Howard County has joined Montgomery County and Baltimore City as the third jurisdiction in the state to adopt a law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
The Howard County Council's four Democrats voted in favor of legislation Monday night that bars discrimination in housing, employment, law enforcement, public accommodations and financing.
The council began crafting the bill after a Baltimore County transgender woman was attacked at a Rosedale McDonald's last spring and the failure of the General Assembly to adopt a statewide anti-discrimination law. Several members of a local group, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, sought the law
"This is an important bill," said Councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, before casting her vote in favor of the bill. "It is about respect."
She and Councilman Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, both wore purple — a symbol of transgender rights — as did many supporters of the bill who came to Ellicott City to witness the vote.
Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, cast the only vote against the bill. He said that the matter should be left to the state and federal governments to set a single, clear law, and that it was unclear which places would be considered public accommodations under the local law.
At a public hearing last month, several people testified against the bill over concerns that it would allow members of the opposite sex into public places traditionally segregated by gender, such as restrooms, dressing rooms and locker rooms.
The anti-discrimination law will take effect in 60 days.
In other matters, the council passed a measure to provide property tax credits for homeowners who build residences that meet green Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design standards. The bill provides a tiered percentage of credits, depending on how sustainable the home is, and allows the homeowner to receive credits for up to four years. The standards are crafted by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Another bill that was approved authorizes police to impound some commercial vehicles with unpaid tickets. The law, which will be enforced beginning March 1, allows police to impound an illegally parked commercial vehicle if the owner has at least one unpaid ticket that is three months late. The department can also tow vehicles that are legally parked if the driver has two or more unpaid parking tickets.