 - Board of Education Salary Increase

Number one person I did not expect to testify in favor of this bill - Allen Dyer.  First person to testify in favor of this bill - Allen Dyer.  I give Mr. Dyer additional credit for pairing his support for this bill with the request that the student member be provided a scholarship in recognition of their service, which I think would be an important amendment to make.

Requesting salary increases for positions of public service is never easy.  I still think CA Board members should be paid and think it would enhance diversity representation on the board.  This is the right thing to do and I hope the community sees why.  While we all may promote the civic virtue of service, those individuals must also go home and explain why they were away from their wife, kids, chores, and, in many cases, income-generating employment, to perform that service.  No one will ever get rich serving on the Board of Education, but they shouldn't have to "get poor" either.

Ho.Co. 3-14 - Casino Events

This has been one of Delegate Miller's pet issues for the last few years.  This bill would allow local organizations and non-profits to hold casino nights (with low-stakes gambling) to raise funds.  Even as someone who did not favor expanded gambling across the state, I think this bill should pass and should be advocated for by our delegation.  Our non-profits are continuously asked to "dance for dollars" and we should be equipping them with the means to do so.  These gambling licenses should be limited (we don't want "Casino Night" to be "Tuesday"), but overall I think this is a good bill.

Ho.Co. 4-14 - Day Resource Center

I testified in favor of this bill, which would allow the state to issue approximately $550,000 in bond funding matched by private funds to build a new Day Resource Center that would include a floor of temporary housing.  I will never forget the day Joe Wilmott gave me a full tour of the Day Resource Center.  Without going into details that would endanger the continued operation of the facility, I will say that we should all be concerned about what meager allowances we've made for our most desperate.

Ho.Co. 5-14 - Head Start Program Retrofitting

At least once a month, I shake my head at just how blessed our County is to have someone like Bita Dayhoff at the head of the Community Action Council, which provides so much on so little.  There is no flighty-do-gooderness when it comes to Bita.  She has hard numbers, plain facts, and a confident projection of what needs to be done.  That shone through last night when Bita addressed the need for $100,000 (matched with private funds) used to retro-fit facilities Head Start uses to conduct its programming.  This program, particularly in Howard County, is one of the most important vehicles for closing the achievement gap.  If we don't take care of Head Start, any future boasts about our education system will require a footnote.

Ho.Co. 6-14 - Historic Belmont Property and Historic Garden Restoration

This bill sought $125,000 to improve Belmont and its backyard Garden.

Ho.Co. 7-14 - Shaded Structures for Playgrounds

This bill sought $200,000 in state funds to construct additional shaded areas in our County parks.  Another one of those small quality of life measures that will probably go without notice once its built, but could mean the world to a parent and their toddler on a hot day.

Ho.Co. 8-14 - Hollofield Play Space

I'll admit that I had a bit of a hard time following this one.  Overall, this bill seeks $175,000 in state funds to be used towards the development of a wheel-chair accessible play space.  It sounded like a fantastic idea to allow children (and parents) with disabilities a new opportunity for recreation in Howard County, but it was a bit unclear to me who (or what) would be receiving these funds.

Ho.Co. 9-14 - Beer Festivals

This bill was introduced by Delegate Warren Miller to allow weekend beer festival licenses in Howard County.  These licenses are already available in Frederick (and at least one other County that I can't remember).  A representative from the Maryland Brewer's Association spoke, noting that the Association would like to plan a festival for Howard County.  After following the outcry from the County Executive's proposal to allow wineries in Western Howard County, I think we can predict where the conversation is going on this one, but I think that would be unfair.  There is no reason to believe Beer Festivals would be any less safe than Howard County's marquee "Wine in the Woods".  In fact, Clyde's has already tested the water on this (I hope legally) and I would project that those attendees fared better than some of our friends taking in a bottle of wine on a blanket.

Ho.Co. 10-14 - Community Action Council Food Facility

This bill directs $250,000 towards the improvement and expansion of the Howard County Food Bank; a County staple that already has dozens of residents lined up rain-or-shine outside its singular facility.  Definitely a must.

These uncontroversial bills seem to slip under the radar.  They aren't Republican or Democrat (or "real" Democrat) bills.  They're the brick-and-mortar of government.  The Delegation should be proud of how last night went.  Without exception, they all gave residents a positive impression of who is representing them in Annapolis with a fair hearing of their concerns.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!  It's impossible not to.