What we accomplished this session

Dear Friend,

I write from Annapolis following the close of my third legislative session and proud of the work the state legislature accomplished this year. We passed a balanced budget that includes record funding for public schools; invested in renewable energy by passing off-shore wind legislation; improved public safety with stricter gun control measures; expanded early voting; and continued to work on cleaning up one of Maryland’s greatest assets and treasures—the Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, it has been a productive session.

Our primary duty every session is to pass a budget. This year’s plan devoted 83 cents of every general fund dollar to education, health, and public safety, continued funding for programs credited with allowing Maryland to recoup 80% of the jobs lost during the recession, increased local police aid to a 20-year high, formed two new State Trooper classes, and placed more funds in the rainy day reserve to better position our state for federal cuts brought on by sequestration.

One of the most important pieces of legislation we passed repealed the death penalty. I am proud to live in a state that will no longer sanction execution. And I am proud of the tireless work of the organizers who made this victory possible. No longer will we have to worry that an innocent man or woman may be put to death by the state. And no longer will we have to waste money on a practice that has been outlawed by 128 countries.

Another vital bill that passed addressed our aging transportation infrastructure, providing $700 million annually for road and transit projects. Anyone who drives in the area understands the necessity of improving the congestion on our roadways. I am relieved that we finally began the process of investing more in road repair and maintenance.

My bills dealing with hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—both stalled in the legislature; however my concerns regarding this process of natural gas extension remain, and my work on this issue will continue. Our wastewater treatment facilities lack the capacity to handle fracking wastewater. Ignoring this problem, and sending the wastewater there regardless, is asking for trouble. What is more, spills have become increasingly common as drilling operations increase nationwide. We have a duty to protect our citizens and waterways from harmful chemicals and I will continue to work to ensure that we fulfill this obligation.

Ultimately, I remain unconvinced that fracking can be conducted safely: Water contamination and seismic activity continue to be frequent side effects of drilling operations. Making matters worse, methane leaks during the fracking process make it at least as big of a climate change contributor as coal. We should be focusing more on incentivizing the development of cleaner technologies rather than pivoting to an increased reliance on another fossil fuel. I will continue to push for our state to dedicate its resources towards researching renewable energy sources.

As a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, I have worked to implement and propose practices that ensure that our natural resources are preserved for the next generation. And so I was proud that the two bills I passed this session will do exactly that: One permanently extends funding for the Chesapeake Conservation Corps—an extremely successful program that furthers Chesapeake Bay conservation efforts; the other creates a workgroup that will research and recommend proposals designed to preserve native plant species and reverse their troubling decline.

Many of you contacted me this session about implementing a statewide spay and neuter program. After working with the task force that developed the bill, it was rewarding to see it pass this session. Over 45,000 animals are euthanized annually in Maryland due to overcrowded shelters. Hopefully, this program will be part of a comprehensive solution to this entirely preventable tragedy.

I was also a proud supporter of a measure to allow qualifying undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. Our nation was founded by immigrants who came here in search of opportunity. Currently, there are millions of undocumented individuals providing services upon which society relies. Indeed, we are stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it. And so I will welcome with open arms any new Marylanders who may come as a result of this progressive change. And I will know that we will continue to thrive—both economically and socially—if we legislate in a manner that acknowledges reality rather than ignores it.

I was also proud to vote for a bill that empowers doctors and patients to decide what medicines work best for treating debilitating diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis. It is simply nonsensical that narcotics—infinitely more easily abused than marijuana—are prescribed daily, while cancer patients are denied a therapeutic respite because elements of our public policy remain based on culture mores from five decades ago. Science has discovered multiple medicinal uses for marijuana, and many researchers feel that removing superfluous impediments to conducting further research will result in countless more. Our passage of a bill legalizing medical marijuana is an important step forward in that regard.

It was a pleasure serving you this year and I look forward to the work that remains next session. As always, please feel free to reach out in the interim and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Shane

Annapolis Update — 1/11/13

Friend,

This week marks the beginning of my third legislative session representing you in Annapolis. As such, I write to update you on some of my legislative priorities for the next three months:

  • First, some good news. This week, Maryland’s schools were ranked first in the nation for the fifth year in a row. This is a testament to the tireless dedication of our teachers and school administrators and years of policy that have prioritized education in our state. I’m proud to live in Maryland where sending my children to public school is a privilege rather than a compromise. As long as I represent you in Annapolis, promoting and implementing sound education policy will be one of my chief priorities.
  • Ensuring that “fracking”–a process of natural gas extraction that has contaminated water and caused earthquakes–never occurs in Maryland, will also be a focus of mine this year. I have not seen evidence that fracking can be done safely, and it is bad policy to proceed as though there are no public health concerns associated with the practice. Furthermore, we should be spending more time and energy focusing on promoting investment in renewable energy sources. To that end, I will be supporting Governor O’Malley’s wind power initiative. As a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, I feel a particular responsibility to be working on these issues and hope that you will contact me with any ideas you have to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.
  • My inbox has been flooded with inquiries regarding potential gun control efforts. In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, I think it is clear that we need to do what we can in Maryland to restrict access to assault weapons. As President Obama said: “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction…If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
  • “We also have an opportunity this session to abolish the death penalty. In short, I feel that the practice is immoral–the risk of executing an innocent man or woman is too high to continue instituting capital punishment. DNA testing has cast doubts on numerous prior cases, an unfortunate fact that should serve to remind us that our justice system, while undoubtedly one of the world’s best, is not infallible.

As always, please continue to contact my office with your ideas and concerns. I am in Annapolis to serve you and look forward to getting to know more of my constituents this session.

Best,
Shane

p.s.- Next week, I will be updating you on the bills I plan to file this year.

USGS Report Points to Gas Reserves Across Maryland

Friend,

Fracking just became a much bigger danger to Maryland: A new United States Geological Survey Report indicates that there are gas reserves across Maryland; possibly even in Montgomery County. Not all of these reserves have been assessed by the USGS, but the reserve in southern Maryland that has been likely contains more than two-thirds the amount of gas that is located in the Marcellus region of western Maryland — a significant amount. Furthermore, gas can be extracted from these new reserves using the same hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, process that the gas industry is attempting to employ in western Maryland. What some would view as a western Maryland issue, has undeniably become a statewide issue.

As you may know, I have spent a great deal of time and energy working on the issue of whether fracking should be allowed in Maryland. My position has been clear: the burden is on the gas companies to prove it can be done safely, and since they have failed to do so it should be banned. No amount of natural gas is worth endangering the air that we breath and the water that we drink.

People have said: “Why is a Montgomery County Delegate working on this issue when the shale is in western Maryland?” My response has been that air and water quality is not just a local issue — it impacts all of Maryland. This remains the case, but the recent USGS report shows that fracking could be coming to our backyard in the near future if we don’t act. And so we must ask ourselves: Do we want to risk our children drinking contaminated water and breathing toxic air?

Please stay tuned for further developments.

Best,
Shane

2012 Legislative Session: Environmental Issues Update

Dear Friend,

Now that we have had time to digest the results of the 2012 legislative session and the May special session I wish to update you on the state of several vital environmental issues in Maryland:

First, if you agree that the issues below are important, please help me in fighting against those who are resisting change with a donation through my fundraising website here.

Arsenic in Chicken Feed– This bill was one of the biggest reality checks for me upon joining the legislature. Personally, I feel this is a prime example of common sense legislation. I don’t want our children eating arsenic in their chicken. And I also don’t want arsenic from chicken entering agricultural fields and running into the Chesapeake Bay; it is as simple as that. Unfortunately, some felt arsenic in our chicken feed wasn’t a big deal and it took us until this year to pass the bill. But make no mistake: this was a success story and we will continue to look at ways to make the bill we passed even stronger. The bill’s sponsor–Delegate Tom Hucker–did a tremendous job shepherding this through the legislature.

Fracking– While some continue to feel that the best way forward for Maryland on this matter is to enact regulations and taxes so that, if this natural gas extraction process is implemented in our state, we will have a regulatory framework in place to deal with it. I disagree, because I feel strongly that the natural gas industry has failed to prove that this practice can be executed safely. Indeed, we have seen it contaminate water and cause earthquakes in other states. My view is that implementing regulations moves us closer to fracking in Maryland. I look forward to participating in the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission meetings on this issue and voicing my concerns.

Offshore Wind Energy– While this bill passed the House it failed to make it to the Senate floor. As our economy continues to recover, creating jobs that are built to last is key. Renewable energy is the future, and the sooner Maryland realizes this the better our state will be for our children. It is vital that we position Maryland to lead on this issue rather than forcing ourselves to play catch up with other states. This is as much an economic issue as it is an environmental imperative. As long as I am a delegate I will continue to vote for legislation that promotes alternative energy sources.

Chesapeake Bay Pollution–Several bills addressing this matter passed this last session, some stronger than others. Going forward, this will continue to be an issue I will focus on. I continue to hear from critics of Maryland’s actions on this issue that the actions of our neighbors–Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia–have been insufficient in this regard, and, as such, we shouldn’t be fighting this fight anymore. I feel this is backwards logic. We have a duty to protect one of our most vital resources, and we can only control our own actions. We can’t sit and wait for others to act; we must lead.

As a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, and a staunch environmentalist, I care deeply about how these issues progress in the next few years, and will do everything in my power to see that Maryland positions itself to lead on investing in renewable energy, protecting the Chesapeake Bay, holding businesses accountable for pollution, and other matters of concern to the environmental community.

If you agree with me that a major element of ensuring that the Maryland we leave for our children is positioned to succeed is by protecting our resources, please help by donating to my campaign here. Also, you can visit my website here.

Thank you,
Shane

P.S. — Here is some information from the 2012 Annapolis Report detailing legislation affecting Chesapeake Bay pollution:

Sustainable Growth & Agricultural Preservation – Instead of an outright ban on septic systems, the legislature created four planning tiers for counties to adopt for use in approving major residential subdivisions served by onsite sewage systems and community or shared systems. Development projects in the pipeline are grandfathered in and there are protections for family farmers to ensure they can continue to farm their land.

Bay Restoration Fee/Flush Tax – In line with the federal requirements for the states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, legislation increased the statewide residential wastewater and sewerage fees (flush tax) from $2.50 to $5 per month to complete installation of enhanced nitrogen removal technology at Maryland’s 67 major publically owned wastewater treatment plants, fund cover crop programs, and replace failing septic systems across the State. The fees will revert to current levels in 2030. Exceptions were made for wastewater facilities, onsite sewage disposal systems, and sewage holding tanks that do not discharge into or are not located within the Watershed.

Stormwater Management – To comply with the federal mandate to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff on the waters of the State at the local level, new law requires the State’s largest counties to charge a stormwater fee. Local governments may also install low impact stormwater systems. Governmental properties and organized volunteer fire departments are exempt from the fee.

Annapolis Update — 2/16/12

Friends,

It was a busy week in Annapolis: my bill to treat intersections with non-functioning traffic signals as four-way stops passed the House today, and on Wednesday I had hearings for both my wastewater fracking and conflict minerals bills. As I wrote previously, I don’t think industry has proven that fracking–a process of natural gas extraction–can be done safely. Indeed, we have seen it contaminate water in Wyoming and cause earthquakes in Ohio, not to mention numerous surface accidents in Pennsylvania and other states.

That being the case, I am concerned that passing regulations and taxes may bring us closer to fracking in western Maryland.  Instead, until a safe method for extracting natural gas from Marcellus Shale is developed, we should work on legislation to protect our citizens and water supply. To me, the best way to do this would be to ban the process. But even with a ban, current law allows fracking wastewater from other states to be imported into Maryland, risking environmental degradation and public health as a result; that is why HB 296 is so important.

Finally, even if a safe way to extract natural gas from Marcellus Shale is developed, we still should not over-rely on so-called ‘bridge fuels’. (It is important to remember: natural gas–when you include the extraction process–has a carbon footprint similar to coal.) Rather, we must focus on improving the viability of renewable alternatives.  If we fail to pivot our focus, we will be stuck with an antiquated economy, lose the opportunity to create a new job-creating industry, and continue our reliance on overseas fuel.

As for conflict minerals, I was honored to have members of the Congolese diaspora show up in support of the bill on Wednesday.  The conflict in the Congo–specifically, our part in it–has been ignored for too long.  This bill would bring Maryland in line with federal legislation that requires corporations to disclose the source of the minerals in their supply chains. It would also ensure that minerals in our electronic hardware come from mines that benefit–rather than destroy–communities.  Additionally, it shows our Congolese District 39 brothers and sisters who fled because of the conflict, that we care, we will do what we can to help end the senseless violence, and we welcome and value their role in our vibrant community.

Lastly, as I write this we are preparing for a special evening session to debate marriage equality. Over the past months, I have heard from countless constituents on both sides; it is clear people are passionate about this issue. Whatever happens over the coming days, I hope this doesn’t divide our community.  To those who have called and written urging me to vote ‘no': I hope you continue to contact me in the future, and appreciate that while we disagree on this issue we can collaborate on others. To those who have phoned or reached out to thank me for my support, know this: it is you who deserve the gratitude. The reason this bill may pass is not because of the work of legislators, but rather the tireless grassroots efforts of constituents; let’s hope love wins out.

Stay tuned for more following the vote, and thank you for allowing me the honor of representing you.

Best,
Shane

By Authority: Friends of Shane Robinson; Mary Robinson, Treasurer.