Monday, March 18, 2013

Farm Bureau offers info on registering farm vehicles

Via the Equiery -

Maryland Farm Bureau Trucking Forums:

If you have questions about how to register your farm truck, how inspections are conducted, what rules to follow when hauling products to market or moving machinery, this is the forum for you.  Please join us for refreshments, discussion & valuable Q&A.

North East Farm Trucking Forum - Tuesday, March 19th from 9am - 12:30pm
Level Fire Hall (Harford County)
3633 Level Village Road, Havre de Grace, MD  21078        
Contact:  Laura Ruhlman,

Central Maryland Trucking Forum - Wednesday, March 27th from 9am - 12:30pm
Howard County Fairgrounds
2210 Fairground Road, West Friendship, MD  21794        
Contact:  Laura Ruhlman,

Southern Maryland Trucking Forum - Thursday, March 28th from 9am - 12:30pm
Calvert County Fairgrounds
140 Calvert Drive, Barstow, MD  20610                                  
Contact:  Mike Amoss,

Monday, March 4, 2013

MHC urges legislature to preserve the Contributory Negligence liability standard in lawsuits

Here is what MHC told the House Judiciary Committee about HB 1182, which would establish a commission to study how fault should be allocated between plaintiffs and defendants in negligence cases. (MHC has also supported SB 819 and HB 1156, which would re-instate the Contributory Negligence standard, in the event the courts overturn it.)

Dear Chairman Vallario and members of the House Judiciary Committee:

I am the Vice President of the Maryland Horse Council (MHC).  MHC is comprised of over 30 equestrian organizations in the state of Maryland, representing every interest from racing to breeding to sport and pleasure horses, as well as equine related businesses, farms, charities and foundations, and individual enthusiasts - in other words, MHC is the voice of the over 65,000 members of Maryland’s equestrian community.

Equestrian activity contributes over 28,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in annual impact to the Maryland economy. In addition, Maryland’s equine operations are very important contributors to the preservation of our agricultural heritage and green space, occupying 587,000 acres in the state.

I write to support the passage of HB 1182, establishing a Commission to Study Maryland's Fault Allocation System, which is scheduled for a hearing before you this week.

A reasoned, workable system of fault allocation that takes into account the realities of small business operations is critical to the survival of these businesses. Generations of Maryland small business owners have relied on the Contributory Negligence standard to provide them with predictability and the assurance that they can conduct their operations without fear of being targeted by those who feel no responsibility for their own recklessness or disregard for safety rules, and see business and service providers as “deep pocket” insurers of their safety and well-being.  Among other things, the existence of this standard has enabled these small businesses to develop viable business plans, including essential commercial liability insurance coverage. Any change to the current system should not be undertaken without thorough consideration of all the possible impacts on all those affected.

Equine operators in Maryland already have some difficulty obtaining liability insurance at affordable rates, but it is generally acknowledged that it is largely the continued existence of the Contributory Negligence standard in Maryland that makes insurance accessible at all.  A change in the fault allocation standard could cause the incidence of lawsuits having little or no merit to skyrocket.  And according to our members, the mere filing of a lawsuit, regardless of merit, can result in the denial of insurance coverage, or renewal offers at prohibitively high rates.  Many equine operators would not be able to continue in business without adequate liability insurance coverage.

In addition, the continued applicability of the Contributory Negligence standard in Maryland has obviated the need for an Equine Limited Liability Law, which the legislatures of 44 states, most of whom apply other fault allocation systems, have found necessary to ensure the continued survival of equine operations in their jurisdictions in the face of the proliferation of meritless claims.

Given the important and widespread public policy impacts of the fault allocation system on the viability and day to day operations of members of our industry and others, MHC believes that the appropriate standard should be decided by the legislature, not the courts. HB1182 would establish a mechanism to allow a reasoned study of the issue.

We strongly urge you to support HB1182.  We stand ready to provide you with whatever additional information you may require.

Jane Seigler
Vice President
Maryland Horse Council

MHC comments on dog/cat spay neuter fund

Here are the comments submitted by MHC on SB 820/HB 767, the bill that creates a spay neuter fund for dogs and cats, partially funded by an assessment on all commercial feed. Similar comments were submitted to the House Committee that considered the bill.

Dear Chairwoman Carter Conway and other members of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee:

I am the Vice President of the Maryland Horse Council (MHC), which is the umbrella organization for all of Maryland's equine businesses, farms, associations and enthusiasts. Collectively, MHC represents the interests of over 30,000 Marylanders.

I write regarding SB820, which will be heard by your Committee on Tuesday, March 5. This legislation would authorize the creation of a fund to support a voucher program and other programs that facilitate and promote spay and neutering programs for cats and dogs in Maryland. Monies for the fund would be raised by a $100 registered commercial feed surcharge created by the bill as well as funds allocated from the state budget.

MHC applauds and supports the intent of this legislation, however, we object to assessing the $100 surcharge on equine feeds. Distributors of equine feeds already are assessed a fee of $6 per ton under Agriculture Section 6-107.2. Assessments collected under this section are used "for education, research, and promotional materials and activities intended to benefit the Maryland equine industry" under the auspices of the Maryland Horse Industry Board within the Department of Agriculture. MHC believes that assessing this additional surcharge on distributors of commercial equine feed, for uses that have nothing to do with equines, is unfair and unduly burdensome.

We support an amendment to clarify that the feed surcharge is only assessed on cat and dog food, and not on other commercial feed products.

Jane Seigler

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mid-session Legislative report

We are at about the mid-way point in the Annapolis legislative session. After Monday, March 4, any new bills will require a Suspension of the Rules. So, for the most part, what we have seen so far is what we get. To date, 1045 bills have been introduced in the Senate, 1504 in the House. Most will not become law. 

Following is a summary of some bills that have caught our eye. You can get up-to-date information of the status of any of these bills as they move through the legislative process by clicking here and entering the bill number in the Find Legislation box in the top bar.

Of particular interest:
SB819/HB1156 These bills would codify Maryland’s current contributory negligence liability standard, ensuring that the contributing fault of an injured party can be asserted as a defense in a lawsuit. The law would only go into effect in the event that a pending court decision strikes down the current standard (which is generally favorable to horse owners and horse business operators). The House hearing is 3/6; Senate is 3/19.
HB1182 This bill freezes the current law, and creates a commission, largely composed of legislators, to study it. Hearing 3/6. 
MHC supports these bills.

SB37/HB865 These bills authorize a court to order a defendant convicted of a specified charge of animal cruelty, as a condition of sentencing, to pay, in addition to any other fines and costs, all reasonable costs incurred in removing, housing, treating, or euthanizing an animal confiscated from the defendant. Favorable report from Senate; House hearing 3/14. MHC supports these bills.

SB 820/HB767 These bills create a state fund to support programs to spay/neuter dogs and cats. The bills provide that the fund will be partially supported by a surcharge on “commercial feeds.” MHC has requested an amendment that the surcharge be applied only on dog and cat feeds, as horse feeds are already subjected to a fee that supports the MD Horse Industry Board. House hearing was 2/21; Senate 3/5.

HB 1440 This bill makes clear that “compost” is not part of the solid waste stream, and authorizes the Department of the Environment to draft regulations governing compost facilities. MHC is exploring possible future programs that would facilitate composting of horse manure, and is working to ensure input into the MDE drafting process.

SB 1029 This bill creates a volunteer program within the Department of Agriculture, administered in cooperation with the Department of Environment, to recognize the environmental stewardship and contribution of Maryland farmers who implement and maintain best management practices consistent with the state’s goals of reducing the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the Chesapeake Bay and other waters of the state. This bill essentially codifies, formalizes and makes somewhat more stringent the current Farm Stewardship Certification and Assessment Program (FSCAP), currently operated by the MD Association of Soil Conservation Districts. MHC’s Farm Stewardship Committee has been working to include more horse farms in the FSCAP program. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Hunting bills. MHC has consistently opposed allowing weapons hunting on Sundays on public or private lands, as this creates an unacceptable risk for other users.
SB 2/HB66 Dorchester County, turkey hunting, Sundays on public land. Hearing in house was 2/13.
SB24/HB214 Queen Anne’s, deer hunting, Sundays on private lands. Hearing in Senate was 1/23; House 2/13.
HB 543 Carroll, deer hunting, Sundays on private lands. Hearing was 2/27.
HB365, HB366, HB671 Bills to reduce bow hunting buffer zones. Hearings 2/20.
MHC has consistently opposed extending hunting to Sundays on public or private land.

Racing bills
SB858 Ejections from race tracks - appeals. Hearing 3/14
SB 961 This bill will help determine the future of the Bowie Race Course Training Center. Hearing 3/14
HB1503 This bill increases to $150,000 the amount of the annual grant from the Purse Dedicated Fund to Fair Hill.

Other bills of interest
HB 1282 This bill establishes an Agricultural Land Condemnation Board to hold public meetings to consider proposed State and local condemnations of prime and productive farmland for “environmental mitigation purposes” and to issue written decisions on whether to approve proposed condemnations. Hearing was 3/1.

SB427/HB796 These bills allow a credit against the State income tax for the diminution in value of specified agricultural land resulting from enactment of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 and adoption of specified regulations related to nutrient management. Hearing 2/20 in Senate; 3/8 in House.

HB378 This bill authorizes the Comptroller, subject to approval from the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF), to use agricultural land preservation funds to reimburse a landowner for the release of a specified easement restriction when a lot is not used to construct a dwelling house. Passed in House.

SB 970 This bill creates a cause of action under specified circumstances for an owner of property to use against the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Natural Resources, or the Department of Planning if the application of specified regulations adopted by any of these agencies infringes on a private property right of the property owner. Hearing 3/19.

SB 364 This bill requires the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service to provide a dedicated extension agent to assist individuals with the adoption of management-intensive farming and grazing practices, and requires the Governor to provide at least $500,000 each year to support the Department of Agriculture's activities related to management-intensive farming and grazing, beginning in fiscal year 2015. Hearing was 2/12. The cross-filed bill (HB400) received an unfavorable committee report and was withdrawn.

SB 404/HB408 These bills provide a subtraction modification under the Maryland individual and corporate income tax for specified expenses incurred to buy and install enhanced agricultural management equipment (including manure spreaders) under specified circumstances. House hearing was 2/26.

HB623 This bill provides a statutory definition for the “agricultural land management practices” that are exempt from certain sediment and erosion control requirements, including “those methods and procedures used in the preparation and cultivation of land in order to further crop and livestock production . . ..” The hearing was 2/27.

SB796/HB1091 These bills require, on written request of a landowner in an application to purchase an easement, an easement to authorize the landowner to use the land subject to the easement for renewable energy generation under specified circumstances. House hearing was 3/1; Senate hearing 3/5.