State Agencies Preview Legislative Agendas

Five state agencies presented their 2014 legislative agenda and provided issue updates to the House Environmental Matters Committee on January 14.  The participating agencies included: (1) the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA); (2) the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE); (3) the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR); (4) the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT); and (5) the State Ethics Commission.

Maryland Department of Agriculture

Secretary of Agriculture Earl “Buddy” Hance testified that he “look[ed] forward to a quiet session” for his department.  MDA was sponsoring just three bills that would make corrections to previous legislation regarding lawn fertilizer, set minimums and maximums on how much money the State can offer for agricultural preservation easements, and give MDA more flexibility to spend manure transport funding.  Secretary Hance also noted that MDA is still working on revisions to its proposed phosphorus management tool regulations and did expect to implement the regulations before the end of the current Administration’s term.  Environmental Matters Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh noted that the Committee would be holding a “state of agriculture” briefing, similar to the Committee’s annual “state of the [Chesapeake] bay” briefings.

Maryland Department of the Environment

Secretary of the Environment Robert Summers discussed MDE’s three pieces of legislation that includes expanding the use of the septic system funding within the Bay Restoration Fund to connect failing septic systems to wastewater treatment plants (this is also a MACo 2014 Legislative Initiative), providing funding to county health departments that accept operation and management oversight duties for septic system maintenance, and making clarifications to the Maryland Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund so that the Fund can continue to utilize federal funding sources.

Secretary Summers also provided a brief update on the status of the State’s pending Accounting for Growth (AFG) and Marcellus Shale policies.  The Secretary explained that the State was working on addressing the two significant unresolved issues for AFG – establishing a “baseline” (how much nutrients new development would have to offset) and determining how phosphorus offsets should be handled.  Regarding Marcellus Shale, he noted that a final best practices report would be issued in the spring of 2014 and a final report that integrates the results of all previous State studies and research would be issued in August of 2014.

Department of Natural Resources

Secretary of Natural Resources Joseph Gill highlighted DNR’s top initiative of designating an additional 21,000 acres of State-owned lands as “wildlands,” which would limit their usage to certain low-impact recreational activities.  Secretary Gill stressed that DNR made reach out efforts to both the governments and citizens of the 9 affected counties and did not believe that any had issues with DNR’s final proposal.  DNR’s other proposed legislation would temporarily lower hunting and fishing license fees to former licensees who have not hunted or fished in the last three years, clarify DNR’s authority to open and close fishing areas, establish a council to review State capital spending in areas subject to sea level rise in accordance with the pending recommendations of a workgroup that has been studying the issue, and amend DNR’s authority to suspend recreational licenses based on a failure to pay child support.

Previous Conduit Street coverage on DNR wildlands proposal

Maryland Department of Transportation

Secretary of Transportation James Smith, Jr. introduced his new Deputy Secretary of Administration and Operations, Wilson Parran, and noted that they were both former Presidents of MACo.  The Secretary discussed a broad range of MDOT-sponsored legislation.  Several bills would alter different areas of Maryland’s vehicle law in order to comply with federal law, including driving under the influence laws, mechanic qualifications for servicing commercial vehicles, vehicle weight limits for motor homes and tour buses, and road or weight exemptions for certain farm vehicles that are delivering goods and State or local government vehicles performing emergency snow removal.  MDOT is also sponsoring legislation to explicitly create a penalty for driving an unauthorized vehicle in a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane, and conform penalties for commercial and instructional permit holders with commercial vehicle licensees and to reform and streamline the debt financing process.

Secretary Smith also discussed MDOT’s efforts to establish a model for transportation public-private partnerships with the Prince George’s County Purple Line.  He did not discuss transportation funding.

State Ethics Commission

State Ethics Commission Executive Director Michael Lord concluded the briefing by presenting the legislative agenda of the Commission.  The Commission has introduced five bills that would: (1) permit lobbyists to register electronically; (2) let the Commission issue an order to local governments and school boards to comply with State ethics laws rather than having to file a lawsuit in court; (3) shorten the time period that lobbyists have to take a Commission training course from 2 years to 6 months; (4) make the electronic filing of financial disclosure forms mandatory rather than optional (with certain exceptions); and (5) increase the late fee penalties for lobbyists and financial disclosure filers.

As part of his presentation, Lord noted that local governments have been very cooperative with implementing new ethics law requirements that were enacted in 2012.