After a viral video and a social media campaign by state Del. David Moon, five Montgomery County council members proposed changes to a mandatory bike registration law.
The amendments, introduced Tuesday, would make it voluntary for county residents to register their bicycles with the Montgomery County Police Department.
They would also repeal two sections of the law: one that allows police to confiscate unregistered bicycles and another that allows them to direct sales from impounded or abandoned bicycles into a trust fund for injured or retired officers.
“I think this falls under the category of, ‘Wait, we have a law that does that?’” said Council Member Andrew Friedson, who was added as a co-sponsor to the amendments along with Council Members Nancy Navarro, Gabe Albornoz and Craig Rice.
Their endorsement gave the amendments unanimous support among the nine-member council.
The rule was also unknown to Silver Spring activist Steve Silverman until last June, when two Montgomery County police officers pulled him over for running a stop sign on his bicycle. After a dispute, they issued him a criminal citation for failing to display a county decal.
In an earlier interview, Silverman said he had to hire a criminal defense attorney to dismiss the misdemeanor charges. He learned that a section of county code requires residents to register their bicycles and display a county decal visibly on the frame. It also gives police officers the ability to issue misdemeanor citations for lack of compliance.
In early December, Silverman — who runs a constitutional rights blog — posted a video of his experience on YouTube. It was viewed more than 125,000 times after Moon (D-Takoma Park) shared the link on his Facebook page and urged council members to repeal what he described as a “stupid law.”
Several council members said they were equally flummoxed by the rule when they introduced amendments on Tuesday. Council Member Will Jawando, a lead sponsor of the bill, said he never registered his bicycle growing up in Silver Spring and would have been surprised to learn he was violating a county law.
Council Member Evan Glass, another lead sponsor, said it was a prime example of an outdated ordinance on the books.
“One of our functions … is to look at codes enacted decades ago to make sure they’re still functional,” he said. “And in this case, it was not functional.”
It also created a motivation for police to confiscate unregistered bicycles, said Council Vice President Tom Hucker, who — with Jawando — announced in December plans to amend the law.
While Hucker hadn’t uncovered an instance of impounded bike sales going to the Police Relief and Retirement Fund, it created a “strange incentive” for officers to enforce the law, he said. Both he and Jawando tied the amendments to the council’s racial equity and social justice initiatives, saying the law gave officers broad leeway to detain cyclists.
“Laws are meant to keep us safe and serve the public interest,” Jawando said. “But we know there are laws that serve the opposite purpose for many communities.”
The amendments create an exception for rental bike programs, which are still required to register bicycles with the county. A public hearing on the changes is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 11 at 1:30 p.m.
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