I wrote about an update to Ho. Co. 11-17 back on the 9th and now I have more information for you. This proposed legislation made it though the Howard County Delegation (with some changes) and has now been assigned House Bill 1299.
I had a chance to review HB 1299 and even had a chance to briefly chat with Delegate Atterbeary about the bill and the changes. I am happy to see this continue to move forward (as opposed to last year when it was killed) and I do see this as potentially a good first step but I am disappointed that the full delegation would not pass the original version. Compromise is important at times to move legislation along but do the changes this year hurt more than help? You can decide when you read the changes below.
Now on to the details of this legislation…specifically looking at what the amendment changes from the original version.
The original legislation called for the following:
THE SEVEN ELECTED MEMBERS SHALL BE ELECTED AS FOLLOWS:
ONE MEMBER FROM EACH OF THE FIVE COUNCILMANIC DISTRICTS IN THE COUNTY, ELECTED BY THE VOTERS OF THAT DISTRICT; AND TWO MEMBERS AT LARGE, ELECTED BY THE VOTERS OF THE COUNTY.
What made it into HB 1299 is the following:
THE SEVEN ELECTED MEMBERS SHALL BE ELECTED AS FOLLOWS:
FIVE MEMBERS, EACH OF WHOM RESIDES IN A DIFFERENT ONE OF THE FIVE COUNCILMANIC DISTRICTS IN THE COUNTY; AND TWO MEMBERS WHO MAY RESIDE ANYWHERE IN THE COUNTY.
The seven elected members of the Howard County Board shall be elected: From Howard County at large BY THE VOTERS OF THE ENTIRE COUNTY
Now let’s be very clear in what this change does…instead of individuals in districts voting for “their” Board of Education member (in the 5 councilmanic districts), the entire county will vote for all 5 seats as well as the two at large seats. I personally do not like this change and here is the scenario I see happening that really concerns me:
2 candidates (candidate A and Candidate B) will run for HoCoBOE in district 5 (you can insert any district number here). Candidate A receives the most votes from voters in District 5 but Candidate B gets the most votes in the County. Candidate B wins and District 5 does not get the representation they preferred.
If you feel that this is OK then I guess you would support no longer having Howard County Council Members elected by district vote but now we should have this go to a full county vote for those 5 seats. While we are at it, why should the most votes in districts for State Senator or Delegate be used to select representation in Annapolis, we should go ahead and make that a statewide vote as well. OK, yes, I know I am being ridiculous but that is what I think of this change to the legislation.
There are other changes but this is the BIG change that apparently was necessary to get Senator Kasemeyer on board and vote yes this year. Without his yes vote, this bill would have died as it did last year. Yes, I do realize that Senator Bates also voted against this bill last year (as she is a Republican – her no vote is not a shocker against a bill written by a Democrat) and you will read below that she voted no again this year. She and Delegate Flanagan withdrew their competing HoCoBOE election bills this month (thank goodness, they were not good bills in my opinion).
Before you say to me “but Montgomery County does it this way”, here is my response: because one jurisdiction writes a bad bill does not mean we should do the same thing here. I mean, if Montgomery County jumped off a bridge, should we also? (I feel like my parents taught me that lesson when I was young).
One additional change I will mention…the original bill was designed to begin in 2018…HB 1299 begins this legislation in 2020. OK, not earth shattering but I thought worth mentioning. I am not sure what the additional two years does except to delay enacting this even further out.
I am trying to stay positive and look at this as a good thing and a much needed first step. I am a big fan of Delegate Atterbeary and know she has worked very hard on getting this passed for more than a year. I applaud her efforts and none of my frustration is with her, it really is all about Senator Kasemeyer at this point. Why does he not trust the the voters in each district to choose their own representative to the Board of Education? Has he cut a deal with someone? Is he playing “partisan politics” in a county that is mostly “Blue” in order to stack the Board of Education with those in his own party? These may be questions the voters in District 12 ask in the next election.
Before I catch heck over the fact that Board of Education is a non-partisan election let me tell you that is far from the truth. This argument was brought up last year when the bill was killed. Anyone that is involved with local politics or watching it knows which candidates are Republicans or Democrats. Just look at which HoCoBOE candidate signs are hanging in or positioned around the political party tents, trailers or other structures at community events. If you just watch social media and posts from local political parties, it is easy to tell which BOE candidates are supported by which political party (by the signs in the photos – I have MANY examples for those that need convincing of this fact).
I always find it interesting to look back on who supported or who opposed legislation, here is how the vote went down on this bill (as amended):
I believe Delegate Pendergrass may have voted no because of the same concerns I have with the changes from the original proposed legislation,
but I do not have final confirmation of that fact. I will try and reach out to her for confirmation on her no vote. (see her comment below).
I did reach out to some folks at the BOE and at the state for comments yesterday, here is what I have received so far: (if I get additional comments in the future, I will be sure to update this post)
Kirsten Coombs (Board of Education) – I was surprised that it included the whole county voting for the entire Board of Education. The method of determining who the at-large candidate will be based on 2018 which seems like a reasonable way to do so. I know that others have concerns about the fairness of voters in other districts voting on their district’s choice. This doesn’t do away with countywide races, though, which I had thought was an initial effort in the 2016 legislation. This bill does encourage geographic diversity, which is good as six out of the seven adult members live west of Rt. 29.
Delegate Shane Pendergrass (District 13) – Delegate Atterbeary’s hard work and collaborative approach made it very difficult to vote against the school board bill. While I would have voted for it in its original form, the bill lost the most important aspects when it was amended. My goal was to empower well intentioned people with volunteer experience in the area of education (likely from their local PTAs), and with no particular political background, to run in districts that are manageable in size. This would ultimately provide constituents with a greater level of accessibility and accountability in their elected officials. I believe the Howard County School Board members would innately understand the importance of working together for the benefit of all schools. The bill as amended did not accomplish my goals.
If this passes and becomes law, I will hold out hope that it is brought forward again and the voting process is corrected so that local jurisdictions have the say in who represents their district on the Board of Education.
I am curious on your thoughts on the changes in this bill and curious if you support it today?