Wednesday, July 11, 2012

JuiceBlender: Federal Court Kills MoCo & Baltimore Abortion Laws, Police Union Referendum Rejected, More Costco Debate

Below Maryland Juice flags a few stories and updates you may have missed, starting with news coverage of a recent legal battle in the pro-choice vs. anti-abortion debate. Some of these controversies are not yet settled, so we'll let you know how they go (see below):

JUICE #1: FEDERAL COURT OVERTURNS MOCO & BALTIMORE REGULATION OF ANTI-CHOICE CLINICS - In 2010 the Montgomery County Council passed a law intending to prevent anti-abortion centers from providing misleading information to visitors. The law, which was proposed by former Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, required the centers to post signs noting that they did not employ staff with medical licenses and to therefore consider seeing a medical professional. Baltimore City around the same time also adopted a similar law. The Washington Post reports that a federal appellate court struck down both the MoCo and B'more laws (excerpt below):

WASHINGTON POST: A federal appeals court has struck down a controversial Montgomery County health regulation that requires anti-abortion pregnancy centers to provide a health disclaimer to patients....

“To be sure, Montgomery County is entitled to believe that pregnancy is first and foremost a medical condition, but it may not compel unwilling speakers to express that view,” Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote in his majority opinion....

The panel of judges on Wednesday also declared a similar Baltimore ordinance unconstitutional....

Catholic News Service had a brief response from Baltimore City over the ruling (excerpt below):
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE: ...Officials in both Montgomery County and Baltimore City said they were considering whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The law itself would not have been necessary if there were not serious and compelling evidence and testimony that the centers provided false and misleading medical information to vulnerable women," said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for the city....

Meanwhile, a writer at the Restore DC Catholicism blog had some interesting commentary on the court decisions (see excerpt below):
RESTORE DC CATHOLICISM BLOG: Not all court rulings last week were nonsensical!

...Even those who consider themselves "pro-choice" understand the draconian nature of what the local legislatures tried to do.  Hopefully they'll think things through some more and will come to realize that the pro-baby-murder tyrannical mindset can't help but manifest itself in other facets of life and human interactions.

JUICE #2: FATE OF WHEATON COSTCO MEGA-GAS STATION STILL UNCERTAIN - Maryland Juice previously reported on a push from some residents of Kensington and Wheaton to stop a 16-bay mega-gas station from opening at a new Costco discount store in Wheaton Plaza (aka Westfield Wheaton). Notably, the Montgomery County Council approved a $4 million subsidy for Costco's new box store development, but five out of nine Councilmembers also sponsored a law preventing Costco from opening the gas station. But with Councilmember Craig Rice potentially dropping his support for the proposed law, it appears as though the fate of the gas station is up in the air again. The Washington Post's Victor Zapana reported on the news this week (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: A controversial Montgomery County bill that would block plans for a gas station at the Costco under construction next to the Wheaton Mall in Wheaton appears to be in trouble.

One of the five co-sponsors of the bill — County Council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) — is reconsidering his support of the bill, county officials said Monday....
A county official who was granted anonymity to speak freely about council politics said Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) is now “the swing vote....”

Civic activists say the super-sized gas station — which would fuel up to 16 vehicles at a time — is a public health risk because it is too close to residential neighborhoods and a swimming pool.

IKE LEGGETT WEIGHS IN ON COSTCO -If these reports are true, it means that Councilmembers Craig Rice and Phil Andrews will decide the fate of the Costco gas station, with the remaining 7 Councilmembers locked in a 4-3 split against Costco. Given the circumstances, County Executive Ike Leggett decided to weigh in on the situation. The Wheaton Patch's Esther French highlighted a recent memo from Leggett to the Council highlighting an argument the County Executive often uses to defend his positions (excerpt below):
WHEATON PATCH: "...I am concerned that this sequence of events may send a message to the retail market that the county is an uncertain place to do business," Leggett wrote in the memo....

JUICE #3: COURT INVALIDATES MOCO POLICE UNION REFERENDUM FOR BARGAINING RIGHTS - A couple of weeks ago, a Maryland Circuit Court judge for Montgomery County invalidated several thousand petition signatures gathered by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). The union, representing MoCo's police force, had sought to overturn changes to their "effects" bargaining rights. The Washington Post's Michael Laris previously described these rights as follows (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: ...At issue was a rare, decades-old provision in Montgomery's labor law governing the relationship between the police department’s management and its officers. Known as “effects bargaining,” the provision gave the police union the right to bargain over issues that have an effect on officers. Such “effects" are in addition to salaries, benefits and working conditions, which police — like firefighters and county employees such as nurses and corrections officers — already have the right to take to the bargaining table....

The council on Tuesday cut most of that broad “effects bargaining” provision from county law, leaving police with the same bargaining rights as other county unions....

The police union itself was a bit more dramatic in its description of the problem. Prior to the invalidation of their petition signatures, the FOP wrote the following alert in their newsletter:
FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: Last year the County Council voted to take away collective bargaining rights from working police officers. Police officers have had the right to collectively bargain for more than 40 years and those rights have not interfered in any way with efficiency of the department. 

There are more than 34,000 voters in Montgomery County who support putting the decision of police officers’ collective bargaining rights on the ballot. In an un-democratic effort, the Montgomery County Council has spent well over $100,000 in taxpayer money to keep the Bill from going to the voters. The County Council has sued the Montgomery County Board of Elections to try to invalidate the signature FOP 35 had collected.

No signatures collected by FOP members are being challenged, only those by three circulators employed by PCI, a reputable company hired to assist in the campaign. Clearly, we were surprised by the allegations about PCI’s circulators. We don’t believe that the issues raised by the County Council’s attorney should disqualify any signatures.

More on MoCo policy developments soon!

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