Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

Group raising cash to fight transgender rights opposition

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Advocacy group Equality Maryland is trying to raise $5,000 in three days to match grants it has received to fight opponents of the county’s plan to add transgendered people to its anti-discrimination law.

Last week, opposition group Citizens for a Responsible Government filed more than 32,000 signatures with the Board of Elections to place a referendum on the law on the November ballot. At the beginning of this week, the board had certified 13,000 of the signatures and was still checking the remaining signatures.

Proponents of the county law, including Equality Maryland, have argued that CRG misled residents to acquire the signatures and used scare tactics. CRG established a Web site, sent out robo-calls to residents and collected signatures at various places in the county including grocery stores and churches.

In response, proponents launched their own ‘‘Decline to Sign” campaign and are challenging the signatures in hopes of stopping the referendum. Equality Maryland has received two matching grants totaling $5,000 to help pay for legal bills associated with the challenge. The group has sent out e-mail messages to its members and distribution lists asking for contributions to match the grants.

CRG needs 25,001 certified signatures for a referendum.

Council committees

Since the death of Marilyn J. Praisner, Council President Michael J. Knapp and Council Vice President Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg are temporarily filling her council positions on the planning and budget committees.

In her absence, Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park has been appointed temporary chairman of the planning committee. The interim committee assignments are in place through the end of March, said Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.

Knapp plans to make permanent committee assignments in time for operating budget hearings, which begin in April.

A special primary election is scheduled for Praisner’s District 4 seat on April 15, followed by a general election on May 13. Candidates seeking the seat must file with the Board of Elections by March 24. Unique to special elections, candidates do not have to be a resident of District 4 until the day of the election.

Praisner died Feb. 1 from complications following heart surgery.

Planning Board vacancies

The council is also seeking applicants to fill two seats on the county’s Planning Board, left vacant by Eugene Lynch, who died Feb. 1 after battling cancer; and Allison Bryant, whose term expires in June.

Interested candidates will be interviewed by the council in the first week of June following the council District 4 special election in May. Both seats should be filled by the end of June, Knapp said.

Sudanese divestment

The efforts of a group of high schools have paid off in the form of a council bill aimed at divesting from Sudan.

Elrich has proposed the divestment legislation on behalf of Blair and Magruder High School students. The students had lobbied local and state officials to divest from the country in light of the ongoing civil war which has displaced about 2.5 million people and killed as many as 400,000.

‘‘Divestment can help stop the genocide in Darfur,” Elrich said. ‘‘It can place great pressure on the Sudanese government. Every entity that can join in this effort will help take steps to end the atrocities.”

Four council members have signed on to the bill that would prohibit the county employees’ retirement system from investing in businesses conducting operations in Sudan under some circumstances.

Leggett gets creativefor Praisner tribute

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) changed some rules to rename the county library and recreation center in Fairland for Praisner.

The ‘‘interim procedure” the executive branch established Feb. 8 allows the executive to waive requirements that he first get the advice of council members, department officials, historic preservationists and others, as well as provide an opportunity for the public to comment.

Before waiving those requirements, the executive must find a ‘‘compelling reason” to do so, the rule says.

The compelling reason is ‘‘she’s passed away,” said Leggett spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield.

‘‘I think he just wanted to do it more expeditiously, at the same time we’re paying tribute to her,” Lacefield said.

‘‘... It’s a little different than somebody who’s still around,” he continued.