We are in the fifth week of the session and introduction deadlines are upon us. House Bills introduced after Friday February 11 will be referred to the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. This is not necessarily a blockade to passage, but it is a hurdle that timely bills avoid.
To date, 658 bills have been introduced in the House and 822 in the Senate.
As many of you know, Sunday February 6th marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of our 40th President, Ronald Reagan. The House of Delegates recognized this momentous occasion on February 7th with the presentation of a House Resolution commemorating the milestone. The Resolution was presented to Katja Bullock, who served as Special Assistant to the President not only in the Reagan White House but also in the Bush 42, Clinton, and Bush 43 White Houses. Mrs. Bullock is a resident of Montgomery County and we were proud to have her join us to celebrate such a momentous occasion.
Governor Eliminates Rate Payer Relief
Governor O’Malley has spent a great deal of time painting himself as a crusader against the high costs of utilities. If this were really the case, then why would the Governor eliminate the rate payer relief that was a part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and instead use it to prop up the budget for the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA)?
The Governor’s Budget Financing and Reconciliation Act (BRFA) contains the legislative contingencies for the budget plan he proposed. Historically, this bill has been limited to the changes in statutory formulas. However, over the course of the O’Malley Administration the BRFA has been used to make sweeping policy changes outside the scope of the policy committees in the General Assembly. One of these rather onerous policy changes is division of RGGI monies.
When RGGI was passed several years ago, one of the largest points of contention was how the monies from the auctions were to be allocated. After intense rounds of negotiations within the Economic Matters Committee, a consensus was found and the monies were allocated to energy assistance, residential rate relief, energy efficiency and conservation, renewable and clean energy programs, and to administrative expenses at the MEA. The BRFA reallocates the RGGI money, eliminating the ratepayer relief altogether and increasing MEA’s allocation by 185%.
Same Sex Marriage
One of the major issues this session is same-sex marriage. Senate Bill 116, introduced last month, seeks to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. The current law states that “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State.” Senate Bill 116 would alter that language to read “Only a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this state.” This same bill has been introduced in previous years, but has failed to pass.
There have been bills introduced before in Maryland seeking to recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. Senate Bill 116 goes further, seeking to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions, not just to recognize them as civil unions. Last year Attorney General Douglas Gansler announced that the state of Maryland will recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions that take place in other states.
On February 2, the House Republican Caucus voted to take a formal position on the issue of same sex marriage and released the following statement:
“The Maryland House Republican Caucus announced the caucus’ formal position supporting Maryland’s existing marriage law. Current law states that only a marriage between one man and one woman is valid in the state of Maryland.”
Senate Bill 116 was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday. An identical bill, House Bill 175 has been introduced in the House of Delegates but has not yet been assigned a hearing date.
Proposed Septic Systems Ban
During Governor Martin O’Malley’s State of the State address on Wednesday there was an unexpected mention of legislation that would move to ban any new installation of septic systems in the state of Maryland. This attack on septic systems comes from his administration declaring that septic systems are one of the top four sources of Bay pollution. Governor O’Malley said in his speech that septic systems “by their very design are intend[ed] to leak sewage ultimately into our Bay and into our water tables.” While malfunctioning septic tanks can leak sewage, septic systems are not designed to leak, as the Governor stated. This illustrates the O’Malley Administration’s lack of factual information when it comes to these systems.
In response to the Governor’s announcement House Minority Whip Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio pointed out that Maryland already is requiring people who live within a certain distance of the bay to update their septic systems. The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund was created in part to help homeowners pay for these septic upgrades. It should be noted that the Governor has raided the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund repeatedly over the last two years.
The Governor’s proposal has not yet been introduced but, the debate is already starting to heat up. This proposal overall would hurt rural areas, commercial development, and the septic system service industry. The House Republican Caucus is committed to keeping you updated on this issue as the Session continues.