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One of the most important pieces of legislation we passed repealed the death penalty.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 — 3/7/13

Friend,

This week, the administration proposed a $3.1 billion transportation funding bill to address road congestion, aging infrastructure and job creation. It is no secret that our state is plagued by some of the nation’s worst traffic. Decreasing the time we spend on the road not only benefits our quality of life, but our economy as well. This plan will provide $700 million annually for road and transit projects through a phased-in 4% gas tax. This approach allows us to maintain funding for public safety, schools and other vital services, unlike Virginia’s recently passed transportation plan that instituted significant cuts. What is more, there will be no tax on hybrid or electric vehicles (another tactic utilized by Virginia). We need to incentivize consumers to seek out cleaner transportation, not discourage them. Furthermore, the majority of our roadways are aging. The longer we wait to address this unfortunate truth the more expensive and burdensome it will be.

In other news, the death penalty repeal bill has passed the Senate and will likely be on the House floor next week. I look forward to voting in favor of repeal and hope we will be sending the bill Governor O’Malley’s desk.

Lastly, my bill to ban fracking failed to make it out of committee in the Senate so I decided to withdraw the bill in the House. However, the hearing on my legislation to prevent fracking wastewater storage in Maryland will be held tomorrow. Our treatment facilities lack the capacity to handle this toxic waste. Ignoring this problem and sending 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. This bill would do exactly that.

Sincerely,
Shane