The Laurel City Council last night unanimously approved an ordinance to repeal a highly contested election law.
The vote ended weeks of outcry from civil rights groups, including the NAACP and ACLU, after a complaint regarding the law was with the state’s attorney general’s office.
Opponents contended that the law unfairly banned residents with criminal backgrounds from running for elected office and would give the city’s Board of Election the power to determine who can and cannot run for elected office in the city.
Civil rights groups complained that the law was too vague and it was more restrictive than state law.
But officials said they were only trying to protect the municipality from corruption that has Prince George’s County government in the past.
Before the vote on Monday evening, Mayor Craig A. Moe thanked the local chapter of the NAACP for bringing its concerns to the city.
The repeal created a modified law that removed the provisions about criminal backgrounds but it now requires any elected official to leave office immediately after being convicted of a crime. The language would close a gray area in state law that allowed former county Councilwoman Leslie Johnson to weeks after to destroying evidence in a corruption case.
NAACP branch president Bob Ross, who spoke at the meeting, applauded the repeal and new ordinance as a model that should be adopted throughout the state.
"The community is changing now. We didn't look at it along racial lines," he said. “What we proposed could be a model for jurisdictions throughout the state."
A small but diverse crowd turned out for the public hearing, which was low key despite public outcry over the issue in other forums after the city announced it would . Other than Ross, only one Laurel resident spoke before the council.
Councilman Fred Small said the law was never meant to exclude minorities, an argument put forth by the NAACP.
“Minorities tend to shy away from anything that requires a background check,” he said. “The process [of the legislation] has its opportunity to work itself to the conclusion [reached] tonight.”
Still, some residents said the legislation could have had broader implications.
Eric Eagle, an officer with the Laurel Police Department, said the law would have led to other civil rights being curtailed.
“I’m on the side of right or wrong,” he said after the meeting. “It’s not about skin color, it’s about freedom. Every time we give up civil rights, it leads to losing more civil rights.”