MACo Features Innovations in Education at Winter Conference

January 8, 2013

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Photo: Senator Mac Middleton and Betty Weller, President, Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), Chris Parts, US Green Building Council, Maryland Chapter

At the 2013 Winter Conference, MACo featured new programs and initiatives that may create possibilities for more unconventional educational options in Maryland. Panelists engaged in a broad-based discussion of topics that challenge some traditional notions of schooling.  Senator Mac Middleton facilitated the discussion.

Val Emrich, Director of Instructional Technology, Maryland State Department of Education introduced the state’s new digital learning regulations and described the need to incorporate alternate ways of learning to improve the ability of US students to compete in the global marketplace.

Betty Weller, President, Maryland State Education Association discussed the Common Core and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments would affect our state’s education infrastructure.  Both of these initiatives drive for higher level learning, such as interaction with complex texts in elementary school English and modeling real-world concepts in Math courses.

Chris Parts, US Green Building Council, Maryland Schools Committee spoke about new types of school design and how sustainable school design elements can be incorporated into environmental lessons for our children.  Mr. Parts described the high costs of heating and cooling schools with traditional construction methods, and described innovative lighting projects, such as light shelves, and teaching children about “vampire loads” of appliances that suck energy even when turned off. For more information, see Chris Parts’ powerpoint presentation.

Andy Smarick, Partner, Bellwether Education Partner shared the benefits of alternative education choices including charter schools and topics in his new book.  Mr. Smarick envisioned a system in which governments can accelerate recovery and achievement of school districts through closing failing schools and re-opening them under new management.


Report Ranks the Health of Maryland Counties

April 20, 2011

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin’s Health Institute, have released the second annual report of health rankings for U.S. counties, providing a snapshot of local health conditions. The rankings are determined on a model of population health that emphasizes individual health behaviors, education and jobs, quality of health care, and the environment.  According to the 2011 County Health Rankings report for Maryland the top five healthiest counties are as follows:

  1. Howard
  2. Montgomery
  3. Frederick
  4. Queen Anne’s
  5. Carroll

“Last Day” Issues Wrap Up

April 12, 2011

As reported yesterday by MACo, a number of issues with county effect remained in play prior to the midnight deadline for the General Assembly session.  Below is an overview of how each of those bills ultimately played out:

Maintenance of Effort – As reported yesterday, three bills were awaiting  final action. MACo supported HB 44 and SB 53 as a legislative initiative, to expand and balance the process for considering county MOE waiver requests —and both bills stalled in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Status:  The bill that passed, HB 869,  delays the “penalty” for any county missing MOE but denied its waiver – withholding funds in the subsequent year, rather than the immediate year. The bill will become effective June 1, 2011.

Semiannual Payment Schedule for Business PropertyHB 463, was amended by the Senate to apply to businesses with property taxes that do not exceed $100,000.  The House concurred with the amendments and the bill passed and will become effective October 1 and will apply to all taxable years beginning June 30, 2012.

Ambulance Service Providers and Assignment of Benefits SB 154, which would require health insurers to reimburse an ambulance provider (must be owned, operated, or under the jurisdiction of a political subdivision or a volunteer fire company or rescue squad) directly for covered services passed both chambers.

Public Access to Electronic Records:  HB 37 / SB 740 alters the State’s Public Information Act (PIA) to address the release of public documents in electronic format.  The bill will require the State and local governments to provide records in a searchable and analyzable electronic format where possible.  Governments have the authority to remove “metadata” before providing an electronic document.  MACo supported the bill.  Status:  SB 740 passed with a 2013 sunset that was added by the Senate.  The House initially rejected the addition of a termination date but later receded from its demand.  HB 37 did not pass.

Open Meetings Act Complaints:   HB 48, which was requested by the Open Meetings Compliance Board, sets a 1-year time limit for a person to bring an open meetings complaint before the Board.  It also requires local governments to post their meeting notices online and also physically post them at a publicly accessible location.  Finally, it repeals the requirement of a written notice.  MACo supported the bill.  Status: The Senate altered the 1-year time limit to 5 years but the House has rejected the Senate change.  The two sides were unable to resolve their differences and the bill failed.

Waste-To-Energy as Preferred Renewable EnergyHB 1121 / SB 690 would move waste-to-energy from a Tier 2 source to a Tier 1 source (a more favorable position) within the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.  MACo supported the bill.  Status:  The House amended the both HB 1121 and SB 690 to also include refuse-derived fuel as a Tier 1 source.  The Senate accepted the amendment and passed SB 690.  HB 1121 did not pass.

Funding for School Aid, School Construction and DDA Wait List - SB 994/HB 1213 increase the tax on the sale of alcohol from 6% to 9 %.  The bills are in slightly different posture.  SB 994 provides $15 million to fund the Developmental Disabilities Administration waiting list, while HB 1231 provides $47.5 million for school construction projects across the State.   As specified in the budget, funds from this revenue increase are also being used for additional school aid in Baltimore City and Allegany, Garrett, and Prince George’s Counties.

Uses of Local Program Open Space Funds SB 421 extends the recently expired practice of allowing a local government that has attained its POS land acquisition goals to use all of its POS funds on recreational facilities and projects.  MACo supported the bill.  Status:  The bill passed the Senate and encountered difficulties in the House.  MACo drafted amendments that specified that 25 percent of the funds could only be used for the following purposes:  (1) land acquisition; (2) repair or renovation of existing recreational facilities or structures; and (3) capital renewal projects (projects necessary to preserve the physical integrity of a facility or structure or to integrate two different phases of a phased-development project).  Both the House and the Senate passed the bill with the MACo amendments.

Unauthorized Signs on Highway Rights-of-WayHB 289/SB 410 would authorize removal of improperly placed signs on highway rights-of-way by state or local authorities, and authorize a civil action to recover costs of their removal or disposal.  MACo supported the bill because it would assist in the beautification of public roadways and provide reasonable authority for state and local governments to remove improperly placed signs.  Status: Both bills passed and will become effective October 1.

Towing Task Force Legislation: HB 356/SB 570 would implement the recommendations of the Task Force to Study Motor Vehicle Towing Practices. MACo raised concerns with language that stated that a motor vehicle towing and storage lienor may not sell the motor vehicle to which the lien is attached unless the lienor is licensed by the local jurisdiction.  MACo suggested that this language be amended to clarify that it only applies to those local jurisdictions that currently license towers, retaining the bill’s intended incentives, without a local mandate.  This amendment was not adopted.  Status: both bills died in conference committee on the last day of the session.

Motor Carrier Permits for Local Public Transportation Systems: HB 431/SB 402 would exempt a public transportation system established under the public laws of a county government or municipal corporation from the motor carrier permit required for a passenger motor vehicle used in the transportation of persons for hire.  Currently, local transportation systems are regulated by local government, the PSC, the MTA, and the Federal government depending upon the sources of funding used for operations.  MACo supported this bill to streamline and create efficiencies in the process.  MACo did however,  seek an amendment so the bill would also apply to local governments that entered into contractual arrangements with non-profit entities to manage and operate transportation systems on their behalf.  Status: SB 402 passed with MACo’s amendment and will become effective October 1.

Direct Deposit of Wages HB 233/SB 484 would authorize counties and municipal corporations to pay employees’ wages by direct deposit.  Status: The final version of the bill that passed (HB 233) would require direct deposit as a condition of employment and provide an opt-out for those individuals who do not have a bank account.  In addition, the bill was amended to grandfather those jurisdictions that currently may require direct deposit through a collective bargaining agreement, personnel regulation or local law.

Concussion Education and Treatment: HB 858 and SB 771 require school systems and youth sports programs to provide information about concussions to athletes, their parents or guardians, and coaches.  An athlete suspected of having a concussion or other head injury must be pulled from practice or play until cleared by a licensed health care provider.  MACo supported the bills with amendments that would clarify the bill’s notice and education requirements for local parks and recreation departments.  The amendments also clarify information that must be provided by youth sports programs when using school or local government-owned recreational facilities.  Status:  HB 858 and SB 771 were amended to become identical bills.  Both bills passed with the MACo amendments.


Sine Die – What’s Left??

April 11, 2011

During the last day of the legislative session, a number of issues with broad county effect remain in play. Here’s an abbreviated list:

Maintenance of Effort – Three bills await final action, with the time winding down. MACo supported HB 44 and SB 53 as a legislative initiative, to expand and balance the process for considering county MOE waiver requests — both bills will soon be “stuck” before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Another bill, HB 869, has been voted out of the House, but still awaits any action in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. That bill would delay the “penalty” for any county missing MOE but denied its waiver – withholding funds in the subsequent year, rather than the immediate year. The chances of either bill moving appear to be dwindling, but MACo continues to advocate for action on either provision.

Semiannual Payment Schedule for Business PropertyHB 463, which was amended by the Senate to apply to businesses with property taxes that do not exceed $100,000 is still awaiting concurrence by the House.

Ambulance Service Providers and Assignment of Benefits -HB 83/SB 154, which would require health insurers to reimburse an ambulance provider (must be owned, operated,or under the jurisdiction of a political subdivision or a volunteer fire company or rescue squad) directly for covered services is in differing forms in the House and Senate and must be resolved by midnight today.

Public Access to Electronic Records:  HB 37 / SB 740 alters the State’s Public Information Act (PIA) to address the release of public documents in electronic format.  The bill will require the State and local governments to provide records in a searchable and analyzable electronic format where possible.  Governments have the authority to remove “metadata” before providing an electronic document.  Status:  The Senate has added a 2013 sunset to the bill.  The House has sent SB 740 back to the Senate without a sunset.  If the Senate does not agree to the removal of the sunset, the bill will go to conference committee and the difference must be resolved before Sine Die.

Open Meetings Act Complaints:   HB 48, which was requested by the Open Meetings Compliance Board, sets a 1-year time limit for a person to bring an open meetings complaint before the Board.  It also requires local governments to post their meeting notices online and also physically post them at a publicly accessible location.  Finally, it repeals the requirement of a written notice.  Status:  The Senate altered the 1-year time limit to 5 years but the House has rejected the Senate change.  If the Senate does not recede, the bill will go to a conference committee and the difference must be resolved before midnight.

Waste-To-Energy as Preferred Renewable EnergyHB 1121 / SB 690 would move waste-to-energy from a Tier 2 source to a Tier 1 source (a more favorable position) within the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.  Status:  The House has amended the bill to include other power sources, including refuse-derived fuel and certain hydroelectric power plants.  The Senate must decide whether to accept or reject the House amendments.


White House Denies Rumor of Reduced EPA Enforcement Authority

March 31, 2011

According to a story released by the Associated Press with further comment in the Baltimore Sun’s B’More Green blog , the AP is reporting that an unnamed Democratic congressman said the Obama administration is willing to accept curbs on the Environmental Protection Agency possibly even the agency’s controversial Chesapeake Bay pollution diet – as part of negotiating federal spending curbs through September.

“A Democratic lawmaker familiar with a meeting Wednesday between Obama and members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the administration made it clear that some House GOP proposals restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers would have to make it into the final bill. In order to characterize the White House’s position, the lawmaker insisted on anonymity because the meeting was private,” the story said.

“It’s not clear which proposals the White House might accept,” the AP report added, “but those backed by Republicans would block the government from carrying out regulations on greenhouse gases, putting in place a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution.”

In a fairly prompt apparent response to the media speculation, it appears the White House has quashed rumors of a deal. From the Washington Post’s “Plum Line” Column, here’s a statement from the executive offices:

But White House spokesman Clark Stevens emails that the White House is still committed to opposing any EPA “riders”:

As the administration has made clear, the funding bill should not be used to further unrelated policy agendas, and we remain opposed to riders that do that, including as it relates to the environment.

It’s also worth noting that the original AP story said that it wasn’t clear which of the GOP proposals on the EPA the White House was supposedly prepared to support. The original story floated the possibility that the White House might only give on EPA plans to clean up Chesapeake Bay or shut down mountaintop mines — and not on the core GOP proposal of scuttling EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.

As a side note, even Republicans I’ve spoken with privately concede that they’re well aware that it’s unlikely that the latter is a concession they could win, since it would be very hard for many Congressional Dems to support any budget deal containing it.


National Trend: Green Education in Classrooms

March 23, 2011

Throughout the nation, states are developing “environmental literacy plans” to help improve student understanding of the environment and the impact humans have on it.  Legislation introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed in the last two Congressional sessions and likely to be introduced again this Congress would provide $100 million in annual funding to states for environmental education.  Governing Magazine provides a snapshot of green education efforts :

States promoting environmental education emphasize the need to get students out of the classroom. In Maryland, for example, students visit the Chesapeake Bay to measure the water’s salinity and examine the health of its organisms. “Getting their hands dirty has the greatest impact,”Sarbanes says. “It just gets them excited and engaged.” Sarbanes and other advocates say that student excitement spills over into other areas of academics and helps kids perform better across the board.

Maine, Maryland and Oregon have completed their environmental literacy plans, and another four states will soon, Day says. The policies can be adopted in a variety of ways. Oregon’s, for example, was mandated by the state Legislature. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley ordered his state’s plan, and Maine’s plan was developed administratively. The plans don’t focus on detailed curriculum requirements. Instead, they provide broad themes the states should cover. Oregon’s plan, for example, discusses the need for students to “understand the physical and biological world, and our interdependent relationship with it.”

Read the rest of this entry »


MACo Opposes Broad Ban on Septic Development

March 14, 2011

A MACo panel testified in opposition to House Bill 1107 and Senate Bill 846, before the House Environmental Matters Committee and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 11.  The bills, sponsored by Delegate Steve Lafferty and Senator Paul Pinsky embody Governor Martin O’Malley’s State of the State proposal to ban the use septic systems in major subdivisions.  The bills, entitled the “Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2011,” would prohibit the use of septic systems on major subdivisions (defined as 5 or more units), limit subdivision and prohibit re-subdivision on specified parcels, require the Maryland Department of the Environment to approve street line and lot line revisions, and require that minor subdivisions using septics must use nitrogen removal technology.  The bill would allow for the use of shared facilities such as package treatment plants.

As previously reported in a Conduit Street post, House Environmental Matters Chair Maggie McIntosh had written a letter to the Governor stating that it was her intention to take the bills to a summer study.  But the Governor stated his desire to have a hearing on the bills.  Based on the Governor’s request, the both the House and Senate held the bill hearings.  The Governor’s March 11 press release contained the following quote:

“By turning a blind eye to the proliferation of septic McMansions, as a State we are in essence feeding donuts to a patient with a heart condition,” said Governor O’Malley.  “Septic systems, by their very design, are intended to leak sewage into our Bay and into our water tables.  Because they require large lots, their proliferation has the effect of carving up our agricultural and rural land.”

He added, “With the reforms we are proposing, we don’t seek to ban these systems or force homeowners to convert their existing systems.  Rather, we aim to rationally curtail their expansion.”

At the bill hearing, MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson, MACo Associate Director Les Knapp, and Caroline County Planning and Codes Director Katheleen Freeman testified on behalf of MACo.  Mr. Sanderson noted MACo’s willingness over the past several years to work through and eventually support a variety of important land use and environmental legislation, but argued that this bill needed further study due to its significant consequences.  He also stressed that local officials have a better understanding of the needs and concerns of their citizens than State officials.

Mr. Knapp stated that the bill would unfairly affect rural counties and was premised on a Smart Growth model that did not acknowledge the differences between urban and rural counties.  Besides the need for a better rural Smart Growth model, he expressed concern over the cost and practicality of shared facilities, the fiscal impact on counties, the lack of State funding support for both infrastructure and land preservation, the issue over land valuation, and the potential increase in affordable housing.  Ms. Freeman expressed concern over the unintended consequences to her county’s cutting edge agricultural preservation program.

Besides the MACo panelists, representatives from Caroline and Carroll Counties also testified in opposition to the bill.

Governor O’Malley’s Bill Testimony

March 11 MarylandReporter.com blog post on Governor O’Malley’s septics lobbying efforts


Senate Finance Committee Passes Renewable Energy Legislation Supported by MACo

March 11, 2011

MACo submitted testimony to the Senate Finance Committee on March 8 in support of Senate Bill 690 which would expand the definition of a Tier 1 renewable energy source to include waste-to-energy facilities in the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.   Currently, waste-to-energy facilities are in a less favorable Tier 2 category.   Tier 1 renewable energy sources include wind, solar power, and geothermal energy.  There are 3 waste-to-energy plants in the State certified as Tier 2. 

Adding waste-to-energy as a Tier 1 source will give the State one more option to help it reach its goal.  More options also mean that electricity suppliers may be able to meet their portfolio standard requirements more easily, translating into potentially lower electricity costs.  County governments that elect to run a waste-to-energy facility could also see a modest increase in revenues.

The bill is being sponsored by Senator Thomas C. Middleton, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.  The Senate Finance Committee passed the bill out of the committee with amendments on March 10 and the bill will go to the Senate floor for a vote.


Governor’s Septics Proposal – Heading for Study? Or Showdown?

March 3, 2011

Today’s Baltimore Sun discusses the “roadblock” facing the Governor’s proposed limits on septic-based development, as the Chair of the House’s Environmental Matters Committee has suggested that the bill be referred for more complete study over the interim. However, contrary to some earlier reports (and the discussion at MACo’s Legislative Committee yesterday), it now appears that the Governor will continue to press for the bill’s passage in this year’s legislative session.

From the Sun coverage:

Del. Maggie McIntosh, head of the House Environmental Matters Committee, wrote O’Malley earlier this week saying that while she agreed with him on the need for tighter curbs on sprawl and on “the proliferation of septic systems,” she was worried the measure would disproportionately affect some counties where most housing is built with on-site sewage treatment.

McIntosh, a Baltimore city Democrat, said she believed the septic limits proposed in the bill needed to be paired with “initiatives that assist farms and rural counties,” two of the constituencies that have complained loudly that the legislation would impoverish them and stifle virtually all growth. McIntosh urged O’Malley to name a task force including those groups, developers and other critics and hash out how septic curbs fit into larger efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and preserve farmland from sprawling development.

Available now — get the new Baltimore Sun Android app!

O’Malley answered with a letter of his own defending his proposal, while acknowledging, “We need to collectively look at what works in Maryland to address these issues.”

But Shaun Adamec, the governor’s press secretary, said O’Malley stands by the bill he had introduced and intends to testify in support of it at the hearing scheduled March 11 before McIntosh’s committee. And while McIntosh’s desire to study the issue may prevent it from getting out of her committee, Adamec said the governor has not given up on trying to win her and critics over to the need to do something about septics this year — even if it’s a more limited measure.

“Something clearly is better than nothing, but it’s still very much the governor’s intention to outline specifically why it’s so important to take drastic action now,” the governor’s spokesman said.

(An earlier version of this story incorrectly interpreted O’Malley’s letter and earlier remarks by his press secretary to say the governor had yielded to McIntosh’s call for study and would not push for passage of the bill this year.)

MACo has expressed concerns with the far-reaching bill (introduced on the Administration’s behalf as HB 1107 and SB 846, and the Legislative Committee voted yesterday to formally oppose it, even as a study referral seemed imminent.

In the Washington Post, from earlier in the day Wednesday, the Governor’s apparent tone was more conciliatory:

One of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s only new legislative priorities for the year — a ban on most new septic systems — will not be passed into law during this legislative session, the governor all but conceded on Tuesday.

Responding to a call from a key Democratic lawmaker who said the proposal should be studied further, O’Malley’s office released a letter saying the governor agrees “we need to collectively look at what works in Maryland to address these issue … this should include your ideas for pulling together stakeholders.”

The apparent end of the effort to pass the proposal this year was nearly as quiet as its beginning.


NACo Launches Green Government Database

March 1, 2011

The National Association of Counties (NACo) has launched a Green Government Database as a resource for county officials on successful county sustainability programs, plans, policies and capital projects. Highlighted case studies include those related to county:

  •  sustainability management
  •  energy efficiency
  •  renewable energy generation
  •  green building
  • green jobs
  • economic development
  •  air quality
  •  green fleets
  •  green purchasing
  • local food systems
  •  smart land use
  •  water conservation and waste management

Click here to access the database.


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