UPDATED (10:07 p.m.)—Protesters will have to stay a little farther away from public and private schools if one Baltimore County Councilman gets his way.
County Councilman Todd Huff, a Timonium Republican, introduced a bill Monday night that will require protesters to stay at least 300 feet from the entrance of a public or private elementary, middle or high school. Protests would be prohibited during school hours or within one hour before or after school hours. It would also be illegal to block or prevent the use of public streets, sidewalks or other spaces while protesting.
Violators would be subject to a fine of $1,000 or up to a 90-day jail sentence or possibly both.
"It's another layer of protecting our kids," Huff said. "That's it, the bottom line is it's all about protecting our kids."
Last month, three members of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform held a protest on the sidewalk outside Dulaney High School. The protest was peaceful and lasted about 40 minutes, according to police reports.
Huff said the bill was not the result of any one particular protest. He said it was meant to not discriminate against any particular group.
"It's a broad bill," Huff said, adding that he believes it will pass Constitutional muster.
"It's been through two law offices," Huff said.
The bill, as introduced, might also prevent high school students from holding similar protests, though Huff said he had no problem with student protests.
"But when was the last time you saw a school child protest at a school?" Huff asked a reporter. "Personally, if it's a student picketing, I don't have a problem with it."
Students at Perry Hall High School, including members of the boys varsity soccer team, protested a decision by school officials to cancel the team's season in 2011 after the team performed the "Bernie Dance" following a game.
It's not clear if the bill will need to be amended to carve out an exception for school children who protest.
"You ask a good question," Huff said.
A hearing on the bill is scheduled for April 9. A final vote is scheduled for April 15.
Kamenetz Seeks Reduction In Open Space Fees
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is seeking County Council approval to reduce fees charged to developers instead of dedicating a portion of land as open space in a new development.
The fee reduction, introduced Monday night, will be discussed on March 26.
Council Chairman Tom Quirk said the administration asked for the reduction because of declining property assessments in recent years.
"I do have some questions," Quirk said. "I'd like to see the comparisons that the county used. I need to get more information on it."
Quirk said the administration based the request on a study he has not yet seen.
"It simply reflects the reality that our property taxes have gone down the in fundamental fairness we should look at the open space waiver fee," Quirk said.
The waiver fee was established in 2000 as a way for the county to help offset the cost of acquiring recreational land. The fees were last adjusted in 2006, a year after the county approved the use of some of the money to fund NeighborSpace of Baltimore County. The nonprofit, which purchases open space and so-called pocket parks in urban areas of the county inside the Beltway, receives about $50,000 every two years for its operations.
Barbara Hopkins, executive director of NeighborSpace, said her group is just beginning to review the proposed fee reduction.
"Any time the open space waiver fee is reduced we stand to be impacted," Hopkins said. "It's potentially a hardship."
Hopkins added that she understands that the county may want to reduce the fee because of declining property assessments.
In other County Council News:
• A bill that would add an additional $18-$36 flat fee to residential property tax bills in the form of a stormwater management fee was introduced. The proposed fee, which is required by the state, will also impact shopping malls, condominiums and apartment complexes. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for April 1 with a final vote scheduled on April 15.
• The council unanimously approved a ban on developing panhandle lots less than 2 acres large in the Greenspring-East Pikesville. The ban, sponsored by Councilwoman Vicki Almond, is similar to three other areas of the county and takes effect on April 1.
• The council unanimously approved a bill that fixed the unintended consequences of zoning changes made last fall to the Prospect Hill Cemetery. Last August, the cemetery zoning was changed to an open space designation that put it into conflict with the adjacent Towson City Center. Councilman David Marks said his bill will allow the commercial development intended to the high-rise office and retail center to continue as planned.
• The Baltimore County Council Monday unanimously approved a bill that seeks to add a more formal review of redevelopment efforts in the Baynesville and Hillendale communities. Community leaders say they hope the bill sponsored by Councilman David Marks will encourage higher quality redevelopment of commercial areas bordering their older neighborhoods.
• More than two dozen Dundalk residents, including Michaela O'May, told the council they oppose the proposed sale of the North Point Government Center. Michaela O'May, an 8th grade student at Our Lady of Hope St. Luke School asked the council to reject the sale and spare The Sky is the Limit community theater group. Another student from the school, Alyssa Ullrich, expressed concern about the sale and its impact on the annual July 4 fireworks. "I just don't think that it's fair that you take this all away and if you do, you're meanies," Alyssa said through a hand-written letter read by her grandmother.