In Baltimore County, the County Council is the elective legislative body and is vested with all law-making power granted by the Baltimore County Charter and the Maryland General Assembly. There are seven (7) Council members representing each of the seven (7) Council Districts in the County. On all matters that come before the County Council, each member has one vote and normally a simple majority is sufficient to pass legislation.
A Bill is generally the means by which a law is made, and is introduced by the County Council. Council members sponsor their own Bills for introduction — a Bill may have an original sponsor and other members may sign on as co-sponsors. The County Charter is the County’s governing document (similar to a constitution) and it tells us a Bill that is not passed within 40 days from its introduction automatically fails. The County Council meets in regular legislative session every month of the year, generally on the first and third Monday of each month in the Council Chamber at 6:00 PM. In addition, the week prior to each Legislative Session, the Council meets as a committee of the whole and conducts what is called a “Work Session” to consider and discuss the matters that will come before it the following week. This occurs at 2:00 PM on the Tuesday prior to the Legislative Session in the Council conference room. Notice of both of these sessions, and the Bills to be considered, are posted continuously on the County Council’s website at: http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/countycouncil and are also posted in The Jeffersonian newspaper. Theses session are also open to the public.
The questions posed by many citizens is “how do we know what is going on, and how do we respond to it when we find out?”
Because of the 40 day time constraint, a Bill generally has a one-month cycle. For example, if a Bill is introduced on Monday, April 6th, it would be voted on at the Legislative Session on Monday, May 4th. So, when is there an opportunity for public input? During the period between when the Bill is introduced and voted on, members of the public may contact the offices of Council members to voice their concerns (whether by phone, email, or appointment). They may also attend the Work Session and provide their testimony on a Bill in person. Using the above example, the Work Session for a Bill to be considered for a vote on May 4th would be the prior Tuesday, April 28th. This is the date that the Bill is discussed, issues and concerns are raised, and questions are answered. Council members welcome public input; indeed, this is one of the main reasons for the Work Session — to give the public the opportunity to comment on the Bill and perhaps make suggestions on how to make it better or more effective, and to provide other perspectives on the Bill.