The Prince George’s County Council has more than 60 items — ranging from rules that would ban the sale of lighters designed to look like guns and novelty items to changes that would virtually cut in half the time necessary to seize and raze abandoned properties — to address before the session ends Nov. 20.
Oct. 23 marked the last day for the introduction of new measures before the council as the legislative body takes its winter recess .
This year, the council has passed or has before it a total of 107 measures, up from about 65 in 2011, according to council records. Of the 107 measures that were introduced to the council since Jan. 31, about 43 have been passed while the rest are still being worked on or are in need of additional hearings to be passed, according to county records.
“We’re really going to have our nose to the grindstone for the next few weeks,” said Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington.
Not all of that legislation is being actively worked on, said Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro. Some measure are proposed, may be dropped as a priority or may be reworked with other legislation. Still the overall uptick in measures before the council may be due to the fact that some council members are relatively new to the body with multiple members having only been elected to the legislative body in the 2010 general election, or in the case of Councilman Derrick Davis (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville, only joining the council last year. As the council’s members have become more familiar with their jobs and with the issues their constituents face, the number of legislative issues have increased, Franklin said.
“You have members who have gotten a year of experience under their belt,” he said. “They've done their homework so you’re see it paying off.”
Franklin has about one-third of his legislative priorities, or about 12 measures, still awaiting passage, he said.
“If it’s gone through and been voted out by committee, it’s very likely it will get passed,” Franklin said.
Time is a factor as legislation passed before the body can require weeks of public hearings before the council can take a final vote on a measure. A bill, for example, can require three public hearings and can take around six weeks to pass, said Karen Zavakos, legislative officer for the council.
Measures left for the council to decide before the winter recess include a proposal to change the county code to include veterans and disabled veterans as minority individuals to give them access to contracts geared toward minority businesses and a proposal to change the county’s code of ethics for its employees.
If measures aren’t passed by the council before the end of the session, they would have to be brought back next year and restart the legislative approval process, said council spokeswoman Angela Rouson.
Not passing a measure isn’t always a bad thing, Franklin said. While a proposal can lose momentum during the winter break, the extra time can also allow an idea to be further refined, he said.
“Sometimes it gives you an opportunity to improve the legislation and make it better,” Franklin said. “It just depends on the reason you pulled it back and the reason you didn't act on it.”
Some measures, such as redefining development tiers in the county, have time constraints on them. The legislation, which would change what types of development can occur in different areas of the county, is in response to a state law, Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, that requires jurisdictions to establish development growth tiers and largely restrict development in their rural tier. If the council doesn’t approve new regulations in line with the state law, the county may have to hold off on major subdivisions in rural parts of the county and in some more developed areas.
Ultimately, the council will have to work through the measures to get them passed before the end of the session, Patterson said.
“It’s going to be very, very, very busy,” he said.
A list of legislation on the County Council’s docket can be found on the county government’s Web site at http://lis.princegeorgescountymd.gov/lis/ under the section labeled “Reports.”