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County faces very busy agenda this new year

ICC, smoking ban, tree trimming, jobs for the disabled all on tap

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Published on: Thursday, January 03, 2013

By Christa Puccio

The Montgomery County Council is planning a busy new year.

The coming legislative agenda includes an initiative to lower ICC toll rates for local drivers, increase jobs for the disabled, a smoking ban on county owned property, a bill to keep Pepco in check with its tree trimming within the county and more.

This year also marks the beginning of the ambulance fee law that passed last year.  For those who missed the controversial debates on the bill last year, the law prohibits EMS personnel from inquiring about a patient’s health insurance status; Clarifies that no County resident will ever pay out of pocket for the EMS reimbursement; Requires the County’s fire chief to semi-annually report to the Council on implementation; Adds a Patient Advocate to the Office of Consumer Protection; Requires a public outreach and education campaign before and during implementation (direct mail, web, TV/radio, press releases, events, translation, special outreach to senior and “New American” communities).

After Question A on the 2012 November ballot passed, which supported preferential hiring in County government for people with disabilities, and introduced legislation that would codify this practice into law, which did passed, Councilmember Phil Andrews said this year he expects the council will pass Bill 32-12.  Bill 32-12 would create additional opportunities for a person with a severe disability to secure County employment through a noncompetitive appointment.

Andrews also said this year he will be focusing on his initiative to work with the Maryland Transportation Authority in creating a discount for frequent users of the ICC and local residents.  “A very small percent of its capacity are being used and high tolls are responsible for that,” said Andrews.  “There’s no break for regular uses which is where you can make the most difference in the use of the ICC.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer said in 2013 he will be focusing on “continuing pressure on Pepco and PSC, expanding Digital #MoCo initiative, passing legislation to create more space in government buildings for child care providers.”

Currently laws already exist against smoking near playgrounds, restaurants, bars and more.  In 2013, Councilmember Nancy Floreen’s bill, if passed, will be all encompassing – banning smoking in and on all Montgomery County owned and leased property.  While Floreen said enforcement of this bill will be complaint driven, the penalty will be a Class C misdemeanor offense. The bill is co-sponsored by Council Vice President Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Craig Rice, Hans Riemer, George Leventhal and Marc Elrich.  The public hearing is scheduled for January 15.

Two bills focused on the protection of trees will also be coming up on Jan. 17 – Bill 35-12 and Bill 41-12.  Bill 35-12 is an act to: (1)  save,  maintain,  and  establish  tree  canopy  for  the  benefit  of County residents  and future generations; (2)  maximize tree canopy retention and establishment; (3)  establish  procedures,  standards,  and  requirements  to  minimize  the  loss  and disturbance of tree canopy as a result of development; (4)  provide for mitigation when tree canopy is lost or disturbed; (5)  establish  a  fund  for  tree  canopy  conservation  projects,  including  plantings  of individual trees, groups of trees, or forests, on private and public property; and (6)  generally revise County law regarding tree canopy conservation.

Bill 41-12 is an act to: (1)  require a permit for certain activities affecting roadside trees; (2)  require certain persons to pay into a roadside tree replacement fund under certain circumstances; (3)  require the County Executive to adopt regulations specifying certain roadside tree protection, conservation, and replacement standards; and (4)  generally amend the law regarding streets and roads.

The newly elected Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro said in 2013, she is praying for humility and wisdom.  In her speech when she was elected council president for 2013, that the council will need to find a balance between spending money on county students and families to aid in their success, while at the same time working within the county’s budget restraints.  

“We cannot provide a good education or a strong safety net without a strong economy, and our economy will not be strong if we don’t help children and families achieve what they are capable of,” said Navarro.  “If we invest in the economic infrastructure to support our businesses and the social infrastructure to support our residents, a rising tide truly will lift all boats.”

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