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Hucker Proposes New Solar Energy Initiative

Hucker Proposes New Solar Energy Initiative

ROCKVILLE, Md., Feb. 13, 2018 — Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker has introduced a zoning change that would authorize solar energy projects that could power up to 200 homes in neighborhoods.

Councilmember Hucker, who is the Council’s Lead for Environment on the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, introduced a zoning text amendment that will allow solar energy installations with a capacity of up to 2 megawatts. The co-lead sponsor is George Leventhal and co-sponsors are Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Sidney Katz, Roger Berliner and Council Vice President Nancy Navarro.

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“For years, Montgomery County has been a leader on green energy and other environmental issues,” Councilmember Hucker said. “Maryland has an average of 213 days of sunshine each year. That’s an important resource that we must take full advantage of. Allowing community solar projects will create jobs and help us meet our renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

In December, the Council passed a resolution setting the goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions entirely by 2035.

Stephanie Riddick of the Sierra Club Montgomery County Group said her group was “especially appreciative” of the proposal because it will benefit low- and moderate-income residents.

“We hope that the ZTA will be an opportunity to continue the discussion on how Montgomery County can study our energy situation and work towards creating a 100 percent clean energy future for all county residents,” Riddick said.

While solar power is a reliable, low-cost renewable energy source, many residents cannot take advantage of it for a number of reasons. For example, many homeowners have rooftops shaded by the tree canopy, own a condominium or can’t afford the initial outlay. Other residents can’t install their own solar panels because they rent their homes.

To help address this issue, the General Assembly in 2015 passed a law creating the community solar program, allowing electricity consumers to subscribe to larger, shared solar projects in their service area. Last year, the Maryland Public Service Commission released its long-anticipated regulations on community solar projects.

Other counties, such as Prince George’s, Baltimore and Anne Arundel, already allow such community projects, with 38 such projects approved around the state.

However, Montgomery County’s Zoning Code restricts solar projects to a limited use in nearly all zones and limits solar energy production to 120 percent of on-site energy consumption. These outdated restrictions make it difficult, if not impossible, to establish community solar projects because very little excess energy is allowed to be produced to support other subscribers.

The proposed ZTA allows solar projects in zones other than the agricultural reserve. It raises the generating limit to 2 megawatts, enough to power up to 200 homes.

It’s estimated that each 2-megawatt project would represent the equivalent of getting 310 passenger vehicles off the road and preventing more than 5 million pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere annually.

Furthermore, each project would generate about $300,000 in personal property tax, 75 to 100 temporary and permanent jobs, and up to $4 million in private investment.

Councilmember Hucker said the county must do its part to curb climate change.

“From devastating hurricanes, wildfires and mudslides to rising sea levels in the Chesapeake Bay, we’re already seeing the disastrous consequences of global climate change, which threaten to only get worse,” Councilmember Hucker said. “Community solar projects, here and around the country, will help reduce our growing carbon footprint and mitigate its impact on our planet.”

The proposed ZTA is on the County Council’s website, montgomerycountymd.gov/council/.

A public hearing on the ZTA is scheduled for April 3 at 1:30 p.m.

Media contact: Robert Rand, 240-777-7937

Update on Student Loan Refinancing

Update on Student Loan Refinancing

I’ve been working to set up the county’s own student loan finance program. Under this program, county residents could refinance their college loans at lower interest rates, shaving hundreds of dollars off their monthly payments and saving thousands over the term of their loan.

Those who are saddled with college debt – the average borrower in the county owes upward of $31,000 – knows what a drain it can be, crippling their ability to get a home mortgage, start a business or get a graduate degree. The county’s program could really ease that heavy burden.

The County Council has been generally supportive of the plan (a video of the July 20 committee meeting on the proposal is here). The next step will be conducting a market demand study and cost analysis, which will help us tailor the program to the county’s needs.

Here’s an online petition supporting the proposal, which you can sign and share.

Purple Line Update

Purple Line Update

Many of you have noticed that work got underway on constructing the county’s biggest transportation project in decades: the Purple Line.

While I wholeheartedly support the 16.5-mile light rail line that will link Bethesda and New Carrollton and run through downtown Silver Spring, I know the project got off to a rocky start.

With less than a week’s notice to the public, the Georgetown Branch Trail was closed —  and on the first day of school, which inconvenienced parents and students. The state contract called for 30 days’ notice on closing the trail, but unbeknownst to the public — and the council — the state had waived that requirement.

Any infrastructure project of the magnitude of the Purple Line is going to cause some major disruptions, but it’s the state’s job to make sure those disruptions are as minimized as possible.

For example, I have been meeting with downtown Silver Spring merchants, especially on Bonifant St., who are concerned that the Purple Line work — along with ongoing utility repairs — will hurt their business.

Among the actions we’re taking:

  • Working with county officials to increase the number of short-term parking spaces in the Bonifant Street parking lot and Wayne Avenue garage to help these merchants.
  • Looking into other steps to mitigate the impact on businesses and residents, including support for state legislation that would offer financial assistance to affected businesses.
  • Requesting state transit officials to ensure utilities — if they absolutely must be shut down on a weekend day — are shut down on Sundays, not Saturdays. Likewise for the Purple Line construction.

It’s also our job to make sure the state and Purple Line Transit Partners — the private consortium of companies building the project — are as transparent as possible and communicate often and clearly with the public.

Toward that end, the County Council recently questioned state and company officials, impressing on them the vital importance of keeping the public frequently updated on construction activities and their impact on our communities. These include blasting schedules, tree-cutting, road closures and detours, so people can plan their daily lives around this project.

Consortium officials have promised to post these updates and upcoming meetings with the local Community Advisory Teams on its website, purplelinemd.com, where you can also sign up for email or text notifications. Also, a construction hotline has been set up at  240-424-5325.

The County Council plans to have regular meetings with the state and consortium officials, and I plan to hold them accountable as the project proceeds.

My staff and I have also been working on several other important transportation initiatives in our district we will provide a more in-depth update about soon:

  • New, express Ride-On Bus service on U.S. 29, expected to start in January.
  • New protected bike lanes in Silver Spring.
  • Improvements to Georgia Avenue to make the busy stretch between 16th Street and Forest Glen Road more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, safer for motorists, and more welcoming for the Montgomery Hills businesses and residents nearby. It’s all part of the area’s sector plan.
  • Improvements to U.S. 29 to make it more pedestrian-friendly. Last month’s tragic pedestrian fatality only highlighted how dangerous this roadway can be.

 

County Council votes to raise the minimum wage

County Council votes to raise the minimum wage

I’m happy to report, as many of you know, that Montgomery County has become a national leader on this issue last month by raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

Last year, the County Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but the County Executive vetoed the bill, and we didn’t have enough votes to override the veto.

Councilmember Marc Elrich and I wrote amendments to tweak the latest legislation, giving more time for smaller employers, nonprofits and health-care providers that rely on Medicaid payments to begin paying $15/hour.

I introduced these amendments at our Nov. 7 session, and the council unanimously passed my amendments and the amended version of the bill. The following week, it was signed into law.  

There are many humane and practical reasons to raise the county’s minimum wage.

The cost of living in Montgomery County is among the highest in the nation. It’s virtually impossible to live on the current minimum wage of $11.50 an hour here. In fact, according to an MIT study, a living wage in Montgomery County for a single adult is $15.80 an hour. For a single parent with one child, it’s $29.82.

That means that raising the minimum hourly wage to $15 is overdue. This increase will provide at least some measure of relief to thousands of our low-income residents. These are our child care workers, our restaurant staff, our health-care workers, our janitors and maids, our hairdressers and manicurists, our retail sales clerks.

These are people who struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, often on the edge of poverty.  

These are real people with real children and real bills to pay: bills for rent, for food, for medicine, for bus fare, for heat and electricity. Most don’t have savings to fall back on. They need every penny they can get in their weekly paycheck.

Studies have shown that raising the minimum wage raises the standard of living for our poorest residents.

And much of the extra money they’ll get in their paychecks will go right back into the local economy — which means a stronger community for everyone.

The council was also sensitive to the concerns of our county’s employers, especially its smaller businesses. That’s why the bill gives them more time to raise their wages and suspends any scheduled wage increases if there’s a recession.

I want to thank the many community groups and labor unions that supported the $15 minimum wage, including CASA, Jews United for Justice, Progressive Maryland, Maryland Working Families Party, Service Employees International Union 32BJ and Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.  

Cracking down on human trafficking

12-31-2017 human traffickingHuman trafficking – also known as modern slavery – is rapidly on the rise nationally and right here in Montgomery County, in the form of both sex trafficking and forced labor. I’ve been working on this issue for years. And last month, I organized a first-ever 1½-hour presentation for a joint meeting of the council’s Public Safety and Health and Human Services committees.

The county has a responsibility to not only crack down on human traffickers, but do whatever we can to help the survivors, most of whom are girls and young women.

What do these survivors need? Safe housing. Education. Job training and placement. Drug and mental health treatment.

That’s what experts from law enforcement, nonprofits, social service agencies and the medical community told councilmembers during the briefing.                                                    

Among those speaking was Andrea Powell, executive director of FAIR Girls, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that provides services to female survivors, including a safe house where the girls — some as young as 12 — and young women can live securely while they receive the counseling, job training and other services they need to get their lives back on track.

FAIR Girls — FAIR stands for Free Aware Inspired Restored — has served more than 1,000 young female survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in the past decade. Annually, it provides safe shelter and life skills to 50 survivors ages 18 to 24; about half the young women are from or were trafficked into Maryland.  

Other speakers included Heidi Alvarez, from the University of Maryland’s SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors; Jessica Volz, a registered nurse at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center and co-chairwoman of the new county committee’s Victim Services Subcommittee; Sgt. Dave Papalia, head of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Vice and Intelligence Unit; and Assistant County Police Chief Russ Hamill. All are active members of the county’s new Human Trafficking Prevention Committee.

Papalia and Hamill reported on the nearly tenfold rise in human trafficking cases in the past three years in the county, from three to 29 – all of which involved forced sex work. Likewise, the number of arrests and warrants has grown from two to 16. Advocates are confident these numbers are greatly underreported.

Much of the coerced sex trafficking in Montgomery County occurs at its hotels, especially in Gaithersburg, Rockville and Silver Spring. Police are working more closely with these hotels to have staff detect and report suspected sex trafficking, Papalia and Hamill said.

Earlier this year, I sponsored successful legislation creating the first civil penalty our police can now assess on men who are creating the market for human trafficking by soliciting prostitution. We are giving police more tools like this to crack down on sex traffickers and “johns” here in the county, but we can – and must – do much more.

Our police force needs more detectives dedicated to fighting this scourge. Our county’s social service agencies and nonprofits need more resources to help its survivors. We can’t sit idly by and let this horrible business flourish in Montgomery Count

Excellence in Arts and Humanities Awards 11-6-17

Excellence in Arts and Humanities Awards 11-6-17

Congratulations to all eight winners of this year’s annual County Executive’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County! This year’s winners include Cassie Meador, executive artistic director of Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, who won the Emerging Leader Award; and CREATE Arts Center in Silver Spring, winner of the Education Award. The awards will be presented 7-9 p.m., Monday, Nov. 6, at Round House Theater, 4545 East West Highway, Bethesda. Tickets are free, but reservations are needed.

Montgomery County Council meets with Senator Ben Cardin

Montgomery County Council meets with Senator Ben Cardin

Councilmember Tom Hucker raised a number of topics with Benjamin L. Cardin (D), Maryland’s senior U.S. senator, during a wide-ranging luncheon talk Monday with other County Councilmembers.

“I truly appreciate Senator Cardin finding the time in his busy schedule to talk with us today and hear our concerns,” Hucker said. “He’s been a strong advocate for Maryland and our county in the Senate.”

The hourlong talk covered a variety of specific issues, but overriding them all were the policies of the Trump Administration.

Cardin, responding to Hucker’s questions, expressed confidence that Congress would reach a bipartisan solution to the Dreamer problem, created when Trump cast a cloud over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program and tossed the issue to Congress. Hucker pointed out that the issue, along with that of immigrants with Temporary Protective Status that’s expiring soon, is of particular concern in his district, which has a high immigrant population.

The protective status, in place for more than 16 years, is set to expire for Honduran immigrants on Jan. 5 and for Salvadoran immigrants on March 9. Cardin and some Senate colleagues have written to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke urging the renewal of this status.

Cardin also said that by undercutting the Dreamers as he has, Trump erodes the nation’s moral authority to speak out on global humanitarian disasters, such as the Burmese government’s genocide of its Muslim Rohingya population.  

Hucker asked Cardin about steps Congress can take to curb human trafficking, a growing problem in Montgomery County that Hucker has focused on in the County Council. With both Republicans and Democrats lined up on the same side of the issue — a rarity these days, Cardin said — prospects are good for some federal action.

Hucker and Cardin also spent some time discussing congressional Republicans’ budget and tax plans and how disastrous they would be for the middle class — on top of “blowing a $1.5 trillion hole” in the federal budget deficit, Cardin said.  

Hucker blasted GOP plans to get rid of the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, which would cost Montgomery County households thousands of dollars each. In the face of local opposition from higher-tax states such as Maryland, New York and New Jersey — and most recently from the National Association of Home Builders — Republicans appear to have abandoned that proposal.

“I believe in federalism,” Cardin said, likening the GOP plan to robbing local jurisdictions of their authority to set their own taxing priorities.

Cardin criticized the cynical GOP tactic of doubling the standard income-tax deduction, but cutting personal exemptions. That means a family of three would break even, but a family of four or more would see their taxes rise under the Republican plan.

Furthermore, the Republican budget proposal completely ignores the nation’s growing and serious infrastructure needs, Cardin said.

Cardin also touched on a number of other issues raised by councilmembers, including affordable housing; the Affordable Care Act and Trump’s actions to gut it; North Korea; and gun control.

“Senator Cardin is fighting for the people of Maryland, not the special interests,” Hucker said. “We’re fortunate to have him as our senator.”

Hucker organizes Council letter to State to Limit Toxic Coal Waste from Power Plants

Hucker organizes Council letter to State to Limit Toxic Coal Waste from Power Plants

ROCKVILLE, Md., Oct. 4, 2017 — All nine members of the Montgomery County Council sent a letter asking Benjamin H. Grumbles, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, to help reduce toxic coal waste from the Dickerson power plant and other coal-fired plants in the State.

In a letter to Grumbles, the Councilmembers asked State officials to abide by current standards adopted by the federal EPA in 2015 when they renew the water pollution permit for NRG Energy Inc.’s Dickerson Generating Station on the Potomac River in northwest Montgomery County.

“Coal plant waste is a toxic stew of pollutants — including arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium — that is toxic to humans, marine life and the whole environment,” said Councilmember Tom Hucker, lead Councilmember for the Environment, who led the initiative. “These poisons, after they’re discharged into the river and ingested by humans, can cause cancer, heart and nervous system disorders; damage the kidneys and liver; and impair the brain development of our children.”

“As stewards of a clean and safe environment for our children and all residents of Montgomery County, I join several of my colleagues in asking the Maryland Department of Environment to reduce toxic coal waste from the Dickerson Generating Station,” said Councilmember Floreen. “It’s imperative the State abide by current standards adopted by the federal EPA in 2015 to protect our water from the pollutants that coal plant waste produces.”

“Requiring coal plants in Maryland to adopt the EPA’s toxic coal waste standards is in line with our County’s commitment to protecting our waterways and our citizens from dangerous pollutants,” said Councilmember Nancy Navarro. “Taking the initiative to reduce the release of these toxins into our environment will go a long way in protecting the viability of our planet for future generations.”

“As we have seen from the Flint Water Crisis, toxins and pollutants entering the water supply can have a devastating and long lasting effects,” said Councilmember Leventhal, Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “The Council stands united in urging the State of Maryland abide by the current standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

“The updated guidelines for reducing toxic coal waste adopted by the EPA in 2015 were supported by hundreds of thousands of comments from the public and were to be incorporated into coal plant permits as they are renewed,” said Council President Berliner. “With the nutrients from this pollution already causing dead zones across the Chesapeake Bay, it is past time our state stepped up to require this power plant operate by modern water pollution standards.”

“It is time to require that the updated technology be used at the Dickerson plant,” said Councilmember Elrich. “It is currently available, has been used elsewhere and will eliminate most of the toxic pollutants that seep into the water. The advances in our understanding of health impacts from these toxins has radically changed since the 1980s when the prior regulations were implemented.  Frankly, it would be unconscionable to continue to use an outmoded technology that cannot address known risks, when a viable and proven alternative is available – and the benefits to public health are tangible.”

Coal plants are the number one source of toxic water pollution in the country.  The standards in the federal water pollution permit that the Maryland Department of the Environment proposes to renew at Dickerson and two other coal plants in the state are 35 years old.

After investigating the impact of toxic discharges from power plants into waterways for six years, the EPA in 2015 issued new requirements under the Clean Water Act. President Trump’s EPA put a hold on the improved requirements this year, but the County Council is urging the State to implement the new requirements immediately.

Other coal plants in the country have reduced or eliminated their discharge of these toxins into waterways, and Maryland’s should too, Hucker said.

“Many of these pollutants stay in the environment for years,” Hucker said. “Maryland can — and must — help protect its residents, including our children, and the environment from these poisons.”

Read the full letter to Secretary Grumbles here.

Hucker: Zoning change paves way for new downtown grocery

Hucker: Zoning change paves way for new downtown grocery

Downtown Silver Spring residents may soon have a new, convenient grocery store, after the Montgomery County Council cleared the way through a zoning change.

“I sponsored this zoning change because I regularly hear from constituents about the lack of grocery choices in the Ripley District and near the Metro station,” said Councilmember Tom Hucker, who led the initiative.

“The population of this area has increased greatly over the last 10 years, but the retail options have not, and many residents don’t have cars to shop at other grocery stores,” Hucker said.

The council approved the zoning change, called a Zoning Text Amendment, on an 8-1 vote at its Oct. 10 meeting.

Essentially, the change paves the way for Washington Property Co. to have a small, niche grocer on the ground floor of the 440-unit apartment project it plans to build at the former Progress Place site at 8120 Colonial Lane.

“Washington Property on the whole is really excited,” said Janel Crist Kausner, the company’s associate vice president of development. “We see the [zoning text amendment] as transformative for the Ripley District. We’re extremely grateful for Councilmember Hucker’s leadership and that the County Council sees the potential of the Ripley District.”

The new high-rise will be just off Ripley Street, between Georgia Avenue and the Metro and MARC train tracks.

The Bethesda company expects to start construction in spring 2019 and open in fall 2021. Construction will begin after the company finishes building its Solaire 8250 Georgia, a 20-story, 339-unit apartment complex at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Bonifant Street, Kausner said.

The new project will be near Washington Property’s Solaire Silver Spring on Ripley Street, which was built in 2012. The company hasn’t settled on a name for the new complex, but it will incorporate the Solaire brand, Kausner said.  

Washington Property received the Colonial Lane property from the county in exchange for building a new $15 million county-owned facility for Progress Place, which serves the area’s homeless community through its Shepherd’s Table and Interfaith Works programs. Progress Place is now about a block away from its former location, on Georgia Avenue.

The plan has been supported by the Montgomery County Planning Board and the Silver Spring Urban District Advisory Committee.

Specifically, the zoning change allows Washington Property’s new project to have a height of 270 feet, rather than 200 feet.

Kausner said the company needs the additional height for above-ground parking spaces. Adding the ground-floor retail space will require 85 parking spaces dedicated for shoppers, which would have meant one or more additional levels of underground parking. Given the geology of the area and its close proximity to the rail tracks, that would have been cost prohibitive, she said.

Under the zoning change, in exchange for receiving the added height allowance, Washington Property will provide a 10,000- to 18,000-square-foot, ground-level retail store. Also, the developer must provide a significant public amenity in the area.   

“We hope to have a niche grocer — we’re talking to a few potential tenants,” Kausner said. “Or it could be another type of retail amenity for the community. Whatever it is, it will be a good amenity and useful for residents of the community.”

Hucker emphasized that the zoning change won’t increase the area’s population density or affect the historic one-story buildings on the east side of Georgia Avenue.

And because the new store will be within walking distance of many current and future residents, it should actually help reduce traffic in downtown Silver Spring, he said.

“This zoning change is a great example of how county government can work with the private sector to give our residents what they want and need,” Hucker said. “It’s also part of the evolution of downtown Silver Spring into a vibrant community where people can live, work, shop and play.”

Silver Screens free outdoor movies kick off Friday

Silver Screens free outdoor movies kick off Friday

It’s time to grab your purple poncho, hop in your Delorean, head to Gotham City and get ready to rock out.

The American Film Institute of Silver Spring on Friday starts its annual Silver Screens weekly series of outdoor movies in Veterans Plaza, with four popular movies that together have racked up more than $850 million in worldwide ticket sales.

But the Friday screenings are all free — no tickets needed.

“Thanks to the generosity of our own American Film Institute, Silver Screens is a great way for families to get together and enjoy some fun movies,” said County Councilmember Tom Hucker, who helped launch the series last year.

The screenings start at 8 p.m., rain or shine, in Veterans Plaza, 1 Veterans Place, in downtown Silver Spring.  Moviegoers are invited to bring their own seats.

Here’s this summer’s lineup:

  • Aug. 11: “Back to the Future Part II” (1989), starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Elisabeth Shue.
  • Aug. 18: “Lego the Batman Movie” (2017), an animated feature with the voices of Will Arnett, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis and Conan O’Brien.
  • Aug. 25: “Purple Rain” (1984). Yes, it’s been 33 years since this film starring Prince and its Oscar-winning score was released.
  • Sept. 1: “School of Rock” (2003), with the irrepressible Jack Black.
National Night Out in District 5

National Night Out in District 5

Despite some rainy weather in parts of the county Tuesday evening, hundreds of county residents turned out for the 34th annual National Night Out (NNO). In District 5 alone, Councilmember Hucker and staff attended events in the East County, Fairland, Four Corners, Forest Glen, Lyttonsville and Oak View communities.

“It was great to see so many residents meet with our police and firefighters,” Hucker said. “National Night Out is a terrific opportunity for people and our law enforcement personnel and first responders to learn how, together, they can work to make our neighborhoods safer.”

NNO is a nationwide event held on the first Tuesday in August to generate neighborhood support and participation in crime-prevention efforts and is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch.

Hucker began the evening at the West Hillandale pool, where he was joined by Congressman John Sarbanes and McGruff the Crime Dog. Hucker spoke to residents about the county’s efforts to crack down on nuisance neighbors who are causing blight and unsafe conditions in the community.

Hucker also agreed to work with the Hillandale Volunteer Fire Department and the federal General Services Administration to look into the possibility of expanding Station 12 near the FDA campus. Station 12 needs the additional capacity to be able to serve the proposed development at Viva White Oak.

Hucker’s next stop was at Fairland Estates, where he recently got the county to take action on dead trees that were causing dangerous driving conditions for residents. “Fairland Estates can count on two things during our annual National Night Out event — great food and refreshments and the support of responsive county officials like Councilman Tom Hucker,” said Mark Fine president of the Fairland Estates Civic Association. “This year, we again had the pleasure of Mr. Hucker spending some time to meet, greet and answer questions from the neighborhood.”

Hucker’s third stop in East County was perhaps the biggest event of the night. Dozens of residents showed up to the event sponsored by the East County Regional Services Center, the Calverton Citizens Association and public safety officials. Children were able to participate in soccer mini-clinics, pickup basketball games and other lawn games, while their parents learned about a wide range of county services and businesses in the area.

Hucker ended the night at the Northwood-Four Corners and the Forest Estates communities in Silver Spring. Residents in Forest Estates expressed a range of concerns, from parking in Silver Spring to lenient sentencing in drug crimes related to a recent shooting in the Forest Glen area. Hucker agreed to follow up with Police Chief Tom Manger about the need for better communication following these types of crimes and with State’s Attorney John McCarthy about the typical sentence for felons convicted of intent to distribute large quantities of drugs.

Councilmember Tom Hucker files for re-election to District 5 Council Seat

Councilmember Tom Hucker files for re-election to District 5 Council Seat

Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker is running for reelection to keep his District 5 County Council seat.

Hucker filed his elections paperwork on Monday at the Board of Elections offices in Gaithersburg.

He is the first candidate to file for the District 5 Council seat, according to the BOE website.

As the District 5 County Councilmember, Hucker represents the communities of Briggs Chaney, Burnt Mills, Burtonsville, Calverton, Cloverly, Colesville, Fairland, Four Corners, Hillandale, Lyttonsville, Silver Spring, Takoma Park and White Oak.

“Montgomery County is making a lot of progress, and I’m very proud we have achieved so much for Silver Spring, Takoma Park and East County,” said Hucker. “During the last two years we’ve shrunk class sizes, invested in efforts to fight the achievement gap, strengthened our transportation network and developed new programs to help working families. But we’re far from finished so I am running for re-election to ensure our community continues the progress we’re making.”

When asked what he is most proud of in his first term, Hucker referred to the County Council’s commitment to education.

“I’m most proud of the historic Council budget that funds the first reduction in class size in many years and attacks the achievement gap, as well as a large increase in funding for school construction,” he said.

The 2018 Gubernatorial Primary Election is just a little over a year away. It takes place on June 26. Early voting takes place on June 14 – 21, 2018.

You can find out more about Hucker’s campaign, here.

 

Hucker Seeking Re-Election

Hucker Seeking Re-Election

Over the last 2 1/2 years, Montgomery County has made a lot of progress. And I’m particularly proud that we have achieved so much for Silver Spring, Takoma Park and East County. We’ve shrunk class sizes, invested in efforts to fight the achievement gap, strengthened our transportation network and developed new programs to help working families.

But we’re far from finished, so I am running for re-election to ensure our community continues the progress we’re making. With a White House and Congressional leadership that is working overtime against our interests, it’s more important than ever that we have experienced, progressive leadership locally to protect Montgomery County’s interests and values. It’s an honor to represent Montgomery County, and I hope to continue to earn your support.

Hucker to Metro: Don’t cut the J5 bus route

Hucker to Metro: Don’t cut the J5 bus route

Please support County Councilmember Tom Hucker, and hundreds of workers, shoppers and students in their efforts to save the J5 Metrobus by signing this petition. The J5 is the only express bus between Silver Spring and Twinbrook. Click here to sign the petition to WMATA to save the J5. 

The last run on the J5 route is scheduled for Friday, June 23. Metro cites low ridership and high subsidies as reasons for the elimination. Eliminating the route would save $388,362 in annual subsidies, it says. Click here to read Councilmember Hucker’s letter to WMATA. 

“Many people depend on the J5 route every day,” Hucker said. “If Metro needs to save money, it should consider other options such as reducing the number of daily runs or reroute it, rather than eliminate it entirely.”

So far, more than 125 residents have signed a petition asking the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to reconsider its decision.

The petition – which can be found here – is organized by Javel “Jay” Wilson of Takoma Park, who for two years has been riding the J5 from Silver Spring to his job across Rockville Pike from White Flint Mall in North Bethesda.

“Until two years ago, I drove to work,” Wilson said. “Then I learned of the J5 and it made no sense to drive and sit in traffic. So I was able to give my car away to a friend in need and now I take the bus every day.”

The mass transit alternatives, such as Ride On’s Route 5, would be a downgrade, he said.

“On a good day, I’m on the J5 bus 25 minutes to get to work,” Wilson said. The Ride On bus would take 15 minutes longer, he said.

Wilson figures he’s gotten the word out about his petition to only about half of the J5 riders – those who, like him, ride from Silver Spring to Twinbrook in the morning.

“I have to work every day, so I haven’t had contact with the southbound riders in the morning,” he said.

Hucker is asking Paul J. Wiedefeld, WMATA’s CEO and general manager, to consider less drastic alternatives than eliminating the J5 route. Those include fewer daily bus runs and rerouting the bus off the Capital Beltway and onto Routes 410 and 355, which would also relieve pressure on other Ride On routes.

“Elimination of this route will significantly impact the daily commutes of many County residents who rely on it to get to work, school, and home in a timely manner,” Hucker wrote in a letter to Wiedefeld.

“As you know, residents who rely on public transportation often do so of necessity and avoid costlier modes, including Metrorail, to make ends meet,” Hucker wrote. “While WMATA has suggested alternative routes, including the Red Line, it is important to note that each alternative route would require additional fare payment, longer travel time, or route transfers, all of which directly affect a rider’s commute.”  

Sign the petition here to save the J5 Bus Route.

Marketing Help for Fenton Village

Marketing Help for Fenton Village

Councilmember Hucker meets with Fenton Village businesses, Transportation & Planning officials
Councilmember Hucker meets with Fenton Village businesses, Transportation & Planning officials

Many merchants in Silver Spring’s Fenton Village have taken a hit from the construction of Studio Plaza, a major new mixed-use project in downtown Silver Spring. The loss of parking spaces, combined with heavy construction equipment and trucks in the streets, is taking its toll, merchants say. They’ll receive help from the county after the County Council’s May 16 sign-off of Councilmember Tom Hucker’s proposal to spend $15,000 to develop a short-term marketing plan to help the businesses weather the construction phase. Final approval is expected on Thursday, 5/25.

The council must “do everything it can to make sure these affected businesses are able to succeed and keep their doors open in Silver Spring,” Hucker said.

Their top need is a marketing plan to raise their visibility and let residents know they’re open for business during construction, he said.

The money will go to the Silver Spring Urban District, which will contract with Silver Spring Inc., a local marketing agency to develop the plan.

Hucker said the county had a particular obligation to help the merchants because the project involves swapping a county surface parking lot in exchange for public spaces in the new 152-space underground garage under construction.

At a meeting in February, several business owners reported that road closures, lack of parking and daily blasting had cut their sales by as much as 30 percent, Hucker said. Work on the project started last summer.

When completed in two years, the 739,553-square-foot, 110-foot-tall complex is expected to have 749 apartments and 114,180 square feet of commercial space, including 36,180 square feet of retail and 78,000 square feet of office space. There will also be public green space. The development is on the block bordered by Silver Spring and Thayer avenues, Fenton Street and Mayor Lane.

The impact of the construction on his business “has been so huge, more than you can imagine,” said Tesega Haile, whose Kaldi’s Social House, an Ethiopian coffee shop and restaurant, has been on Silver Spring Avenue for a little over three years.

He’s particularly feeling the pinch in the morning, he said. Customers who used to park out front and run in to grab a cup of coffee on the go aren’t stopping by as much. There’s a parking garage behind his eatery, but it’s not as convenient, Haile said.

The construction is coming at a tough time for Haile, who recently expanded Kaldi’s, from 1,800 square feet to close to 4,500 square feet, he said. With the expansion came higher rent, plus a 34 percent increase in his payroll for more staff. Yet, his revenues have remained flat.

“In other words, I’m losing,” Haile said.

The new marketing campaign might help, he said, but in the end, “marketing will be in vain without space for parking. Marketing is great, but we need parking.”

Still, Haile sees a silver lining. When Studio Plaza opens, “obviously it will help us somewhat.”

“The line will be going out the door,” he said.

The marketing plan will focus on “leveraging digital channels and direct mail,” said Peter Tan, director of marketing for Silver Spring Inc.

The agency plans to launch a new website featuring the 200 or so businesses in the Fenton Village area. The campaign might also include a scavenger hunt, with the website containing clues that would lead people to various businesses.

Ideally, Tan said, the campaign’s target would extend beyond the Central Business District into nearby areas such as Wheaton and possibly neighborhoods just over the D.C. line.

Tom Hucker fights to keep Silver Spring nighttime parking free

Tom Hucker fights to keep Silver Spring nighttime parking free

A new budget proposal by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation would extend fees charged for weekday parking in downtown Silver Spring until 10 p.m. 

In a letter to his fellow councilmembers on the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee, which considered the administration’s recommendation on April 27, Councilmember Tom Hucker fought back against the proposal.

For one thing, extending the parking fee hours can only hurt downtown merchants at a time when bricks-and-mortar retailers are already suffering, due to the growth of online commerce.

“The County government should be supporting our vulnerable local retailers and should not give any of our residents an additional incentive to stay home and shop online,” Hucker wrote.

Hucker also pointed to county efforts to support “fragile, new small businesses” through initiatives such as microlending.

“Why would we undermine this goal by creating a new disincentive to retail shopping?” he wrote.

Lastly, charging for nighttime parking in downtown Silver Spring could sabotage the reform efforts of the county’s new liquor control chief, Bob Dorfman, to rejuvenate Montgomery’s bars and restaurants, according to Hucker.

Film buffs, bar patrons, concertgoers and foodies enjoying downtown Silver Spring’s burgeoning nightlife scene still have free evening parking for now, after the T&E Committee voted 3-0 to back Councilmember Hucker’s suggestion.

Read Councilmember Hucker’s full letter to the T&E Committee here.

On International Workers’ Day, custodial workers get justice

May 1 is International Workers’ Day, an annual celebration of workers around the world. With help from Councilmember Tom Hucker, local custodial workers were able to mark the day with a victory.

Certified Building Services of Derwood, which for a decade has provided custodial services to buildings from Rockville south to Silver Spring and Chevy Chase under a $3 million county contract, agreed to pay almost $20,000 to settle complaints that it intimidated workers trying to join a union.

“Tom was actively engaged and sharing support to the workforce during the organizing campaign,” said Ray Lee, organizing director for UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO. “He was actively involved in the campaign, writing letters that were distributed to workers and the company.”

Hucker praised the settlement. “Workers have a right to organize and join unions to get better pay and working conditions,” he said. “And employers should be held accountable to respect that right.”

The settlement, approved by the National Labor Relations Board, calls for the company to pay a total of $16,000 to three workers who were illegally fired for their organizing activities, according to a news release from the union issued May 1. The money will compensate the workers for back pay and lost benefits. The company will also pay the union almost $3,000 for its expenses incurred during its organizing campaign.

The company’s intimidation efforts paid off, Lee said, as the union lost the election to represent the workers by only three votes.

“The workers were so afraid,” Lee said.

Among them was Rosa Ortiz of Hyattsville, who worked for Certified Building Services for five years, cleaning the county’s Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring.

Ortiz was fired, she said, because the company accused her of union organizing at the clinic, but she wasn’t.

“That wasn’t true,” she said. “We were just talking about what’s going on in the building.”

But it’s not as if Ortiz didn’t want to join the union, as it could have helped stop what she saw as employer abuse. Not only did her supervisor treat her and her co-workers in a “degrading” way, but her paychecks bounced, she said.

“That was the No. 1 thing I complained about,” she said.

The settlement was fair, in that it “acknowledged that I wanted to have a voice in the union family,” Ortiz said. “It was something.”

The settlement stems from a complaint filed by the federal agency’s Baltimore office in March, claiming that Certified Building Services not only fired workers but threatened them with deportation for their organizing activities, according to the union. Besides compensating the workers and union, the company agreed that in the future it will not ask workers about their union activities or threaten them with pay cuts if they select the union to represent them, among other steps.

In addition, the settlement calls for the company to grant representatives of the federal agency access to its facilities to train its supervisors on worker rights under federal labor laws — an important concession, Ortiz said. Also, the company agreed to let agency personnel teach employees about their rights.

As for Ortiz, she’s been working as an organizer for MCGEO since she was fired last year.

“I’m very happy,” she said. “I get to help ladies working with cleaning, helping organize other workers doing the same work.”

Hucker spearheads crackdown on unmaintained vacant properties

Hucker spearheads crackdown on unmaintained vacant properties

Today, the County Council unanimously passed the second piece of Councilmember Tom Hucker’s effort to crack down on empty, deteriorating houses that drag down a neighborhood’s property values and quality of life.

The bill, which the Council passed on May 2, would require owners of vacant houses to register with the county. It would also require owners of unmaintained homes to pay inspection and other fees. The proposal is a companion to Hucker’s bill requiring owners of foreclosed homes – typically big banks and hedge funds – to register with the county in a timely fashion. The council passed that measure on April 18.

Currently, the county can fine owners of vacant, unmaintained homes up to $500 for code violations that aren’t addressed within two or three months. But these fines can be disputed in court, where judges often extend the deadline and reduce or eliminate the fine, Hucker said.

Hucker’s bill would instead impose fees, similar to those imposed for making false fire alarms. The property owner is charged the fee directly, without any court intervention. And like the fire alarm penalties, the fees would increase with each additional inspection.

Fees for fire alarms start at $25 and climb to $600. Inspection fees under the registry program would likely be higher.

Hucker estimates there are more than 350 known vacant properties in Montgomery County – with hundreds more that are unidentified. Many are inherited or are owned by out-of-state residents or developers “who simply have no short-term incentive to care for the property or put it back on the market,” Hucker said in a memo to the council.

“Vacant properties can not only be an eyesore, they also pose serious threats to the community,” he said. “Research shows they attract squatting, arson and other criminal activity. Vacant properties place a burden on our public safety and housing resources because they are twice as likely to generate a call for fire or police service than a non-vacant property and they have been found to reduce the community’s property values by as much as 9 percent.”

In fact, some such homes in Hucker’s own Silver Spring neighborhood have been the subject of complaints for almost 10 years, he said.

Sometimes, the county will perform basic maintenance on these properties and place a lien on them to cover those costs. But often that’s still not enough incentive for a negligent owner to rent, sell or occupy the house.

Under Hucker’s bill, the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs would actively inspect unmaintained vacant properties and inspect them for code violations. Any subsequent inspections would result in the owner being charged a fee.

Hucker said similar approaches to this problem have been successful in Chicago, Los Angeles and Wilmington, Del. The registry in Wilmington showed a 40 percent drop in vacant properties two years after it was established.

In determining whether a property is vacant, the bill directs the county staff to look for indications such as past due utility notices; disconnected utilities; accumulated mail; no window coverings; no observable furniture; open accessibility; deferred maintenance; and whether the home is boarded up.

Properties that are being renovated or are being sold or rented would not be required to be registered. Also, homeowners who are away for a period of time but plan to return need not register.

The bill has picked up numerous endorsements from homeowner and civic groups, the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, and the Justice and Advocacy Council of Montgomery County for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Hucker: HomeServe deal not ‘a great look’ for WSSC

Hucker: HomeServe deal not ‘a great look’ for WSSC

Councilmember Tom Hucker took the county’s water utility to task at a recent committee meeting, saying it’s unwittingly steering ratepayers into buying underground pipe insurance from a company that’s been fined for misleading customers.

During the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee’s April 21 discussion of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission budget, Hucker raised questions about the utility’s relationship with HomeServe USA, which sells repair plans to homeowners to cover .

Those fixes include repairs to water pipes that break between the utility’s water main and the house. Some homeowners think such repairs, which can cost thousands of dollars, are the responsibility of the utility, but they’re not: The homeowner is on the hook.

Hucker has two major concerns.

One is that WSSC’s two-year contract with HomeServe, which expires in May 2018, provides the company with access to the utility’s mailing list of ratepayers. Under the deal, HomeServe can solicit business via mailers that carry the WSSC logo. Such an arrangement leads ratepayers to think HomeServe has the imprimatur of WSSC, Hucker said.

The utility provides water service to 1.8 million residents through about 475,000 customer accounts in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Hucker’s other concern is that HomeServe has landed in legal hot water over its business practices.

Six states have taken action against the company, Hucker noted – including Maryland.

Two years ago, the company settled allegations by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office dating to 2010 that the company solicited business by implying that it was acting on behalf of municipal governments, according to a news release from the office. The company also was accused of providing only 11 months of coverage during the first year of its “annual service” offer.

While the agreement with the state was not an admission of guilt or a finding of violation of law, the company agreed to pay $115,000 and remedy the allegations.

Hucker noted that companies such as HomeServe are not regulated as conventional insurance carriers are.

“Our own Office of Consumer Protection has warned ratepayers about engaging in a contract with HomeServe,” Hucker told WSSC officials at the meeting, referring to the county agency.

Plus, D.C. Water, Washington’s water utility, has rejected a possible partnership with HomeServe, he said.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s a great look for WSSC,” Hucker said. “I’m not sure I’d recommend you renew the contract when it’s up.”

Instead, Hucker recommended that WSSC send out a list of repair companies and insurers to ratepayers, who could then choose. “There are other companies out there,” he said.

Carla A. Reid, WSSC’s general manager, said the utility would follow up on Hucker’s recommendation.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen agreed with Hucker. “It’s very confusing,” she said. “Homeowners think you’re recommending them.”

The WSSC website does say that the utility and HomeServe “have worked together in creating this program to ensure it is worthy of WSSC’s endorsement.” The website has a link to a page on the HomeServe website that carries the WSSC logo and reads: “Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) has selected HomeServe to provide you with an optional repair plan that can help protect you from the expense and inconvenience of plumbing emergencies. For its part, WSSC justifies the contract in an October memo, saying that HomeServe agreed to clean up its business practices under the agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office. It also says that HomeServe agreed to pay $300,000 annually into a “hardship fund” to help low-income ratepayers pay their bills.

Actually, broken water lines leading to homes are not all that common in the first place.

Investopedia, a financial information website, lists water line coverage as No. 7 under its list of “15 Insurance Policies You Don’t Need.”

“The odds are in your favor that you will never use this coverage, particularly if you live in a newer home,” the site says. “If you live in an average suburban neighborhood and you need to repair the water line, the distance to the street is short, the likelihood of a problem is low and repair costs are a few thousand dollars or less.”

In its memo, the WSSC says it does not track how often such repairs are needed, as they are made by homeowners, not the utility.

HomeServe sells a variety of home repair plans. The one covering this type of break costs $3.99 a month in Montgomery County.

The company has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau, which awarded it 3.92 out of five stars.

Still, 78 percent of 50 customer reviews received by the agency were negative, with a total of 244 customer complaints.

At the committee hearing, Reid pointed out that HomeServe has a 97 percent customer satisfaction rate. But Hucker pointed out that that’s 97 percent of all customers, not just those who’ve needed repairs.

“We should take the 97 percent rate with a grain of salt, considering the rareness of this occurrence,” he said.

HomeServe USA, with offices in Connecticut, is a division of HomeServe plc of the United Kingdom.

As of Sept. 30, 2016, it had 2.8 million customers in the United States, up from 2.1 million a year earlier, according to the parent company’s most recent annual report. It collects $96 annually per U.S. customer.

It offers plans to 49 million homeowners through a utility brand in the U.S., up from 31 million a year earlier.

And even though its annual revenues rose 29 percent to $117.2 million, HomeServe USA posted a net loss of $1.6 million for the year, vs. a net loss of $2.2 million the prior year.

Foreclosing lenders: Register or pay up

When a bank forecloses on a home, it’s not just a problem for the owner. It can mean bad news for the whole neighborhood.

Councilmember Hucker interviewed by Channel 4
Councilmember Hucker interviewed by Channel 4

Too often, until they resell the house, banks and other lenders can make lousy neighbors. Sometimes they neglect the home, which can fall into disrepair. Rats and other pests may take up residence. Squatters can move in. The home might become a magnet for criminal activity. The lenders might not have the lawn mowed or sidewalks shoveled after snowstorms.

The result can be a dangerous eyesore that drags down the entire neighborhood, as both its quality of life and property values suffer.

Montgomery County is not immune to the problem.

“They’re targets for arsons and fires, utility problems, there’s drug parties that go on in some of these,” Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker told NBC4.

Maryland is typically among the top five states with the nation’s highest foreclosure rates and Montgomery County has among the highest rates in the state. According to RealtyTrac, which compiles foreclosure data, the Burtonsville area has the county’s second-highest rate, following Sandy Spring.

And while about 20 percent of lenders statewide are late or don’t register foreclosed homes at all, the Montgomery County rate was 34 percent in fiscal year 2015.

The Montgomery County Council took action on April 18 to combat these abuses.

Lenders are expected to transfer property titles within 30 days of foreclosing on a home, but many take up to nine months to do so – with some delaying for well over a year. Among the biggest offenders are Wells Fargo, Bank of America and large hedge funds.

State officials say many lenders put off transferring titles until they resell the home or they may simply transfer the title from the previous owner to the new owner.

One result is a loss of county revenue, as the title fees on a median-value home in the county average $6,600. Another result is that the county doesn’t know who owns the home, and can’t hold the owner accountable for its upkeep and tax payments. 

The new county action, spearheaded by Hucker, lets the county take advantage of a state law that allows counties to levy a civil penalty of $1,000 per day against lenders that drag their feet in registering their foreclosed properties.

“These houses are sitting around and rotting in our neighborhoods,” Hucker said before the nine-member council unanimously approved the measure, which is expected to take effect this summer. “It’s an incentive to get the homes back on the market and also get some revenue to help offset the public safety costs.”

Among the groups supporting the bill were several civic associations in the Silver Spring area, the Montgomery Housing Partnership, and the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors.

Another supporter is Phillip Robinson, whose law firm, the Consumer Law Center in Silver Spring, represents homeowners statewide who have problems with the same hedge funds and other lenders that the new bill targets.  

The new bill is an “important step” in fixing “one piece of a complicated puzzle in dealing with the remnants of the financial crisis,” Robinson said in an interview.

Too often, big banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase, have been “incompetent” managing large numbers of mortgages, so they sell them off to a “new crop” of hedge funds and mortgage servicers that also don’t know how to manage them well, Robinson said.

When the home is occupied, these mortgage owners might fail to work with the homeowners to modify the loans and make them perform, he said.

But another consequence, which the county bill tackles, is abandoned homes, which can become a neighborhood “nuisance” and drag down nearby property values, Robinson said.

“Tom’s bill addresses some of the same symptoms that I deal with,” he said.


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Microloan Program for Entrepreneurs Proposed

Microloan Program for Entrepreneurs Proposed

Bethesda Magazine published a new article about a proposal by Councilmembers Berliner, Navarro and Hucker to help entrepreneurs access capital by means of the simple microloan service they can apply today.

Excerpt:

“In a letter to colleagues, Berliner and council members Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker said the microloan program would be run through the county’s Workforce Development Corp., and loans would be limited to Montgomery County residents. Recipients would be required to receive business education and technical assistance.”

“We believe,” Berliner, Navarro and Hucker wrote, “our county can and should play a more direct and aggressive role in bridging those gaps in order to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed and prosper.”

Read the full article here.

Lawmakers Weigh Labor Laws for Part-Time Workers

Lawmakers Weigh Labor Laws for Part-Time Workers

Every new parent deserves some time off work with their babies, whether they are newborns, adopted or foster children. But today we heard testimony about new mothers leaving babies in the NICU for a few days while they return to work to pay their bills. I’m Glad WRC-TV is making sure people know about efforts to provide paid leave for parents in Montgomery County and DC. And thanks to Del. Ariana Kelly, Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), Working Matters, Public Justice Center, MomsRising.org, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Womens Democratic Club and Jews United for Justice for supporting this common-sense protection for working families!

CMs Todd & Hucker Meet on 16th Street Traffic Circle

Hucker and Todd 16th Street Traffic CircleToday, Montgomery County Councilmember Hucker and DC Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd met in Silver Spring to coordinate efforts around the 16th Street Traffic Circle. The Traffic Circle has been the site of routine traffic and safety incidents for several years. Both representatives are in the first years of their respective terms, and they are looking at this problem with fresh perspectives, and a commitment to bring their respective jurisdictions together to make progress.

Earlier in the month Councilmember Todd’s office organized a site visit of the area with DC Department of Transportation, DC Department of General Services, and the Mayor’s Office. Councilmember Hucker’s office is also working to schedule a similar site visit with officials from Montgomery County Department of Transportation, and the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Both Councilmembers agreed to facilitate coordinating meetings with their offices as well as stakeholders from DC, Montgomery County, and the State of Maryland to discuss both immediate and long-term actions to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety at the 16th Street Traffic Circle.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback about this please contact our office at councilmember.hucker@montgomerycountymd.gov.

 

Big Victory on Early Voting

Big Victory on Early Voting

We did it. The State Board of Elections approved Montgomery County’s revised early voting plan. The new plan reversed the earlier decision by the GOP majority to eliminate early voting locations in some of our most diverse and vibrant communities and guarantees that all of our residents will have an opportunity to freely exercise their right to vote. Will you please chip in today so I can continue the fight to preserve voting rights for all Montgomery County residents?

I’m proud of everyone in Maryland who joined me and leapt into action to fight the misguided decision to eliminate early voting in East County and Bethesda, potentially disenfranchising thousands of voters. You were not silent when Republicans threatened to make it harder than ever to vote. You wrote letters, you signed petitions, you made phone calls, you attended rallies and you spoke to your neighbors and friends about why this issue is so important to our democracy.

This is your victory.

But I am not satisfied with this win. In Maryland and in Montgomery County, we should be clearing the way for more people to vote, not putting up more roadblocks. That’s why I was an original cosponsor of the early voting legislation in Annapolis, advocated for expanding early voting on Sundays and voted for legislation adding same-day voter registration. And that’s why I’m pushing for state legislation to allow automatic voter registration.

And I will keep fighting to make voting easier. With a population greater than six states and the District of Columbia, I firmly believe that having only nine early voting centers is insufficient and does not serve the voters of our County well. As soon as the General Assembly session begins in January, I will be pushing to increase the number of early voting locations.  Early voting reduces lines and gives more citizens a chance to be heard — especially those with work or family obligations that make it difficult to get to the polls on Election Day. And many of our communities – including Takoma Park – deserve their own early voting location.

We share the same values when it comes to voting: As an American your voice counts. And no matter what you look like, how much money you have or where you come from you have the right to vote. I will never stop fighting to put these values into action.

This was a big win in the effort to make voting easier for all citizens. Please pitch in today so we can continue this fight.

Thanks,

Tom

Human Trafficking Bill 39-15 Enacted

Human Trafficking Bill 39-15 Enacted

Today, Council Bill 39-15 was enacted by the Montgomery County Council by unanimous vote to help combat human trafficking. Councilmember Hucker introduced the legislation with Councilmember Craig Rice.

Councilmember Hucker made this statement after the bill’s passage, “Thanks to co-lead sponsor Craig Rice and all my other Montgomery County MD Council colleagues for their unanimous support of my legislation to establish a strong new disincentive to dry up the market for human trafficking in Montgomery County. We need to send a message to traffickers that they’re not welcome here, and today we did that. Thanks to the Montgomery County Police Department (Official), Archdiocese of Washington, Montgomery County Commission for Women, Safe Silver Spring, The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Montgomery County NOW and all the other advocates!”

In recent years, Montgomery County has become a thriving location for human sex trafficking due to its location along the I-95 corridor, low crime rate, and high disposable income. Council Bill 39-15 gives Montgomery County Police the authority to issue civil or criminal citations to anyone looking to purchase sex in the county. The U.S. Department of Justice has found this demand-reduction approach to be effective at combating human trafficking.

The office is continuing to work with the Montgomery County Human Trafficking Task Force, advocacy groups, and stakeholders on other solutions to combat this pressing issue.

Early Voting & Student Debt: Bethesda Magazine Coverage

Early Voting & Student Debt: Bethesda Magazine Coverage

Proposed State Laws for Montgomery County Focus on Changes in Alcohol, Election Regulations

One bill would enable the county to set up a student loan authority to help local students finance college educations

By Andrew Metcalf of Bethesda Magazine

Excerpt:

The Maryland General Assembly will return to work in January and Montgomery County’s state representatives are preparing a number of bills pertaining to local issues to introduce in the 2016 session.

2015-11-18 local bills

Among the proposals is the bill already generating a significant amount of controversy—Del. Bill Frick (D-Dist. 16) and five other representatives are sponsoring legislation to enable private distributors to sell alcohol in the county and compete directly with the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC).

A number of other bills have been posted on the county delegation’s website for consideration this year. The public will have an opportunity to comment on all the bills at a 7 p.m. Nov. 30 public hearing at the County Council office building in Rockville.

Here is some of the legislation proposed by the county’s delegation this year:

To increase the number of early voting centers – MC 14-16

This bill would increase the number of early voting centers from eight to 10 in the county. The legislation follows controversy surrounding early voting centers after the Board of Elections voted to relocate centers in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase. The Republican majority board later reinstated the voting centers after Democrats vehemently protested the change. However, after the controversy was settled, County Executive Ike Leggett said in a letter he would support state legislation that would add an early voting site in Potomac.

To enable the county to set up a student loan refinancing authority – MC 27-16

More than a dozen county representatives signed on to support this bill, which would enable the county to set up a student loan refinancing authority. The authority could help local students finance the cost of higher education through loans it would offer, according to the bill. Because this is “enabling legislation,” the bill would not automatically set up the authority upon passage; county officials would have to establish the authority and appoint a five-member board to run it. If established, the authority could then raise funds by issuing bonds in order to provide college loans to students.

Hucker Urges School System Against Buying Artificial Turf Fields

Hucker Urges School System Against Buying Artificial Turf Fields Until Other Maintenance Needs Are Met

County Council member testified before Board of Education in opposition to $11 million artificial turf field plan

By Aaron Kraut of Bethesda Magazine

The county school system’s proposal to outfit all high schools with artificial turf playing fields ran into some early opposition this week from County Council member Tom Hucker.

Hucker, who represents Silver Spring, testified at a Board of Education (BOE) public hearing Monday on the recommended six-year capital budgetreleased late last month by Interim Superintendent Larry Bowers.

After testifying in support of the addition projects Bowers proposed for elementary schools in Silver Spring, Hucker spoke out against the interim superintendent’s proposal to include $11 million in the $1.72 billion budget to begin installing the artificial turf fields at the 19 county high schools without one. Six high schools already have artificial turf fields.

Hucker told BOE members that money shouldn’t be spent on artificial turf fields until Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) addresses a backlog of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) upgrades to Goodman brand heating at schools around the county.

“As long as we face huge needs on maintenance, to me we shouldn’t be spending millions on unnecessary luxuries like artificial turf fields until we have a safe classroom and adequate heating and air conditioning for each of our school children,” Hucker said. “We should commit ourselves together not to spend any dollars on luxuries like artificial turf until that day.”

Panorama of the artificial turf field at Walter Johnson High School, via Flickr user WJ Soccer

Hucker and the other eight council members will have final say on the school system’s capital budget when they take up the county’s entire six-year capital budget next spring.

Bowers recommended the $11 million over the next six years to complement any private fundraising from school booster clubs or other organizations that would be put toward paying for artificial turf fields.

The Thomas S. Wootton High School athletics booster club, MCPS and Bethesda Soccer youth soccer league combined to pay for a $1.2 million artificial turf field that now serves as the Rockville school’s main field.

Bowers said constant use of existing grass fields, by school teams and by outside community groups, was contributing to unsafe playing conditions.

“MCPS school fields are constantly used by schools and the community and the artificial turf will provide safe playing conditions for all participants in sporting activities,” Bowers said.

He recommended budgeting $2.5 million toward the program in fiscal year 2017.

His recommendation didn’t detail what kind of artificial turf fields MCPS and partner groups will pursue. Concerns about the possibly carcinogenic chemicals in crumb rubber, which fill traditional turf fields, inspired the County Council to pass a resolution earlier this year pushing for turf fields filled with organic materials only.

In his recommended capital budget, Bowers proposed a substantial increase in funding to address a backlog of about $160 million worth of HVAC projects, according to recommended budget documents.

MCPS says the school system would require $28 million per year for the next 10 years to address the entire backlog of HVAC projects, meaning Bowers’ recommendation of $122 million over the entire six-year budget “only begins to address this problem,” according to Bowers’ budget proposal.

Park Wayne Apartment Fire in Silver Spring

Park Wayne Apartment Fire in Silver Spring

We’re still working with A Wider Circle to assist our Silver Spring neighbors displaced by the fire in the Park Wayne Apartment. They are accepting online donations here: https://awidercircle.networkforgood.com/…/7355-a-wider-circ…. Checks can be sent to A Wider Circle, 4808 Moorland Lane, Suite 802, Bethesda, MD 20814. Please write “Park Wayne apartments” in the memo. The point of contact is Erin Fiaschetti, erin@awidercircle.org; 301-608-3504.

“One family is in need of two twin beds and some chairs. Donations of food, water, or other large items can drop them off at A Wider Circle, 9159 Brookville Road, from 9am – 6 pm Monday -Saturday, and 12 to 6 pm on Sunday. Contact Anne Thompson annethompson@awidercircle.org; 301-608-3504.”