Election Reform, Environmental Concerns on the Minds of State Legislators

By: Dan Schere

Bethesda Magazine

January 7, 2019

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Election reform and environmental matters are among the issues on the agenda of the senator and delegates representing Rockville and Gaithersburg in the state legislature, which opens in two days.

More than 100 residents showed up Sunday at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg to discuss topics with state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, delegates Jim Gilchrist and Kumar Barve and delegate-elect Julie Palakovich Carr.

Barve said he plans to introduce several bills related to the environment, including one that encourages renewable energy storage systems, such as solar and wind energy. Barve’s previous version of the bill would have provided a state income tax credit for residents who can show proof of using renewable energy.

Barve also plans to reintroduce a bill that would ban the use of foam plastic as a material for food containers. Barve’s bill would make the ban statewide, as Montgomery County and Rockville are among local jurisdictions with similar restrictions.

Gilchrist said he would also be working on environmental legislation this session, including a bill that would mandate that the state’s utilities buy half of their energy from renewable sources by 2030 (the current benchmark is 25 percent).

Palakovich Carr said she will be working with senator-elect Ben Kramer, who represents parts of the county that include Wheaton, Aspen Hill and Derwood, on a bill that would create a permanent absentee ballot registry, as well as another that would create a “vote-by-mail” electoral system that is not limited to residents unable to make it to the polls. She said she will also sponsor a bill that would give the Gaithersburg City Council the authority to implement a hotel tax on short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, which are currently exempt.

Kagan’s bills will include one she is co-sponsoring with delegate Eric Luedtke, who represents
Burtonsville and Olney, that would give the Montgomery County Council the authority to change its voting method to a “ranked choice” or “approval” system in local races.

She said she will also sponsor a bill that requires gas stations statewide to post both the cash price and the credit card price on their displays. She noted that many gas stations employ a “bait and switch” by only displaying one price, and giving inadequate signage that it is the cash price.

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, a resident asked what the lawmakers thought of the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the issue of redistricting the state’s Sixth Congressional District. All said they favored a fair redistricting process, with Barve said he supports the work of the nonpartisan redistrict commission assembled by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will come down with a ruling to get rid of gerrymandering nationally,” he said.

Pete Altman, leader of the group “Don’t Widen 270,” along with another resident asked what the delegation plans to do in response to the continuing plans of Hogan to add toll lanes to Interstates 270 and 495.

Barve replied that he is not a “big fan of public-private partnerships,” such as the one the governor is using to fund the project. The delegate said he favored an approach that was more inclusive of local legislators.

“The governor knows very clearly where I stand,” he said. “We’re gonna have to work out a solution. The governor will have to be collaborative with local governments.”

Toward the end of the meeting, a resident asked the delegation to consider banning non-consensual pelvic exams for women under anesthesia, noting that Maryland is one of the few states that still carries out the practice. Kagan said she would look into the issue.