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County Council votes against new residency rules, sticking to 2018 resolution

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Posted on: March 1, 2022

BY JONATHAN DONVILLE

The Prince George’s County Council voted to oppose a state bill that would have loosened the residency requirements for council candidates in years following redistricting. 

The council opposed the bill by a vote of 8-2 during the Feb. 8 meeting. Council member Jolene Ivey, who represents District 5, which includes part of Hyattsville, joined Council member Thomas Dernoga in voting for the bill. Council member Deni Taveras, who also represents Hyattsville in District 2, was one of the eight opposing votes.  

The council passed a resolution in 2018 requiring candidates to live in the district they represent at least one year before primary elections. Taveras said the council “is not going to entertain” back-tracking on that resolution that passed in 2018. “It is in the best interest of the community to live in the district (one year) before the primary,” she said. 

The proposed change would have simply required council candidates to live in the district they hoped to represent by primary election day. The bill would have applied only to the year right after redistricting takes place, to allow candidates time to adjust to new district boundaries.

The proposal came in the form of a state bill sponsored by Maryland state Del. Ben Barnes, who represents District 21. However, when speaking during the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee meeting Feb. 8, Barnes said he had spoken to Prince George’s Council Chair Calvin Hawkins II, and agreed that he would allow the council to make the decision on a local level. Barnes said he was drafting a letter to withdraw his bill, meaning that the bill was dead on the state level. 

Some candidates, like Victor Ramirez, who is running for the council seat in District 2, see the decision to not loosen the rules as harmful. He said, “It just doesn’t make sense when we try to restrict people from running for office. I think competition brings out the best in everything we do in life.”

The proposal was tied to the legal battle stemming from county redistricting. The County Council recently drew public criticism for its adoption of a new district map that members drew, despite the fact that an independent commission was created to draw a new map. As reported by Hannah Marszalek of the Hyattsville Life & Times, a judge in the Prince George’s County Circuit Court recently threw out the new map and ordered that the county proceed with the different map that was proposed by the independent commission. The commission map made only minor changes to the district map that has been used for the last decade. 

The judge on the case was William Snoddy, who threw out the council’s map because it was passed by a resolution and not a law. The county is now appealing the decision, and the case will now head to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. The court will hear oral arguments on the case beginning March 4. 

Meanwhile, the date to file candidacy for council elections was extended from Feb. 22 to March 22, but candidates are still unsure of which map will be used, and what the residency rules are.  

For some candidates, the questions about the map and the residency rules are making life difficult. 

“You still have to run the campaign,” said Ramirez. “The campaign doesn’t stop, so right now you could be running in a district that you may be redistricted out of, but we won’t know until they come out with a decision one way or the other.”

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