Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Communication Breakdown

Just for the fun of it, I decided to attend the County Council’s meeting to discuss our state delegation’s local bills this morning. I know, I know – politically-addicted bloggers have different definitions of fun than the rest of you. I expected in-depth discussion of state and county functions and the (supposedly) urgent issues in the bills. Instead, all I can hear is Robert Plant screeching Zeppelin’s famous anthem.

But first, we should define the term local bill. Most bills considered by Maryland’s General Assembly apply to all areas of the state. But sometimes the legislature considers local bills, which would only apply in a subordinate jurisdiction (like a county). Local bills are first voted on by the county’s delegation to the General Assembly, and if approved, must then pass the legislature. The Montgomery County speed camera bill is one example.

The County Executive and County Council do not sit mutely while these bills fly around. They take positions on them, as they did this morning. And they are not shy about expressing their opinions! One Delegate was mocked for drafting a bill “after reading about the issue in the newspaper.” Several other bills were derided for conferring new powers intended for “the muscular nation-state of Kensington.” And there was much hilarity when staff attempted to define the “sexual stimulants” referenced in Delegate Saqib Ali’s bill prohibiting them. (How much troublemaking enjoyment could be had in the field research on that one?)

Above all, what really stands out is the utter lack of communication between the state legislators and the County Council about these local bills. One aide told me, “They never talk to us about these bills before introducing them. They just put them in. It’s always been that way.” But sometimes these bills redefine the authority of either the county government or M-NCPPC. Common sense dictates that those entities be asked whether such changes would be helpful prior to submitting such bills. Instead, most of these bills come down with no warning, no consultation and no input beforehand.

That may be good for generating the sort of rampant eye-rolling I witnessed this morning. But it is not good for actually getting things passed.