Local Legislators Weigh In On ‘Challenging Session’

BERLIN — With the minimum wage, decriminalizing marijuana and other weighty statewide issues dominating the General Assembly as the session expired on Monday, several other bills followed closely in Worcester and across the Lower Shore either made it through or did not see the light of day.

While there were few bills circulated during the session this year specifically tailored to Worcester and the Lower Shore, there were dozens that either passed or failed that had local significance.

“It was another very, very challenging session,” said Senator Jim Mathias this week. “We were able to get through some very important bills for our district and our region and others did not make it through. Overall, I was pleased with the work I was able to accomplish on behalf of our district and the Shore.”

Delegate Mike McDermott said he was able to get a handful of bills through during the session, but was often stymied by an increasingly partisan assembly.

“I had a couple of really good public safety bills that died in the Senate,” he said. “They passed in the House, but got caught up in the traffic on Sine Die and didn’t get through. These are non-partisan public safety bills, but I guess I’m on the list and the Senate leadership has said anything with my name on it will not pass.”

McDermott said the divide between Republican and Democrat lawmakers has never been more pronounced. He compared the relationship to separated or divorced parents sharing custody of a child.

“It’s like the Republicans are the good, sensible practical parents and the Democrats are the cool parents the kids see on every other weekend,” he said. “The good parent looks out for the best interest of the child all the time, but the cool parent lets them do whatever they want.”

He specifically mentioned a bill passed late during the session that will create a committee to study ways to make Maryland more business-friendly. The committee will examine state regulations and the tax code, but oddly will not examine any state agencies.

“It’s one of those things that makes you shake your head,” he said. “They created this committee to study how we can make Maryland more business friendly by looking at the tax rates and the corporate rates, etc. and the committee will report back to the General Assembly on how we can do better. The intent is to streamline government and save money, but the committee is not allowed to look at any state agency. It’s another example of the big, liberal government looking itself in the mirror and saying does this government make me look fat?”

The General Assembly either passed or rejected several bills followed closely in Worcester and across the Eastern Shore. For example, a bill introduced by Mathias allowing municipalities to piggyback their local elections with state and federal elections passed. The bill was introduced on behalf of the town of Ocean City, which desires to coordinate its Mayor and Council elections with state and federal elections.

Another bill with local implications introduced early in the session that calls for a five-cent tax on every chicken raised by Eastern Shore poultry growers will not see the light of day. The cross-filed Poultry Fair Share Act of 2014 would have forced the major poultry integrators, big companies like Perdue and Mountaire, for example, to pay a five-cent tax on every single bird they provide to chicken farmers on the Eastern Shore and across Maryland. However, the legislation got an unfavorable recommendation in the House and was withdrawn, while the Senate version never even got a hearing at the committee level.

Yet another piece of legislation followed closely in Worcester and on the Eastern Shore would have essentially required truth in advertising about the origin and species of food fish and shellfish offered for sale in the state, particularly the origin of blue crabs and crabmeat sold at restaurants and stores. The so-called Maryland Seafood Authenticity Act would have prohibited an individual or company from knowingly misrepresenting shellfish and food fish on menus, labels and signs, but the bill died without ever getting a hearing at committee level.

While not entirely a local issue, another bill imposed a moratorium on the development of a vast wind energy farm in neighboring Somerset that turned out to be a sharply divided regional issue between the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland. After Southern Maryland lawmakers opposed the bill over concerns about the impacts on the Patuxent Naval Air Station and its test and training flights in the area, a moratorium was placed on the Somerset County wind farm that would have created jobs and spurred economic development. Mathias said this week he fought hard for Somerset, but lost out to a more powerful Southern Maryland delegation.

“That was very disappointing,” Mathias said. “Everyone knew what we were up against. The Senate leadership said I fought the good fight, but I was clearly overmatched on this issue.”