The Council enacts local public laws for the "peace, good government, health, and welfare of the county." Since State laws take precedence over local laws, the Council must not enact any law that is contrary to State law; in case of a conflict, State laws are preeminent. Most criminal laws that we are familiar with are State laws.
The Charter requires that the County Council hold a public hearing on every proposed law, and a majority of 5 votes is required to enact a law. Emergency legislation, which is declared necessary for the immediate protection of public health or safety, requires 6 votes for enactment. If the County Executive vetoes a law enacted by the Council, the Council within 60 days may, by the vote of 6 members, override the veto.
Individual Councilmembers introduce bills based on their own experience with community problems or because they have been approached by a constituent or group of constituents. For example, the original legislation banning smoking in public buildings was suggested by a constituent with a respiratory ailment who found that she could not attend public meetings where smoking was permitted.
Often, a proposal originates in the Executive branch of county government. Officials who are responsible for enforcing an existing law may discover problems in enforcement or see community problems that are not covered by existing law. Bills are drafted by the Executive branch and submitted to the Council President who introduces them as a courtesy "at the request of the County Executive."
Council standing committees undertake studies and receive briefings on community problems and sometimes sponsor legislation as a result of their program oversight. Committees also review, and may recommend amendments to, legislation, normally after the Council has held its public hearing on the bill.
A bill must be introduced in a legislative session by a Councilmember, the Council, or a Council committee. Often several Councilmembers will associate themselves with a proposal as co-sponsors of the bill.
The requirements for public notice are spelled out in law. Public hearings are advertised in advance, usually in the legal notice section of the Montgomery Journal. Council ads are marked with the County Coat of Arms.
Legislation enacted by the Council is delivered to the County Executive, who has 10 days to approve or disapprove it. If the Executive vetoes the bill, the Council has 60 days to reenact it over the Executive's veto by the vote of 6 members.
In the case of emergency legislation necessary for the immediate protection of public health or safety, notice of public hearing may be given by press release. Six votes are required to enact an Emergency bill. Emergency legislation takes effect immediately; regular legislation takes effect 91 days after enactment.
The County Charter provides that citizens may petition to have a referendum on any law. Those wishing to have a law placed on the ballot must submit the signatures of 5% of the registered voters within 90 days after the bill becomes law, and must submit half that number within 75 days. For information on referendum procedures, call the Supervisor of Elections at (240) 777-6450.