Skip to main content

Sidney Katz

Council Vice President

Councilmember Sidney Katz

District 3 Newsletter


Fall 2015

Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter!


Task Force Considering Mental Health Court

Councilmember
Sidney Katz

The County Council’s Public Safety Committee has the privilege and responsibility of looking out for the safety and general well-being of those who reside in Montgomery County—including those who reside in our jails. While it’s not one of those obligations of government that we often talk about, it’s a matter that is of great concern. And as the Public Safety Committee’s lead member on Behavioral Health in the Justice System, one of my major concerns is the treatment of the mentally ill.

According to a recent report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, at least 25 percent of all inmates in Montgomery and Howard Counties had a serious mental illness. In fact, as a nation, we now have three times as many seriously mentally ill people in our jails and prisons than we do in our hospitals. That’s an alarming number—and it’s one that can also have alarming consequences. Prisoners with untreated mental illnesses can be a greater danger to corrections officers, to other prisoners, and to themselves.

In Montgomery County, we're working to address some of the needs of this vulnerable population. Last month, Judge John W. Debelius convened a task force to consider the establishment of a Mental Health Court in Montgomery County. I’m very pleased to have been asked to serve on this task force, which is being chaired by Phil Andrews, the former County Councilmember for District 3, who now serves as the Director of Crime Prevention Initiatives for the State’s Attorney’s Office. Judge Gary E. Bair is serving as the co-chair.

One of the issues we hope to explore on this task force, for example, is the challenge of the increasing numbers of people committing minor crimes due to mental illness. In many cases, these individuals might have benefitted from a Mental Health Court, which could facilitate the appropriate treatment and refer them to community support programs, rather than locking them away. This won’t be easy – Maryland is one of only a very few states that do not permit involuntary treatment, so it is critical to ensure that any changes in our court system do not infringe on an individual’s right to choose treatment. However, several other jurisdictions in Maryland—including Hartford and Price George’s Counties—have successfully created Mental Health Courts to serve this vulnerable population. I’m optimistic that, working together, we can find a way to do the same here in Montgomery County. I'll keep you updated.

As always, if there's any way I can be of service to you, please don't hesitate to  contact me.

Regards,

Sidney A. Katz
Councilmember, District 3

Back to top.


 

Please Join Me In Aspen Hill/Twinbrook!

Town Hall Meeting with Councilmember Katz

Wednesday, September 30

7:00 p.m.

Aspen Hill Library
4407 Aspen Hill Road in Rockville


For more information, please call (240) 777-7906.

Back to top.


Sick and Safe Leave To Be Required of Employers

Watch Councilmember Katz's  remarks during the County Council's deliberations on the Earned Sick and Safe Leave bill.

The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved legislation that will require most employers doing business in the County to provide earned sick and safe leave to employees for work performed in the County. Enactment of the bill makes Montgomery County one of the few local jurisdictions in the nation to require some form of sick and safe leave for employees.

Earned sick and safe leave is paid leave that can be used for injury or illness of the employee or the employee's immediate family. It also can be used for time off needed due to domestic violence suffered by the employee or a member of the employee's immediate family. 

Under the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Bill (Bill 60-14), an employer must provide any type of paid time off that can be used by the employee. The bill applies to an employee, but not an independent contractor. The bill also excludes an employee who works less than eight hours a week. 

The new law will require an employer to provide earned sick and safe leave at a rate of at least one hour for every 30 hours an employee works in the County up to 56 hours in a calendar year. An employee would have to be paid for earned sick and safe leave at the same rate, and with the same benefits, as the employee normally earns. A tipped employee would have to be paid at least the County minimum wage for each hour the employee uses earned sick and safe leave. 

Finally, I'm pleased the Council approved an amendment specifically addressing the concerns of small businesses. That amendment provides that an employer with fewer than five employees would have to provide an employee with up to 32 hours of paid sick and safe leave per year plus an additional 24 hours of unpaid leave.

The new law will take effect on October 1, 2016.

For more information, click here .

Back to the top.


County Council Overhauls Taxicab Services

Two New Laws Provide Additional Cabs, Improved Conditions for Drivers

What began as a bill to permit rideshare services like Uber and Lyft to operate in Montgomery County turned into a comprehensive restructuring of the county's taxi services and improved working conditions for taxi drivers. In July, the County Council  unanimously approved two bill, Bills 33-15 and 53-14, that will improve taxi service in the County by helping the existing taxi structure better compete with new types of services. The bills also provide opportunities to have more taxicabs available to respond to riders, and address some working conditions for drivers. 

Key provisions of the new laws address taxicab regulations for company owners and drivers, including rules for Passenger Vehicle Licenses (PVLs). Under the new laws, the county has authorized the issuance of 50 accessible vehicle licenses to a driver-owned cooperative to help individual drivers and spur innovation in the expansion of wheelchair-accessible transportation. It also creates a centralized dispatch system for all County cabs, so you'll only have to call one number to hail any cab.


You'll see more cabs on the road, including more that are handicapped-accessible.


 

In its 2015 session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law regulating "transportation network companies" (TNCs), otherwise known as ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. The state law, which became effective on July 1, created a new regulatory framework within which TNCs in the State will operate. The law also authorized a county or municipality that licensed or regulated taxicab services on or before Jan. 1, 2015, including Montgomery County, to impose a charge of up to 25 cents on every TNC trip that originates within the county or municipality. The revenue generated from the assessments must be used for "transportation purposes."  This permitted the county, as part of our new law, to create a Transportation Services Improvement Fund, which the county can use to improve the delivery of accessible taxicab services. 

So what does this mean for those who need a cab? It means you'll see more cabs on the road, which should make it easier to get one when you need one. We'll also have more cabs available that are handicapped accessible.  Drivers should be happier and better compensated. And if you want to use Uber or Lyft -- well, you can do that, too.

Click here to read more about Bill 33-15, and here to read more on Bill 53-14.

Back to the top.


Taking the Sting Out of "Predatory Towing"

It's happened to many of us: you park your car in a jam-packed lot, dash into the store, run back out, then cross the street to spend a few minutes buying a cup of coffee -- and when you return, you find your car's been towed away. Chances are good that the moment you stepped off the curb to run very briefly into the coffee shop across the street, you were branded as a "walkoff" by a spotter, who contacted a nearby tow truck and had your car towed. That's called "predatory towing," and it's infuriating, expensive, and -- until recently -- it was also legal. 

In July, the County Council unanimously  approved Bill 17-15 to limit some of the practices that have led to the predatory towing of vehicles parked on private properties. Introduced by Councilmember Berliner, and cosponsored by every member of the Council, the bill was the subject of two extensive worksessions by the council's Public Safety Committee before its approval on July 21.

The Council's new legislation would require towin g companies to have personnel available 24 hours a day at their impound lots, so vehicle owners can retrieve cars at any time. The companies will also be required to accept credit cards to retrieve a vehicle -- it will no longer be a "cash only" transaction. Additionally, photographic evidence will be required to make the case that a tow was valid, and new requirements have been put into place regarding signage so that towing policies are clear and easy to find. Finally, the new law forbids the use  of "spotters" to identify vehicles for towing, clamping down on a practice that most find particularly galling.

Additionally, the Council accepted several amendments that we made in the Public Safety Committee, including prohibiting towing companies from monitoring, patrolling or lurking around commercial properties" for the purpose of identifying unauthorized parked vehicles for towing and removal."  In other words, a tow truck company can't troll a parking lot, waiting to pounce.


We should ensure the towing process is fair, less aggressive, and less frustrating.


 

Other amendments included in the bill will: strengthen the Office of Consumer Protection’s ability to enforce the law; require written authorization for each tow in the form of an authorization form provided in person, or via fax, email, or other electronic means; make contracts between property owners and towing companies more informative as to respective parties’ obligations and liability under the law; and make several changes to more closely aligning the County law with State law.

The bill also will allow vehicle owners to retrieve personal property from a vehicle that has been towed, but has not yet been released. It sets a maximum $25 fee for “incomplete tows” in situations where a vehicle has been hooked up to a tow truck, but the owner then approaches the truck operator and asks for their vehicle to not be towed. This so-called "drop fee" has been standard for years, and has varied in price, but has for too long felt like an under-the-table transaction. With this bill, we've made it clear that an incomplete tow costs no more than $25.  As a former small business owner -- who also had to oversee a parking lot for my customers -- I understand the need to ensure that businesses have enough parking for their customers, and that they should be permitted to have violating vehicles removed. However, I believed we can do so in a much more reasonable way by ensuring the towing process is fair, less aggressive, and less frustrating.

Finally, the bill requires property owners who wish to engage in non-consensual towing of vehicles for violating their parking policies to first electronically register their commercial lots and provide annual reports on towing activity, unless the director of the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) waives the requirement after a finding that Police Department records meet the OCP’s needs for enforcement of the law.

To see a copy of the new law, click here. For the background packet submitted to the Council for consideration, click here.

Back to the top.


North Potomac Joint Town Hall Meeting

Hosted by Councilmembers Rice and Katz

Wednesday,

October 21

7:00 p.m.

Quince Orchard High School

15800 Quince Orchard Road in Gaithersburg

For more information, contact Daniela Moya-Geber
in Councilmember Rice's office at (240) 777-7955.

Back to the top.


Permit Me To Inform You...

New Permit Fees Fairer, Easier to Understand

The Department of Permitting Services’ (DPS) new building permit fee structure is going to a simpler, more predictable per-square-foot rate. The new rates are part of the continuing effort by DPS to improve the permitting process and ensure fees are fairly applied.  Last year, DPS launched its online eServices, which now includes commercial building permits and accepts ACH payments.

Building permit fees will be a per-square-foot rate rather than based on construction types and multiple fee zone calculations. This makes fee calculations clear and predictable. 

The new traffic management fee was added to fund a traffic management coordinator to oversee pedestrian safety and vehicle and business-friendly traffic management plans for road closures during construction. DPS is working with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration to minimize the impact of road and sidewalk closures and increase pedestrian safety during construction.

A summary chart of all the fees is available online at www.montgomerycountymd.gov\permittingservices

Back to the top.


In Other Business . . . 

Gas Station Zoning

Zoning Text Amendment 15-07 Regarding Large Gas Stations has been proposed to the county’s zoning code. The County Council is considering requiring that large filling stations (those designed to dispense a minimum of 3.6 million gallons per year) be located no closer than 500 feet from the lot lines of the following types of properties: public or private schools, any park or playground, a day care center, any outdoor use categorized as a civic and institutional use or recreational and entertainment use, dwelling units and certain environmentally-sensitive sites.

This proposal is being considered by the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. The next worksession on the topic is not yet scheduled.

For more information on ZTA 15-07, click here.

Tenant Protection

Bill 19-15 proposes to enhance protections for tenants. It would, among other things, (1) provide for more frequent inspections of certain residential properties, (2) require a standard lease form, and (3) require the Department of Housing and Community Affairs to review certain rent increases and provide certain rights to tenants facing increases.  A public hearing was held in June and the next PHED committee worksession on the bill is not yet scheduled.

For more information on Bill 19-15, click here.

Food Truck Regulation

Bill 32-15 proposes adjustments to the regulations for Food Trucks. As initially proposed, this bill will expand the hours during which food trucks can legally operate in the county. At the moment, they may only operate during daylight hours. A hearing on this legislation is scheduled in the PHED committee on September 28 at 2 p.m.

For more information on Bill 32-15, click here.

 

Back to the top.


Now You Can Sign Up For Council Hearings Online!

By popular demand, the County Council has made it possible for those wishing to testify at public hearings to sign up online. Previously, signups could only be taken over the phone.

You can access the online signup in several places on the Montgomery County Council's website. For example,  you can click on the words "Sign Up To Testify" in the upper right-hand corner of any Council  page, as shown below:


...or you can click on the calendar icon you see in the "Watch Council Videos" box on the front page -- the one that looks like this:

Clicking on the calendar icon will take you to the calendar of public hearings. Once you're there, look for a yellow button that says "Sign Up" on the hearing at which you want to testify, and you're on your way!

Finally, you can also bookmark this page for the latest news on Council hearings.

If you're still stuck, please call and ask for help at (240) 777-7803.

Back to the top.


Please Subscribe to Katz Corner!

Katz Corner is an electronic newsletter published regularly  by the office of Councilmember Sidney A. Katz. To subscribe,  click here . You can also follow Councilmember Katz  on Twitter and Facebook .

If you have community information you'd like announced or included in Katz Corner,  please click here to e-mail us your information!

For comments about  Katz Cornerclick here to send an email.

Back to the top.


Go Top