During an action-packed 90-day session that ended April 8, the Maryland legislature passed more stringent gun-control legislation and a gas-tax hike, repealed the death penalty, established offshore wind power, and liberalized marijuana laws to broaden lawful access through the health care system. These hallmark reforms were widely covered by the media. City Paper covered some lesser-known proposals ("Just a Bill?" Mobtown Beat, March 20). Here's what became of them.
Environment House Bill 561/Senate Bill 748: Fertilizer. When the General Assembly in 2011 passed the Fertilizer Use Act, which aims to reduce the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus entering and polluting the Chesapeake Bay, it prohibited the application of fertilizer within 15 feet of the "waters of the state," which includes the 100-year floodplain. According to Elaine Lutz, staff attorney at Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 54 percent of the Eastern Shore is within the 100-year floodplain, so the act inadvertently banned fertilizer use in most of Maryland's portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. Lutz calls the bill "a correction," preserving restrictions on fertilizer use near the waters of the state but allowing it in the 100-year floodplain. According to legislative documents, the main beneficiaries of the bill, which passed the legislature and awaits the governor's signature, are golf courses and lawn-care businesses.
Senate Bill 302: Sewage Overflows. This effort to crack down on sewage-overflow violators by doubling the penalties they have to pay was gutted by an amendment that struck the penalty increases. What passed and awaits the governor's signature is a bill that simply requires the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to publish each year's total amount of sewage released and fines paid around Maryland. Most violators are local governments, which are likely breathing a sigh of relief to not have to fork over more money whenever they spill sewage-a regular occurrence, with 1,775 overflows last year, 39 of them a million gallons or more.
Oysters House Bill 184/Senate Bill 484: Save Those Shells. After slurping down oysters, look for more shuckers to save the shells, now that a tax credit-worth $1 per bushel, up to $750 per tax return-is likely to be put in place should the governor sign this bill. The idea is to provide an incentive to recycle the shells back into the Chesapeake Bay, where oyster spat can attach to them, establishing new colonies or building up existing ones. The bill was amended to cap the tax credit's lifespan to five years, unless the legislature renews it.
House Bill 96: Less Testing. Twice-monthly pollution testing of Maryland waters that have been closed to shellfishing are coming to an end, now that the governor signed this bill. Thus, the state's re-testing regime will be brought more in line with the less-stringent federal guidelines, freeing up resources at MDE.
Booze and Butts Senate Bill 235: Closing Time. Even though troubled liquor establishments have had their licenses revoked by the Baltimore City liquor board, sometimes they've been able to keep their doors open by pursuing appeals. No longer, should the governor sign this bill. Instead, they'd have to stop all liquor sales immediately, and the only exception would be if a stay is granted by the court where the appeal has been filed. Initially, the bill sought to cease all sales of everything at such places, not just liquor, but an amendment allows operators to continue selling non-alcoholic commodities.
Senate Bill 69: Cigarette Smuggling. With the governor's John Hancock, this bill is intended to make cigarette smugglers think twice before coming through the Free State. While upping the fines for such conduct to $150 per carton for first-time offenders and $300 per carton for repeat violators, the bill was amended to loosen restrictions on how much tobacco Maryland residents can bring home from out of state. Whereas Marylanders used to be able to bring back tobacco products worth up to $25 in retail value, or one carton, they will now be able to bring back up to $100 worth, or five cartons.
Crime House Bill 742: Fewer Arrests. Tens of thousands arrests each year will no longer be necessary if the governor signs this bill, which allows police to issue citations for: selling alcohol to minors or soused people; thieving valuables worth under $1,000; or maliciously destroying property worth less than $500. Potentially, this could help abate the frenetic pace of judicial craziness at pre-trial detention centers and courthouses around the state-and reduce the cost of managing it.
House Bill 430: Drunken Sailing and Scootering. No more quaffing booze or carrying open beers while buzzing around town on your moped or scooter, all you free-wheeling lushes. You've been lucky so far, thanks to a loophole in Maryland's ban on drinking or having open containers in vehicles, but now you're on notice, if the governor signs this. Drunken sailors, though, got a pass: Senate Bill 74, which tried to criminalize operating a sailboats while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, didn't survive this year's legislative process.
Health House Bill 1343/Senate Bill 380: Cancer Clusters. Hotspots with heightened incidences of cancer in Maryland will get a closer look by a work group should the governor sign this bill. It was amended to include among its members a manufacturing-business representative, joining scientists, doctors, cancer-patient advocates, environmentalists, legislators, and people from both rural and urban areas who will study the problem.
Historic Preservation House Bill 263/Senate Bill 144: Restore and Save. Owners of historic or architecturally significant properties, take heart. If the governor signs this, local governments may offer tax credits for up to 25 percent of the cost of restoring such properties, which may be enough to get some stalled projects into gear.