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MultiState's Local Policy Digest explores the top legislative developments from municipalities across the U.S.

Taneytown, Maryland, considering new campaign finance laws following election discrepancies

Earlier this month, lawmakers in Taneytown, Maryland, introduced a new campaign finance ordinance that would drastically change how candidates for local office file financial disclosure reports.

The ordinance was crafted after several 2017 city council candidates failed to comply with mandatory filing requirements. If the proposal passes, campaign contributions and expenditures would need to be reported to the city’s ethics commission. The proposal would also grant the commission the authority to impose fines of up to $500 per violation if a candidate does not comply.

Not all members of the Taneytown City Council supported the proposal. Councilman Donald Frazier argued that the proposal granted too much authority to the ethics commission. “I wouldn’t give a committee of people in a small town the authority to fine me $500,” said Frazier.

Taneytown Mayor James McCarron pushed back against the criticism, citing the board’s independence. “The purpose of an ethics board is to have an impartial board that evaluates circumstances and situations and acts accordingly, so I have no problem at all with having variable fines,” said McCarron.

The city council passed the ordinance at its December 10 meeting. It is scheduled for a second reading at the council’s January 14 meeting

Jamestown, Rhode Island, will hold a vote on local police enforcement of federal immigration law. At a public hearing held last Thursday, the Jamestown Town Council struck down a petitioned ordinance that would have prohibited local police from enforcing federal immigration laws, passing the buck to local electors who are now set to vote on the measure in the spring.

Based on a model ordinance drafted by the ACLU of Rhode Island, the Jamestown Municipal Immigrant Protection Ordinance would have placed a limit on police activities conducted “solely for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws.” Under the ordinance, police would not be allowed to “stop, question, interrogate, investigate, or arrest an individual based solely on . . . actual or suspected immigration or citizenship status,” a civil immigration warrant, administrative warrant, or an immigration detainer in an individual’s name. It would also keep police from inquiring about the immigration status of crime victims or a person who calls or seeks help from the police and prohibit the police from being deputized by federal immigration authorities. Police would, however, be able to act on a detainer request for an individual from either Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection if it were supported by a criminal warrant or there was “probable cause to believe that the individual has or is engaged in terrorist activity.”

The ordinance petition was brought by Conanicut Sanctuary, a local advocacy group opposed to federal deportation efforts, with the goal of fostering trust between police and the town’s immigrant population.

Although some council members agreed with the group’s goal, the body as a whole rejected the ordinance, saying that it could disrupt police practices, expose the police department to tax liabilities, and that the problem it sought to solve did not currently appear to be affecting any residents. Police Chief Ed Mello said that the department “has never acted on a civil detainer and has never been interviewed by an immigration officer.”

The ordinance still has a chance at passing in the new year. The town charter mandates that all petitioned ordinances not passed by the council “shall be submitted to the electors for their approval or rejection, no less than 30 days nor more than one year from the date the town council takes its final vote.” The vote is currently set for April 2.

In Williamsburg, Virginia, it’s “lights out” come January.

For our readers in Williamsburg, Virginia, we’d like to remind you that as of January 6, any and all holiday lighting displays will be out of code and the violators subject to official action as per the city code.

To this, you might say, “City code? Bah humbug!” We’re right there with you, but unfortunately, there’s a 1991 ordinance on the books that clearly states that, outside the seasonal window (Thanksgiving through January 6), “the stringing of lights or neon tubing on site features, including but not limited to, light poles, shrubbery, trees and fences shall be prohibited.”

The good news? There’s a grace period between your first warning and any potential city action, with an additional five to seven days following a second. However, if you do find yourself on the receiving end of a warning, you’re going to want to take it seriously. If you’re found to still be in violation after the grace period on your second warning expires, you could face a fine of $200, with the possibility of another $500 for each additional day you’re out of compliance (up to $3,000).

So, while we know that it’s cold outside, be sure to carve out some time to remove any seasonal hangings, lest you have to worry about something other than a mid-January filing deadline.

Happy holidays!

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