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March 8, 2011

Just Who Is A Stakeholder Here?

Farrell Keough

So, what is going on in Annapolis these days? Most people know the budget is in desperate straits. Some people are even aware there were votes on Gay Marriage recently.


You might run into a few people who can name one or two other bills or proposals, but for the most part, little else is known at this point.


Why is it that even those watchdogs in our press can’t keep up with the myriad of legislation? There is a fellow who follows both state and national legislation promoted by rabid feminists – these are not women who speak about feminist issues, these are women who throw chairs if anyone makes a statement which does not strictly adhere to their worldview. This has become a passion, yet very often bills are slipped through without his or even other elected representative’s knowledge.


A number of situations can influence this process, but one of the major components is something called stakeholder meetings – in short, the influence of lobbyists. The “secret negotiations” are a “lesson in how decisions are made quietly in Annapolis, sometimes weeks before the public is invited to weigh in.”


“When members of the public get locked out of discussions on legislation, they will rightfully question their ability to influence the outcome of that legislation,” said Susan Wichmann, executive director of Common Cause Maryland.


But some lawmakers said such “stakeholder” meetings serve a purpose because they allow interested parties to speak frankly.




Maryland’s open-meetings law says the public must have access when a majority of an officially recognized group, including House and Senate committees, meets. It also states that advance notice of such public meetings must be given.


But the law leaves the door open for other meetings between lawmakers and powerful interests.


“Stakeholder” and “workgroup” meetings, as well as other negotiations involving legislators and lobbyists, are commonplace in Annapolis.


Lobbying groups have often shown an undue influence – therein lies the problem. What constitutes a lobbying group? For instance, the development community has numerous lobbying groups, just as the Boy Scouts and even religious organizations. Hence, one must scrutinize who constitutes a stakeholder.


Along with these lobbying groups, we are seeing the emergence of Public Unions in this political cycle. As has been seen in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, these protests will be taking place in Maryland.


In her Potomac Tea Party Report, Ann Corcoran encourages us to recognize that this may well be our Lexington and Concord moment – on March 14th, many of these union representatives will show up in Annapolis. If you have ever felt a need to show up in our state capitol, that day would be one in which your presence would make a real difference.


Do not be deceived – these groups truly do use the methods of Saul Alinsky. As outlined in this description of the Ohio rallies, these groups will use any method they can to mislead, misinform, and defraud.


These organizations are often more closely connected – as noted in this dialogue about the Ohio rallies, “…the unions knew about Senate Bill 5 before any of us had even heard of it. The result was that they had 800 members in the Senate gallery during the first day of hearings, literally booing at the testimony and trying to intimidate senators, while we had no representation.” Hence, these stakeholder meetings take place throughout the nation, and we must be prepared to engage those who have an inside track and will stoop to virtually any tactic.


Knowing this information, what can we, as regular citizens, do to engage these groups and keep informed? Consider regularly reading the various websites referenced throughout this column, engage groups that matter to you like the farming community, various business organizations, religious groups, etc. and finally, regularly communicate with your representatives. Believe it or not, many who represent us are nice people who actually want to do well by their constituents. Most send out newsletters by email or keep their websites updated with information.


For instance, some recent legislative proposals were forwarded via an email by an interest group. You may have noticed a change in how well your dishwasher cleans – the newly regulated low phosphorus dishwasher soaps have caused significant problems for many consumers. When one couples this with the new requirements for wastewater treatment plants to handle nutrients, it becomes a legitimate question as to what benefit is gained from this poor quality cleaning agent.


With this quandary in mind, mull over the following two legislative proposals:


SB 544 – Chesapeake Bay Nitrogen Reduction Act of 2011 – Senator Ron Young


This bill prohibits the use or sale of any specialty fertilizer intended for use on established lawns, grass or turf unless the mixture contains at least 30% slow release nitrogen fertilizer. The effective date is April 1, 2012.


The University of Maryland is required to update the recommendations for commercial fertilizer application every 3 years. The recommendations should also require annual soil testing for phosphorus and nitrogen. The bill requires a landscape contractor licensed under the business regulation section of state law to provide each homeowner, resident, or business with written notice of the recommended fertilizer application amounts with each lawn maintenance contract.


SB 546 – Chesapeake Bay Phosphorus Reduction Act of 2011 – Senator Ron Young.


This bill requires that beginning April 1, 2012, a specialty fertilizer with available phosphorous may not be labeled for use or sold or distributed for use on established lawns, grass or turf; may not be labeled with spreader settings; and shall be marked with the words “Not for use on established lawns, grass, or turf” in at least a ¾ inch font and in an conspicuous manner on the front of the container. The bill adds that specialty fertilizer includes low phosphorus fertilizer (containing not more than 5% available phosphorus).


Current law scheduled to go into effect April 1, 2011, prohibits the labeling and sale of fertilizer for use on established lawns or grass if it has more than 5% available phosphorus.


While the concept is to Save the Bay, the unintended consequences might outweigh the desired effects.



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