Baltimore County Council held their first meeting of the new year last week in which a number of new legislative bills were introduced.
As local officials gathered for the first session last Tuesday, the county council kicked off the meeting by voting Councilman Julian E. Jones, Jr to be chair for the third year in a row.
District 5 Councilman David Marks, a Republican, nominated Jones for the position, citing the District 4 Democrat has “set an example” of bipartisanship.
In a council where Democrats outnumber Republicans four to three, this will be Jones’ third consecutive year where he serves as chair for the council—the first in county history.
“I’m happy to nominate Councilman Jones for chair,” Marks said. “I was impressed with the manner in which Councilman Jones has presided over the county’s redistricting process.”
Marks specifically praised the bipartisan process in which Baltimore County Council’s legislative map was redrawn last year.
However, civil rights groups like the NAACP had sued the county over the first approved map because it did not include enough representation for Black voters outside of Jones’ district and violated the Voting Rights Act. After a judge ruled the council to draw a new map, local civil rights groups still argued the second map failed Black voters, but the council ultimately approved it.
With Councilman Izzy Patoka seconding Marks’ motion Jones was reelected unanimously.
“I want to just thank each and everyone of you for your vote of confidence in me, I certainly appreciate your support and have enjoyed working with you over the years and look forward to working with new members,” Jones said after he was reelected chair.
Jones’ reelection to chair comes after two investigations last year by Baltimore County Inspector General Kelly Madigan.
Madigan reported in November last year Jones improperly directed the county funds to repave a private alleyway in Towson at a cost of nearly $70,000. The Inspector General also found Jones had included a donation link to his campaign from his government address as recently as April, breaking the county’s policy. Jones said that including the a donation link in his government emails was an honest mistake that he has since corrected.
After the vote for chair, the council introduced bills that centered on the county’s environment and school system.
The Bring Your Own Bag Act was introduced by Patoka last week and would ban retailers from offering plastic bags beginning Nov. 1, 2023.
According to the text of the legislation, stores can offer customers the choice of paper or reusable bags for the price of at least 10 cents each. The 10-cent charge would not apply to people who receive federal benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“I am proud to introduce and serve as one of the lead sponsors of the Bring Your Own Bag Act,” Patoka said. “Being able to introduce legislation that eliminates and reduces the use of plastic and paper bags is about strengthening our environment and protecting the future for generations to come.”
Both Marks and Councilman Tom Ertel have co-sponsored the plastic bag ban bill that will potentially forecast three votes of approval, needing only one more vote to adopt the legislation.
“Baltimore County has a responsibility to do everything we can to protect our environment for this generation and the next, and I commend this bipartisan effort by members of the County Council to reduce single-use plastics, which will help prevent plastic bags from littering our trees, waterways, and neighborhoods,” Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski said.
The Baltimore County Council will have a public hearing on the plastic bag legislation Jan. 31 at 4 p.m., where a final vote is scheduled for Feb. 6. Both meetings are open to the public in-person and online.
A resolution introduced by Marks also called on Baltimore County Public Schools to review the suitability of land proposed to be dedicated to the county.
Marks’ bill introduction came after a recent BCPS assessment ignored the County Council’s repeated calls to examine land in the Middle River area for a new high school site, according to the councilman.
“For more than 20 years, community leaders and parents have pushed for a new high school on the east side,” Marks said.
The supposed land is composed of approximately 400 acres at what was formerly known as the LaFarge Quarry in Middle River. Of the 400 acres, it was agreed that 40 acres should be dedicated to the county to make use for a vocational school.
According to the text, if a vocational school is not funded within five years, the council may choose an alternate use for the 40 acres.
A final reading and vote on the bill will occur at the Legislative Session at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17.