Septics Bill Passes Senate; MACo Takes New Position on Bill

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Senate adopted amendments to Governor Martin O’Malley’s septic system legislation that were jointly agreed upon by the Administration, MACo, and other stakeholders.  The Senate passed the amended bill earlier this week.

A March 27 Baltimore Sun story highlights the reaction to the amended bill by various stakeholders and legislators, including a statement from House Environmental Matters Chair Maggie McIntosh that she expects to make “few – if any – changes” to the bill in the House.

“We are still achieving the public policy objectives,” said Maryland Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall. “I still think the bill does what it sets out to do. … It is very much intact.”

The view was not universal. “I don’t think you can call it a huge step forward, but it is a halting step,” said Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat who fought on the Senate floor to keep the measure in its original form.

The bill, called the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, passed 32 to 14, after Senate Republicans attempted a filibuster. The bill will next be considered by the House Environmental Matters Committee. Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the panel, said she plans to make few — if any — changes.  …

“The jury is still out about whether counties will comply with the spirit of the law,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s Democrat, after voting for it.

The article also notes that the Home Builders Association of Maryland has withdrawn its opposition to the bill and that environmental groups are still largely supportive of the bill.

A March 28 Star Democrat article offers further thoughts on the bill from Administration officials and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller:

Joseph Bryce, O’Malley’s chief legislative council, said discretionary state funding and programs are incentive for counties to fall in line with the plan.

“You’re going to have some jurisdictions that are more inclined to work with you than others, but frankly our experience hasn’t been outright revolt,” Bryce said last week.

Miller called it a “compromise bill” that left senators on both sides of the issue unsatisfied.

He disputed assertions from Republican leaders that bill sponsors want to curb local development and are perpetuating a series of political and land use moves they refer to as a “war on rural Maryland.”

“It’s a war on people who don’t support smart growth. It was a war on people who want properties developed without roads, without schools, without fire departments, without police stations,” Miller said. “It’s a vote for planned development at the same time taking into consideration the needs and concerns the property owners.”

MACo Takes New Position on Bill

MACo’s legislative committee met on March 28 and determined that MACo would drop its opposition to the bill contingent on the Senate amendments remaining intact.  In a letter sent by MACo to members of the House Environmental Matters Committee, MACo noted that the amendments address all of MACo’s primary concerns with the bill, including the retention of land use decision-making at the local level.

MACo had initially taken a position of “support with amendments” on the bill but later changed its position to “oppose” when it appeared that county concerns regarding the bill were being ignored.

House Actions

The House Environmental Matters Committee held a brief workgroup on the bill on March 29.  At that workgroup, the Administration presented the amended bill and stakeholder groups offered their thoughts on the bill.  Representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1000 Friends of Maryland presented additional amendments to the bill.  Chairman McIntosh has requested that a small group of stakeholders, including MACo, meet on April 2 to discuss the proposed amendments.

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