The Frederick County Council is considering a change to its rules for adopting legislation during the current pandemic. We encourage the council to think carefully about this, because it is a radical change.

The idea would potentially permit the council to introduce a bill and approve it in the same meeting, bypassing the procedures stipulated by the county charter to insure careful and public consideration of new county laws.

Under the draft of the bill that Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer put on the agenda this week, the County Council would be able to suspend its typical procedure of holding a workshop, first reading, second reading/public hearing and third reading/final vote in separate meetings.

The change was very briefly on the council’s agenda but was removed to give more time for review by County Executive Jan Gardner and her staff.

We are skeptical that this change is necessary, particularly because neither Keegan-Ayer nor the county attorney were able to point to any specific piece of legislation that would require such urgency. We cannot think of one either.

According to the draft, the proposed change would cover certain bills because of the coronavirus pandemic and the “catastrophic health emergency.”

It would differ from the existing emergency legislation process, Keegan-Ayer said, because those bills still need to go through an introduction and public hearing process in separate meetings. After that, a bill can either become law immediately or in less than the 60 days set by the charter.

The current proposal could compress that process to a single meeting.

“Whether it all gets done in one meeting or two meetings, it’s to shorten that six-week timeframe,” Keegan-Ayer told News-Post reporter Steve Bohnel.

County Attorney John Mathias told our reporter that Gardner and the County Council have the authority to enact a quicker legislative process because of Gov. Larry Hogan’s state of emergency and the executive orders he has signed since early March.

“I think the council is not going to use this very often and it will be limited to something that might require immediate action,” Mathias said. “They can only do it as long as the governor’s orders stay in place.”

We are leery of such a change because we have trouble conceiving a problem so urgent that it would have to be addressed that very day of the meeting. Perhaps the Gardner administration or the council president can provide such an example and persuade the public that the power is necessary.

But the council should be very careful to restrict such action to the clearest instances of absolute necessity. The bill should specify the circumstances in which the emergency power would be used and should, if possible, limit the time any bill approved under the process would be in effect.

Both the slower normal process and the current emergency process in the charter are there to ensure full consideration and public comment on changes to the laws. Laws made in haste frequently have unintended consequences that legislators live to regret.

We cannot know how long the pandemic emergency is going to last, nor whether a second wave will hit in the fall. We may be in this emergency for quite a while.

The state and the county need to be nimble in their responses, but too-quick lawmaking may be going too far. Let’s think hard about this change.

(10) comments

Lemmy

Do they need to expedite additional balloon release legislation more quickly?

User1

Interesting how the FNP stops reporting a story when there are too many negative responses then republished the same thing without the old comments. Again, why does Queen Jan feel she needs to circumvent the established process by cutting out public input prior to taking action? Taking her guidance from Leader Pelosi and her “give me your proxies and I’ll vote for you”? Dimocrats never let a crisis go to waste.

elmerchismo1

"Let's shorten that 6-week time frame. Let's make it, Oh...15 minutes..."

MD1756

The emergency might be pubic for the downtown hotel. No need for public input there right? Trust the politicians, they know what is best for us and no need to let the pesk public have input. They want to operate under the "it's better to get forgiveness than permission" plan.

TomWheatley

"It's just this one time" Ever hear that one before?

User1

Or “you can keep your doctor”?

machinehead666

This looks like a very suspicious attempt to hotwire the process. Maybe this admin would not take dangerous liberties. But consider this. Would this be something you would want if Blaine Young was still in the wings?

bosco

It's a slippery slope.

"Hitler attained power in March 1933, after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933 in that month, giving expanded authority. President Paul von Hindenburg had already appointed Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933 after a series of parliamentary elections and associated backroom intrigues. The Enabling Act—when used ruthlessly and with authority—virtually assured that Hitler could thereafter constitutionally exercise dictatorial power without legal objection."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler%27s_rise_to_power

User1

You mean sorta like our very own AG Froshole thinks he can do? One mans grudge against Trump with the taxpayers paying.

fnpzwack

I agree. This is a terrible bill. Imagine if the Blaine gang were to take back control of the county government. Would you still want them to be able to quickly pass legislation with no public comment? You gotta think about the future MCKA.

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