Prince George’s County will push its annual legislative agenda in the state capitol as the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, Jan. 9.
Compared to last year’s 40 pieces of legislation, the county’s House Delegation outlined 26 proposed bills with a hot-button topic being the 21-mile Indian Head Highway, also known as Route 210, which is considered one of the region’s most dangerous roadways.
In the prior 90-day session in Annapolis, Delegate Kris Valderrama (D-District 26) of Fort Washington led an effort where lawmakers approved a southbound camera at Route 210 and Old Fort Road near the Livingston Square shopping center in Fort Washington.
Valderrama plans to present legislation this year for a roving camera at various locations and adding more speed cameras along Route 210. According to the bill, “unless the driver of the motor vehicle received a citation from a police officer,” a speed infraction caught on camera would not exceed $40.
“When people hear ‘speed cameras,’ they hear ‘money generator,'” she said. “The first thing I said to my colleagues, ‘If it’s a money generator, then so be it. Slow down.’ The whole point of this is to save lives.”
According to last year’s legislation, 58 people died in 47 crashes on Indian Head Highway between 2007 and 2017. County police statistics showed that between 2016-18, police conducted 15,600 traffic stops and investigated 1,019 traffic accidents along the highway.
Police Chief Hank Stawinksi said at a Jan. 4 press conference that the department issued more than 10,000 citations and 70 arrests on the highway last year. He said initiatives such as targeting aggressive and distracted driving, excessive speeding and DWI enforcement with checkpoints and roving patrols led to those numbers.
The call to enhance traffic enforcement and improve driver safety amplified after three children were killed Dec. 30 when a suspected drunk driver rear-ended their parents’ vehicle along Route 210. The crash occurred near the intersection of Route 210 and Kirby Hill and Livingston roads, where construction continues to build a $116 million interchange to relax traffic congestion near the MGM National Harbor casino resort.
“This county executive [Angela Alsobrooks] has made it clear to me that we’ll continue this trend,” Stawinski said. “In 2019, you will see more traffic stops. You’ll see more citations. I ask that we all pause. We all examine our driving behavior … throughout Prince George’s County.”
Although Route 210 is labeled a state highway, county police patrol it.
County Councilman Monique Anderson Walker (D-District 8) of Fort Washington suggested state troopers help patrol the highway that stretches near the D.C. border into neighboring Charles County.
That’s why newly elected state Sen. Obie Patterson (D-District 26) of Fort Washington said the state must provide more resources to the county.
“[Route] 210 is a state highway, which simply means we need state government to step up to the plate and provide resources down here to help us,” he said. “210 is a crisis and we need help.”
Other proposed county bills for the state legislature include:
• Create an Office of Accountability and Compliance in the county public school system.
• Ensure the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission implements a nondiscrimination provision in contracts.
• Property tax credit of up to $2,500 for “eligible” county public school teachers.
One piece of proposed legislation not listed deals with shared parenting, which allows divorced parents to raise their children equally when not living together.
Newly-elected Delegate Nick Charles (D-District 25) of Forestville will work on legislation so Maryland mirrors neighboring jurisdictions.
In the District, there’s a presumption that joint custody works best for children except in cases of abuse or neglect.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill in May that requires courts to assess both sole and joint custody in divorce proceedings.
“It makes more sense we should be following the same line,” Charles, 36, said. “The court system creates a wedge with every other week parental visits. I want [parenting] to be 50-50.”