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April 20, 2012

Wrapping Up The Session Part 2

Joan Marie Aquilino

In yesterday column we discussed some of what has taken place during the just concluded 2012 session of the Maryland General Assembly. We continued with that today.


Natural Resources & Energy


Hunting Licenses and Stamps: The House Republican Caucus led a successful effort to kill HB 1419, legislation that would have drastically increased fees for hunting licenses and stamps. The fee for resident hunting licenses would have increased by 63%, with trapping fees increased by 96%. Deer and turkey stamps would have been created ($10.00 and $40.00 respectively)


A provision would have required the Department of Natural Resources to use $1 from the sale of each license to provide funding for the processing of deer meat for donation to the needy. The bill received a favorable report from the Environmental Matter Committee with six of seven Republican Delegates voting against. Following an outcry from sportsmen across the state and spirited debate on the House floor, the bill was defeated by a vote of 62-69. In a chamber that holds the committee process sacred, a bill’s failure on the floor is a rarity in Maryland’s House of Delegates.


SB 236 – Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 is a thinly veiled attempt by the O’Malley Administration to control growth in rural areas and drive it to urban areas. The bill is an unprecedented power grab that requires counties to draw tiers of growth and preservation areas that are acceptable to the state before they can approve any new subdivisions. The bill limits local power for approving growth and is a prime example of the governor’s desire to have greater control over rural and agricultural land. Having already passed the Senate 32-15, the bill passed the House 93-45.


HB 446 – Environment – Bay Restoration Fund – This measure doubles the flush tax from $30 to $60 per year except for areas outside of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (parts of Garrett County and parts of the lower Eastern Shore). The Bay Restoration Fund has been raided by the O’Malley Administration multiple times over the last several years to cover budget shortfalls. The bill fails to protect the fund from additional raids in the future; and there is no guarantee that the monies raised by this increase will go to fund wastewater upgrades as they have were intended. The bill passed the House 89-48 and the Senate 28-18.


HB 441 – Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012 – This was the crown jewel of Governor O’Malley’s legislative package this year – one that would have cost electricity customers $4 billion over the next 20-25 years. Ratepayers would pay based on the amount of electricity they use ($1.50/1,000kwh/month).


Many ratepayers use well over 1,000kwh per month, particularly low income earners who cannot afford weatherization projects or new energy-efficient appliances – people who cannot afford to pay higher electricity bills. Businesses, manufacturers, schools, and county governments would all have to pay more.


The bill created a “carve out” for offshore wind in Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – picking winners and losers in the energy industry. The whole point of the RPS law was to require utilities to purchase a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources while providing flexibility so they could choose the source with the best price or the most availability. With no one denying the fact that off-shore wind is the most expensive way to produce renewable energy, with this bill Maryland would have picked the loser as the winner and our citizens would have been paying for it for decades to come. The bill passed the House 88-47. Fortunately, it was never brought up for a vote in the Finance Committee and languished in the Senate.


Courts and Civil Issues


HB 348 - Civil Marriage Protection Act allows same-sex couples to marry in Maryland. Maryland currently recognizes gay marriages performed in other states. In prior years this bill had been assigned to the Judiciary Committee where the likelihood of passage was uncertain. However this year the bill was jointly assigned to Judiciary and the Health and Government Operations Committees, which gave it enough votes to move out of committee. While the greatest concern over this bill was changing the definition of marriage, an additional concern was how it would impact religious institutions. This concern was that religious institutions would be forced to perform services that were in conflict with their beliefs and teachings and facing legal/civil action if they did not comply. After a lengthy floor debate over two days the bill narrowly passed the House with a vote of 72-67. It passed in the Senate by a vote of 25-22


HB1364 – Labor and Employment – Workplace Fraud Act – Revisions – This bill alleviated certain restricting regulations from an existing bill that was passed in 2009. All stakeholders (business owners, state officials, legislators and union representatives) were able to have input on the revisions necessary to create a fair playing field for business owners when working with independent contractors. This piece of legislation proves that you do not have to compromise your principles in order to achieve a valuable outcome.


The working relationship between the state and small businesses has been dramatically improved due to the good will that was presented in Annapolis. Both the House and Senate bill passed and it is ready to be signed into law by the governor.


HB1126 – Alcoholic Beverages – Farm Brewery Manufacturer's License – Microbreweries – Class 8 Farm License – Maryland legislators created a new class of liquor license that gives farmers the ability to create a new business on their farmland while continuing to grow crops and continue as stewards of the land. Under this bill, farmers will be able to grow the necessary ingredients to produce micro-brewed craft beer on their property and open tasting rooms for customers. It creates a promising future for those who have the desire to create their own business.


HB1085 – Workers’ Compensation – Emergency Responders – Revisions Volunteer Firefighters – Workers Compensation – Firefighters face dangerous situations every day. This bill clarifies that they will be eligible for workers compensation regardless of the types of emergency responder calls that they respond to and also allows them to receive a modest stipend without that additional revenue being used as a calculation of their award. Legislators have seen the need in protecting the volunteers and their families as they routinely risk their health and well-being on our behalf.


HB1368 - Middletown Wine Festival License


This local bill addressed the need of the Town of Middletown to hold an event where they could serve locally produced wine along with beer. Town officials ran into a roadblock with the liquor board during their planning stage and asked the members of the Frederick County delegation to help alleviate that hurdle. This was accomplished. The town may now get permits so that they could advertise locally grown products.


This was a rare moment when something could be done to help revenues by helping a town, businesses and farming rather than tax them more. Win – Win in my eyes. Glad to see when a good local bill can pass quickly and with overwhelming support.


. . . . .'til next time . . .


As always, I’d love to hear from you; so, let me know what’s on your mind by emailing, or contacting me directly at


“Just Joan” saying, be safe and “don’t believe everything you think.”


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