House Passes “Public Integrity Act” Unanimously

A Baltimore Sun article (2017-03-24) reported that the Maryland House of Delegates unanimously passed legislation (HB 879) on March 24 that would tighten conflict of interest, lobbying, and public ethics laws for state legislative and executive branch officials. The legislation follows the formal reprimand of Delegate Dan Morhaim for failing to disclose that he had a contingent employment agreement with a medical cannabis company while advocating on medical cannabis issues before the Maryland General Assembly.

The legislation would explicitly prohibit such conduct, limit the ability of legislative and certain executive officials to lobby immediately after leaving office, require greater disclosure about income generated by spouses, and create an independent citizen ethics advisory board. From the article:

Gov. Larry Hogan sought an even more sweeping rewrite of the rules that would have subjected legislators’ conduct to oversight by an executive branch commission [HB 438/SB 253]. The attorney general’s office advised that such a move would probably violate the state constitution by breaching the separation between different branches of government.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the bill as passed represented a compromise that the Republican governor’s office was happy to see moving forward.

“We see this as a definite step forward and a move in the right direction after some very high-profile indictments and public ethical lapses that will help restore the trust the public deserves to have in their institutions of government,” he said.

Alexandra Hughes, House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s chief of staff, said Busch was pleased that he and the governor could combine ideas to produce “one of the strongest ethics bills in years.”

“This legislation will provide greater transparency to the public and tighten conflict of interest laws for greater public confidence in elected officials in the executive and legislative branches,” she said.

The bill’s cross-file, SB 683, was heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 3 and no further action has been taken on the bill since the hearing.

Useful Links

HB 879 / SB 683 of 2017

HB 438 / SB 253 of 2017

Montgomery Situation Highlights Tension Between Transparency & Privacy

A Washington Post article (2017-03-26) highlighted the challenges counties and all levels of government face when deciding how to balance the mutually exclusive but worthwhile goals of transparency and privacy. The article focused on the decision of the Montgomery County Council to request  that more than 200,000 email addresses of people receiving County newsletters be removed from the County’s open government portal, DataMontgomery. The Council adopted legislation in 2012 that created the portal and requires a large amount of county data to be made available online. From the article:

A five-member majority of council members — [Hans Reimer (D-At Large)], Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), Sidney Katz (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg), Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty) and Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) — ordered their attorney to pull back from public view more than 90,000 of the email addresses published on DataMontgomery , the portal created under Riemer’s [2012 open government] bill. The bill required publication on the portal of any information released through a Maryland Public Information Act request. …

“This is like a treasure trove for marketers,” agreed Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), who was not one of the five. Publication of the addresses, he said, could have created a “chilling effect” that would prevent many of the county’s 1 million residents from interacting with local government.

Pulling the email addresses violated the 2012 law, which is similar to new open-government statutes in other states and localities. Riemer said the decision was forced by “exigent circumstances” and argued that the public interest served by mass distribution of the addresses was outweighed by privacy concerns.

The article noted that Reimer was preparing an amendment to the 2012 open government law that would exclude email disclosures. The article contained the opinion of Future of Privacy Forum Vice President for Policy John Verdi, who stated that balancing transparency and privacy was an increasingly common challenge for governments.

“Everybody agrees that transparent government is a good thing,” said Verdi, a former Obama administration official who worked on privacy issues. “You have data that is purely government data, and data appropriately excluded by public information laws. Then you get the gray area in the middle, where an increasingly important question being asked is about the right balance between openness and privacy.”

Verdi said Montgomery’s experience “highlights government’s responsibility to provide notice to folks that information they submit might be made public.”

The article also provided further background on the Public Information Act request that led to the disclosure of the email addresses. The initial request was made by MocoVoters, a grass-roots group focused on voter turnout and development issues. Since receiving the email addresses, MoCoVoters has decided not to use them but instead build its membership through social media.

Useful Links

DataMontgomery Website

Future of Privacy Forum Website

CBF Cites Value of Trees in Forest Conservation Act Op-Ed

In a Washington Post op-ed (2017-03-21), Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Alison Prost argues for legislation (HB 599 / SB 365) that would create significant new replanting and fee in lieu requirements under the Maryland Forest Conservation Act (FCA). MACo and the Maryland Municipal League are opposed to the bill, noting that Maryland’s total forest and tree canopy management efforts need to be considered and that the organizations are open to a balanced task force regarding the issue. In the op-ed, Prost focuses solely on the FCA and discusses the benefits trees provide. From the op-ed:

The FCA is not getting the job done. Too little forest is being conserved in Maryland. …

Developers are trying to block the legislation, claiming replanting would increase costs. Some local governments have joined in that lament.

But those same local governments have far more to lose from doing nothing. Forests provide counties billions of dollars in ecosystem services. The forests of Prince George’s County, for instance, remove 4.3 billion gallons of polluted runoff a year. If taxpayers had to provide those services, the cost would be $12.8 billion, according to a 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville. The same forests also remove 5,100 metric tons of airborne pollutants, a service worth $21 million.

And some benefits cannot be adequately measured in dollars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service says one acre of forest provides oxygen for 18 people for one day. What is the economic value of that? What is the cost of Maryland losing an average of at least 1,800 acres of forests a year?

It’s bad economics to allow developers to cut so much forest and eliminate so much of the public benefit of those trees without adequate compensation. It’s bad health and environmental policy.

Useful Links
HB 599 / SB 365 of 2017

 

 

WYPR Examines Status of Immigration, Health Care, Bail Reform On Cross-Over

A WYPR 88.1 FM radio discussion (2017-03-21) examined the status of several big issues and whether they met the Maryland General Assembly’s March 20 cross-over deadline.

From the discussion’s description tagline:

Monday was a busy day in Annapolis, where state lawmakers hurried to meet a legislative deadline. Any bills not passed by either the state Senate or the House of Delegates by the end of the day have to go through the Rules Committee before they can continue on. WYPR’s Rachel Baye joins Nathan Sterner to talk about what bills made the cut and what will face additional hurdles.

Baye highlighted immigration enforcement, health care, bail reform in the discussion.

Useful Links

Direct Link to Audio

2017 Mid-Session Update: Recycling Bills Moving

Three recycling bills on which MACo took a position are poised to pass the General Assembly with MACo support with amendments that removed MACo’s opposition.

Recycling – Regulation of Recycling Facilities: HB 124 requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to adopt regulations governing recycling facilities, in consultation with MACo and other key stakeholders. The regulations would allow for a tiered system of permits to cover different sizes and types of recycling facilities. The bill also alters the definition of “solid waste.”

MACo Position: MACo supported the bill with amendments, noting that recycling facilities are handling increasing amounts of unrecyclable solid waste through the single stream process, they are at risk of needing a solid waste disposal permit – an expensive and cumbersome requirement that was never intended to apply to them. HB 124 would allow MDE to adopt a tiered system of permits that allow for more appropriate regulation of these facilities. The MACo amendment excluded residential recycling drop-off facilities, as they simply serve as collection points for recyclable materials and do not actually handle or process materials beyond collecting and shipping them to a recycling facility.

STATUS: The House passed HB 124 with the MACo amendment and an amendment removing the quantity of material managed as a criteria for MDE to consider when establishing the tiered system of permits. The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee will hear the bill on March 23.

MACo Testimony on HB 124

Recycling – Yard, Food, and Organic Waste Composting Study: HB 171 / SB 99 requires MDE to conduct a study regarding the diversion and composting of yard waste and food residuals.  The study must include: (1) identification properties or development zones where diversion infrastructure may be developed; (2) tax or other incentives to promote composting; (3) a recommendation for a refuse disposal fee that would finance a grant program to assist with composting infrastructure; and (4) a recommendation on necessary programmatic, legislative, or regulatory changes to encourage composting.

MACo Position: MACo supported the bill with five amendments that would have the study:

  1. Identify the infrastructure needs and challenges related to yard waste and food residuals composting and diversion unique to the different geographic regions of the state;
  2. Identify any applicable sanitary and public health concerns related to yard waste and food residuals composting and diversion;
  3. Develop, in consultation with local governments, model guidelines and best practices for the local identification of properties or development zones where diversion infrastructure may be developed instead of having MDE assume a land use role by making such identifications itself;
  4. Consider a refuse disposal fee instead of automatically recommending such a fee; and
  5. Receive the approval of the affected local governments before recommending a pilot food waste recovery program in the Elkridge and Jessup areas.

STATUS: HB 171 and SB 99 each passed their respective houses with the MACo amendments (the refuse disposal fee language was deleted in its entirety) and several other stakeholder amendments MACo had no issue with. HB 171 will be scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. SB 99 will be heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on March 22.

MACo Testimony on HB 171

MACo Testimony on SB 99

Recycling – Special Events: HB 1309 / SB 885 as introduced would require a county and municipal government that issues a special event permit to also enforce recycling requirements at the event. The bill also lowers the threshold for the application of special events recycling requirements from 200 people to 100 people, increases the civil penalties for violating the recycling requirements, and makes the amount of the penalty contingent on attendance.

 MACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, noting the cost and implementation issues of the local enforcement mandate, the problematic expansion of “special events” by lowering the attendance threshold from 200 to 100 people, and challenges in enforcing the civil penalties due to a lack of reliable attendance data.

STATUS: HB 1309 and SB 885 passed their respective houses with identical amendments removing  MACo’s opposition. As amended, the bill: (1) Requires the State, county, municipality, or other local government to provide the organizer of a special event a written statement that describes the requirements and penalties for special event recycling; and (2) increases the civil penalty from failing to recycle at a special event from $50 per day to $300 per day. HB 1309 will be scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. SB 885 will be heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on March 29.

MACo Testimony on HB 1309

MACo Testimony on SB 885

CBC Releases 2016 Annual Report – Program Open Space, Conowingo Dam Among Key Issues

The Chesapeake Bay Commission (CBC) released its annul report for 2016. The report offered a short appraisal of the CBC’s work on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts in each member state, an assessment on overall Bay restoration progress, and a critique of ongoing challenges. Program Open Space (POS) was highlighted as a key issue in Maryland while the Susquehanna River/Conowingo Dam nutrient and sediment trapping problem was noted as a key challenge.

The CBC is a partnership between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to advise and address issues that affect the entirety of the Chesapeake Bay. Members include legislators and cabinet secretaries from each state, as well as a United States Navy liaison. Each member state is represented among three leadership positions – including a chair and two vice-chairs. Maryland Senator Thomas McLain “Mac” Middleton served as the CBC Chair for 2016. For 2017, Maryland Delegate Tawanna Gaines is serving in a Vice-Chair capacity.

From the report’s summary of CBC activities in Maryland:

With Maryland on-track to meet its 2017 water quality goals under the TMDL, Commission members focused on maintaining that progress by supporting land conservation. Maryland’s Program Open Space (POS) preserves natural areas, protects historic places, and develops parks. Full funding of POS and other land conservation programs is critical to achieving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal to preserve an additional 2 million acres by 2025. Unfortunately, recent state budgets have diverted funding from POS to Maryland’s General Fund.

After working with a broad group of stakeholders, Commission members effectively sponsored legislation to repay $90 million in previous POS diversions. The bill also requires repayment of any future diversions.

In other budget-related matters, the Commission worked to fully fund the state Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, which supports agricultural and other nonpoint source best management practices, a first in the Fund’s ten-year history.

Despite noting favorable progress on Bay restoration efforts, including having no anoxic (without oxygen) Bay areas for the first time in 30 years, the report stressed that ongoing challenges continue to exist, including population growth, agricultural pollution, and climate change. Also noted was the disappearing capacity of various Susquehanna River dams to trap nutrients and sediment:

But perhaps the largest threat lies in the nutrients and sediment accumulating behind three large hydroelectric dams on the Lower Susquehanna. Each dam has created a giant settling pond upstream, storing sediment and associated nutrients. Over decades, the reservoir behind each dam has filled with this material, first at Safe Harbor, then Holtwood and now Conowingo.

The loss of trapping capacity at Conowingo, the final dam in the sequence, has caused the entire Lower Susquehanna to be in a state of “dynamic equilibrium.” The loads-in now equal the loads-out.

The sediment and phosphorus that previously were trapped are now flowing downstream unimpeded. Therefore, despite reductions upstream, the loads at Conowingo have increased, at least temporarily.

So long as the inputs upstream of the Conowingo Dam continue to decrease, the Susquehanna’s loads to the Bay will ultimately decrease. But this will take expanded efforts, new funding and time. In the meantime, who will take responsibility for the pollutant loads no longer captured by the dam?

Useful Links

CBC 2016 annual report

CBC Website

Senator Middleton Webpage

Delegate Gaines Webpage

Senate Committee Rejects Wendi Peters for Planning Secretary

A Washington Post article (2017-03-14) reported that Senate Executive Nominations Committee rejected the nomination of Wendi Peters to become the next Maryland Secretary of Planning by a vote of 11-6. Peters was the nominee of Governor Lawrence “Larry” Hogan to replace former Secretary David Craig. Peters has been serving as acting Secretary since Craig’s departure in July of 2016. From the article:

“Ms. Peters is likely qualified for a lot of things, but her background and experience do not make her qualified for Secretary of Planning,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore), the chairman of the committee, offering the sentiments of the majority of the panel.

Peters, a two-term councilmember on the Mt. Airy Town Council in Frederick and a former member of the town’s board of Appeals and Planning Commission, became acting Secretary of Planning in July. She previously served as deputy secretary. …

“Wendi Peters is eminently qualified for this position,” [Hogan spokesperson Amelia] Chasse said, accusing the committee of conducting an “unfair hearing” that was an “insult” to Peters’ decades of service to her community and the state.

Despite the governor’s full confidence in Peters, Chasse said Hogan has withdrawn Peters’ nomination rather than pursue the appointment process through the full Senate.

A potential replacement for Peters has not yet been named.

Useful Links

MACo Requests Removal of Local Referenda Mandate on Fracking

MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered amendments to legislation (SB 862) that would require all local governments to hold a referendum on whether natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) should be allowed within the jurisdiction should the State ever permit fracking to occur in Maryland. A local government may only allow fracking if the voters support it, but may prohibit fracking or enact stricter requirements regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

The bill also extends the existing moratorium on fracking until October 1, 2019, and requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to repeal its current fracking regulations and adopt new regulations based on the best practices and protections adopted by other states and specified fracking studies. Senator Joan Carter Conway sponsored the bill. Knapp requested that the local referenda requirement be removed from the bill. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo’s concern with SB 862 is not about whether to allow or ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. Rather, it is about the idea of ceding the decision-making authority of lawfully elected local officials to a populist decision. Our government is a representative democracy and local officials were elected to make difficult policy decisions – they are held accountable by their voters when they fail to meet their citizens’ expectations.

If fracking is permitted in Maryland, MACo believes each local government should have the authority to decide for itself whether to authorize the activity, impose stricter requirements on the activity, or ban it altogether. Forcing the question to a referendum undermines both the authority and proper role of local officials, whose responsibility it is to understand the potentially long-reaching effects of such legislation on their entire communities.

Additionally, the referendum requirement establishes a troubling precedent that could then be applied to other challenging policy issues. Ultimately, the State could begin requiring referenda on any contentious or challenging issue, undermining local decisions and authority altogether.

The Sierra Club of Maryland also testified in support of MACo’s proposed amendments.

Useful Links

SB 862 of 2017

MACo Testimony on SSB 862

Senator Conway Webpage

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

 

BAT Bill Dies, Resurrected on Senate Floor – Full Debate Today

Legislation (SB 266) that would require the use of best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems throughout the state failed by 1 vote (22-23)  on the Senate floor on March 2. However, the bill was later resurrected through a motion for reconsideration offered by Senator Ulysses Currie and then special ordered until today. Earlier, the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHE) Committee voted the bill favorably on a 7 to 4 vote.

Both proponents and opponents are prepared for a full debate on the bill today when the Senate convenes at 11:00 AM. Outright support, opposition, and potential amendments will all likely be part of the bill’s discussion. MACo testified in opposition to SB 266.

The House of Delegates has not taken any action on the bill’s cross-file (HB 281), which was heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 15.

Useful Links

SB 266 of 2017

Vote of the Senate EHE Committee on SB 266

MACo Testimony on SB 266

MACo Opposes Speed Camera & Red Light Camera Ban

MACo submitted written testimony in opposition to legislation (HB 536) that would ban the use of local government speed cameras, highway work zone speed cameras, and red light cameras. The bill was heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 23, 2017. Delegate Warren Miller sponsored the bill. From MACo’s testimony:

Both red light camera and speed camera programs have been shown to be effective in altering driver behavior and increasing public safety. Various studies have shown that red light cameras reduce the number of serious and fatal “t-bone” vehicle crashes.

As for local speed camera programs, in August of 2015, WTOP news reported that speed camera tickets have dropped significantly in both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties as drivers altered behavior and reduced their speeds in targeted zones [Citation omitted]….

Wicomico County ended its speed camera program in December of 2015 because the program has been successful in reducing speeding in targeted school zones. [Citation Omitted]

Finally, this Committee and the General Assembly passed legislation in 2014 (HB 929 and SB 350) that comprehensively updated the local speed camera statute. The update included both additional program safeguards and necessary clarifications. The bills passed with bi-partisan support and had the support of MACo, the Maryland Municipal League, and AAA-Mid Atlantic. There have been no significant reported issues with local speed camera programs since the passage of the legislation and a repeal of the programs is unnecessary and unwarranted.

Useful Links

HB 536 of 2017

MACo Testimony on HB 536

Delegate W. Miller Webpage

MACo Bill Tracking Tool