Baltimore City Council Passes E-Cigarette Tax, Permanent Housing Voucher Program | WYPR

Baltimore City Council Passes E-Cigarette Tax, Permanent Housing Voucher Program

Nov 17, 2020

A screenshot from the November 16, 2020 City Council meeting.
Credit Council President Brandon M. Scott/Facebook

The Baltimore City Council held another virtual meeting last night ---- the penultimate meeting before the next iteration of the council is sworn in. WYPR’s Matt Tacka and Emily Sullivan walk us through what laws they passed and what laws Mayor Jack Young vetoed.

MATT TACKA: Why don’t we start with those vetoes? 

EMILY SULLIVAN: Sure thing. Mayor Jack Young axed two bills introduced by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett. Those bills aimed to bolster labor protections for hotel and hospitality workers — one would have required new owners of these businesses to retain the same workforce for at least 90 days, the other would have required hotel and hospitality business owners to recall the same employees they had pre-pandemic as their businesses open back up. The mayor argues both of these bills place undue burdens on employers, and that the right to recall bill may violate the Constitution’s contracts clause. 

The Democrat’s final veto relates to a bill introduced by Councilman Ryan Dorsey to rename the Columbus Obelisk in Herring Run Park in honor of victims of police violence. Now, that monument is close to another monument dedicated to police officers who have died on the job. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison lobbied the lame duck mayor, saying the close proximity of the monuments diminishes the importance of both of them.

TACKA: Will the council try to override these vetoes?

SULLIVAN: Councilmembers have to wait five days after a veto to file an override, so I would expect an answer to that question to emerge this week. Councilmembers need a three-fourths supermajority to throw out Mayor Young’s decision. 

 

TACKA: How about new legislation? Did we see anything of interest introduced last night? 

We saw a resolution from City Council President and mayor-elect Brandon Scott to establish this coming Friday as the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Baltimore, to mourn the loss of trans folks who were murdered in the city and beyond. 

We saw another resolution from Scott to express the council’s support to bring the 2026 World Cup to Baltimore. The U.S., Mexico and Canada will all jointly host FIFA’s event, and Baltimore is on a short list of 17 possible American host cities.   

Scott says, Baltimore is the perfect location for the event.

SCOTT: This is a huge opportunity for Baltimore. Our sports fans here in Baltimore are second to none, we have an unusually rich culture, diverse history. Selecting us will allow for Baltimore once again to be showcased as the world class city it is. 

TACKA: And what measures passed last night? 

SULLIVAN: We saw a few bills that bolster city support for renters pass; one bill to establish a program to provide tenants with legal counsel in eviction proceedings got the green light.

Another bill to establish an Office to End Homelessness and a permanently funded housing voucher program passed. That was introduced by Councilman Dorsey.

DORSEY: It’s really important that we’re making this structural change, to better establish our footing for addressing homelesness and homelessness services.

And the Water Accountability and Equity Act made another appearance on the docket last night.

TACKA: The bill that had been passed into law, but that Mayor Jack Young delayed via executive order over the summer.

Yes, that’s exactly right. That bill was supposed to provide a tiered water bill discount program for low-income Baltimoreans, but Young did delay it in July, saying the financial impact of the pandemic on the city was too dire. Last night, the council passed a modification to the act to change current policy to allow renters to enroll in an existing water bill discount program without explicit permission from their landlords. 

TACKA: And a prominent new tax bill passed also.

Yes -- one that would tax electronic smoking devices, like vapes or e-cigs.  This bill places a 30% excise tax on these products. City Council President Brandon Scott is behind this measure, he’s said that it’s about promoting health and also about getting a fresh source of revenue for the city, since Baltimore’s budget has been hammered by the pandemic. 

TACKA: Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall and many other things for WYPR. Emily, thanks!

SULLIVAN: Thank you.