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Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Andrea Appleton | Posted 4/15/2010

On the agenda for April 12

Bills 10-0459, 10-0460, 10-0461, 10-0462, 10-0463, 10-0464, 10-0465, and 10-0466

A handful of bond bills in support of the city's cultural institutions.

The Read: The loans range from $500,000 for the Walters Art Museum to more than $33 million for the construction and renovation of city schools. If approved by the council and by voters, taxpayer-backed dollars would also go to the Baltimore Museum of Art, the National Aquarium, and toward improving the city's parks, recreation facilities, and public buildings. A community-development loan aims to reduce the spread of blight and encourage redevelopment, and an economic-development loan does as well, though it would also authorize the city to make loans to encourage "the cultural life and promotion of tourism in Baltimore City."

Bills 10-0467, 10-0468, 10-0469, 10-0470, 10-0471, 10-0472, 10-0473, 10-0474, and 10-0475

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's new revenue-enhancement bills would: raise the tax on hotel charges from 7.5 percent to 10 percent; raise the local income tax rate by .15 percent; eliminate some tax discounts; raise the city's energy tax and increase rates for nonprofit users; increase the parking garage tax by four percent; increase city parking fines by 20 percent; impose a 4-cent surcharge on some non-reusable beverage containers; and impose a bed capacity fee of $350 per year on some college dorms and hospitals.

The Read: The mayor proposed these bills on Monday morning, as part of a comprehensive budget plan that aims to close the city's $121 million budget deficit. Last month the mayor had released a preliminary "doomsday" budget—comprised only of cost-cutting measures—that would have made deep cuts to numerous city agencies, including the police and fire department. The mayor's new budget would maintain funding for most public safety positions. But the council chambers were overflowing with people worried about how the mayor proposes to pay for those positions. Dozens, for instance, wore bright yellow stickers that read: Stop the Baltimore City Beverage Tax. But despite the hubbub, the proposed ordinances were sent directly to committee for discussion at a later date. The protestors quietly filed out, having made their presence known.

Resolution 10-0197R Informational Hearings—Is there Uniform Application of the Padlock Law?

Asks the police commissioner to report on the application of the "padlock law," under which businesses and residences can be ordered closed because they are deemed a public nuisance.

The Read: Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District), who introduced the resolution, voiced skepticism about how the law is applied. "It appears as though many minority-owned businesses are being targeted," she said. "We want to be sure this is being applied fairly across the city." The resolution asks Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld, III to report on the number of instances the law has been used, the neighborhoods it's been used in, and the ratio of complaints about public nuisances that met the law's criteria versus the number of times the law has actually been applied. In 2008, the City Council revised the "padlock law," making it easier to apply to sites that had no previous convictions.

Resolution 10-0199R The Baltimore City Successful Transitions Task Force

Would create a task force to help children aging out of the city's foster care system.

The Read: As of November of last year, there were 5,011 children in foster care in Baltimore. It's expected that 375 of them will "age out" this year. This resolution, introduced by Councilwoman Helen Holton (D-8th District), would create a task force charged with making sure that 18 year olds emerging from foster care are "positioned for adulthood." The task force would "facilitate the delivery of services" from government agencies, community groups, businesses, and child welfare advocates.

Resolution 10-0200R Informational Hearing—Baltimore Police Department Crime Lab

Asks the police commissioner, the director of the city crime lab, the director of finance, and the Baltimore state's attorney to report on the operations of the Baltimore crime lab.

The Read: In 2008, the director of Baltimore's crime lab was fired after reports of employee contamination of DNA evidence. Last year, The Innocence Project—an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing—called for an investigation into the Baltimore lab's management. And just last month, The Baltimore Sun reported that, partially due to short staffing, the city's crime lab had a huge backlog of cases waiting testing. This resolution requests a report on the reliability of current DNA testing protocol and on the effects of staffing shortages on the outcome of criminal cases.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for April 19 at 5 p.m.

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