County's legislative delegation takes public's pulse at hearings
Oct. 29, 1997

Montgomery County's state legislators will hold the first of several public hearings before next January's General Assembly session Thursday evening in Rockville.

It will be the public's best chance to tell lawmakers what's on its mind. Citizens are invited to speak about anything, especially the county's transportation needs.

Beginning Nov. 6, the county's House and Senate delegations will hold hearings on the local bills they plan to sponsor in the legislature. Those bills deal with perennial Montgomery County issues like liquor, schools and the proposed Intercounty Connector (ICC) highway.

The ICC is sure to occupy a good bit of the lawmakers' time. It's uppermost on the minds of some of their most vocal constituents, and several lawmakers are sponsoring three bills designed to kill the proposed Gaithersburg-to-Laurel link.

One bill, sponsored by Dels. Dana Lee Dembrow (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, Henry B. Heller (D-Dist. 19) of Rockville, Adrienne A. Mandel (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring, Patricia A. Faulkner (R-Dist. 14B) of Silver Spring, and Raymond Beck (R-Dist. 39) of Derwood, would block all state funding for the project.

A second bill, with the same sponsors, would prevent the state from making the ICC a toll road without the assent of the county's legislators.

The third bill, sponsored by Mandel, Dembrow, Heller, Faulkner and Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring, would require the state and county governments to turn all the land they acquired for the highway into parkland.

Faulkner's presence on the bills is significant. Although she has voted against ICC funding in the past, she is increasing her visibility on the issue now that the state and county are considering an ICC route that would run through her district.

Similarly, Sen. Christopher J. McCabe (R-Dist. 14) of Ellicott City, whose district overlaps with Faulkner's, is stepping up his involvement in the ICC process. Although a strong supporter of the highway when its alignment took a more central and direct route, McCabe has just written to the State Highway Administration (SHA) expressing his concerns. In his Oct. 21 letter, McCabe urged state and county officials to "challenge" the federal agencies -- whose opposition to the so-called "master plan alignment" prompted the state to re-examine the route -- through more negotiations or legal action.

"Recent decisions by the state to eliminate from future planning the master plan alignment and the agreement to study possible 'hybrid' alternatives, place the ICC project at a greater risk of reaching completion than if the state and county stood firm today..." McCabe wrote. "In our rush to maintain the momentum for this important east-west road, the state and county may have acquiesced too quickly..."

But it appears unlikely that the state is going to change its stance all that quickly. Fran Counihan, a spokeswoman for the SHA, said Monday that agency officials had not yet responded to McCabe's letter.

"We're still hearing a lot of suggestions and input, and until that's finished, we're not taking any [new] positions," she said.

Hearings on the ICC bills haven't been scheduled yet, but liquor bills are among those on the Nov. 6 agenda. They include:

*a proposal to get the county government out of the liquor business in three years,

*an attempt to overturn a county law that prevents restaurants of 1,000 square feet or less from selling hard liquor, and

*a proposal to let the Olde Towne Tavern & Brewing Co. in Gaithersburg sell bottled beer in retail stores.

Both Thursday's hearing and the Nov. 6 hearing begin at 7:30 p.m. on the third floor of the County Council building, 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.