From the office of Sen. J.B. Jennings:
Week five in Annapolis had Governor’s most controversial bill take center stage. Senate Bill 281 had its hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. This hearing brought thousands of people to Annapolis to testify. According to some published reports it was 1,000 people. Other reports had it close to 4,000. Regardless of the exact number, there were so many people that entry to the Senate office building was closed due to the buildings capacity hitting the limit imposed by the Fire Marshall. Even though it was clear that the citizens of Maryland felt strongly about voicing their opinions to those making decisions in Annapolis, the Chairman of the committee decided to limit the amount of testimony on each side to only 4 hours.
This is an extremely controversial bill and there were thousands of people who took the day off of work, drove hours to testify and waited all day for the chance to voice their opinion. Other contentious bills, such as the Marriage Equality bill, have had hearings go late into the night. Testimony on this bill ended just after 9pm with hundreds still left to testify. The Chairman did allow those left to quickly state their name and their support or opposition to the legislation. That decision to limit testimony was further argued the following day on the Senate floor. Currently we have a rule change pending to assure this problem never happens again.
Another hot topic last week was the vote on SB 8 which deals with replacing the aging natural gas lines in the State. There are over 2000 miles of cast iron gas lines running underground all over our state delivering natural gas to both residential and commercial users. This cast iron pipe was installed over 50 years ago. It has become brittle and is constantly breaking. We are facing a major infrastructure collapse. There is seldom a week that goes by that the news doesn’t report a water or sewer line rupture. There are waterlines in Baltimore City that are over 100 years old and made of wood that are still in use today. When the water line breaks it causes an inconvenience, when the sewer line breaks it causes 1000 of gallons of raw sewage to find its way to and pollute the Chesapeake Bay. And when the gas line ruptures it causes an explosion. The vote on this bill was not an easy one to take because of the cost associated with a project of this size. The simplest thing to do is vote “no” on any controversial bill. However, I wasn’t elected to do take the easy way out on the tough issues. Instead, I am there to do what I believe is right to make our community, our county and our state a better place to live. This bill, although unpopular, is one that makes our state safer. This bill is working to fix a problem and threat. It pushes Washington Gas and BGE to work with the Public Service Commission to begin replacing the corroded, brittle cast iron pipes with the newest Polypropylene piping. Unfortunately this project is not cheap. This bill allows the public service commission to allow these gas companies to tack on a service charge of up to $2 per gas customer. This surcharge will only be on those that have gas service only. I know this not a popular vote and may disappoint some, however, this is an issue that needs to be addressed and we cannot wait any longer.
Another controversial bill that we debated and voted on in the Senate was SB 74 Vessels – Operating while Under the Influence of Impaired by Alcohol or Drugs. This bill is a correction from legislation that was passed several years ago that exempted rafting and tubing from the law governing the operation of vessels while under the influence of, or impaired by alcohol. The legislation that passed in 2010 inadvertently exempted non-motorized sailboat operators from being held liable if they were intoxicated. The debate on this bill went on for almost an hour. In the end, the bill passed and I voted for it. I understand why the original tubing and rafting bill was passed, however, I believe sailboats are a different issue. I believe that someone who can operate a vessel the size of the Pride of Baltimore that can navigate into the shipping channels should be responsible for doing so safely and without impairment.
The final bill I want to highlight this week came before the Education, Health and Environmental Committee. The Governor himself came to testify on this legislation that he sponsored. SB 273 Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013 which will help facilitate licensing for active military, veterans and their spouses through the expedited issuance of licenses. Many of these veterans have military training and education or certifications in other states that qualify them for the Maryland licensure. However, due to bureaucratic red tape, these individuals have had to wait months to receive the license or been forced to take unnecessary classes to qualify. I thank the Governor for putting this legislation together and look forward to working with him and his cabinet to help our veterans.
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me should you have any concerns.
Senator J.B. Jennings