City Council Member Pushes for Restaurant Health Inspection Transparency

In an attempt to increase transparency over the health inspection reports for the more than 5,700 restaurants in Baltimore City, Council Member Brandon Scott has introduced a bill requiring the establishments to post their most recent inspection results on the outside of their restaurants.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

The bill is the latest attempt in what’s been a four-year effort by Scott to let Baltimore customers know more about the cleanliness of the restaurants in which they eat. Unlike previous failed attempts, this version of the bill does not contain a letter grading system.

“This is about being transparent about the health of the citizens of Baltimore,” Scott said, citing restaurant grades in New York and elsewhere.

The article notes that the bill is raising concern restaurant owners who have opposed Scott’s prior legislative attempts to require them to post letter grades of their inspection reports. The current bill takes a different approach to transparency by requiring the full report to be posted. Council Member Scott has also introduced a bill requiring restaurants to offer healthy drink options with kids’ meals.

While his previous inspection transparency bills failed, he was successfully in passing a bill in 2015 that required restaurants that were forced to close due to health code violations to post signs noting why they are closed. Additionally the Baltimore City Health Department has launched an online database providing consumers with information regarding restaurant health inspections.

To learn more:

Baltimore councilman seeks to require restaurants to post health inspection results (The Baltimore Sun)

 

The Costs of Luring Amazon

building-2762319_1920It seems like everyone is talking about luring Amazon’s second headquarters to their jurisdiction, and the State is no exception. With Amazon’s deadline for proposals coming this week, Douglass Mayer, spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, has said that Maryland will propose “the biggest incentive offer in the State’s history by a mile,” reports The Baltimore Business Journal

From that coverage:

Already, the state has invested more than $50 million in tax incentives for two Amazon distribution centers in Baltimore and Cecil County. Another package totaling at least $16.2 million is awaiting a deal under negotiation in Baltimore County at the former Sparrows Point steel mill site.

In total, Amazon has netted $1.24 billion in taxpayer backed incentives across the U.S., a special report by the Business Journals highlighted this week.

Mayer said Hogan had sanctioned the pie-in-the-sky tax break package as part of the ongoing push for HQ2 and monitors the developing bids daily. The historic incentive package no doubt will blast past the $317 million offered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to move its headquarters to Prince George’s County last year.

Amazon’s deadline for proposals fors its estimated $5.5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs is this Thursday, October 19. Prince George’s, Howard and Baltimore City have all indicated their intentions to place bids.

More on the competition for Amazon:

UMD System Waives Tuition Rule For Amazon Employees

Baltimore submits city as a contender for Amazon’s 2nd HQ search

Governor To Seek Hometown Heroes Tax Break Expansion

Last Friday at the Western Correctional Institution in Allegany County, Governor Larry Hogan announced that he plans to seek legislation this upcoming session to expand the Hometown Heroes state and local income tax breaks to retired correctional officers. He also said he wants to expand the tax break to cover all pension income, not just the first $15,000 – a move that could cost counties significant amounts in local income tax revenues.

Last session the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 597/House Bill 100, referred to colloquially as the “Hometown Heroes Act” and substantially similar to the Governor’s Senate Bill 322/House Bill 388 of that name. The Act provides for a subtraction modification for the first $15,000 of retirement income for individuals at least 55 years of age who are retired law enforcement officers or fire, rescue, or emergency services personnel. MACo opposed this legislation on the grounds that it would cause local revenues to decrease by $2.5 million in FY 2018 and by $2.8 million in FY 2022. After many years of consideration by the legislature, the bill passed this year and the Governor signed it – making the tax deduction available for the 2017 tax year.  Bill Information | MACo Coverage

From the Governor’s press release:

The 2017 legislation exempted retired law enforcement and fire, rescue, and emergency response personnel from state income taxes on a portion of their retirement income. The Hometown Heroes Act of 2018 will expand the previous law to include correctional officers who perform some of the most difficult jobs in the public safety sector. In addition, the bill will exempt all retirement income received from these occupations from state income taxes.

The Washington Post covers the story.

School Bus Stop Arm Violations Down From Last Year

A new Maryland Department of Education-sponsored survey shows that Maryland motorists are paying more attention to school bus stop arms.

According to a press release:

Stop arms swing out from a bus and lights flash whenever it is making an on-roadway student pick-up. A total of 3,384 violations of school bus stop arms were recorded on a single day last spring. That represents nearly a 1,000 violation decrease compared to the number recorded in 2016 and well below the 7,011 recorded when the survey began in 2011.

Governor Larry Hogan issued a proclamation declaring School Bus Safety week from October 16-20. The new survey results are being released as that observance is about to begin.

MSDE coordinated the survey in April along with school transportation directors in all 24 school systems. It is considered a snapshot of illegal activity on the roads. Eighty percent of Maryland school bus drivers took part in the survey.

School systems, bus drivers, and law enforcement have been raising awareness about stop arm violations for the past seven years.

Large systems with more buses and bus routes noted the most violators. Baltimore County tallied the most – 767, followed closely by 661 witnessed by Montgomery County school bus drivers. Both systems found significant decreases in comparison to last year.

The MSDE survey this past spring was undertaken at the behest of a number of members of the Maryland General Assembly, which has been monitoring school bus safety. The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services is coordinating surveys of this type in all 50 States.

Read the full press release for more information.

Conduit Street Podcast, Episode #3 – Education Funding In Maryland

The first major review of education funding in more than ten years is nearing completion. The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission.

Many of the Thornton Commission’s recommendations were incorporated into the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, a plan intended to increase statewide education funding by $1.1 billion over five years.

One element of the Bridge to Excellence Act was a second review of the State’s education funding. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is that second review.

On the latest episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Kevin Kinnally and Michael Sanderson discuss education funding in Maryland.

MACo has made the podcast is available through iTunes by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

Listen here:

Kirwan Commission Stays True To Form

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education held its most recent meeting today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission is charged with reviewing and assessing current education financing formulas and accountability measures.

It was widely anticipated that today’s meeting would focus on education funding, especially because some Commissioners recently expressed concerns over how little time has been spent analyzing proposed funding changes. Instead, staying true to form, the Commission spent the day listening to testimony on broad policy initiatives.

Robert Slavin, Director, Center for Research and Reform in Education, Johns Hopkins University, testified on the importance of intensive, individual programs, such as one-on-one tutoring, for students struggling to achieve proficiency standards. While the Commission seemed to agree on a philosophical level, some Commissioners said the approach was cost prohibitive.

Career and technical education (CTE) continued to be a hot topic of discussion. Commissioners agreed that Maryland’s CTE standard is less rigorous than the standard in top performing systems.

In addition to providing more rigorous CTE programs, the Commission recommends that Maryland implement a communication plan to dispel the notion that CTE programs are only meant for students who do not excel in traditional academic subjects. This communication plan will also inform students and parents that enrolling in a CTE program in no way precludes the ability to attend college.

Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice, representing MACo on the Commission, praised efforts to expand CTE programs in Maryland. According to Councilmember Rice:

CTE programs have been very successful in counties, and with a small state investment, these programs can continue to grow. Expanding CTE should rise to the top of our recommendations. A lot of the the recommendations we’re talking about are very expensive, this one isn’t. It’s a no brainer.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, representing the Maryland House of Delegates on the Commission, expressed frustration with the lack of input from the business community on how to best expand CTE programs, she stated:

The business community worked side by side with the Thornton Commission, but now no one is here on behalf of the business community. We need a renewed dialouge with the business community.

The Commission also heard panel testimony from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland (PSSAM), and the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), among others.

MABE’s presentation included an emphasis on the importance of local boards of education having authority over local education spending. MSEA outlined their top three priorities:

  1. Increased salaries for teachers.
  2. Increased staffing for schools.
  3. Addressing poverty

The Commission’s next meeting will focus on the analysis from Augenblick, Palaich & Associates (APA) and the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). Dr. Kirwan has asked representatives from APA and NCEE to attend the meeting to discuss the methodology for costing out their proposed recommendations.

The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission. MACo is entitled to two representatives on the Commission, under the legislation.

Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair, and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Vice Chair, represent MACo on the Commission.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 25, 2017; 9:30 am-5:00 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

Click here to view today’s meeting materials.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.

Montgomery Passes Legislation On Short-Term Rentals

Legislation Addresses Short-Term Rental Services Like Airbnb and HomeAway

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to enact two legislative proposals that address the legal and regulatory status of short-term rentals in the County. The two measures, Zoning Text Amendment 17-03 and Bill 2-16, represent Council Vice President Riemer’s and the Montgomery County Planning Board’s recommendations to balance the substantial economic potential for County residents of short-term residential services like Airbnb with concerns about regulating these services.

According to a press release:

ZTA 17-03 makes bed and breakfasts limited uses in most residential and mixed-use zones. It limits the total number of adult overnight guests in a short-term rental to six, limits the total number of adult overnight guests per bedroom to two, and requires one off-street parking space for each rental contract. These measures put in place a regulatory framework that did not exist before, addressing concerns about the potential for residential housing to be used exclusively as a short-term rental service.

ZTA 17-03 was approved with two revisions: (1) The dwelling unit used as a short-term rental must be the property owner’s or owner-authorized resident’s primary residence, which was an amendment recommended by the PHED Committee and (2) If the property owner or owner-authorized resident is not present in the residence, the property can be used as a short-term residential rental for a maximum of 120 days in a calendar year, which was an amendment recommended by Councilmember Katz.

The Council also enacted Bill 2-16, which requires that several conditions be met to receive short-term residential licensing. Bill 2-16 was introduced by Council Vice President Riemer and cosponsored by Councilmember Rice.

“By bringing all the stakeholders together, we were able to find a balance that works for us here in Montgomery County,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “This legislation will allow residents and visitors to get the value of home-sharing services, while preventing abuse and stopping investors from creating de facto hotels in residential neighborhoods and taking valuable housing stock off the market.”

Useful Links

Montgomery County Council Bill 2-16

Montgomery County Council Zoning Text Amendment 17-03

Harford Partners With Chamber On County Business “Meet & Greet”

On September 28, the Harford County Department of Procurement, in partnership with the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, hosted its second annual “Meet & Greet” for local businesses to learn about doing business with Harford County government.

Procurement Director Karen Myers led the discussion on topics including insurance and other requirements, the meaning of “best and final offer,” and the importance of achieving “best value.” Director Myers told the audience of more than 40 attendees that fair competition and best value are key to all public procurements.

Moving forward, Harford County will continue to follow best practices in procurement as it strives to ensure maximum value for taxpayer dollars.

Now Accepting Applications for MACo’s Paid Session Internship

Gain valuable experience in legislative affairs, learn about Maryland counties, and make state and local government contacts.

Paid Internship Available for 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session

MACo mark color
MACo Seeks an Intern for the 2018 General Assembly Session.

The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) is seeking an intern to assist the Executive Director and staff during the 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session.

QUALIFICATIONS

Applicant must be self-motivated, possess a level of maturity and interest necessary to initiate and complete research requirements with little supervision, and possess good writing, communication, and computer skills. Specialization in law, political science, public affairs, economics, history or public policy is preferred.

Knowledge of state and local government issues and structure is a plus for this position. The MACo office and the General Assembly buildings are located in downtown Annapolis and walking from MACo’s office to General Assembly and government buildings will be required.

SCHEDULE

The internship runs from January to mid-April. The internship includes approximately 20 hours a week, and additional hours may be considered. Weekday daytime hours are required and additional evening hours or work from home may be allowed.

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Conduct research on introduced and proposed legislation
  • Assist MACo staff with preparation and delivery of testimony and materials
  • Write articles for MACo’s blog, Conduit Street
  • Conduct additional in-depth research and assist with surveys on topics affecting county governments
  • Attend public bill hearings and budget hearings

 
DEADLINE

Application deadline is November 10, 5:00 pm. Interviews will begin the following week.

CONTACT

Interested candidates should contact Leslie Velasco, Administration and Finance Director, at lvelasco@mdcounties.org.

For more information about the internship, please read MACo’s Paid Internship Announcement.

Is the Kirwan Commission the Best Kept Secret in Maryland?

At a panel discussion at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education Conference, Commissioners on the statewide education policy group reveal process, timing, and outreach concerns.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education Conference last week offered an educational workshop on the Kirwan Commission titled, “What You Need to Know About the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.”

According to the comments of the panelists and the audience, the session was aptly named.

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Panelists at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education meeting share concerns regarding opportunities for input by Commissioners and the public into the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

The speakers, who are all Kirwan Commission members, shared detailed information and insight into the broad-reaching potential consequences of the Commission’s work. These include:

  • Expanding pre-K offerings to provide universal pre-K to all 4-year-olds in Maryland, and also to some 3-year-olds
  • Changing the way that we determine children in poverty, using measures other than the free and reduced price meal index
  • Altering certifications for teachers and developing a new career track for the teaching profession

At the same time, the speakers revealed how little consideration, assessment, and input has been provided over the past year on recommendations that are now due, according to the Commission’s current schedule, in less than three months.

Timing

  • Much time during the Commission’s public meetings has been spent hearing testimony regarding foreign educational systems of questionable relevance to Maryland’s public schools. For example, panelists point out that testimony on schools in Singapore and Finland provides limited insight. Maryland schools that exists in a society with different social services, and certain expectations for serving a range of special needs students as compared with foreign institutions.
  • According to the panel, very little time or attention of the Commission has been spent on its primary charge: “to review and assess current education financing formulas and accountability measures, and how each local school system is spending its funds” and “review the Study on Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State of Maryland.”

Process

  • No draft recommendations on funding have been formulated, and the Commission’s end-date of December 31st. Keeping to this schedule will provide little opportunity for Commissioners to comment on recommendations to change or update education funding models.

Outreach

  • The Commission is in the process of conducting public hearings throughout the State. However, without any draft recommendations specific to funding questions, the public hearings provide little opportunity for input, suggestions, or criticism on the central charge of the Commission.

Montgomery County Council Craig Rice is MACo’s Education Committee Chair and represented MACo on the panel. Commissioner Rice recounted how he’s heard the Commission called, “the best kept secret in Maryland.”

Carroll County Superintendent Stephen Guthrie is the president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland and represents superintendents on the Kirwan Commission.

With regard to the Kirwan Commission, he stated,

 

Based on the pace that the Commission is working and the lack of analysis of the APA [consultant’s funding] recommendations so far, the Commission will not be ready to make a recommendation this December.

kirwan2
Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice speaks with members of the audience following the session about procedural questions regarding the Kirwan Commission.

The Kirwan Commission’s meeting today in Annapolis did not focus on funding, either, begging the question of whether the Commission will in fact delay it’s completion deadline and continue work through 2018. Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more coverage of today’s meeting.