Council to vote on gender identity bill, LEED tax credits

Gender identity will likely fall under discrimination protections in Howard County, joining race, religion and sexual orientation, after a vote by the County Council on Monday.

Four of the five council members introduced the measure last month, which would bar discrimination in housing, employment, law enforcement, public accommodations and financing practices. Its passage would make Howard the third jurisdiction in the state to include gender identity in anti-discrimination laws.

"I'm looking forward to us taking a stand on an important human rights issue," said council Chairman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat.

But some have expressed concerns that the bill could allow, for example, a man to enter women's public restrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms — though the bill does exclude places that are considered "personal or private in nature."

Ball said the council will also likely vote on a bill and two amendments that would authorize the Police Department to tow vehicles in order to cut down on the number of illegally parked vehicles in neighborhoods. The bill as introduced would permit police to impound a vehicle if the owner waits longer than three months to pay a ticket.

One amendment, however, would restrict the towing for one ticket to vehicles that are three months late and are also illegally parked. The department could also tow vehicles that are legally parked if the driver has two or more unpaid parking tickets.

The other amendment would delay enforcement of the bill until March 1, which Ball said would help residents get acclimated to the change.

"It focuses on commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods," Ball said. He said those drivers make up "the lion's share of the complaints" that prompted the bill.

The council will also vote on a measure that would provide tax credits for new home owners whose homes earn a "silver" rating, according to Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design standards created by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Under the bill, the credit would decline each year, ending after four years. Ball also introduced an amendment that would provide greater incentives for more environmentally sustainable homes. The change would increase incentives for the highest LEED ratings of "platinum" and "gold," but would cap credits at $5,000.

The council will vote at a hearing scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

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