The Charles County Board of Commissioners, the county’s delegation to the General Assembly and the Charles County Board of Elections were among the attendees of a public round table Tuesday afternoon at the Waldorf West Library to discuss the process for submitting bills to the state legislature.
Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said that he wanted to “establish a sense of continuity” in the way the county prepares legislation for consideration by the General Assembly, which meets every year for 90 days from January through April.
“I want to make it clear, this is essentially the first time we as a board have decided to convene at this early stage to begin the process of [discussing] the legislative process,” Collins said. “A lot of the information that you will be hearing this evening will be news to us as well.”
Collins said that he believed it was important to begin the process of reviewing how bills are crafted and submitted to the county’s delegation so far in advance of the session was because he wanted to ensure that “all of the legislative proposals and interests of the county are being secured” and that both county elected officials and resident alike have an opportunity to share concerns with their state representatives.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) participated in the round table discussion, as well as Charles County State’s Attorney Tony Covington (D), Charles County Sheriff Troy D. Berry (D), Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly Hill and the mayors of La Plata and Indian Head.
Katie Nash, a partner at Greenwill Consulting Group, began the discussion by walking participants through the timetable for identifying legislative priorities and submitting them to the county delegation. Greenwill is the county’s lobbyist at the State House.
The review process discussed at Tuesday’s meeting would begin with a legislative priorities meeting with all of the round table participants, followed by solicitations of legislative proposals by county agencies, boards and commissions, and residents by Aug. 1. Public hearings to discuss the proposals would be held in September, with the goal of having the legislative package ready to present to the delegation by mid-October.
Commissioner Amanda M. Stewart (D) requested clarification on the process for submitting bond bills, which are requests for state funds in support of capital projects, pointing out that the process does not appear to be widely understood by local nonprofit organizations that could benefit from them.
Although calls for bond bill submissions are advertised in local media, “we can certainly do a better job of advertising them,” said Del. Edith Patterson (D-Charles).
“We look very carefully at projects and the justifications for them,” Patterson said of the county delegation, of which Patterson is chair. The other members of the delegation are Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles), Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles) and Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles).
Another type of legislation that the delegation is typically asked to consider are so-called “county bills,” which only affect the laws of a specific county rather than the whole state.
Patterson explained that county bills are typically passed without opposition as a matter of courtesy. In the 2019 session, three of the four county bills submitted by the Charles County delegation passed.
The fourth bill, which proposed to exempt craft breweries and distilleries from the county mandated cap on the number of alcohol retailers in order to allow them to sell their own products on site, stalled in the Senate when Ellis placed a hold on it, preventing any further consideration.
Following a lively discussion primarily between the delegation and the county commissioners, the commissioners voted to approve four recommendations from Greenwill to modify the legislative review process.
One suggestion would broaden the effort to solicit citizen suggestions to include local organizations such as the Charles County Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Charles County. Another suggestion approved by the commissioners would ensure that legislative proposals by county agencies would require review and approval by the county commissioners prior to being released for public comment.
Another change involved adding an extra step following the review of draft bills by the state Department of Legislative Services. Once a draft bill has been reviewed, Patterson will send a copy back to the county for review by staff before the delegation moves the bill further through the legislative process.
Also, the process was clarified to emphasize that the county attorney can also prepare letters of opposition and requests for information in addition to letters of support for particular bills of interest to the county.
Collins wrapped up the nearly hour-long discussion by encouraging participants to stay engaged with the legislative process and to submit their ideas for improving it.
“This is only the beginning of the process,” Collins said. “This is essentially an opportunity for us to hopefully develop a better process, if you will, to provide an opportunity for us to work in tandem with our legislative leaders to ensure that the interests of the county are preserved moving forward.”