SOLAR IN THE AG RESERVE Montgomery County Council is expected to finalize rules pursuing solar panels in the Agricultural Reserve. On Jan. 26, 2021, the Council approved an additional amendment (by a 5-4 vote) to protect the two most agriculturally important classes of soils in the Agricultural Reserve, 93,000 acres permanently set aside by the 1980 Council for agricultural use.
The Council also held a straw vote (6-3) to require solar projects in the Reserve require a conditional use process, and ask that the Planning Department produce an impact report no later than Dec. 31, 2023.
The Council will officially vote Tuesday, Feb. 23. Hans Riemer, the original lead sponsor, introduced the potential for solar panels in the reserve as a way for the county to help meet its goal of using only clean energy by 2035.
After the straw vote at the end of January, Riemer said he would vote against his own bill. “I can no longer support the zoning change as it was amended by the Council on Jan. 26, 2021. If it comes before the Council again, I am hopeful that we will still find a compromise that provides a clean path forward for a meaningful amount of solar energy; if not, with regret, I will vote against it.”
RESTORATIVE JUSTICE The Council is expected to approve $750,000 for the Montgomery County Public Schools to increase its restorative justice program in 40 middle schools.
According to councilmembers Will Jawando and Hans Riemer, who introduced the legislation: “School discipline begins with the teacher, ensuring that all teachers are properly trained in mediating conflicts. Students are another key factor: ensuring that students take steps to atone for the harm they have caused has been correlated with lower suspension and expulsion rates and with students feeling. Principals and other administrators are also a key component, as they frequently request arrests or police intervention as a means of resolving disciplinary problems. Training all employees in MCPS in restorative justice and other practices to ensure equitable discipline from the classroom up through the administration is essential to reducing disparities and ensuring better outcomes for all students.”
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EXTREMISM The Council is expected to pass a resolution on Tuesday, Feb. 23 “reaffirming Montgomery County’s commitment to combat hate and extremism.”
“Montgomery County recognizes the value of cultivating an inclusive, safe and just society and culture. The events of January 6, 2021 shocked the nation as levels of hate and extremism have reached their highest levels in recent history. With this proclamation, Montgomery County is reaffirming its commitment to root out hatred, political exploitation and mistruths in all political and civil institutions.”
PREVENTING HOMELESSNESS The Council is expected to approve $31.4 million to allocate for eviction prevention and utility assistance. See related story on page 3 of this issue of The Almanac.
POLICE IN SCHOOLS The Council rescheduled its Feb. 23, 2021 hearing on Building Positive Law Enforcement Relationships within Schools for March 4, at 7:30 p.m. The Council already has one bill which would remove School Resource Officers from schools; this bill attempts to improve the SRO program.
Most who testified at the public hearing on the bill prohibiting officers from being in school’s full-time voiced opposition to having police officers in schools.
Montgomery County Public Schools acknowledges disproportionate arrest and discipline of Black students and students of color. It says it will make its own recommendations in May.
Wednesday, Feb. 24
495/270 TOLL LANES On Thursday, Feb. 18, the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration and the Maryland Transportation Authority announced the selection of Accelerate Maryland Partners, LLC (Transurban and Macquarie Capital), to become the developer responsible for overseeing predevelopment work on P3 project to widen the American Legion Bridge, I-495 and I-270 with four managed toll lanes.
“This is another step forward in addressing one of the most significant traffic bottlenecks in the nation,” said Transportation Secretary Greg Slater. “Though there is much more work to do with the local leaders, the community and stakeholders, the selected proposal delivers congestion relief at the American Legion Bridge, strong innovative approaches for minimizing impacts and a real multimodal approach.”
Despite opposition to the plan to improve and widen the American Legion Bridge and add two high occupancy toll lanes up to and on I-270, Maryland Department of Transportation chose this to be the best option to mitigate traffic concerns on the Beltway. Montgomery County planners and environmental groups have raised many environmental concerns that have not been addressed.
Citizens Against Beltway Expansion will hold a zoom rally Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 with Sen. Joanne Benson and Jim Rosapepe and delegates Marc Korman and Jared Solomon to “support bills that reform public-private partnership laws and stop MDOT from walking back promises on the $11 billion I-495/I-270 Luxury Lane plan and putting Maryland at risk of an even bigger Purple Line fiasco.” https://www.cabe495.com/
The Maryland General Assembly is currently in session, and the rally will give updates on legislation still being considered by the Maryland House and Senate.
House Bill HB485 and its Senate counterpart bill SB361 would reform state P3 laws to strengthen oversight and transparency during application reviews and after project approval.
HB67 and its counterpart SB843 would codify state promises for I-495/I-270 expansion, such as completing environmental review before engaging a developer, revenue set-asides for local transit. The Senate Bill is scheduled to be heard Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.
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