The Howard County Council failed to override Howard County Executive Calvin Ball’s veto of a bill that was designed, according to Councilwoman Liz Walsh, to protect older trees from being cut down for new development.
Walsh, who introduced the measure in October, said she is undeterred by the council’s action and is “not going away.” This is a “personal” and “moral” issue, she added.
Not all older tree specimens have a 30-inch diameter trunk, which the state requires for them to be spared, according to Walsh, so the Howard County bill included a 24-inch diameter minimum. Walsh introduced the measure on Oct. 4 and on Dec. 7, the council approved it in a 4-1 vote. Councilman David Yungman was the lone “no” vote.
Ball vetoed the bill on Dec. 14. In a letter explaining the veto, Ball wrote that he had “significant concerns” with provisions in the bill including that it changed the state threshold for retaining trees from 30 inches to 24 inches in diameter; it lacked consideration of nonnative and invasive species of trees; and it would require extra time for Department of Planning and Zoning staff “to inspect, review and process forest conservation plans and requests.”
At the meeting, Walsh said that two council members had informed her they would vote to uphold Ball’s veto, after originally voting for the forest conservation bill.
“We can address any concerns that still remain,” Walsh said. “What are the reasons you will not support this? I would love to hear them.”
Neither council Chair Opel Jones nor Councilwoman Christiana Rigby answered Walsh’s question directly, though both commented while casting their vote for the veto.
“If our goal is to protect more trees, then we should pass a bill that will do that,” Rigby said. “The administration has told us that they cannot implement this bill as written.”
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Yungman also supported the veto, stating that “this bill is not about protecting vast forests. It is protecting individual trees.”
Councilwoman Deb Jung joined Walsh in voting to override Ball’s veto. Walsh said she would not stop fighting to improve forest conservation in Howard County.
“If we actually enforced state minimums that have been in place for decades, this is a marginal improvement,” Walsh said. “I would guess this would save some tulip poplars between the size of a 24-inch and a 29.9-inch diameter tree. That’s all it does. It’s too much. You are unwilling to do it.”
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council voted to remove from tabled legislation a bill that would establish a police accountability board, then voted 3-2 to table it again to give itself more time to review several proposed amendments, some filed just before the meeting.
The Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 requires all county governments to establish a police accountability board made up of five civilians. The local bill, introduced at the Nov. 1 legislative session by then-council Chair Walsh on behalf of the county executive, outlined qualifications for board members, and the purpose of the legislation, which is to provide a process for receiving certain complaints alleging police misconduct.
“I would still really appreciate to have taken the opportunity of time to review this many amendments with my colleagues,” said Jung, who voted with Walsh and Yungman to table the bill.
Jones and Rigby voted against tabling the bill. Jones said he would have been more inclined to table the bill if it hadn’t been administrative. Rigby, who introduced three amendments to the bill Tuesday, said the amendments were “simple” and that she “felt prepared to vote.”