Septics Bill Remains In Senate Limbo, Amendments Pending

Following a week of floor debate and questions, SB 266 – legislation requiring “best available technology” for any new septic systems – remains on hold pending a resolution.

Last week, Conduit Street reported that the bill was initially defeated on a narrow 23-22 vote on the Senate floor during a preliminary approval vote. Following a procedural move to reconsider that vote, the Senate has since postponed final consideration on the bill (or any possible amendments) multiple times. On Thursday March 9, the bill was again postponed until tuesday, March 14. (The typical motion in the Maryland General Assembly is to “Make the bill a special order of business on [a certain date]” and is frequently abbreviated in legislative parlance as “special ordering”)

Many stakeholders expect that an amendment may be developed by the next discussion Tuesday to develop a broader compromise to limit the bill’s broad effects. As introduced and passed by the Senate Committee, the bill imposes a flat mandate affecting the entire state. Current law only requires this for the Critical Area, essentially within 1,000 feet of the tidal influence of the Chesapeake Bay.

MACo Supports Prompt County Water & Sewer Plan Approval

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in favor of legislation (SB 1040) that would provide greater clarity and expedite the review process for a county water and sewer plan or amendment by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Senator Justin Ready sponsored the bill.

MACo’s testimony states,

A county water and sewer plan is a critical component of the county’s long-term land use and development plan. Without prompt approval, counties are unable to implement key Smart Growth initiatives and developers may be forced into a “holding pattern” – losing both resources and time that ultimately may lead to a project’s stagnation or even cancellation.

MACo recognizes reviewing a plan or amendment can be complex, but SB 1040 would still allow for a 90-day extension, similar to current law. However, MDE must communicate the reason for taking an extension beyond the initial 30-day extension. MACo believes this will provide more certainty and potentially increase the response time of MDE.

SB 1040 would place reasonable efficiency and response requirements on MDE during the review of a county water and sewer plan or amendment.

SB 1040 was heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 7, 2017. Carroll County’s Planning Director and Legislative Liaison, Phil Hager, supported Mr. Knapp in testifying on this bill.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation testified against the bill.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 Legislative Session here.

MACo: Don’t Remove Local Electrical Licensing Authority

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, recently testified in opposition to legislation (HB 1368) that would remove all electrical licensing authority from local jurisdictions by 2020 and would establish a statewide licensing framework for master electricians. By doing this, journeymen and other local classes of electricians would effectively lose their local ability to perform services.

MACo’s testimony states,

While all but two counties (Allegany and Garrett) license master electricians, there are five counties (Calvert, Charles, Harford, Montgomery, and Prince George’s) that license journeyman electricians. There are also a number of other local licensed classes of electricians including general, limited or restricted, and apprenticeships. As the bill removes all licensing authority for local jurisdictions, journeymen and other local classes of electricians would effectively lose their local ability to perform services. The bill contains no comparable state license system or exemptions for these other classes of electricians. These electricians would now have to meet the more rigorous standards necessary to obtain a statewide master electricians license in order to continue to provide their limited level of services.

Furthermore, local electrical boards are best situated to oversee and discipline electricians working within their jurisdictions. Counties appreciate that the bill retains some ability for local boards to regulate electricians through a registration systems. However, for proper enforcement action it is important for counties to be able to restrict, suspend, or revoke a state license holder’s right to perform electrical services in that jurisdiction.

Brad Shipp from the Maryland Burglar & Firearm Association and Steve Thomas, from Montgomery County’s Division of Commercial Building Construction joined Ms. Mehu on a panel in opposition to this bill.

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

“Best Available” Septics Mandate Stumbles in Senate

Legislation reinstating a statewide mandate for any new septic system to use “best available technology” met with a surprise on the Senate floor Thursday, when a preliminary approval vote failed on a vote of 22-23. The vote was reconsidered, in a common parliamentary maneuver, and placed on hold for further discussion Friday.

MACo had opposed the legislation, suggesting that the statewide mandate (as opposed to just the Critical Area near waterways, where thas standard currently applies by law) is an inefficient and costly method to reduce pollution. (Read MACo’s testimony online)

Senator Steve Hershey, the Minority Whip and an opponent of the bill, expressed his thoughts on the vote in social media:

At the time of this writing, the Senate debate was expected to continue on Friday — with the bill still on its second reading in its original chamber, it is open to amendments as well. The close negative vote on the bill advancing to its final Senate reading suggests a lively and possibly contentious floor debate ahead. The House of Delegates has yet to act on similar legislation.

Useful Links

SB 266 of 2017

Vote of the Senate EHE Committee on SB 266

MACo Testimony on SB 266

MACo Seeks Amendment to Septic Tier Property Rights Restoration Bill

MACo Policy and Legal Counsel, Les Knapp, sought to amend legislation of House Bill 1355, “Sewerage Systems – Residential Major Subdivisions in Tier III and Tier IV Areas” before the House Environmental and Transportation committee on March 1, 2017. The bill would restore property rights that were extinguished with the passage of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 236), but only if certain land preservation conditions are met. The bill does not create new development rights. The bill was sponsored by Delegate April Rose.

MACo’s testimony states

The bill would provide an alternative under the Tier system to address issues of the loss of development rights in rural areas while not repealing the Tiers. The bill balances the restoration of the taken rights with land protection requirements – and a fair recognition of jurisdictions that have wide portions of un-developable land due to state limitations, development easements, etc. By excluding the creation of new development rights, the bill does not encourage or create growth potential beyond what previously existed before the passage of SB 236 in 2012.

MACo does request an amendment to HB 1355 stating the bill’s tier provisions would only apply in a county where the local governing body has formally adopted the provisions of § 9-206(f)(2) and (3) into a local ordinance. This allows counties the option of whether to utilize the bill’s provisions rather than mandate that all counties be subject to the provisions. It also would empower citizen input into the local public hearing process before any changes occur.

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

You’re Invited: Join Us for Our Weekly Legislative Update Conference Call

Every Friday during the legislative session MACo will host a conference call that will update you on the Maryland General Assembly hot topics and bills that affect local governments. Join the conversation at 3:00 pm each week as MACo explores different topics and hosts guest speakers.

This week’s topic (March 3): MACo Initiatives Update

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally will be joined by members of the MACo Policy Staff for an update on MACo’s 2017 Legislative Initiatives. Call in for an update on school construction funding, energy siting, police body cameras, and #LIFt4MD (Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland)!

Conference call information: 1.877.850.5007, passcode: 2690043#

We look forward to your participation! Submit your questions in advance by e-mailing Kevin Kinnally.

Fragile Lower Shore Residential Market Tied To State Policies

An article in DelmarvaNow connects state policies, currently amidst debate in the General Assembly, with the shaky residential building market in the lower Eastern Shore. From the article:

The legislature is weighing whether to reinstate a regulation requiring most rural homes to come equipped with high-tech septic systems that remove nitrogen but cost about $7,500 more than traditional ones. The requirement was in effect for four years before Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration reduced its scope last year to lands within 1,000 feet of tidal waters, including the Chesapeake and Atlantic coastal bays.

Another bill, sponsored by the Hogan administration, promises to bring some relief to the Lower Shore’s home-building sector, which hasn’t fully recovered from the housing market crash nearly a decade ago. It would allow low- and moderate-income rural home buyers to tap into existing Department of Housing and Community Development’s grant programs to offset the cost of installing fire sprinkler systems.

Critics of the 2015 sprinkler requirement say it all but halts affordable housing in its tracks, particularly in rural areas. The systems start at about $6,000 for small homes, experts say. Those on well water may need to add a pump and tank, adding another $3,500 to the bill.

Taken together, the septic tank rule and fire sprinkler mandate have hobbled an already weak home-building market, rural lawmakers say.

MACo has weighed in on these issues, citing similar economic arguments. MACo’s testimony on HB 281, the bill to reinstate the “best available technology” (BAT) septic mandate statewide, says:

This broad-based BAT septic system mandate is not: (1) supported by science; (2) cost-effective; and (3) necessarily the best method to address local water quality and the small amount of nitrogen that BAT systems would allegedly reduce.

Both topics – the septic system mandate outside the defined Critical Area, and the proposals to offset sprinkler mandate costs – remain unresolved before the General Assembly with about six weeks remaining in the session.

MACo Defends Local Autonomy Under State Forest Conservation Act

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified in opposition to legislation (HB 599) that would impose significant and costly new Forest Conservation Act (FCA) mandates on local governments, utilities, and development projects before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 22, 2017. Delegate Anne Healey sponsored the bill.

HB 599 makes three alterations to Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act (FCA). First, the bill increases the minimum reforestation rate from ¼ acre for every acre removed to 1 acre for every acre removed. The bill also limits an existing exemption under the FCA for the clearing of public utility rights of way and land for electric generating stations to areas of 1 acre or less of forest. Finally, the bill authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or a local jurisdiction with a forest conservation program to increase the rates under the fee-in-lieu by 20% for each acre for which money is contributed in lieu of meeting the program’s reforestation or afforestation requirements.

In addition to the significant costs and practical challenges posed by the bill’s requirements, Kinnally responded to the proponent’s contention that the bill was needed to meet Maryland’s “No Net Loss of Forest” policy. From MACo’s testimony:

While the bill poses fiscal challenges to a variety of stakeholders, Maryland appears to be maintaining its tree canopy coverage established under Maryland’s “No Net Loss of Forest” policy established by HB 706 of 2013. According to DNR’s Forest Action Plan 2016-2020, Maryland had a statewide tree canopy cover of almost 50%, exceeding the “No Net Loss” policy of maintaining 40% or more tree canopy cover. This raises the question of why is the bill needed.

Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Choose Clean Water Coalition, Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club,  Maryland Forestry Association, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and the South River Federation testified in support of the bill.

Joining MACo in opposition to the bill was the Maryland Association of Realtors, Maryland Building Industry Association, Maryland Municipal League, and NAIOP-MD.

The cross-file to the bill, SB 365, was heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental  Committee on February 7.

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

MACo Resists Effort to Dictate Local Land Use Policy

MACo Policy and Legal Counsel, Les Knapp, provided written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 532, “Temporary Family Health Care Structures – Permits” before the Senate Finance Committee on February 22, 2017.

SB 532 would require a local legislative body to acknowledge a temporary family health care structure as a permitted accessory use in areas with single-family detached dwellings if the structure is used by a family member for the care of a related mentally or physically impaired individual. The legislative body may not require a caregiver to obtain a special use permit for the structure or impose any zoning law on the structure (subject to certain exceptions). The bill also defines the size, design, and requirements the structure must meet and limits a local government to charging a $100 application fee and a $50 annual renewal fee. Finally, the bill exempts the services provided by the caregiver from being included as an “assisted living program” under the Health – General Article.

From MACo testimony:

The care of a physically or mentally impaired relative affects many families and counties will typically work with an individual who is in such unfortunate circumstances. However, the bill imposes a “one size fits all” solution and usurps local land use control rather than acknowledge that a variety of approaches exist.

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