- The Maryland General Assembly must pass a balanced budget every year
- During the budget process, legislators can offer “budget language,” which are amendments to the budget bill
- These amendments direct state agencies to provide reports to the General Assembly on policy areas of interest to the legislature
- The amendments withhold operating funds from State agencies until the report is complete
- One of the BaySavers top policy initiative was getting budget language that would require the Department of Natural Resources to conduct an analysis of natural resources whistleblower programs in other jurisdictions and the funding mechanisms other jurisdictions use to fully fund and deploy whistleblower appropriations
- Following the analysis, the Department is to provide possible funding mechanisms, fund deployment schedule, and a marketing and promotion strategy for Maryland
- Our language restricts $150,000 from DNR until they complete the report and DNR is to provide the report to the House and Senate budget committees by January 1, 2019.
- The $150,000 is NOT an appropriation to fund the whistleblower fund. The $150,000 is money withheld from DNR until it completes the study.
- We will use the report and the proposed funding mechanisms identified in the report to pass legislation in 2019 that funds the whistleblower fund.
How the BaySavers made this happen
This year, the Senate “moved” the budget first, meaning it passed the budget first and then the House worked off of the Senate bill. We went to our Senate budget champions to get the language included. Senator Ed DeGrange, chair of the natural resources subcommittee and Nancy King, chair of the education subcommittee, made sure our budget language was amended onto the budget bill in the Senate. Unfortunately, the House Appropriations Committee rejected the majority of the budget amendments that were passed in the Senate, including our whistleblower fund. We lobbied Senators King and DeGrange to reject the House Amendments and leveraged the BaySavers strong relationship with House Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh to have her support the Senate position when the budget went to Conference Committee. In the end, the whistleblower fund was one of the few amendments to be adopted by the Conference Committee. The report will provide the Chesapeake BaySavers the foundation for pursuing legislation and funding for a whistleblower fund during the 2019 Legislative Session.
House Bill 1426 – Aquaculture Leases and Public Shellfish Fishery Areas
Delegate Chris Adams introduced legislation prohibiting aquaculture within 1,000 feet of a Yates Bar. A Yates Bar is the historical public fishery as surveyed by Yates in the early 1900’s. If the bill passed as introduced, it would have shut down the aquaculture industry in Maryland. This is because nearly all aquaculture leases are within 1,000 feet of a Yates Bar. Defeating this legislation became our priority of the 2018 Legislative Session and we killed the bill in the Senate Rules Committee.
How the BaySavers made this happen
The BaySavers opposed this bill throughout the entire Legislative Session. Our initial opposition to the bill was enough to make the proponents – the commercial watermen – pursue a study. The proponents spent three weeks coming up with the study amendment and excluded the environment advocates. The BaySavers, and other advocacy groups, attended every Natural Resources Subcommittee during that time. Yet not one of the groups was consulted for their input on the study. When the amendments were finally provided, the study would be conducted by the Tidal Fishery Advisory Commission (TFAC, a.k.a., commercial watermen), without input from the aquaculture industry. The study would only review constricting aquaculture areas. It was incredibly one-sided. Eventually, the Vice-Chair of the E&T Committee made the proponents included aquaculture representation and look at expanding aquaculture zones. We remained opposed to the bill. Our strategy was to delay the vote in the E&T Committee for as long as possible since Session was in its final two weeks. There are important procedural deadlines in the Maryland General Assembly. One is called “crossover.” It is the date when bills pass from one chamber to the other chamber. If a bill passes before crossover, it is guaranteed a hearing. Any bills that crossover after that date are sent to the Rules Committee. Since we were in the final two weeks, crossover had already occurred. Our objective was to delay the bill in the House as long as possible and then have our champion, Senator Kathy Klausmeier (the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee) hold the bill in Rules. Holding the bill in Rules means it is not assigned to a committee and the bill dies without a hearing. Our strategy worked perfectly. BaySavers longtime ally, Delegate Steve Lafferty held the bill from being voted on in the Environment and Transportation Committee until the Friday before Sine Die. The bill was sent to the Senate Rules Committee on Sine Die and Senator Klausmeier held the bill in Rules and the bill died. The BaySavers briefed Senator Klausmeier’s office on the importance of holding this bill in Rules and explained how the proponents of the bill excluded advocates from the entire process. In the end, the bill was never let out of Rules and died.
Senate Bill 1237 – Natural Resources – Public Shellfish Fishery Area – Standards
Senator Adelaide Eckardt introduced SB 1237 which would have curtailed Maryland’s aquaculture industry. The bill does several things. First, it kills submerged land lease aquaculture prospectively which is the easiest method of aquaculture and the best way to transition watermen to aquaculture. Second, the bill took the public out of the boundary-setting process as the existing law requires public fishery boundaries to be set by DNR via regulation and in consultation with Oyster Advisory Commission. This bill states that any bay bottom found to have density greater than 1 oyster per square meter shall be in the public fishery. This bill was on par with House Bill 1426 as the most harmful of the Legislative Session. Once again, there are procedural deadlines in the Maryland General Assembly. The bill introduction deadline is the last date in which a bill can be introduced and guaranteed a hearing. A bill introduced after the hearing is sent to the Rules Committee of each chamber. This bill was introduced after the bill introduction deadline.
How the BaySavers made this happen
When the bill was introduced the BaySavers immediately worked with Senator Kathy Klausmeier to keep the bill in Rules. This meant it was never assigned to EHEA or had a hearing. While the bill was introduced after the deadline, there was still plenty of time for proponents of the bill to pressure Senator Klausmeier to release the bill to EHEA for a hearing. However, Senator Klausmeier stuck with the BaySavers and other advocates and held the bill in Rules until Sine Die.
OTHER ITEMS OF LEGISLATION WE ASSISTED IN
HB 572 – Income Tax – Oyster Shell Recycling Credit – Maximum Allowable Amount and
The oyster shell recycling bill has passed the House and Senate. We supported the legislation by testifying in support of the legislation in the Senate Budget and Tax Committee and House Ways and Means Committee. The Senate concurred with the House amendments. The credit was raised from $750 to $150 and the sunset was extended until 2021 so this program is in effect for another three years.
House Bill 1137 – Natural Resources – Fisheries – Commercial Oyster Divers
The current law requires the commercial oyster diver and the vessel attendant to have a commercial license. Under this arrangement, the pair could harvest 30 bushels of oysters. This legislation would require only one, either the diver or the attendant, to have a commercial license. However, if only one of the individuals was licensed, the pair could only harvest 15 bushels. If both were licensed, the pair could harvest 30 bushels. We were opposed to the legislation on two grounds. First, the penalty did not kick in until the 30 th bushel regardless of whether one or both individuals were licensed. Second, we believed that the Department should have a record of all watermen. Delegate Jacobs immediately receded on the first point and amended the bill to penalize the 16 th bushel when only one individual on the boat was licensed. Typically, only the boat captain on a dredge boat is licensed and his or her crew is unlicensed, so our second concern was nullified. As the bill worked its way through the legislative process, eventually the catch limit was tied to the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) and the same catch limits currently apply.
House Bill 1172 – Administrative Penalties for Oyster Poaching
Over the last couple sessions there has been a shift in thinking on the lifetime ban of a waterman’s commercial license for certain violations. The rationale was that watermen that never had a violation, committed one of the offenses and received a lifetime revocation. Senator Simonaire and Delegate Jay Jacobs introduced this legislation to prevent lifetime bans for first time offenders. Senator Simonaire called the BaySavers and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to his office early in the Legislative Session to arrive at consensus. Eventually, we agreed to language that would allow the attorney general the discretion to not hold a hearing if it was unable to establish the facts necessary to bring the case. The House did not concur with the Senator Simonaire’s amendments. Eventually, the bill as passed kept the existing framework intact but gave the department 90 days, instead of 60, to investigate and bring the case. One of the concerns among the environmental community was the bill as introduced gave the Department the discretion to bring the case which was not included in the final bill. Additionally, the bill sunsets in three years and requires the Department to include reporting information.
House Bill 1174 – Natural Resources – Oysters – Tolerance for Seafood Dealers
HB 1174 which increased the size tolerance from 5% to 10% for oysters transferred from boat to truck via conveyer belt was killed in the Senate. We worked with the Coastal Conservation Association and Chesapeake Bay Foundation to defeat this legislation in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. Unfortunately, the bill passed, and we had to quickly mobilize our resources to defeat the legislation in the Senate. Once again, we joined the environmental advocates to oppose the bill in EHEA and the Committee eventually reported the bill unfavorably. A tremendous victory for the advocates!
There is a war between aquaculture and commercial watermen and it will dominate the narrative of legislative sessions for the foreseeable future. It is critical we continue strengthening and building relationships with our staunchest allies on EHEA and E&T, so we are positioned to have the most effective 2019 Session. Additionally, we are looking at much change in the Senate and House of Delegates and that means new faces, personalities, and ideological positions. It is critical we introduce them to the BaySavers and educate them on the critical issues impacting our priorities. Finally, I will work with you to schedule a strategic planning session in the short term so we make the most use of the summer to plan for the 2019 Legislative Session.
HB 572 – Oyster Shell Recycling , This bill would raise the cap from $750 to $1500 for oyster shell recycling. Additionally, it would remove the sunset and put the tax credit into effect permanently. A variation of this bill was introduced in the Senate and we supported it with amendments that aligned it to HB 572. We will support this bill with written testimony.
SB 558 – This bill deals with the lifetime revocation of TFLs for certain fishery violations. Currently, DNR is required to permanently revoke a watermen’s license under certain circumstances within 60 days. Many legislators have shared their concern that the penalty is too harsh, especially for first time offenders. Most importantly, the bill automatically sunsets after 3 years and current statutory regime is reinstated. This bill aligns the oyster fishery with the current procedures for dealing with striped bass violations, requires DNR reporting and sunsets after three years. BaySavers has issued a letter of information which raises our concerns and also offers an amendment that requires DNR to report any actions taken by the judicial branch in addition to DNR’s action.
BILLS ON THE HORIZON
There are some incredibly bad bills on the horizon including HB 1426 which could decimate the oyster aquaculture industry by prohibiting aquaculture on a Yates bar and another bill that would allow harvesting up to 30 bushels by diving for oysters.