2017 End of Session Letter

State House Dome
January 18, 2017

Dear Neighbors,

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
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.

Sincerely,

Shane Robinson
Delegate, District 39

Montgomery County Delegation Announces 2015 Session Accomplishments for the County

The Montgomery County Delegation

The Montgomery County Delegation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 14, 2015

ANNAPOLIS – The 32-member Montgomery County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly today announced its 2015 legislative accomplishments for Montgomery County.

Differences over how to reconcile the State’s operating budget dominated conversations during the 90 Day session, with some spending programs level funded and others reduced or eliminated to help create a balanced budget. Overall, State aid directed to Montgomery County will increase by about $14 million, from $715 million to $729 million. Nearly all of this increase is attributed to mandated State funding to support the costs of delivering public K-12 education services in the County’s growing school system.

An additional $17.7 million would have been included in these numbers had the Legislature’s plan to restore full funding for the Geographic Cost of Index (GCEI) been realized before the Session adjourned. The GCEI was included as part of the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act which was enacted in 2002 to help offset the costs of providing education services in higher cost subdivisions. The GCEI is a critical source of funds for the County’s school system, which struggles to keep up with burgeoning enrollment growth and shifting student demographics. If the Governor does not restore full funding for the GCEI this year, legislation passed in the closing hours of the Session will mandate full funding for the program in future years.

On the capital side, the State Delegation obtained passage of a targeted supplemental public school construction grant program that directs additional State capital funds to high growth subdivisions and those utilizing significant numbers of portable classrooms. Based on that criteria and the Delegation’s successful advocacy of advancing funding for the program, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will be able to access about $6 million in
additional State capital funds this year and into the future. Although final public school construction allocations will not be finalized before May, the Delegation hopes that MCPS will receive at least $46 million this year to help address its critical school capacity issues.

In addition to this major win for the County, the Delegation secured funding for every capital project included on the County’s 2015 Session Priorities list. State capital funds were appropriated for two County libraries, several hospitals located in the County, the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, the Music Center at Strathmore, Montgomery College, the Universities at Shady Grove, the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center, and the Avery Road Treatment Center. The Delegation also directed $2.3 million in State capital grant funding for smaller community projects that support the arts, recreation, and social services.

On the economic development front, a package of bills codifying recommendations of the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission (“Augustine Commission”) was strongly supported by House and Senate Leadership and the Montgomery County Delegation. These proposals are all geared toward spurring additional economic growth throughout the State while capitalizing on existing assets. One of Maryland’s greatest assets is its high quality public higher education system. Both the operating and capital budgets reflect significant State investment to ensure that our colleges remain affordable, on the cutting edge, and have the physical plants to meet demands.

The State Legislature also took up several tax issues that are important to Montgomery County. Language was included in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act to help local governments and the State in the event the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the State in Wynne v. Comptroller. While taxpayers will receive their refunds as soon as returns are processed, the reimbursement to the State for the local share of taxes will be spread over three years. In addition, the language clarifies that moving forward, the State tax liability must be exhausted before credits are taken against county and municipal income taxes.

Also, a State income tax break for retired military personnel (including the Public Health Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Coast and Geodetic Survey) was doubled for military retirees over the age of 65. Eligible retirees will be able to subtract an additional $5,000 when determining their taxable income.

Turning to health and human services issues, efforts were made to restore cuts that would hurt vulnerable residents and impair the County Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to provide safety net services. Unfortunately, the Session ended without these funds being secured. The Governor could make appropriations to restore funding for core public health, heroin outpatient treatment, community first choice waiver, adult daycare centers, and maternity benefits and family planning. Additional appropriations could be made to the Developmental
Disabilities Administration for crisis resolution services, provider rates, and contracts for community services.

The General Assembly tackled a number of high-profile issues in the public safety arena. Increasing the public’s trust between police departments and Maryland communities was of paramount importance in the adoption of legislation on law enforcement officers’ use of bodyworn cameras (BWC) as well as changes to existing state law on asset forfeiture procedures. Well-structured BWC programs have been shown to have a positive effect on the overall number of use-of-force incidents by police, reduced complaints of officer misconduct, decreased lawsuits, better documentation of crime scenes, and overall improved relations between police and civilians.

Responding to recent unfavorable national news reports on asset forfeiture programs, the Delegation worked to approve several changes to State law on seizure and forfeiture of property in connection with drug-related crimes and other criminal activity. Law enforcement agencies will be subjected to additional reporting requirements that affirm the value of the program’s use against criminal enterprises while addressing potential police abuse of asset forfeiture laws by increasing transparency in the level of seizure and forfeiture activity in the State.

On human trafficking, the Delegation continued to press for legislation that protects the victims of this coercive and violent criminal activity. A measure was adopted to establish a workgroup to study safe harbor policies for youth victims of human trafficking. Public and private sector programs will be evaluated to reveal gaps in services, and data will be collected on the number of youth victims in each jurisdiction in the State. In addition, the Delegation advocated for successful legislation to assert an affirmative defense of duress if the individual committed a
criminal act as a result of being a human trafficking victim.

Improving transportation options and relieving congestion in the D.C. region are always front and center issues for the Montgomery Delegation. This year, the Delegation successfully worked toward the adoption of a bill requiring MDOT to study the utilization of bus, rail and subway systems under WMATA’s jurisdiction every five years. Funding for Maryland’s portion of WMATA is the State’s responsibility and understanding capacity and growth issues is
essential.

This year the Legislature addressed ridesharing operations, such as Uber and Lyft. There will now be clear authority for ridesharing operations to be conducted in Maryland, with oversight provided by the Public Service Commission. The legislation clarifies new rules that will apply addressing insurance, background checks, and other requirements for ridesharing operations.

Several high profile environmental issues also dominated the attention of Delegation members serving on the General Assembly’s environmental committees this year. The controversial stormwater charge mandate that was imposed in 2012 was removed by the General Assembly. In exchange, the legislation increases reporting requirements and strengthens accountability to ensure compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for stormwater remediation.

For several years, opponents to the contentious natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing have sought a ban. Voicing continued concern about potential risks to the environment, several Delegation members co-sponsored successful legislation to prevent permits for fracking until October 1, 2017.

The Delegation supported legislation to increase the annual percentage requirements for solar resources to help meet the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. Despite these efforts, the General Assembly did not increase the requirements this year. The bill did serve to spur awareness and conversation on this emerging issue.

The 2015 Session opened with over 60 new legislators — five of whom were elected from Montgomery County — and a new governor. The accomplishments and work conducted in this first year of the term will likely lay the groundwork for the remaining three years.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Melanie Wenger, 240-888-0308 (Montgomery County Office of Intergovernmental Relations)

Sara Hartman, 301-858-3018 (Montgomery County Delegation Administrator)

Montgomery County Delegation website: www.montgomerycountydelegation.com

Montgomery County’s Priorities for the 2015 Session

As the Chair of the Montgomery County House Delegation, Montgomery County’s Priorities are my priorities. Below is a list of the County’s priorities. You can also find them on the Montgomery County Office of Intergovernmental Relations website.

Montgomery County’s Priorities for the 2015 Session

  1. Public School Construction
    Montgomery County continues to seek supplementary funding from the State to address critical capacity needs across the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Today’s enrollment of 154,230 is expected to grow to more than 165,300 by 2020. Between 2007 and
    2020, enrollment will have increased by more than 27,600 – more growth than that of Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick, and Baltimore Counties combined. This enrollment growth, coupled with maintenance needs in older schools, is placing enormous pressures on MCPS
    facilities. Montgomery County continues to provide substantial financial support for its school construction program; but, it cannot keep pace. In order to break the logjam of projects, the State needs to provide the County with a steady source of funds over and above
    the amounts it has traditionally allocated for MCPS school construction projects. (See Attachment 1 for listing of MCPS projects).
  2. Transportation
    The State must be a full partner in investing in Montgomery County’s transportation infrastructure to create transportation capacity necessary for reducing congestion and supporting job creation objectives. The Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway remain at the top of the County’s long list of priority transportation projects. (See Attachment 2 for listing of transportation priorities).
  3. Montgomery County Businesses
    Montgomery County must establish an active partnership with the State to unlock the County’s potential as a leader in biotech, cybersecurity, and health IT supported by a diverse economic base, state-of-the-art transit and digital networks, a ready and able workforce, and a business-friendly regulatory and tax climate.
  4. Health Care
    Because the State actively embraced the Affordable Care Act, 55,000 residents of Montgomery County that were previously uninsured now have access to quality health and behavioral health services. The County is also working on improving health access, building networks, and being innovative. The State must continue to support full implementation of the law in order for the County to maintain this momentum.
  5. Other Capital Projects
    • Libraries – $1.5 million to help underwrite the costs of capital maintenance projects at Aspen Hill (Rockville), Davis (Bethesda), and Little Falls (Bethesda)
    • National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence – $2 million to complete renovations
    • Music Center at Strathmore – $833,000 to help underwrite capital improvement costs
    • Avery Road Treatment Center – $140,000 to complete the planning phase for full replacement of this substance abuse treatment and detox facility serving suburban Maryland counties
    • Montgomery College, Germantown Campus – $15.4 million to renovate the Science and Applied Studies building
    • Universities at Shady Grove – $6 million to complete design of the Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Educational Facility. The $20 million parking garage funded by Montgomery County to help support the new facility is under construction.

End of Session Letter

Dear Neighbor,

I write to you from Annapolis, following the close of the 2014 Legislative session; proud of the work the State Legislature has accomplished this year. We increased the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; banned discrimination based on gender identity; passed a balanced budget that maintains essential public services; decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana; 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.

 Here are a few of our accomplishments this year:

  • SB 212 – Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014
    Currently, it is illegal to discriminate in public accommodations, labor and employment, and housing on the basis of race, sex, age, creed, color, religion, national origin, marital status, disability, and sexual orientation. This bill, which has been the law in Montgomery County for several years already, simply adds gender identity to the list. The passage of this bill was very important for the advancement of civil rights and I was proud to vote in favor of it.

  • HB 297 – Prekindergarten Expansion Act of 2014
    This bill is the beginning of what I hope will become a universal Pre-K program for all Marylanders. While only $4.3 million was allocated, it will provide grants for 1,600 students and is a good foundation for future expansion of the program.

  • HB 296 – Natural Resources – Wildlands – Designation of New Wildlands
    On the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act which was signed into law by President Johnson, Maryland has decided to expand its own wildlands by over 20,000 acres. I was proud to be the second sponsor of this important piece of legislation.

  • SB 364 – Criminal Law – Possession of Marijuana – Civil Offense
    Assuming that Governor O’Malley signs SB 364 into law, then beginning on October 1, 2014 possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana will no longer be considered a criminal offense, but instead a civil penalty. This will ensure that many nonviolent offenders will stay out of prison and not have their lives ruined by simply possessing marijuana in small amounts. Please keep in mind that possession of any amount of marijuana will remain illegal.

  • HB 295 – Maryland Minimum Wage Act of 2014
    Maryland’s minimum wage will increase incrementally to $10.10 per hour by 2018. While I would have preferred that we link Maryland’s minimum wage to the state’s living wage (currently $13.20 in Montgomery County), this bill is certainly an improvement over the current rate of $7.25.

  • HB 73 – Civil Actions – Personal Injury or Death Caused by a Dog – Rebuttable Presumption
    This bill is important because it removes landlord liability and breed specific standards for dogs, but it makes each owner strictly liable for their dogs. Many of you wrote to me on this issue and I welcome your thoughts on the legislation that we ultimately passed.

 Several of my bills were also successful, including two bills that will help the Chesapeake Bay Trust continue to support projects that benefit the health of the Bay, as well as a bill that will help improve the air quality in relocatable classrooms.

This legislative session was the fourth session in what has been a very successful term for the people of Maryland. Over the course of the last three years we have passed marriage equality; abolished the death penalty; passed the Dream Act; tightened our gun control laws; improved access to voting; implemented a medical marijuana pilot program; increased funding for developmental disabilities; implemented a program to deal with stormwater pollution; incentivized the construction of a major offshore wind energy project; and promoted smarter local planning and zoning policies to curb pollution into the Chesapeake Bay and coastal waterways.

In looking at our State’s recent accomplishments I can’t help but remain especially honored to be a Maryland delegate.

Sincerely,

sig

 

 

P.S. – Please continue to contact me in the interim with any ideas, concerns, or issues you may have: Shane.Robinson@house.state.md.us; (301)-337-7284.

P.P.S. – The Primary Election is earlier this year than in most years. This year the Primary Election is Tuesday, June 24th.

My Speech for Humane Advocacy Day

Hello,

On Tuesday I delivered the following speech at Humane Advocacy Day in Annapolis. Animal welfare is a very important issue to me, so I thought I would share my speech with you. Here it is:

Thank you so much. And thanks to HSUS, the ASPCA and Maryland Votes for Animals for organizing and hosting this Advocacy Day.

And thank all of you for being here. If there’s going to be change in Annapolis it has to start at gatherings like these. Thank you so much for taking the time to travel here on a weekday morning to talk to your representatives about what you care about. It really does matter. And it’s especially important because in our system animals don’t have a vote, so they need a voice. And all of you are that voice. Thank you so much. It’s truly important.

I’m so honored to have been asked to speak at this gathering, because animals are an issue that is really close to my heart. If you live with a dog, or a cat, or a horse, or a chicken, or a pig, as many of you do, and if you’ve looked into their eyes, as all of you have, then you know that animals are sentient beings. Animals are sentient, just like we are. It’s the truth. I don’t know what else to say about that because it’s self evident. An argument is not required, you just need to spend quality time with other animals, besides the human animal, to know that simple truth.

The problem is that we, as a society, don’t treat animals like the sentient beings that they are. Like the Earthlings that cohabitate this planet with us, that they are. Like the beings that share this ecosystem with us, that they are.

Instead, as a society, we treat them like tools. Like commodities. Like resources. To be used. Traded. Sold. Consumed. Viewed for our entertainment. Experimented on. Abused.

As a society, we objectify every other animal on this planet. And that needs to stop. As a society, we view animals as things whose only purpose is to serve our needs. Our desires. Our wants. And that needs to stop.

Animals are not here, on this Earth, to serve us. They are here for their own ends. They are here with us. Not for us.

The reality is that we are all connected. Plant. Animal. Humans included. And although I can feel that on a spiritual level, as I know that you can, science shows us that we are indeed all connected.

We all live together in the same giant ecosystem. An ecosystem that we have put out of balance, and endangered, because of our misunderstanding of where we, as human beings, fit into this whole equation.

Look at what we’ve become as a species. We just suck everything up. We consume. We even call ourselves consumers. Our modern-day economic system is based upon that consumption. And animals are just collateral damage. That needs to change.

Look at violence in society. Until we stop abusing animals, we won’t stop abusing each other, and we won’t find peace. In 2011 Maryland had over 300 million broiler chickens on the Eastern Shore. That’s about the population of the United States. They spent their short lives crammed into dark warehouses, with their beaks cut off, living in filth and being fed drugs before being “processed”. And that’s just the female chickens. The males, useless as broilers, were immediately killed after being sexed. Likely through high-speed grinders.

If as a society we allow for that to happen then we shouldn’t be surprised at the violence in society. It’s all connected. We already know the connection between animal abuse and violence. And if factory farming isn’t animal abuse I don’t know what is.

Look: full disclosure. I’m a vegan, but I’m not saying that all of us shouldn’t ever eat meat. But we shouldn’t eat meat like that. Not from factory farms. Not from that kind of cruelty. That’s just wrong.

Chickens are social, they have needs, they have desires, they have self-awareness, and if you’ve ever been around chickens in some yard somewhere… my yard was in a rural village in Zambia while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer… then you know that chickens have opinions, preferences, likes and dislikes, and their own ideas about what they’d like to see in their life. At least that’s what it seems like to me.

What we’re doing to them in these warehouses in unconscionable, and if, as a society we’re able to look the other way, we’ll never find peace. And we shouldn’t be surprised at the violence in our society because we’ve built it from the ground up. We literally eat that violence every day.

Chickens are one example. There are so many others. But I don’t want to talk about the negative anymore. Let’s talk about the positive.

Even though animals can’t vote. We can. We can change all of this. An we will. Choose your representatives wisely. Make sure they consider these issues and do the right thing. They will listen to you.

We have had successes. We’re lucky in Maryland to have organizations like the ones that organized this advocacy day. They’ve worked tirelessly for animals and deserve our support. Last year they ensured passage of the spay and neuter fund. Which was huge. And this year they’ll likely negotiate a fix for the pit bull issue.

Next year, in conjunction with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, we’ll continue working on a bill that will ensure basic welfare needs for all animals. Including the need for a suitable environment; the need for a suitable diet; the need to be able to exhibit normal behavior patterns; the need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals; and the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease. Basically the beginning of an animal bill of rights. Are you with us? If so stay tuned for more about that as the year progresses.

But in the meantime, go out there and speak truth to power. For the animals. Those wonderful sentient beings that share our lives with us but have no say in our political system. Or what our broken society inflicts upon them. Be their voice because you are the only voice that they have. Be their voice to save them, because that is the only way that we will save ourselves. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Shane

 

Annapolis Update — 1/28/14 — expanding healthcare, designating wildlands, and animal rights

Expanding Healthcare Coverage
Today the House passed SB 134 – Maryland Health Insurance Plan – Access for Bridge Eligible Individuals — which is an emergency bill that expands the Maryland Health Insurance Plan (MHIP) to retroactively include individuals that through no fault of their own thought they had coverage through MHIP, but in fact did not. I voted in favor of this bill, and it was actually the first bill that the House voted on this year.

Designating New Wildlands
I’m proud to be the second sponsor on HB 296 – Natural Resources – Wildlands – Designation of New Wildlands, which would add approximately 25,000 acres of new wildlands across Maryland. Good biodiversity is essential if we are to protect the environment, and new protected wilderness areas will help.

Animals Rights
Next week I plan to introduce the Maryland Animal Welfare Act, which would require caretakers to take positive steps to ensure for the following welfare needs: the need for a suitable environment; the need for a suitable diet, the need to be able to exhibit normal behavior patterns; the need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals; and the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease. Animals are sentient beings that share this planet with us. This bill would ensure that they are treated accordingly.

Also, I recently cosponsored two important bills authored by my colleague, Delegate Ben Kramer:

  • Devocalization of cats and dogs – This legislation would prohibit the cruel practice of severing vocal chords of any cat or dog.
  • Research use of cats and dogs – humane treatment – This legislation would establish a licensing procedure for research facilities using dogs and cats for experimentation, and would provide for humane treatment of dogs and cats who are often exposed to painful and frightening experiments. The bill also requires alternative methods to animal experimentation be used whenever possible, along with routine inspection of these facilities to ensure proper treatment of dogs and cats. My personal opinion is that we should not be experimenting on animals at all, but for the time being this bill is a good step forward.

Finally, I’m opposed to the 2012 opinion issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals in Tracey vs. Solesky declaring pit bull-type dogs to be “inherently dangerous,” and am working hard with my colleagues to repeal the ruling.

On a personal note…
This has nothing to do with the legislative session in Annapolis, but I can’t help myself. I am very happy this week because my little sister just had a baby girl. My first niece!

 

Annapolis Update — 1/10/14

Dear Friend,

Members of the Maryland General Assembly returned to session on Wednesday and we’re already in full swing. Today I cosponsored legislation that would raise the minimum wage in Maryland to $10.10 by 2016. Increasing the minimum wage is vitally important to our working families and is one of two things that we must accomplish this session. The other is securing school construction funding for Montgomery County. Our schools are over capacity and are adding roughly 2,500 students a year — the equivalent of a new high school. If we truly value education we must ensure that our children have adequate facilities, and the status quo is simply not acceptable.

Other legislation that I am working on:

Maryland Animal Welfare Act
Like us, animals are sentient beings and have needs that are not being uniformly met across the state. From factory farms, to roadside zoos, to laboratories, animals suffer needlessly every day. This bill would require those that own or care for animals to provide for five basic welfare needs: a suitable diet; a suitable environment; the ability to exhibit normal behavioral patterns; to be housed with, or apart, from other animals; and protection from pain, suffering, and injury or disease.

Poultry Fair Share Act – Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay!
Runoff from chicken farms contributes significant pollution into the Chesapeake Bay, but poultry companies are doing very little to help with the cleanup costs. This bill would charge poultry companies $0.05 per bird and the funds would go to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. We can’t afford to let polluters off the hook, and cleaning up the Chesapeake is a major priority for my office.

Fracking Ban & Fracking Wastewater Ban
Fracking damages the environment and human health, and we should keep it out of Maryland. Instead, let’s grow our economy by focusing on expanding renewable energy.

Native Plant Species
Maryland’s native plant species are in decline, and this negatively affects the ecology of our state, as well as agriculture and our economy. To address this, the Maryland Botanical Heritage Work Group is currently finalizing recommendations for the general assembly. As a member of the work group I will likely submit legislation that matches their recommendations.

I’m also looking at water consumption at power plants, as well as several other issues regarding energy and the environment. Please stay tuned, and have a great weekend!

Sincerely,

Shane

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

Debating the Maryland Highway Safety Act of 2013

Earlier today, the Maryland Highway Safety Act of 2013–which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a special class of driver’s license–passed the House of Delegates 82-56. I was a proud supporter of the measure: Our nation was founded by immigrants who came here in search of opportunity, and this bill continues our proud history of providing hope to the less fortunate. But what I was far from proud of was the choice some of my colleagues made in utilizing the politics of fear in an attempt to encourage others to join the opposition.

Immigration is part of the fuel for our economy: There are millions of undocumented immigrants providing services upon which our society relies. Indeed, we are stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it. Some of my colleagues feel differently. And that is OK. They are here to represent their constituents, and opposing views are necessary for a healthy democracy. But what is not OK, what is downright deplorable, is reverting to jingoistic rhetoric that seeks to divide rather than unite. Referring to immigrants as “those people”–inferring that they are somehow inherently inferior–is a tactic that might have been acceptable to some a century ago, but has no place in today’s world. We are better than that. And, thankfully, our laws will now reflect that fact more accurately.

In the long arc of history all of our ancestors came here recently. I will proudly welcome with open arms any new Marylanders who may come as a result of these progressive changes. And I will know that we will continue to thrive, both economically and socially, if we legislate in a manner that acknowledges these realities.

Sincerely,
Shane

Annapolis Update — 3/29/13

Friend,

There has been significant progress on several issues that I have been monitoring closely this session:

  • I have watched with great consternation as a bill that could undermine future Chesapeake Bay cleanup and restoration efforts moves through the legislature. Senate Bill 1029 – The Agricultural Certainty Bill – would provide farms with a ten-year exemption from future regulations if they conform to new pollution standards. While I applaud the bill’s effort to incentivize farmers to commit to a higher standard, I believe it sets a dangerous precedent. Nobody knows what the next ten years will bring. When it comes to ensuring the future health of the Chesapeake Bay, I feel we should keep all options on the table. This bill limits our capacity to implement new pollution control technologies; I oppose it.
  • Physicians should be empowered to decide what medicines work best for treating debilitating diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis. Last week, the House agreed with this common sense assertion and passed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. It does not make sense that narcotics–infinitely easier to abuse than marijuana–are prescribed daily, while cancer patients are denied a therapeutic respite because elements of our public policy remain based on decades old cultural mores. Science has discovered multiple medicinal uses for marijuana and many researchers feel that removing superfluous impediments to conducting further research would result in countless more. The benefits of this bill’s passage for medicine and society would be numerous.
  • The House will also take up a bill (already passed by the Senate) that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Our prisons are overflowing, our judicial system clogged, and our police overburdened with victimless crimes. Amongst them is the possession of a substance less harmful to one’s health than alcohol. Why should Maryland continue to allocate precious fiscal resources so nonsensically? My sincere hope is that we move closer this session towards treating marijuana like alcohol: regulate its use so that our roads are protected, a new revenue stream provided, and substance abuse programs remain funded. Recently, voters in Washington and Colorado decided that funding state programs through marijuana taxation would be more prudent than continuing to allow marijuana profits to flow to drug cartels in Mexico. Eventually, the rest of the country will join them. Let’s move Maryland closer to becoming a leader on this issue rather than a follower.
  • Finally, the Governor’s gun control bill – the Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – will be voted out of committee in the next few days and move to the House floor for debate and a final vote. Gun violence in this country has reached epidemic levels–over 3,000 gun deaths since the Newtown tragedy is simply unacceptable. And while regulation alone will not secure our families, we must attempt to see what change new policies can bring. I support the Governor’s approach on this issue and will be writing more about it as the legislative process continues next week.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and encourage you to reach out to my office.

Best,
Shane

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