From the office of Del. Mary-Dulany James:
The 2011 Session ended three Mondays ago in a flurry of action that I wanted to update you on. I also wanted to let you know of some of this year’s highlights, and some issues that are ongoing. This was a challenging session, perhaps the most difficult of my years here in Annapolis. The fiscal crisis left our State budget with a deficit that required the kinds of hard choices that I am honored you have entrusted me to represent you on. In the end, I think this Session, with the many bills that passed, moves us in the direction that will get us out of the recession stronger and more ready for the new economy.
Supporting Aging In Place
One of the issues that I am deeply involved in is aging in place. Our senior citizens have made clear that they prefer to live where they are as long as possible while comfortable and with access to health care. Aging in place is a priority of the State Department on Aging, and one that I believe in. I worked with Senator Middleton and Delegate Hubbard to sponsor the Maryland Communities for a Lifetime act, a bill that would establish a program within the Department of Aging to certify communities as Communities for a Lifetime, a program with the State that would support aging in place. This bill passed, and I am proud to say is going to become a part of how we support senior citizens who want to live independently as long as possible.
Supporting Higher Education
I previously reported that I was working with Delegate Rudolph on a task force for the Northeastern Maryland Higher Education and Applied Technology Center. I am pleased to report that this bill passed both the House and Senate, and is set to be signed by the Governor. This task force would explore developing a regional higher education technology center that would provide upper division undergraduate and graduate programs to meet the needs of Northeastern Maryland, particularly Harford and Cecil Counties. Such a regional college and graduate school will be a tremendous asset to our citizens. Our young people will be able to get the very best education without having to leave home. With new economy jobs in medicine, bio-technology, and applied technology, and with the new jobs coming from BRAC, Delegate Rudolph and I are committed to helping our young people and those that want or need to change careers to fill these jobs first.
Helping Small Businesses
This year’s budget preserves funding for business loan and loan guaranty programs that help small businesses by providing them with the cash they need to make payrolls and pay bills, and encouraging new development. These programs include the Small Business Development Financing Authority that promotes businesses owned by economically and socially disadvantaged entrepreneurs, and businesses too small to get good financing from normal channels. Another program is the Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority that encourages private sector financing for economic development projects in Priority Funding Areas. Last year, the State Department of Business and Environmental Development financing programs created and retained 10,000 jobs in Maryland. To learn more about these programs please visit: http://www.choosemaryland.org/.
Keeping Drunk Drivers off the Road
Legislation passed to expand the use of the Ignition Interlock Program in Maryland to punish drunk drivers with a high blood alcohol content (.15), all repeat offenders and anyone who refuses a breathalyzer test. Anyone under the age of 21 who has any blood alcohol content is automatically enrolled in the Ignition Interlock Program under the bill. About 1.4 million drivers are arrested nationwide for alcohol impairment annually. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia authorize or mandate the use of an ignition interlock system to deter alcohol-impaired driving.
Electricity Reliability and Afford-ability
In February I wrote about widespread power outages that were plaguing our utilities. In response to growing concern about electricity reliability, the Economic Matters Committee passed legislation to ensure electricity reliability, while not passing the cost onto consumers. The emergency legislation directs the Public Service Commission (PSC) to set a goal that each electric company establish reliability standards for the major utility companies in the State, and take appropriate corrective action against companies that fail to meet these standards, including civil penalties of up to $25,000.
As well, during this session the General Assembly defeated an effort by the Governor that would have expedited the effort to develop a large offshore wind farm off the coast of Ocean City because it would have increased energy costs for consumers. The cost was too high for everyone paying bills, and we made sure that it was not passed.
Direct Shipment of Wine
Legislation this year allows the direct shipment of wine from wineries around the country to Maryland consumers. Because of concern expressed by local retailers and small businesses, out-of-state retailers are not permitted to ship wine directly to Maryland consumers. Maryland joins 37 states and the District of Columbia in permitting out of state wineries to ship into Maryland.
Protecting the Environment
Maryland joins Virginia to curb the pollution flowing into the Bay from lawn fertilizers. We also tightened penalties for illegally poaching rockfish from Maryland waters. We funded $267 million for environmental projects, including nutrient removal technologies at the State’s 67 largest wastewater treatment plants.
On one of the final days of session I was honored to host Mr. Albert Snyder on the floor of the House (please see the picture of me with Mr. Snyder, Speaker Busch, and Delegate Minnick on the House floor). Mr. Snyder lost his son, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, in 2006 in Iraq. Extremist church members protested at Matthew’s funeral, as they are doing in an increasing amount. Mr. Snyder and others’ suffering prompted me in 2006 to sponsor the Funeral Protection act that prohibited protesting within 100 feet of a memorial service, and prohibited obstructing guests from attending such services. I worked with Senator Gladden during this session, along with Mr. Snyder, to gain the consensus of the House of Delegates to extend the protection distance from 100 feet to 500 feet. This gives those in mourning a little more room, and I think is well within reason. The 141-0 unanimous vote in favor of this bill honors Matthew and his father, and all those who wish to grieve in peace, and I was proud to be a part of it.
Supporting the Construction Industry
I have reported about my efforts to pass meaningful fast tracking legislation that would mean an expedited permitting process for new development projects. The construction industry was one of the hardest hit during the recession, and members of the community reached out to me. They made clear that they were being held back by a state permitting process that can take up to two years to get through. As such, I worked with other like-minded pro-business legislators on a bill to mandate that the State Highway Administration and the Department of the Environment develop and implement processes to expedite the approval of State permits while not compromising the integrity of the process. While that bill did not get passed during this session, we put language into the budget to move this approach forward, and we worked extensively with the Governor’s office to get an effective Executive Order that will be a major first step toward these ends. We are very close to getting that Order, and I will let you know when there is more progress.
During this session, the Governor proposed a ban on new septic systems in most large new developments. Several other lawmakers and I who represent rural districts took issue with his plan because we felt it would un-fairly harm the construction and building industries in our regions, and if not implemented carefully might have caused a decline in property values. The strength of our argument convinced the House of Delegates to instead study the matter, leaving it off the table for the year. It looks like this may come up again, but be more specific that new septic systems installed must be of a state of the art kind that pose far less risk to the environment.
Thank you for keeping up to date with what is going on in state government by reading these updates. I will keep updating you during the interim about things I am doing. My Annapolis office is being renovated over the coming months, but my staff will still be available to respond to any questions or provide any service you might need. Please continue to contact me at Mary.Dulany.James@house.state.md.us or 410-841-3331.