Legislative Process

*The procedures outlined in this Handbook reflect the current Council Rules of Procedure. Section 316 of the County Charter requires that the Council adopt and publish Rules of Procedure, which accordingly may revise information contained in the Handbook.

The County Council functions and convenes in three separate capacities: the County Council, when considering legislation and items of County government business other than land use plans and zoning matters; the District Council, when considering zoning matters and land use plans; the local Board of Health, when considering health policy issues.

A. Council Sessions

B. Legislative Process and Procedures

C. Executive Action

D. Special Provisions of the Legislative Process

E. County Code

F. Board of Health

G. Committee System

H. Consent Agenda

I. Committee Procedures

J. Drafting of Legislation

K. Agenda

L. Legislation Requested by Executive Agencies 

A. Council Sessions

(1) General Requirements for Council Sessions

(a) Legislative Year -- The Council legislative year begins December 1st and ends November 30th. All bills and resolutions not enacted by the Council by the last day of November are considered to have failed.

(b) Legislative Days -- The first and third Tuesdays of each month except August and December (and except November in a Council election year) are set by the charter as days when bills may be introduced and enacted. The Council may declare other legislative days not to exceed an overall total of 45 days.

(c) Business Sessions -- Council meetings on the second and fourth Tuesdays are business sessions at which bills may be presented (but not introduced or enacted), resolutions introduced or adopted, public hearings conducted, and Executive nominations considered.

(d) Agenda -- The Council's Tuesday agendas are prepared by the Clerk of the County Council in consultation with the Council Administrator. All items to appear on the agenda must be transmitted to the Council Administrator at least fourteen days before the scheduled meeting. According to the Council Rules of Procedure, an item may be added to the agenda with the consent of a Council majority.

(e) Quorum. Attendance Roll -- A quorum of five members must be present to begin a Council meeting. An attendance roll call is called not later than 10 minutes after the designated starting time of all meetings. The attendance roll is kept on file for public inspection.

(f) Council Administrator -- The Council Administrator attends all Council sessions and presents certain items that merit Council consideration but are not in legislative form under “Administrative Officers Report” on the agenda.

(g) Clerk -- The Clerk of the Council attends all sessions. Roll call votes are recorded, actions noted, and minutes prepared. All meetings are recorded on audio and video tape.

(h) Staff -- The Press and Public Relations Office attends all meetings to keep reporters apprised of Council actions and debate. The Legislative Officer and a representative of the County Attorney attend to present procedural legal advice. Other Council staff members, including the Deputy Council Administrator and the committee Directors, attend the meetings as needed. The Council Administrator is responsible for scheduling other resource personnel, from the Council Staff, Executive Branch, or other governmental agencies, when needed to address specific issues.

(i) Public Hearing -- Citizens seeking to speak at a public hearing are encouraged to register with the Clerk of the Council prior to the hearing. Citizens may also sign up during the meeting and may be called on from the floor by the Chairman. Time limits of three minutes per speaker are imposed when issues are expected to elicit an extraordinary number of witnesses.

(j) Open and Closed Sessions -- All final actions on bills, resolutions and other matters must be taken in open sessions. This State's “sunshine law” provides 14 specific reasons for which an executive or closed session may be called and they are included as Exhibit 1. A roll call vote must be taken if the Council decides to go into executive session during a meeting. The motion to go into executive session must include one of the authorized specific reasons. A reason for the executive session must be entered into the official record along with the vote tabulation. (See Exhibit 1)

B. Legislative Process and Procedures

Council bills, denoted by 'CB' before the number, constitute law when enacted and often impose criminal and civil sanctions as penalties for violations. On the other hand, Council resolutions, noted by a 'CR' before the number express Council policy, often creating a study panel or task force to address a specific issue. Certain items, such as the Ten-Year Water and Sewerage Plan, are enacted via a resolution, but nonetheless carry the force of law. Resolutions are not used for ceremonial recognition; rather, proclamations are issued for that purpose. Council expressions of positions on State and Federal legislation take the form of letters approved by a majority of the full Council.

The legislative process is detailed schematically in Exhibit 2.

Legislation may originate from a Council member, from the County Executive, the bi-county agencies, a County department or a County commission. The Council Legislative Officer, central staff, and the Office of Law are available to assist in legislative drafting.

Any bill appropriating County funds, amending the personnel classification plans, or approving or amending negotiated labor agreements must, by law, originate with the County Executive. Executive government reorganization plans are given Council bill numbers for codification purposes, although the reorganization plans themselves are transmitted by Executive Order.

(1) Presentation --

Once drafted, legislation is placed on the next appropriate agenda for presentation or first reading and is normally referred to one of Council's committees. All legislation must be accompanied by an Agenda Item Summary Form which notes background information about the bill.

Committee worksessions are scheduled on each bill to elicit comments from citizens, the business community, government agencies, and others affected by the proposed legislation. The sessions are not public hearings, and public testimony is taken at the committee Chairman's discretion. The sessions are used to formulate amendments to the bill and generally are open forums for informal discussion of the merits of the proposed legislation.

Each bill or resolution reported out of committee is accompanied by a committee report which summarizes comments and amendments made in committee. Bills amended or redrafted in committee are designed and marked as DR-2.

(2) Introduction --

A committee may not kill a bill. Under Charter, every Council member has a right to introduce a bill on any legislative day. Introduction or second reading of a bill requires that a public hearing must be scheduled on the bill. The committee's amendments or redraft of a bill and the accompanying agenda item summary are customarily sent to the Council Administrator at least seven days before a bill is scheduled for introduction.

A bill may be rejected upon introduction by a two-thirds vote of the 9-Member Council. If a bill is rejected upon introduction, no public hearing is scheduled. Upon introduction, a bill must be sponsored by at least one member of the Council. Other Council members are entitled to be listed as sponsors.

As a courtesy to the County Executive, legislation originating from his office is presented with the sponsorship shown at first reading as "The Chairman (by request of the County Executive)". However, such bills must be sponsored by a Council Member as a prerequisite to introduction.

(3) Public Hearing --

Following introduction of a bill, the Clerk, within 5 days, gives public notice of the time and place for a public hearing on the legislation. The public hearing may not be held earlier than 14 days after introduction. The hearing must be advertised in designated newspapers of record. Most hearings are scheduled in the Council Hearing Room in Upper Marlboro, although the location may be changed to accommodate public interest.

(4) Amendments --

Following public hearing, a bill may be amended. If the amendment is determined by the Council to be "substantive", the amended bill must be reprinted and advertised for a second public hearing before it can be considered for final action.

Final action on bills may be taken on any legislative day after the public hearing. Resolutions may be adopted on business session or legislative days. Debate will proceed only after the item has been proposed for action by a Council Member. The Chairman must recognize a Council Member for participation in debate.

(5) Roll Call Votes --

Roll call votes are required on final actions on all bills and resolutions, confirmation votes on Executive appointees and on motions to permit the Chairman to sign a letter on behalf of the full County Council. Voice votes are sufficient for procedural motions. A Council Member may abstain from casting a vote on any question without disclosing the reason. The roll call begins with the Council Chairman and then proceeds alphabetically. A Council Member has the right to explain any vote.

Absences from a roll call vote will be noted on the official voting tally. A voting log is compiled for each Council Member for each session by the Clerk's office, and this log, along with the attendance log, is open for public inspection.

(6) Reconsideration --

Reconsideration of bills can be moved only a Council Member voting on the prevailing side (or by any member where a bill fails for lack of a prescribed majority) and can be done only on the day of enactment or at the next legislative session following enactment. Since resolutions can be adopted at either a legislative or business session, a Council Member on the prevailing side may move for reconsideration at the subsequent Council session without regard to its being a legislative or business session.

(7) Enactment --

Most bills require five votes for enactment. Emergency bills require six votes for enactment.

Bills amending the Zoning Ordinance require only the signature of the District Council Chairman, who must sign all legislation following Council approval. Bills requiring Executive approval must be signed by the Chairman and transmitted by the Clerk of the Council to the Executive within five working days following enactment.

C. Executive Action

The Charter allows the County Executive 10 working days to decide whether to approve a bill, veto it, or permit it to go into effect without his signature. Charter contains no provision allowing an Executive to “pocket veto” a bill. Resolutions require only the signature of the Council Chairman and become effective when adopted unless the resolution contains explicit provisions for a later effective date, or unless the effective date is otherwise provided by law.

Council must consider a veto no later than its next legislative session. A two-thirds majority of the full Council is required to overturn a veto.

D. Special Provisions of the Legislative Process

(1) Administrative Appointments --

Appointments to the position of Chief Administrative Officer, department head, board or commission member and any executive director of a board must go to public hearing not less than 10 working days after their submission to the Council. If the Council fails to act to confirm or reject within 30 days of submission, the individual is considered confirmed to the post. All nominations must be confirmed by majority vote of the full Council. Appointments to head a County department or to the position of Chief Administrative Officer may be rejected by a two-thirds majority of the full Council. Nominees to boards or commissions and executive directors thereof may be rejected on majority vote of the full Council.

(2) Reorganizations of Executive Branch --

An Executive Order creating a new division or department or reorganizing County government in another fashion becomes law within 60 days if not rejected by a majority vote of the full Council. These Executive Orders are assigned Council bill numbers and are handled administratively like other legislation except that a public hearing is not required.

(3) Authority to Legislate --

Upon the adoption of the Charter, Prince George's County was granted the power, pursuant to the express powers enumerated in the Express Powers Act, Article25A of the Annotated Code of Maryland, to pass any law that does not conflict with the Constitution or the Public General Laws of the State of Maryland. This provision applies to the Charter itself, as well as to any act passed by the County Council.

A public general law is an act of the General Assembly applicable to two or more counties of the State. A public local law is a law applicable to one County only.

(4) Meaning of Police Powers --

Article 25A of the Annotated Code includes a provision known as a “general welfare clause” which the courts have interpreted as the authorization to exercise the police power. Outside of the taxing power and the condemnation power, most legal writers conclude that the powers of the Legislature to pass laws necessary for the general health, welfare and safety is exercised under the police power. The laws passed by the County Council will generally be predicated upon an express power contained in Article 25A, including the “general welfare clause”; however, it should be pointed out that there are some public general laws passed by the State Legislature that give counties specific powers which may exceed the authority of the County under the Charter powers. The prime example is the Regional District Act which grants final zoning power and authority to the County Councils of Prince George's and Montgomery Counties.

(5) Limits on Local Legislation --

The Council, in adopting any legislation, is governed by whatever limitations are expressed in authorizing legislation. State law and Federal law are reviewed to be certain there is no conflict. This is generally a legal review by the Office of Law or Legislative Officer. The Court has expressed it in terms “that the County cannot permit that which the State prohibits or prohibit that which the State permits.” Where the State establishes minimum standards, generally it is not inconsistent for the County to establish more stringent standards if the County has authority to act.

(6) Preemption --

Some State acts have what are known as preemption provisions, which expressly exclude the County from passing any laws on the subject. The County may not legislate concerning alcoholic liquors (Art. 25A, Sec. 5) or levy an occupational tax for transacting any insurance business (Art. 48A, Sec. 10). Very few public general laws, however, have preemption provisions. Implied preemption applies when the County is precluded from legislating in a field which has been comprehensively regulated by the State or Federal governments.

(7) Local Legislation Prior to Charter --

Prior to adoption of the Charter, public local laws were enacted by the State Legislature for the County. These laws continue in effect unless amended or repealed and are included in the County Code. The County has the power to amend these laws. It should be pointed out that the General Assembly enacts public local laws in some areas, such as taxation, where Charter counties do not have express powers.

(8) Bi-County Acts --

Two Maryland Acts have important relevance to Prince George's and Montgomery Counties. These acts are the Washington Suburban Sanitary District Law codified as Art. 20 of the Annotated Code of Maryland and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Act and Regional District Act codified as Art. 28. In 1973 the Court of Appeals held that the M-NCPPC Act was a public general law, not a public local law, and therefore superseded the many conflicting provisions in the County Charter (Art. VII) relating to planning and zoning. The grant of zoning power to charter counties does not apply to those portions of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties within the Maryland-Washington Regional District. 

E. County Code

The County Code is a compilation of County laws printed so that the text of each Code section contains the latest amended wording of that section. Annotations make reference to the number of the Council Bill which enacted the section and to all subsequent amending Bills.

Section 321 of the Charter requires that a codification of all laws in effect be published at intervals of not greater than four years. Editions of the Code have been published in 1975, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995 and 1999. Additionally, annual supplements to the Code are published as required by the Charter.

In addition to the codification requirements of the Charter, acts of the Council passed under the Express Powers Act are required to be compiled and sent to the State by March 1 of each year. The sanctions for failure to comply is the State's right to discontinue all State funds to the County.

The County Code is enacted at least once every four years in its entirety as an edition. Each year a supplement is published to incorporate additions, deletions and amendments to the Code which have been enacted by bill during the legislative year. The Code is organized by subtitles which pertain to a particular topic or a collection of related topics. The topics are arranged alphabetically within the Code and are assigned a subtitle number. Additionally, due to the size and complexity of the Zoning Ordinance, Subtitle 27, this subtitle is divided into Parts. Each Part pertains to a particular topic within Subtitle 27. The Code has a topical index plus a separate index for Zoning.

The entire Code is printed at the time an edition is adopted. Supplements reflecting all changes made since the printing of the last edition are printed as “pocket parts” for each Subtitle and each Part of the Zoning Ordinance. The edition is printed on white paper and the supplements are printed on colored paper. The Code is also accessible on data terminals, with amendments to the Code being updated as enacted bills become effective, as part of the Legislative Information System. A user's guide to the Legislative Information System contains complete information about the system.

F. Board of Health

Under State Law, the Board of Health--which in Prince George's County is the County Council--must meet at least semi-annually during May and October. In practice, it meets in that capacity far more often to consider various aspects of local Health Department policies and programs and a rather broad spectrum of related health issues. State law permits the local Board of Health to adopt and enforce all rules and regulations concerning nuisances and causes of sickness within its jurisdiction, as long as these are not contrary to and are at least as stringent as existing laws, rules and regulations promulgated on the State level. The local Board may also establish all fees and charges in connection with local regulation.

The Rules of Procedure used by the Council sitting as the Board of Health are the same as those for the Council sitting as the County Council. Legislation concerning health policy and programs is also subject to the same legislative process as other pieces of legislation.

The appointment, qualifications, and duties of the County Health Officer are prescribed in Sections 3-301 through 3-309 of the Health-General Article, Annotated Code of Maryland and 12-101.3. and 12-101.2 of the County Code. When there is a vacancy or prospective vacancy in that office, a committee is established to screen candidates. Thereafter, the County Executive recommends one individual, subject to approval by majority vote of the Board of Health. Final approval is made by the State Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene. The County Health Officer may be removed from office with the concurrence of the County Executive, the Board of Health, and the State Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene.

G. Committee System

The Council has imposed upon itself a committee system which operates pursuant to the County Council Rules of Procedure. The committee system operates prior to the introduction of a bill, and when determined to be appropriate by a majority of the Council members present, after introduction to permit further study or modification to a bill. It should be noted that, notwithstanding the establishment of the committee system, the Council may waive the Rules of Procedure and alter the committee process for a particular bill and that the Charter permits any Council Member to introduce any bill on any legislative session day.

The Rules of Procedure provide for five standing committees: Health, Education and Human Services, Public Safety and Fiscal Management, Planning, Zoning and Economic Development, Transportation, Housing and the Environment and the Rules and General Assembly. Committee appointments and the designation of committee chairmen are made at the beginning of the Chairman's term of office upon the advice and consent of a majority of the full Council. At the time of presentation of a bill or at the introduction of a resolution, the Chair may refer the matter to one of the standing committees or to the Council sitting as a Committee of the Whole.

The chairman of each committee shall prepare and distribute an agenda of items to be considered at each committee meeting. A quorum of three members is required to convene and act.

H. Consent Agenda

A Consent Agenda is prepared for each business and legislative session day. Items appropriate for the Consent Agenda include the approval of the minutes of previous meetings, presentation of bills and the introduction of resolutions. All items on the Consent Agenda are distributed to each member for review prior to the Council meeting and are considered to be routine in nature. If any member desires to discuss an item, it is removed from the Consent Agenda and discussed separately. The Consent Agenda is approved by a motion “That the Consent Agenda be adopted and all actions recommended therein be approved".

I. Committee Procedures

Items referred to committee are considered by the committee and a recommendation of the committee is made to the full Council. The committee may defer action on the item in order to obtain further information about the item, or refer the item together with the committee recommendation to the full Council for introduction. The recommendation may be “favorable", “no recommendation”, “unfavorable”, "favorable as amended"; "held in committee at request of the sponsor"; "hold in committee for further study"; and "hold in committee indefinitely". The recommendation is made by motion supported by a majority of the committee members present.

J. Drafting of Legislation

Any member who desires to have a bill or resolution drafted should place that request in writing to the Council Administrator, who will assign the request to the appropriate staff for drafting. The request should outline what the bill is designed to accomplish and identify a resource person who will be able to assist the drafter with policy decisions concerning the proposal. Once the proposal is drafted, it will be returned to the Council member for approval. If the legislation is satisfactory, the legislation is submitted by the Council member to the Council Administrator for inclusion on the appropriate agenda.

K. Agenda

Items to be included for the agenda shall be submitted to the Council Administrator at least fourteen days prior to the date on which the item is to be included on the agenda. The Chairman and Vice Chairman shall meet with the Council Administrator and the Clerk of the Council each week to prepare the agenda. The agenda shall be prepared and distributed on the Friday preceding each business or legislative session day.

L. Legislation Requested by Executive Agencies

Legislation requested by executive branch agencies will normally be presented by the County Executive to the Chairman in the form of draft legislation. Such legislation shall be placed on the agenda for presentation by the Chairman “by request of the County Executive”. At the time of introduction, such legislation must be introduced by a Council member in order to be considered by the Council. ​​