Council and Public Access to Information and
Extension of Lifetime of Bills to be Considered by Council
The Council will be Considering Two Initiatives Long Championed By Councilman Kach
At this Tuesday’s upcoming work session, the Baltimore County Council will consider a series of Charter Amendments recommended by the Charter Review Commission, as well as an additional Charter Amendment I introduced, at the request of two members of the Commission.
In order for these amendments to County Charter to be enacted, the affirmative vote of five members of the County Council is required (Charter Amendments are not subject to the County Executive’s veto). Once passed, the proposed amendments will be submitted to the voters of the County in the November 2018 elections. If passed by the voters, the amendments will become a part of the Charter thirty days after the election.
Please consider attending the work session to testify on the following two proposals. The hearings will be held March 27 at 2pm. Also, please contact the other members of the Council to enlist their support.
- Extension of the Lifetime of Council Legislation
Given its membership, it is no secret that I have had severe reservations about the ability of the Commission to produce needed reforms in county government.
However, one of the recommendations of the commission is, in my opinion, extremely significant. If passed, the County Council will have 65 days, instead of the current 40, to consider legislation before the Council. Two years ago, I introduced legislation designed to extend this time period.
However, I could not get the five votes necessary for its passage. At the time, Council members felt that this subject needed to be vetted by the Commission first.
Currently, the County Charter states that any bill not passed within 40 days after its introduction is dead. As a result of the 40-day time limitation, during the summer months when the Council meets only one time per month, a bill introduced at the first Monday session of a month must be voted on and passed at the first Monday session of the following month.
During the rest of the year, when the Council meets in Legislative Session on the first and third Mondays of each month, the one month cycle works the same way. A bill introduced at the first Monday session must be voted on at the first Monday session the following month. Similarly, a bill introduced at the third Monday session must be voted on by the third Monday session of the following month.
I believe that extending the lifetime of a bill to 65 days is vital to improve openness and transparency in the legislative process. If there is one constant criticism of the Council that I hear from constituents, it is that they feel that sometimes last minute amendments are rushed through and voted on without proper vetting by the public.
These seemingly last minute changes occur because if the Council does not vote on the legislation within 40 days, the legislation is considered dead. Not only does this short timeframe for consideration defy proper vetting of legislation, it also severely limits time for citizen input.
Expanding the time limit to 65 days would allow for the Council to have more time to consider any last minute substantive changes to controversial pieces of legislation, and in the process would allow for the public to have a greater voice in considering such changes.
- Council and Public Access to Information
Upon the recommendation of Nedda Pray, our Third District’s appointee to the Charter Review Commission, and Tony Campbell, the Fifth District’s appointee, I have submitted a Charter Amendment mandating that the Executive Branch and the Administrative Agencies provide information in a timely fashion upon request by the Council.
As currently written in Article III, Section 310 of the Charter, members of the legislative branch may request information that is held by the departments of the executive branch or the administration for “purpose of inquiry or information.” However, there is no written requirement that the executive branch produce this information in a timely way, or even at all.
Because of this, too many times, Council members (myself included) have had problems obtaining information from the executive branch. This problem is not reducible to one party or district; it affects the vast majority of Council offices. In our role as lawmakers and in our function providing constituent service, the necessity of having information about the daily operations of county government is self evident, and access to it should be seem-less.
While this concern is noted in the Commission Report, they do not make any recommendations to fix this problem, noting that they felt it is not their place to delineate the relationship between the Council and the Executive. This Charter Amendment would provide a solution to this very serious problem which was noted by the Commission.
I encourage you to contact the other members of the Council to advocate for these two badly needed changes to the Charter and to attend and testify on March 27th.