Maggie’s Legislative Update for April 16, 2009

Posted by quinn on April 16, 2009  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for April 16, 2009

Friends,

As usual, the Maryland General Assembly’s legislative session stretched right up until the final moments of Sine Die, when the strike of midnight obliged us to call it a day and tally our wins and losses.

One of the most significant issues of the session was addressed in the eleventh-hour compromise that allowed Maryland to pass a law bringing us into compliance with the federal Real ID guidelines. House Bill 387 originally prohibited the granting of a driver’s license to someone who could not prove “lawful presence” in the state. A number of you contacted me to convey your opposition to such a provision because many U.S. citizens, specifically the poor and elderly, do not have documents to meet such a requirement. Additionally, many of you cited safety concerns regarding the increased number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers it will put on the road. In response, we in the House were able to amend the bill in order to formulate two different sets of license requirements, one which required proof of lawful presence and enabled one to acquire a fully federally compliant license (one that could be used for federal purposes such as boarding an airplane), and one which did not require such proof and which would be labeled “not federally compliant.” When the differences between our bill and the Senate bill that followed HB 387’s original language were ironed out, the result was a system in which licensee’s without proof of lawful presence would be limited to renewing their licenses just once, and all of those licenses would then expire no later than July 1st, 2015. This is, of course, a compromise that makes neither side completely happy, but does manage to resolve the problem of meeting the deadline for federal compliance, and hence keeps our Maryland licenses from becoming useless for federal purposes.

Another late-considered issue this session dealt with Baltimore City’s Pimlico racetrack. The responsibility of considering and moving the late-introduced bill to preserve the Preakness Stakes in Maryland fell to my own Environmental Matters Committee (along with the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee). The General Assembly ultimately passed the measure, giving the State the authorization to acquire by eminent domain the Pimlico and Laurel Park racetracks, the Bowie Race Course Training Center, and the name, copyrights, trademarks, contracts, and horse racing events that are associated with the Preakness Stakes. The Preakness is a long-standing tradition in Maryland and Baltimore City, and I don’t have to tell you how important it is to preserve both that tradition and the economic opportunities that come with it.

Like the Preakness Bill, a number of other very substantial bills came through Environmental Matters. This was a productive, exciting session, and a lot of good work product came out of Annapolis, but I’m particularly proud of what my own Environmental Matters Committee did on behalf of the State. What follows is a run-down of the most notable bill that came through our hearing room.

In the area of Motor Vehicles and Transportation, many of you are aware that we passed House Bill 72, the Delegate John Arnick Electronic Communications Traffic Safety Act, which prohibits a person from using a text messaging device to write or send a text message while operating a motor vehicle, with the exception of contacting 9-1-1. We also passed Senate Bill 277, which as I’ve mentioned in the most recent legislative update, authorizes the use of speed cameras in work and school zones in all counties and municipalities in the State. And because there has been heightened concern regarding the safety of young drivers on the road, House Bill 303 has increased the minimum age at which a provisional driver’s license can be obtained to 16 years and 6 months (also increasing the minimum age for an original driver’s license to 18 years), altered the period after which the holder of a learner’s instructional permit may take their driver’s examinations, and now requires the Motor Vehicle Administration to cancel the driver’s license of a minor if the cosigner on the minor’s application for the license requests it.

In the area of Housing and Real Property, a number of bills were passed dealing with the rules governing Condominium and Homeowners Associations. House Bill 137 – the Home Financial Accountability Act of 2009 – expands the rights of Homeowner Association members and their designated agents to inspect and copy records of the association, and further limits the ability of an association to withhold information it deems private. House Bills 552 and 553 will alter and restrict the circumstances under which boards of directors for homeowner associations and condominiums can hold closed meetings. And House Bill 667 establishes the procedure for the transition of control of a condominium or homeowners association from a developer to its proper governing body.

Lastly in regard to Housing and Real Property, and unrelated to condominiums and homeowners associations, we passed House Bill 776, which will help tenants whose buildings have been foreclosed upon by requiring written notice to all tenants both in preparation for the foreclosure sale, in the direct lead-up to the sale, and after the judgment awarding possession to a new owner.

Bills dealing with the environment, natural resources, and land use were very prominent in this legislative session, and as such, they represent some of the work product for which the Environmental Matters Committee can be most proud.

A trifecta of bills dealing with improving the State’s Smart Growth program were passed. House Bill 294 authorizes local jurisdictions to establish transfer of development rights programs within Priority Funding Areas (PFAs), and to purchase land for public facilities in PFAs. The bill specifies that proceeds from the sale of these development rights must be used for specified land acquisition and facility construction in the PFA, and allows funds to be allocated for projects outside PFAs under certain conditions, such as when the project is required to protect public health or safety. HB 295 establishes annual reporting requirements for local planning commissions to their local legislative bodies, requiring them to provide information regarding measures and indicators of Smart Growth, and state which ordinances or regulations were adopted or changed to implement the State’s planning visions. House Bill 297, as I mentioned in the most recent update, legislatively reverses the Terrapin Run Appeals Court decision so that county comprehensive planning documents can more effectively guide growth and development in the State. It clarifies the idea that local government actions be “consistent with” the comprehensive plans, and requires members of the local jurisdiction’s planning commissions and boards of appeals complete an educational course within six months of being appointed.

We also passed House Bill 315 – the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act – which picks up where the Global Warming Solutions bill of last year’s session left off (a bill that was unfortunately killed in the session’s last hours). Recognizing the damage that global warming phenomena can wreak, particularly in States like Maryland with extensive shorelines, it requires the State to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 2006 levels by 2020, and requires the State to develop and adopt a plan, adopt regulations, and implement programs to meet this goal.

House Bill 609, Chesapeake Bay Phosphorous Reduction Act of 2009, now requires that lawn care fertilizer manufacturers must reduce the amount of phosphoric acid resulting from the application of their products in Maryland by 50% from 2006 levels by the spring of 2011, and further, manufacturers who begin to sell or distribute certain fertilizers on or after April 1, 2010 may not exceed an average of 1.5% phosphoric acid content. After the 2011 deadline, it will also prohibit lawn fertilizers with more than 5% phosphoric acid content from being labeled for use on established lawns. Following similar legislation that has been enacted in Minnesota and Florida, seed starter fertilizer for use on new lawns or turf will be exempted. Addressing the problem of phosphorous in the Chesapeake is vital to the Bay’s health, and this is a great step forward toward more responsible stewardship of our greatest resource.

Another step in that direction was taken in our passage of Senate Bill 554, the Chesapeake Bay Nitrogen Reduction Act of 2009, which as I mentioned in the last legislative update, reduces nitrogen leakage into the Chesapeake Bay by requiring any new septic systems (or upgrades of failing ones) to make use of the best available technology for nitrogen removal. Nitrogen is arguably the most damaging pollutant in our Bay, and with the use of Bay Restoration Funds to help offset the costs of this new technology (especially for low- or middle-income families), we can say that the passage of this bill has managed to address that danger in an effective, responsible manner.

A number of the bills I’ve discussed deal with tweaking or strengthening critical regulations to protect our environment, and one of the most important bills that we passed will help safeguard and guarantee that regulatory process: House Bill 1569, the Standing Bill. This bill will enable associations and individuals to gain standing in State court to challenge the issuance or denial of certain permits and licenses, and particularly to challenge the issuance of a variance for development activity in the buffer of the Critical Areas, which are granted by local Critical Area programs. Previously under Maryland law, associations did not have standing in State court, and had to go to federal court to challenge a permit. This will help ensure that the regulations put in place by the State are enforced, with watchdog groups and individuals making sure that exceptions are granted only with good reason.

Lastly, I want to mention two wins for Baltimore City. One is the passage of Senate Bill 263, which will allow Program Open Space funds to be used for building a variety of indoor recreational projects, such as indoor aquatic centers, community centers, golf course buildings, tennis facilities, and nature centers. This had been the case previously, but because of recent questions about whether such projects met the legal requirements for the use of Program Open Space funds, this bill was necessary to keep POS money available. Without the passage of this bill, many worthwhile facilities in urban areas like Baltimore City would have been disqualified from consideration. And speaking of indoor aquatic centers, I’m proud to say that the General Assembly amended into the capital budget $125,000 for the renovation of the 43rd District’s League for People with Disabilities swimming pool, a great facility in our community.

It has been a productive session, and I was glad to hear from so many of you about the issues and legislation that concerned you. I hope to see you and speak with you during the interim, and wish you well in the months to come.

Maggie