Updates from the legislative committee

Recap of legislative committee activities:

We started out the season with a two-meeting review of a substantial list of legislative items the LSPC and the Maryland Legislative Coalition had supported in the last session, and narrowed in on six items from that list that the committee would make top priorities. 

One item, an idea for a bill that would help young people with disabilities transition into the workforce, never made it onto paper this session. In retrospect, we could have encouraged one of our representatives to pick up the ball on this one, or I guess we could have submitted draft legislation – not sure how that works - but we waited too long, and will have to revisit this next session. 

The remaining five are 

  1.  Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education
  2.  Single Payer Healthcare
  3.  Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, moratorium on the Eastern Shore
  4.  End of Life Act
  5.  Correctional Facilities and Police Officers – Immigration status


I should mention Cecilia Plante from the Maryland Legislative Coalition before I get much further – the MLC is tracking about 200 bills, and Cecilia has brought us along, kept us well-informed and been extremely patient with us. Her expertise has been absolutely vital to our efforts, so thank you, thank you Cecilia.

Okay, back to the top five.

One. The Kirwan Commission addresses quality in Maryland's public education system, which previously held the top spot in the U.S. but has slid toward the bottom of the top ten in recent years. Worse, state testing puts us below the national average, at 29 out of 50. Fewer than 40 percent of Maryland high school grads can read at a 10th grade level, or pass an Algebra I assessment. 

Kirwan recommends dramatically increased funding for schools and school construction in an effort to reverse this. As I understand it, there's a $4 billion price tag, so... significant.

So far, the Kirwan bills are steaming full ahead, but we are continuing to monitor them, and associated funding bills, and if we get an indication that they need added support, we will be ready to take what actions we can.

Two. Single-Payer. We've sent along our support to Senator Pinsky, for his bill which would create a commission to study the transition from our current “dog's breakfast” of a health care system, toward something hopefully better. The bill is SB 228, hearing was yesterday. Pinsky would allocate $3 million to get the commission going, and even though that's a drop in the bucket next to the money attached to the Kirwan bills, with the focus on education this legislative session the “Commission on Universal Health Care” bill has a hard road ahead of it. 

We took action this week, in an effort to get it through committee. Although there aren't any local legislators on the Senate Finance Committee, we contacted every member anyway, asking them to support SB 228 - guess we'll see what happened.

Moving on. Am I going too fast? I do I want to talk for a minute about actions, after the recap.

Three. The CAFO moratorium. I heard from Debbie Gousha just last week about a crossfiled bill that would deny wastewater discharge permits for these large agricultural-industrial outfits if they try to expand their operations, so that's a mechanism for imposing the moratorium. They are SB 841, with a hearing on March 11, crossfiled with HB 1312, with a hearing on March 4. I'm guessing we will be taking a weekly action on these bills in short order.

There's another bill that we're watching, as I understand it this one has a better chance of going somewhere, that's SB 928, which would require CAFOs to submit a manure transport plan before receiving, again, a discharge permit. We submitted testimony on this, I think. Senator Carozza is on the committee, the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, so it would be appropriate to bother her about this. 

Four. End of Life –  HB 643, this one TIED in the legislature last session, let's try again. It's currently scheduled for a hearing in the Senate... 

I don't think we've had a weekly action on this one, but we've been following it. The bill carefully provides patients with terminal illness, who don't expect to live out the half-year, aid in dying.

Finally, five, HB 388, this Maryland's version of the TRUST Act, and it would put limits on local law enforcement's ability to ask people about their immigration status, detain people for federal

 immigration, basically it would limit local law enforcement from doing ICE's job for them. The opposition likes to use the word “Sanctuary” in relation to this bill, but I view it more as treating people like human beings. We had a weekly action on this one, and I sent my delegate a longer letter in support as well. This one's personal to me – my work partner and good friend was deported back to Honduras last year.

We have also sent out calls for action on a few bills outside our top five - 

  • Back in January, we wrote in support of HB 4, which would close the long gun loophole. This passed in the House on Feb. 4  by a vote of 87-47. It's now in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee - need to keep an eye on it, make sure it doesn't die there.
  • There's bill being pitched Wicomico County Council that would make it illegal to smoke medical marijuana in public. The LSPC opposes this bill, and we've been writing council members to say so. I've been told the best way to tamp down this prospective bill is to lobby District 1 Council Member Ernest Davis and District 2 Council Member Nicole Acle for 哲o� votes. Council Members McCain and Hastings are already 哲o's,� we need either Davis or Acle to squeak past, getting both of them would be safer. 
  • Community Choice Energy.  This is a bill that would enable county and local governments to aggregate customers, with an emphasis on promoting renewables but also an intention to negotiate for lower energy rates for customers who haven't had nearly the benefit they may have expected from third-party suppliers. If anybody's still jotting numbers down, it's HB 561/SB 315. We took action on this out of a desire to support some environmental legislation while we were waiting on the CAFO bills to break loose, but also because it's a good bill.
  • We also had an action to solicit testimony in support of offshore wind, ahead of a Public Service Commission hearing in Ocean City. Two wind farm projects have been approved, but the companies have now proposed larger turbines, so the matter came back for more discussion.

Moving on. I would love it if more people got involved on the legislative committee; it would be good to get some different perspectives. I'm sure we all have our particular passions, and I'd love input on legislation that YOU feel passionate about.

And, finally, getting to some more hands-on actions and activities, we've been talking about joining forces with some other like-minded groups, and to that end we'd like to encourage anyone who's available to swell the numbers at the Sierra Club's Lobby Night, which is this coming Monday night, in Annapolis. 11 Bladen St. The action runs from 4 to 8 p.m., if you're coming try to get in around 3 or 3:30, so you can get parked and get through building security by 4. The Sierra Club has their own legislative priorities. You can check out the whole list on their website, but I'll mention their top two - the Just Transition Off of Coal bill, and the Climate-Based Decision-Making by the Public Service Commission bill.

We are also planning our own Lobby Night, the date is Monday, March 9. We're going to try to schedule some meetings, but as I understand it, Monday nights are usually free nights for legislators, so we may have some success just showing up if we can't get on a schedule. So, between now and then, we'll be getting ready to advocate for some specific legislation, and hopefully we can all work out some of the logistics, meetups, and carpools before then. 

And I've been looking into some possible venues for an “Eatin' Meetin',” a working dinner, which combines two of my favorite things  - politics and food. I've got a couple possibles, they're not free but not outrageous, either, so that's something I'm hoping we can throw into the mix, make our legislative committee work more fun. And...I hope you guys are interested enough to get involved!

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