I write to you from Annapolis, following the close of the 2017 Legislative Session to let you know of some of the progress we made this year. We started this year’s session by working to override the Governor’s veto of last year’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Revisions. With the final passage of this legislation, Maryland can begin to raise the standards on our state’s usage of renewable energy and move toward a cleaner and greener future.
As we entered the last few weeks of this legislative session, the Legislature and Governor were able to successfully pass a balanced, bipartisan budget of $43.5 billion, for the 2018 fiscal year, which closes a previous $400 million revenue gap.
We considered several noteworthy bills during this year’s session which covered a wide range of issues currently facing Marylanders from workers’ rights to education reform to animal rights. Although we still have a lot of work to do on some of these matters, I am nonetheless encouraged by much of the progress we have all made together since I have taken office.
Here is a list of some of the issues we worked on this year.
• HB1/SB230 – The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act – I was very happy to see Delegate Clippinger and Senator Middleton jointly reintroduce this bill, which I signed on to co-sponsor. This bill will allow many employees across our state who work for smaller businesses and currently have no sick days to begin acquiring them. Time off when sick or injured is a right that should be afforded to everyone.
• HB978/SB871 – Education – Accountability – Consolidated State Plan and Support and Improvement Plans (Protect Our Schools Act of 2017) – I, along with many Marylanders, believe our public school students are over tested and that standardized tests are overused in how we measure school performance. This bill, cross-filed by Delegate Luedtke (Montgomery County, District 14) and Senator Zucker, (Montgomery County, District 14), deemphasizes the reliance on standardized tests in favor of evaluations which look at a wider range of factors which impact academic success. In addition, it also allows for parents, school staff and administration, and community members to be brought together in consultation on school improvement plans. I was happy to vote in favor of this bill, and against the Governor’s veto.
• HB528/SB420 – Humane Adoption of Companion Animals Used in Research Act of 2017 – Each year, research facilities in our state which use dogs and cats for research purposes do not allow those animals the opportunity to be adopted once those facilities are done using them. This bill, introduced by Delegate Kramer (Montgomery County, District 19) and Senator Hough, would have required these facilities to work with rescue organizations to try and help these animals find the homes and companionship they deserve. This bill, on which I was a co-sponsor, unfortunately, did not pass this session, but I intend to support it again if it is reintroduced in the future.
Montgomery County Public Schools were able to secure over 55 million dollars in capital funding. The aging schools program received over 600 thousand dollars, and there will be over 21 million dollars anticipated for the Targeted Supplemental Grant Program.
In funding for local projects, over 200 thousand dollars will be provided for public library renovation. Over 23 million dollars was allocated for environmental projects across our county such as Sligo Creek Basin sanitary sewer reconstruction. In addition, Senator Nancy King (Montgomery County, District 39) and I cross-filed a bill together this year (HB558/SB381) which provided 125 thousand dollars to Stewartown Local Park.
Environment & Transportation Committee
The end of this session marks another productive session for the Environment & Transportation Committee, on which I proudly serve. Most notably, 2017 marks the passage of the ban on hydraulic fracturing which finally passed after several years of debate. The General Assembly had previously only been able to agree upon a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. I congratulate my colleague, Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo (Montgomery County, District 15), and vice chair of the County Delegation, who sponsored this bill (HB1325 – Hydraulic Fracturing – Prohibition). I have long believed that this practice is far too dangerous to bring to our state, and any benefits gained from this method of extraction would be, at best, a narrowly focused windfall. I was enthusiastic to sign on to support this bill as a lead sponsor.
In addition, our committee was able to pass legislation providing protection for oyster sanctuaries and developing a fisheries management plan for the scientific management of the oyster stock. (HB924 – Oyster Management – Prohibited Actions – Delegate Gilchrist – Montgomery County District 17). We also reviewed a bill to increase rates of reforestation required when forest is cleared above an applicable forest conservation threshold (HB599/SB365 – Forest Conservation Act – Delegate Healy and Senator Young). This legislation did not pass, but I, and many of my colleagues, have hopes for it in a future session. I signed on to co-sponsor both these bills this year.
Several of my own bills also tackled important environmental concerns facing our state, from the unrestricted slaughter of native aquatic species in the Chesapeake, to the unregulated uses of antibiotics in farm animal feed. The following bills from my office have all passed votes in the House of Delegates and State Senate, and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.
• HB171/SB99 – Yard Waste, Food Residuals, and Other Organic Materials Diversion and Infrastructure – Study – Maryland currently does not have comprehensive regulations and guidelines to help establish a viable, statewide, composting infrastructure. This bill, which I cross-filed with Senator Middleton, would create a task force in which state agencies such as the Maryland Department of the Environment and private stakeholders such as The Institute of Local Self Reliance and various Maryland composting facilities would coordinate and research how to best create such a framework in order to help start reducing the amount of waste we are putting into landfills.
• HB211/SB268 – Cownose Ray Fishery Management Plan and Moratorium on Contests – The cownose ray is a migratory aquatic species which has been frequenting the Chesapeake Bay and local rivers for a few months out of every year since long before the State of Maryland existed. In recent decades, this animal has been made a scapegoat for much of our oyster losses, which are actually from pollution and over harvesting. This has resulted in years of over hunting and killing contests. My office, with Senator Young’s, put in a bill this session to place a moratorium on the these tournaments which pose a threat to the population of this vulnerable and slow reproducing species until the Department of Natural Resources can effectively study the species.
• HB504/SB713 – Products That Contain Mercury – Prohibition on Sale of Electric Switches, Electric Relays, and Gas Valve Switches – Discarded electric switches which contain mercury pose a potential threat to our environment as that mercury seeps into the ground and eventually into our water system. Senator Young and I cross-filed this bill together to try and tackle this issue by prohibiting new mercury switches from being manufactured or installed in Maryland.
• HB602/SB422 – The Keep Antibiotics Effective Act of 2017 – Many in the medical community believe we are heading to a potential crisis, as we face new strains of dangerous, antibiotic resistant, bacteria created by the overuse of antibiotics. We already are seeing the emergence of these diseases in hospitals across the country. This bill, put in by both my office and Senator Pinsky’s office, sought to place limitations on antibiotic usage in farm animal feed where overuse and misuse are rampant for the purposes of unnecessary disease prevention and growth promotion.
• HB1349 – Compostable, Degradable, and Biodegradable Plastic Products – Labeling – Many plastic products labeled as “compostable” do not actually biodegrade, but merely break apart into smaller pieces. This has caused particular problems in our State’s composting facilities which now have to sort out these mislabeled products. The goal of this bill was to help end this deliberate deception of consumers by prohibiting any products not measuring up to many respected scientific standards from being labeled as “compostable”.
2017 marks my seventh year in the General Assembly and third year acting as Montgomery County Delegation Chair. I am very
proud of the work we have all done together and I am honored to work with my fellow delegates in the Assembly, my Committee and in our County Delegation.
As always, I am honored to serve as your state delegate.
Delegate, District 39