Senate Discusses PlanMaryland and Septic Systems in First Meeting of Special Session

The Maryland Senate held a discussion regarding PlanMaryland during the first day of the 2011 Special Session.  The discussion occurred after the introduction of a slate of bills by Senator E. J. Pipkin that address PlanMaryland, septic systems, the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), and tolls and transportation.  For a full list of Senator Pipkin’s bills, click here.

Senator Richard Colburn started the debate when he asked if any of Pipkin bills would be considered by the Senate or would they “die in the Rules Committee?”  Senate President Mike Miller indicated that the Senate (and presumably the House) is going to focus solely on bills related to redistricting and would not consider other bills during the Special Session.  He indicated that any such bills would “be given the first order of consideration” during the 2012 regular Session. 

Senator David Brinkley expressed concern that PlanMaryland will basically be adopted by executive order prior to the 2012 Session, rendering some of the concerns moot if not addressed now.  He requested the Senate send a letter to Governor Martin O’Malley requesting the Governor to delay implementation of PlanMaryland until the Senate can take up the issues legislatively.

Senator Pipkin stated that the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) would send PlanMaryland to the Governor’s desk in mid-November and that Secretary of Planning Richard Hall “believes he has the power to implement a 37-year old bill.  [This is the statute that MDP cites as authority to enact PlanMaryland.]  That’s up for discussion as to whether he has that power without coming to [the General Assembly] to get legislative approval to implement what is a very significant overhaul of growth rules and regulations in the State of Maryland.”

President Miller suggested that Senator Pipkin pre-file his bills for the 2012 Session and request the appropriate committee [likely Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHE)] take them up prior to the start of the Session in a public hearing.  Senator Brinkley responded that in a briefing several weeks prior, Secretary Hall indicated that he did not want PlanMaryland to be considered “on a rocket docket for the 90-day legislative session” but that  given the Plan’s potential impacts, it was important that the General Assembly have an opportunity to consider the Plan.  The Senator again requested a letter be sent to the Governor asking for a delay in the Plan’s implementation until the legislature could consider the issue.

President Miller noted that “MACo has a huge interest in this as well.”  Senator Ronald Young characterized PlanMaryland as “one of the worst PR [public relations] debacles that’s ever been put forth” but believed that the Plan simply combined existing policies.    While stating that septic systems and the Bay TMDL were “serious issues”, Senator Young concluded, “I think PlanMaryland is a nothing-burger and nothing to be upset about.”  President Miller responded by suggesting that the bills should be pre-filed and taken up by the appropriate policy committee, with input from MACo, prior to the Session.

Senator Colburn argued that PlanMaryland would have a significant impact on local zoning and also requested a letter be sent to the Governor.  President Miller agreed to write a letter on behalf of the Senate to the Governor asking him not to implement the Plan until the Senate holds a hearing prior to the regular Session.

Senator Paul Pinsky opposed the letter, arguing that if the executive branch has the power to implement the Plan, the General Assembly should not get involved.  He noted that the executive branch implements many new policies between Sessions without General Assembly interference and “we don’t have a Special Session to decide to slow it down.  And I don’t understand why today is different from all other days, to use a phrase.”  President Miller responded that the General Assembly was the “policy making body of the State of Maryland and when our constituents and when our elected representatives ask for a public hearing, I think we should provide it.”  He also indicated that Senator Joan Carter Conway, Chair of the EHE Committee, was willing to hold a hearing on both PlanMaryland and septic systems.

Senator Colburn again stressed that PlanMaryland would take away local zoning authority and regulatory authority, making the Secretary of Planning “a planning czar.”  President Miller responded that like Senators Young and Pinsky, he supports PlanMaryland.  “All you have to do is see what’s happened in Prince George’s County to know why you need some oversight of county decisions.”  Senator Young noted that the septic issue does have to come before the Senate in the form of a bill but argued that PlanMaryland “does not supersede any comprehensive plan or any local zoning.”  He again characterized the Plan as simply a combination of existing policies.

Senator Christopher Shank stressed that there should be hearings on PlanMaryland because it “is another movement by the State to control local planning.  It may not be local zoning but it is planning.”  He also referenced a recent meeting where MACo provided an update of its comments on PlanMaryland.  Senator Pipkin also referenced MACo’s concerns, noting that the combination of PlanMaryland, the septics legislation, and the Bay TMDL will have a signficant impact on the State.  He argued for the importance of holding a hearing on the three issues before they are implemented and thanked President Miller for his proposal.

Click here for those interested in listening to the entire debate.  The discussion begins at 32:35 with Senator Colburn’s initial inquiry.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Sen. Colburn is right on the mark as is Sen. Shank, why should this be rushed through without legislative input? Many counties are very responsible when it comes staying within their comprehensive plan and limiting growth. \

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