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.