The 2019 Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly ended in sorrow. Maryland’s longest serving speaker of the House, Michael Busch, passed away the Sunday before Sine Die at the age of 72. Speaker Busch was elected to the House of Delegates in 1987, becoming Speaker in 2003.
It was a transformative year in the Maryland General Assembly with the beginning a new term. More than a third of the legislature were in their first year in office following 2018 election. Governor Larry Hogan began his second term as governor which was accompanied by an increased national profile while wading into presidential politics. Due to high profile retirements and a couple unexpected election upsets, we also saw four new committee chairs. There were a staggering 2,500 bills introduced, with the Democratic leadership prioritizing raising the minimum wage, raising the tobacco age, addressing prescription drug costs, expanding clean energy, and many other issues.
As a result of the work done by the General Assembly, Maryland will become the first state to be “foam free,” with legislation passing banning the use of polystyrene in food service. Also, we became the 5th state to start the track towards a $15/hr minimum wage, despite a gubernatorial veto which was quickly overridden. Maryland will be the 9th state to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21, while exempting active members of the armed forces.
The 2019 budget discussion largely centered, as it often does, around education. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, informally known as “Kirwan,” was created a couple years ago to study and make recommendations on how to create a world-class education system. Recommendations released right before the start of Session included billions in new spending, and with the state’s current fiscal situation, the result was a smaller proposal to start off, with larger discussions next year.
Due to the passing of the Speaker, and the health concerns of his Senate counterpart, Senate President Mike Miller, the future leadership of the General Assembly remains unclear. It will certainly be a busy interim as the leadership of begin developing their agendas for 2020.
Chesapeake BaySavers Initiatives
House Bill 1194/Senate Bill 760
Brooke Lierman, Delegate
Kathy Klausmeier, Senator and President Pro Tem
Our signature policy in our legislative agenda successfully passed the House of Delegates but was unable to pass through the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee (EHEA). Throughout the legislative session, we worked closely with Senator Klausmeier, Delegate Lierman and Senator Jack Bailey to refine our whistleblower legislation to a place where the Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Policy and Wildlife Crimestoppers were all in consensus. Unfortunately, the Chairman of EHEA, Paul Pinsky, did not support the bill due to his relationship with Senator Bailey. It was a disappointing case of politics. Compass has communicated extensively with Senator Bailey and he wants the BaySavers to take an active role over the summer in working with Wildlife Crimestoppers to better understand how the non-profit operates and help us refine our proposal for next year.
Over the summer, it is critical we meet with and work with Chairman Pinsky to allay his concerns with the bill so we can quickly pass it through the Senate in 2020. Additionally, we will work to find a sponsor that is on the EHEA Committee to increase our chances of moving the bill. Senator Klausmeier has been a tremendous ally on oyster related policies and Compass has already met with her to discuss getting a new Senate sponsor and she supports our move.
House Bill 298/Senate Bill 448 – Oysters – Tributary-Scale Sanctuaries – Protection and Restoration
Mike Busch, Delegate and Speaker of the House
Paul Pinsky, Senator and Chairman of the Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee
PASSED AND VETO OVERRIDDEN
Over the past decade, Maryland has invested over $40 million in restoring five tributaries within the Chesapeake Bay.
The sanctuaries, which includes these five tributaries, are designated via regulation. These regulations were adopted during the O’Malley administration. There has been extensive debate within the watermen community and the Maryland General Assembly about opening these sanctuaries up for rotational harvests and other forms of pilot programs. However, the environmental and natural resources advocates have strongly opposed such action and this year the Maryland General Assembly took a critical step forward by codifying in statute the five tributaries that have been restored. The Chesapeake BaySavers played an active role in passing this legislation by offering testimony in support of the bill and working with members of EHEA and the Environment and Transportation Committee in the House to understand the importance of moving forward with the legislation. On the Friday prior to Sine Die, Governor Hogan vetoed the legislation. The House of Delegates overrode the veto on the Saturday prior to Sine Die while the Senate followed suit on Sine Die. It was the last major Chesapeake Bay policy introduced and passed by Speaker Mike Busch prior to his passing. He was a true leader and advocate for the Bay.
House Bill 720/Senate Bill 830 – Oysters – Tributary-Scale Sanctuaries – Protection and Restoration
Kumar Barve, Delegate and Chairman of Environment and Transportation Committee
Sarah Elfreth, Senator
This bill establishes a working group of representatives from the watermen community and environmental agencies and advocates with an overall goal of developing a package of consensus recommendations, review current and proposed management actions and recommend additional management actions to achieve the targets identified in the oyster stock assessment with the goal of increasing oyster abundance, and review model results for each management action to inform stakeholder workgroup recommendations. In general the working group is skewed 60% toward watermen and 40% toward environmental advocates. All recommendations must pass with 75% consensus so no one group has the required majority to drive their agenda through. As the General Assembly grappled with finding an appropriate balance of conservation and environmental groups with watermen organizations, Compass was successful in adding the Chesapeake BaySavers to the working group. As the bill moved for final passage in the House of Delegates, Compass learned that other conservation groups were pushing to replace the BaySavers.
Compass quickly reached out to Senator Sarah Elfreth who worked with Compass and leadership to restore the BaySavers onto the working group.
As the working group undertakes its mission, its recommendations must be informed by a collaboratively developed, science-based modeling tool to quantify the long-term impacts of identified management actions and possible combinations of management actions on (1) oyster abundance; (2) oyster habitat; (3) oyster harvest; (4) oyster harvest revenue; and (5) nitrogen removal. DNR must submit interim reports on the development of the package of consensus recommendations by December 1, 2019; August 1, 2020; and December 1, 2020, to the Governor and the General Assembly and provide a final report by July 1, 2021, which includes an implementation schedule for the consensus recommendations.
Senate Bill 683 – Oyster Management Plan – Harvest – Study
Steve Hershey, Senator
This bill requires the DNR, as part of the fishery management plan for oysters, to study the effectiveness of harvesting oysters to facilitate oyster propagation and restoration and review any oyster management actions, including oyster harvesting, taken by the Commonwealth of Virginia to facilitate oyster propagation and restoration. This bill was far less comprehensive than HB 720/SB 830 introduced by Senator Elfreth and Chairman Barve and failed to advance in the Maryland General Assembly. Senator Hershey represents the Eastern Shore.
House Bill 348/Senate Bill 362 – Natural Resources – Oyster Planting – Substrate Material
Jay Jacobs, Delegate
Steve Hershey, Senator
This bill authorizes the use of only native oyster shell as substrate for an oyster restoration, propagation, or replenishment project. The Chesapeake BaySavers were highly opposed to this legislation and joined other conservation groups in opposing the legislation. Requiring the use of native shell would drastically curtail restoration efforts as there is a limited quantity of native shell available. We expect this legislation to continue to be introduced on behalf of the watermen.
House Bill 1309/Senate Bill 876 – Aquaculture – Leases in Water Column – Riparian Right of First Refusal
Brian Crosby, Delegate
Jack Bailey, Senator
This bill would have established that a riparian property owner or lessee has the right of first refusal to apply for and, if approved, obtain a water column lease, or an aquaculture lease for use in the water column in an Aquaculture Enterprise Zone, in an area that fronts the riparian property. The riparian leaseholder is not subject to a requirement for active use of a lease. While the Chesapeake BaySavers were highly opposed to this legislation, a tactical decision was made not to be the lead organization opposing the bill. Senator Bailey had been a tremendous ally working with the BaySavers to find consensus on our whistleblower legislation and we did not want to actively oppose one of his legislative priorities.
Compass communicated with other conservation groups and determined that the other groups would lead the charge in opposing the bill. Bills to curtail aquaculture will continue to be introduced as the industry grows.