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County holds public hearing on pool law

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ROCKVILLE – On Tuesday the Montgomery County Council held a public hearing on a bill that would allow for hotel pools to remain open without a lifeguard.

If passed, Expedited Bill 16-17 would require hotel pools to have an emergency alert system next to the pool.

The bill, introduced by Council member Sidney Katz (D-3) and cosponsored by Council members Nancy Floreen (D-at large), Marc Elrich (d-at large) and Roger Berliner (D- 1), would repeal what hotel mangers call a costly bill. Montgomery County is one of only two jurisdictions in the state – along with Baltimore County– to require hotels to have a lifeguard on duty while the pool is open.

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Race for county executive, county council touched by public financing law

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Robin Ficker remembers raising $200,000 for his unsuccessful 2014 run for State Senate.

Now, public contributions to his 2018 campaign for County Executive can be matched up to $750,000 by the County Public Financing Fund, a potential fundraising boon to his campaign. Even more importantly, his campaign could change the political landscape of Montgomery County. Public financing itself could create a more democratic election and encourage voter participation in 2018.

According to Ficker, a former member of the House of Delegates, the County Public Financing Fund “gets the big moneyed interests out of [the race] and gives power to the average person in Montgomery County.” Ficker notes that the fund’s ability to match citizens’ donations “gives the average person some clout” especially since the first $50 donation to a campaign is matched six-to-one and adds $300 to the campaign, something that Ficker considers unique, saying “There is no jurisdiction in the United States that has anything close to this.”

Although Ficker says he has never taken contributions from PACs, unions, or other groups, this law forbids participating candidates from taking such contributions, another attempt by the Montgomery County Council to expand the impact of private citizens and limit the influence of large organizations. Furthermore, officials say that the Public Campaign Financing law requires candidates to accept only donations from Montgomery County residents and only donations between $5 and $150.

However, there is some debate as to the effectiveness of the program’s limits on donations from large organizations. According to George Leventhal, the program is “an experiment in democracy which is intended to reduce the influence of big money in local politics.”

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Berliner says budget aggression will not stand

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Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner reassured activists and professionals in the Jewish community last week that the County’s proposed budget that includes a 1 percent cut in funding for nonprofits will not stand.

“It just simply can’t stand, and I know my colleagues feel the same way,” Berliner told the 60 participants at the 12th annual Jewish Community Relations Council’s Montgomery County Advocacy Day on April 6.

The reduced funding is proposed to come out of the Department of Health and Human Services Non-Developmental Disabilities Provider Services Contracts budget, which many nonprofits rely on to provide services to County residents.

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Council questions WSSC rate structure change

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LAUREL – A change in county water bills is almost certainly coming, but exactly how much more (or less) residents will pay is still to be determined.

On March 30, the Prince George’s County Council Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee (THE) held a joint meeting with their counterpart from the Montgomery County Council, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) committee to hear from Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission staff about progress on the utility’s rate structure study. WSSC has to change the rate structure to remain financially viable, officials say.

“There’s always this tension between having enough revenue to meet the needs for providing the services, both water and sewer, but also on the capital side,” said Council member Todd Turner, chair of THE. “People are consuming less water, so because the revenues aren’t coming in because of the consumption, what are you going to do? Unfortunately, nothing goes down in cost, it seems like, so in making that (increase) reasonable, there’s a balance that we have to find as part of this process.”

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Berliner supports local Muslim communities

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SILVER SPRING – Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) came to the Muslim Community Center as part of MCC’s Community Education Series to address members’ concerns regarding hate crimes in the area after the MCC received a threatening letter in late February.           

“This is a time and a conversation that I never thought I’d have in my lifetime,” Berliner said.  “For those of us who believe in government and the goodness of our people, this has been a particularly challenging time … if you don’t feel welcome in Montgomery County, then we’ve failed you.”

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Candidate filing opens to a flurry of activity

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It was an unusually busy day at the Montgomery County Board of Elections as two people decided to file their paperwork to run for County offices on Tuesday.

Tuesday was the first day candidates could file their paperwork to run for any of the offices in the 2018 gubernatorial election. BOE Operations Manager Christine Rzeszut said it was an unusually busy filing day with two people deciding to file and total of five scheduled appointments to file.

“We’re going to have more of an active interest because we have open seats, especially in Montgomery County,” Rzeszut said.

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Berliner renews battle against Pepco

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Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) is calling for “financial consequences” for Pepco after the power company failed to meet its reliability targets for 2016 after its merger with Exelon.

During his Monday news conference, Berliner, a frequent critic of Pepco, said the power company should pay financially for its lack of improvement in its reliability since the Maryland Public Service Commission approved Pepco’s merger last year with Exelon, a Fortune 100 energy company based in Chicago.

“A deal is a deal, and if there aren’t consequences, it’s simply not OK,” Berliner said.

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Gathering for bagels and not bombs

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Bagels not bombsLoretta Rudolph and John and Robyn Quinter attended the Wednesday morning rally in support of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, which had been the victim of a bomb scare two days earlier. PHOTO BY SUZANNE POLLAK  

About 50 people gathered at the Randolph Hills Shopping Center in Rockville on Wednesday morning to show support for the nearby Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, which had received an automated bomb threat by telephone Monday morning.

Students did not evacuate as police checked the interior and exterior of the building Monday. No bomb was found. More than 20 Jewish schools and community centers received similar threats that same day.

“I felt like we needed a place to stand together to show that this is not who we are,” said Aviva Goldfarb, of Chevy Chase, who coordinated the Bagels Not Bombs rally at the shopping center across from the Rockville school.

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General Assembly draws County ire over minimum wage

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While the County Council is split on raising the minimum wage, it is unanimously opposed to a bill in the General Assembly that would prevent the County from raising the minimum wage.

House Bill 317 would prohibit local jurisdictions in Maryland from raising the minimum wage. While the council is split on raising the minimum wage in the County, it – along with the County Executive Ike Leggett – is opposed to the bill.

Berliner, who voted against the bill to raise the minimum wage in the County to $15 per hour, said he is against the state’s preempting the County.

“While we may differ internally as to the right path to 15 dollars an hour, we are unanimous in believing that it is our responsibility, not something the state should assume for itself,” said Council President Roger Berliner (D-1). “This state has great diversity, and our situation is not the same as Garrett County, our situation is not the same as St. Mary’s County, and we are in the best position to address the needs of our people.”

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Council mulls real reaction to an “Existential threat” to the county

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Calling climate change an “existential threat,” a joint County committee discussed Roger Berliner’s (D-1) bill to divest County pensions from fossil fuels.

At last week’s joint Government Operation and Transportation Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee meeting, the committee discussed the merits of bill 44-16, which would divest County pensions from fossil fuel companies.

“I felt that we could both be true to our values and what many of us believe to be an existential threat to our planet and be true to our retirees,” Berliner said. “This was not an either-or situation. This was a design from day one to be able to advance both.”

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