Washington Report from Annapolis Vol. 4, #2

February 2, 2014

Greetings from Annapolis!

We are nearly 4 weeks into the 434th Legislative Session and we are off and running, as there have been 1,588 bills filed so far by members of the House and Senate and tens of thousands of visitors lobbying and testifying. On Thursday, January 23rd, Governor Martin O’Malley delivered his final State of the State Address, and my first hearing of the session was held on Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee on the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act (HB 27). I thank all of you who testified and sent letters of support to the committee and your legislators. A very good summary of the hearing was reported in the Washington Post and Daily Record.

While I feel good about all the ways we are moving forward, I am equally distressed that for too many of the days since the beginning of this session, we have seen senseless gun violence take the lives of Marylanders. We witnessed a gruesome and scary shooting at The Mall in Columbia that shook us all. My condolences go out to the victims’ families and to all families affected by this and other acts of violence. Although Maryland has passed one of the strictest gun laws in the nation, shootings are still occurring all-too-often in the Baltimore region. I join with you and with others to continue to develop solutions to end this epidemic. Often we attempt to make sense of the increase in pace and public nature of these tragedies to ourselves and to our children. Like many of you, I find it difficult to know what to say. After the Columbia Mall incident, Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Renee Foose sent all the HCPSS parents this letter. I thought it might help those looking for ways to discuss acts of violence with their children and others who feel increasingly vulnerable.

WHAT’S NEXT

During this legislative session, my colleagues and I are faced with the challenge of balancing the budget and reducing the state’s deficit. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, topics such as raising Maryland’s minimum wage from $7.25 to possibly $11.50 an hour and expanding the pre-kindergarten program so that more four-year-old children can receive pre-school education are just a few of the issues I will be tackling in Committee.

YOUR ISSUES, MY THINKING

Since the start of the session, I have received hundreds of letters, phone calls and emails regarding about 20 issues or proposed and filed legislation. As always, I appreciate you taking time to express your opinions, provide me with information and suggest remedies. I love to stay connected to my constituents so please continue to keep me informed.

Below is a list of the top five topics constituents have raised, with some background and a summary of my thinking, and where you can find more information about the subject. I will provide periodic updates on these throughout the session.

Civil Actions-Personal Injury or Death Caused by Dog-Rebuttable Presumption (HB73)

Background:

In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in Tracey v Solesky that both owners, as well as some third parties (most often, landlords), are responsible for the actions of their dogs. Specifically, the Court found that pit bulls are an inherently dangerous breed. As a result, many landlords prevent tenants from having pit bills in their properties, and there is no way for owners of this breed to defend themselves in liability cases because there is a presumption of guilt. Maryland is not a strict liability state; it applies a general negligence standard. You may have heard it called ”one free bite.” Yet, in Tracey, the court basically changed the proof needed to show that an owner knew their dog is dangerous. Now, if a person knows that they own a “pit bull” (or any dog that is part “pit bull”), this is a sufficient heads-up, according to the court ruling, that their dog is “inherently” dangerous, and they can be held responsible at the first bite. HB73 removes the 3rd party liability and would make dog owners responsible for personal injuries and/or death caused by their dogs. It also allows dog owners the right to defend the behavior of their pet without the automatic presumption of guilt. My understanding is that the goal of HB73 is to revert back to a general negligence standard in liability cases.

My Thinking:

There will be several bills on this issue during the 2014 session. From my perspective, there’s nothing inherently wrong with strict liability. It holds dog owners legally responsible for their dogs’ behavior, which is what we want. However, I would also consider it fair to pass a law that would prohibit the courts from treating people differently in such cases. Neither bite victims nor dog owners should be held to disparate legal standards based on something as superficial as the appearance of the dog involved.

I believe that responsible dog owners should have the privilege to own any dog breed of their choice. It is important that safety precautions are established and that dog owners have the opportunity to defend their position without prejudice. I will support legislation that will implement laws that are fair and will protect the rights of all.

For detailed discussion of this ruling check out The Humane Society’s website.

Stop the Incinerator
*2014 Legislation Title and Bill Number Pending*

Background:

Many of my constituents are concerned about the construction of what would be the largest trash-burning incinerator in the US, being built less than a mile away from several schools in South Baltimore. An incinerator uses heat to convert waste material into ash and syngas — the latter composed mainly of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Those facilities then either burn the syngas in turbines to produce electricity or convert it to ethanol with the aid of a catalyst. Many Marylanders believe that the use of incinerators are a poor alternative to other waste disposal methods and contribute to smog and air pollution. Baltimore City residents and school children have protested this project and are calling for a halt in its construction because of both environmental health and environmental justice issues.

My Thinking:

In 2011, I voted against a bill (which ultimately passed) that allowed tax incentives for the development of renewable energy (like solar and wind generators) to include incinerators. Supporters of that bill argued that landfill sites are no longer a sustainable solution and that dumping waste into landfills generates high levels of harmful methane gas into the atmosphere. Therefore, they claim that large capacity incinerators like that proposed in Curtis Bay will offer an immediate and sustainable centralized waste management solution while producing energy. I disagreed then and I disagree now. If built as planned, this incinerator would produce more pollutants per hour of energy produced than the largest coal plants in Maryland. Alternative and renewable sources of energy are important, but waste-to-energy incinerators of this type are not actually “green” but rather dressed up as green.

Read more about the public health concerns and the shortsightedness of this approach to waste management and energy generation in the Environmental Integrity Project’s report I strongly believe that every Marylander deserves to live in a healthy environment void of chemicals that harm the air they breathe. I will support legislation that encourages proper waste disposal methods that limit that amount of pollutants that are released in the air and on land.

The Poultry Fair Share Act
*2014 Legislation Title and Bill Number Pending*

Background:

The Poultry Fair Share Act was established to make Maryland poultry companies responsible for the waste they created in the Chesapeake Bay. It is rumored that once the bill is formally drafted, it would require poultry companies to pay a tax for each chicken the company owns and those funds would contribute to clean up efforts of the Chesapeake Bay. Tests have discovered that dangerous chemicals and waste from the poultry companies have enormously negatively impacted the bay and our water supply.

My Thinking:

I believe Maryland businesses should exercise ethical business practices and operate in ways that do not pollute our natural resources; more importantly, I believe businesses should also be liable for their business practices and operations. I will support any legislation that would protect the Chesapeake Bay from waste and pollution and the rights of Marylanders who are adversely affected by companies’ business practices.

Prevent Speed Camera Abuse
*2014 Legislation Title and Bill Number Pending*

Background:

Especially over the last two weeks, the media and public attention has been focused on the issue of vendor audits and proper calibration of Automated Speed Enforcement Cameras. Many local jurisdictions sought permission to establish their own programs and the state legislature provided authorization for them to do so. Known as “speed cameras,” these devices promote safety and detect speeding violations in residential areas, school zones and highways. Through the assistance of “speed cameras,” law enforcement can prevent fatal accidents and automatically issue tickets to reckless motorists. Unfortunately, many Maryland motorists believe that “speed cameras” are used to generate revenue for local jurisdictions and are abusing the system that was created to encourage safe responsible driving and to save lives.

My Thinking:

Properly deployed, speed or photo radar cameras reduce speeding and can reduce fatalities and property damage. In the wake of the revelations of systematic errors, poorly implemented automated speed enforcement (ASE) programs can easily undermine public support. I will support legislation that meaningfully reforms and establishes a statewide standard for local ASE camera programs. I do not support total repeal of the state’s speed camera law.

Protect the Chesapeake Bay from Polluted Run-Off
*2014 Legislation Title and Bill Number Pending*

Background:

The Watershed Protection and Restoration Program was created in 2012 to prevent storm water runoff and reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous levels from entering the Chesapeake Bay. The program required the ten largest counties responsible for the most storm water runoff to design a fund that would be used to improve their existing storm water management programs. Many of you have expressed concern that the fee structure lacks proper incentives for conservation measures, or that the fee is simply too high.

My Thinking:

It is critical that we prevent pollutants such as chemicals and waste from invading our water supply and entering the Inner Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. I believe many of Maryland’s current storm water management programs are mostly outdated and must be improved. In addition, Maryland is under federal consent decree to decrease our pollution outflow in all of our waterways. I expect to see many bills on this issue, from total repeal of the Program, to the setting of minimum standards, fees, and incentives. I will not support a repeal of the Program, but I would consider modifications that encourage fair practice across jurisdictions and incentivize increased use of conservation measures.

For more information:

http://www.chesapeakebay.net/takeaction/howtotips/category/322
http://www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/issues/polluted-runoff

SURVIVNG THE WEATHER

During these periods of severe cold weather, it is important to me that I provide resources and tools that can assist you, your family and friends. Maryland is still expected to receive additional snow and freezing temperatures this season, especially since our good friend Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) declared today there would be six more weeks of winter. Below are links to agencies with information and tips on how to prepare for winter storms and bitter wintry weather.

 

Community and Personal Preparedness:

http://preparedness.dhmh.maryland.gov/SitePages/Community%20And%20Personal%20Preparedness.aspx

Pet Preparedness:

http://www.ready.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/pets_brochure.pdf

Driving Tips in Extreme Cold Weather: http://preparedness.dhmh.maryland.gov/Documents/Fact%20SheetColdWeatherDrivingTips.pdf

IN OTHER NEWS

Please join the 43rd District Team: Senator Joan Carter Conway, Delegates Curt Anderson, Maggie McIntosh and I as the Senator hosts the 43rd District Legislative Night in Annapolis. The event will be held Wednesday, February 12th from 5:00 – 7:30 PM in the Miller Senate Building, President Conference Room 2 West. Transportation will be provided and is available by reservation on a first-come, first-served basis. Buses are scheduled to leave Morgan State University’s Murphy Fine Arts Building at 4:00PM promptly and free parking is available in the lot behind the Murphy Fine Arts Building. Seats are filling quickly so if you are interested in riding on the bus, please email me at mary.washington@house.state.md.us as soon as possible to reserve a seat.

KEEP IN TOUCH

We will continue to do our best in providing a weekly update via email, and you can follow my daily activities and breaking news by liking my Facebook fan page facebook.com/delmarywashington43 or via twitter @delmaryw.

As always, I encourage you to contact me with the issues that matter to you at mary.washington@house.state.md.us or call my Annapolis office at 410 841 3476.

In partnership,

Delegate Mary Washington
www.electmarywashington.com