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

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