One of the first acts of new Governor Wes Moore’s administration was to release $3.5 million in expanded abortion training held up by the previous governor. Governor Moore was joined this week by Lt. Governor Aruna Miller, Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones, Senator Bill Ferguson and Montgomery County Del. Ariana Kelly to introduce new measures to protect reproductive rights in Maryland. The group announced many bills aimed at ensuring protections for abortion seekers, ensuring our providers are safe, ensuring access to care for everyone and protecting data privacy for women’s health so they are not targeted in attacks.
I am deeply appreciative of these efforts because they line up with the initiatives already undertaken in Montgomery County. Last year, we appropriated $1 million in grant money for abortion service providers after Federal abortion rights were rescinded by the Supreme Court. We also placed restrictions on Montgomery County Government employees’ travel to states that sought to ban abortions. I hope these new measures proposed and backed by Maryland leaders make it through the General Assembly and to the Governor’s desk. These laws will provide the kind of protections that the women of Maryland deserve.
Workgroup to Improve Development Review: I signed a Letter of Intent this week with the Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board and we agreed to join with the Montgomery County House Delegation to create a collaborative workgroup to review and improve the County’s Development Review Process. Over the last four years, Montgomery County’s economic competitiveness has soared with record private investment, a booming life sciences industry, and a hospitality and retail industry that has admirably recovered from the impacts of the pandemic. During the same time, within County government, we have shortened the time and improved the process for permitting. Our reputation as a tough place to do business is changing, and now, it’s more important than ever to continue to improve our business processes and cut red tape.
The next step is to join forces with Planning to remove duplicative and unhelpful processes to make our system work even better and ensure Montgomery County’s economic competitiveness with our neighboring jurisdictions. This is not a commentary on the people who do the work at the different agencies; this is about structures and policies that have long been viewed as needing improvement.
No other jurisdiction has the convoluted, slow and costly process that we have, and we have plenty of models of jurisdictions that do the work better. We cannot be working against ourselves when it comes to recruiting companies. These issues are fixable and it is probably the most important thing for us to fix. I am grateful to the Chair Lesley Lopez, Chair Julie Palakovich Carr, Senator Ben Kramer and the members of the House Delegation for working with us on this issue. I look forward to working with our Planning Board colleagues to continue to improve our processes.
Testifying for Tax Reform: I testified in Annapolis on Wednesday at the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, pushing for the kind of tax reform that will build a stronger Maryland. At its core, this legislation is simple. It will allow counties to increase taxes on the uber wealthy, only if they decrease taxes on those with lower incomes. In Montgomery County, we take pride in our progressive income tax structure, where those who make the most contribute the most. This legislation will ensure that the richest among us are paying their fair share.
Montgomery County is already one of the lowest-taxed jurisdictions in the region. Implementing this would not hurt our competitiveness. It would allow us to provide additional services in a more equitable manner and improve our economy from the bottom up. I want to thank our Delegation Chair Palakovich-Carr for sponsoring this bill and fighting for equity in our tax structure.
Collaborating Toward Economic Success and Prosperity: County Council President Evan Glass introduced an economic development plan earlier this week for the County. I look forward to working with him and the Council on ways to enhance our economic development efforts, but I want to be clear: We are not starting from zero. Montgomery County is the economic engine of Maryland.
This is why we have revamped the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and are about to launch the County’s new Business Center. From our booming life sciences industry to the rebound of our hospitality sector to support for startups; entrepreneurs; and small, local, veteran, women and minority businesses, we are beginning to hit on all cylinders. The Council president’s roadmap fits well with existing efforts to continue to grow our economy and create jobs.
Sit Down with Senator Ben Cardin: I met with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin this week; we had a great conversation, including discussions about several important transportation issues including WMATA safety and our County’s growing Bus Rapid Transit program.
We also discussed some of the critical economic drivers of the County and exciting projects such as UM3-IHC https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/mcgportalapps/Press_Detail.aspx?Item_ID=42417. This will bring together the internationally ranked bio-health and quantum computing programs at the University of Maryland College Park, the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical System with the County’s globally recognized life sciences community. It will create the next generation of medicine and care.
We also discussed the County’s bid to become the home for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, also known as ARPA-H. Together with the County Council and MCEDC, we are taking strong steps to attract this important Federal agency. It would be an asset to the County, but more importantly, to the country.
Montgomery County is a leader of life sciences in the nation. It is fourth nationally for life science and second nationally for its life science workforce. Headquartering ARPA-H in this critical life science hub–where COVID vaccines were created—will allow for exponential talent and growth for the country and the world. I appreciated Senator Cardin’s visit and his continued support and advocacy on the bills, laws and issues that matter most to Montgomery County. As our State’s senior Senator and senior member of our County’s Congressional delegation, his experience, as well as his position as chair of the Small Business Subcommittee, is a great benefit to Montgomery County.
Black History Month Program Features Heroes of Civil Rights Movement: I attended our County Employee’s Black History Month Program this week. This year’s theme is “Black Resistance” and it featured three civil rights activists—Tina Clarke, Joan Mulholland and Willie Kin—who were able to share stories from the epicenter of modern Black History. I want to thank Director Jim Stowe and the County’s Office of Human Rights for putting on this program. I also want to thank our employees who participated.
Black History Month is not just about where we have been. It also is a moment to reflect on where we are and where we are going as a County, State and nation. One thing is certain: Almost 60 years beyond the creation of landmark civil rights legislation, we are still not where we, collectively as a society, need to be.
I grew up in a time of overt racism, and I witnessed the clear bars to education and opportunity that existed then. Our inability to deal with racism has left a burden on society, and now we have some state governors who want to erase this history – the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, legally sanctioned segregation and resistance to extending full rights to Black citizens. Their current actions are nothing short of disgraceful and ignorant, but their desire to manufacture ignorance in the general population by denying what happened in America and removing it from our history is, frankly, dangerous. Public schools and education are supposed to be leveling forces that, among other things, help correct views, like racism. Those views may still be held by some, but have no basis in fact and reality. Turning schools into a lie factory is a bad idea.
This month is important to remember history and also to celebrate the activism that led to major changes. From Freedom Riders to activists who helped desegregate Glen Echo Park in our County, there are many lessons that deserve to be told to help us all understand the struggles of the past. Individuals are making contributions today that will be history tomorrow.
Survey Underway to Improve Black Business Assistance Program: There are only a few more days left for Black business owners in our County to contribute to a survey that will help our economic development efforts. The survey is being conducted by the Montgomery County Black Collective, a nonprofit that advocates for increased resources and services for Black and other minority businesses.
The deadline for AMBER is Feb. 12. It is a coaching and technical assistance program for employers designed to improve the outcomes of business growth and development. Black organizations and community leaders are also encouraged to give input. The information will be used along with information gathered at focus groups starting at the end of the month to add components to the program.
Here is a schedule for those workshops.
- Feb. 23 (virtual)
- Feb. 28 (virtual)
- March 15 (White Oak)
- March 22 (Gaithersburg)
Space is limited for these forums so please register here. Montgomery County is one of the most diverse jurisdictions in the nation. Helping everyone succeed is one way we can ensure that the County continues to provide a bright future for all.
Youth Drug Overdoses Up 400 Percent Since Last Year: Many media outlets have been focused on drug activity among the young. That is because five people under age 21 have died from overdoses since the start of the school year. While overall overdoses are down year to year among adults, there has been a spike in drug activity and non-fatal overdoses among teenagers. A County Police Department detective told a crowd gathered for a forum on the dangers of fentanyl last month that MCPD has seen a more than 400 percent increase in youth overdoses compared to the same time last year. That is an unacceptable. We must have a sense of urgency to stop this.
Drugs today are more powerful than they used to be and adding to the danger is presence of fentanyl. It was dangerous enough when it was being mixed into drugs like heroin. Now it is being pressed into pills that are being requested by some students. Police know this because of text messages from confiscated cell phones in which teenage customers specifically ask for pills with ‘fenty.’ Any fentanyl overdose could be deadly and too many young people are playing Russian roulette with these pills.
Health leaders are in discussions on the best ways to create a proactive approach and develop preventative measures. Some of those ideas include setting up peer to peer discussions on the dangers of fentanyl. Law enforcement leaders are considering stiffer penalties for adults convicted of selling fentanyl to adolescents. I want to thank County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz for creating a PSA in Spanish about the dangers of fentanyl. Over the past several weeks, we have heard from many of our Latino families that they need more information and resources about fentanyl for their community.
We also are going to be conducting upcoming Spanish language town hall meetings with our Department of Health and Human Services that will include NARCAN demonstrations and substance misuse resources. This website has also just been launched to provide information about fentanyl in Spanish. Montgomery County Public Schools and the “Montgomery Goes Purple” organization are planning their next community forum. We want anyone, of any age, in any community who is dealing with drug addiction and misuse to contact the Montgomery Crisis Center 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The phone number is 240-777-4000.
‘Library Lovers Month’ Underway: “Library Lovers Month” is celebrated in our County each February. The idea is to bring together families for fun activities and programs centered around the love of reading. It also helps recognize the value of libraries in our community. Libraries provide many purposes. They host workshops for those looking to expand their job skills, find work or do their taxes. Libraries are gathering places for book clubs, yoga classes and hands on activities from arts and crafts workshops to special programs. One of these programs involves kids reading to dogs.
I want to thank the Montgomery County Library Board and Friends of the Library for their support of Library Lovers Month. They are responsible for so many wonderful programs and activities serving customers from toddlers to seniors.
Throughout the month, residents are encouraged to fill out and submit virtual postcards detailing why they love the library. These comments will be shared with elected officials.
Our libraries have also been valuable community resources in our efforts to reduce the risk of COVID-19 by handing out free COVID rapid tests and facemasks. They have distributed more than 2 million test kits and 2.4 million masks over the past year. That is an incredible and important public health service. I am very thankful to our libraries and their employees. I encourage you to check out what is happening at the library near your house this month by exploring the MCPL website.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,
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