April 15, 2015

2015 Maryland Legislative Session Wrap-up

As the voice of all of Maryland’s equestrian community and horse industry, MHC has closed the book on another legislative session in Annapolis. Often exciting and always exhausting, this legislative session was a particularly rewarding one for MHC. Aided by the outstanding leadership and guidance of our lobbyist Frank Boston and his superb Annapolis team, we were successful in virtually all our legislative initiatives.

During the course of the 3 month session, MHC closely monitored 42 bills and resolutions that could have an effect on horse people, their farms, businesses and even their pets. We testified at numerous hearings, wrote and submitted written testimony on several bills, and took formal positions without testimony on many others. We traveled to Annapolis over and over again to meet with key legislators and county delegations. Huge thanks are owed to the dedicated MHC members who disrupted their daily lives and schedules to come to Annapolis whenever called upon, and who helped organize our grass roots efforts. Special thanks to the many of your who made phone calls, wrote emails and otherwise lobbied your representatives to support our causes. Your persistent and effective efforts did not go unnoticed in the halls of the Legislature, as we were often greeted by legislators with: “I know, I know - I’ve heard from your people!

Here are some go the things we worked on:

We worked closely with the ASPCA and other stakeholders in crafting amendments to a bill that would authorize a court to order a defendant convicted 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, and establishing other procedural requirements. (SB393/HB362). As of this writing, differences between the House and Senate versions, both of which passed both chambers, are under review by an appointed Conference Committee. The House bill contains caps on the amount a defendant can be required to pay, and sets requirements for the notice that must be given to a person when his animals are confiscated; the Senate version did not include these elements.

As in recent years, a big part of our efforts was devoted to stopping the advance of Sunday hunting. Prior to 2002, no hunting on Sundays was the law of the land throughout the state of Maryland, meaning that Sundays were preserved as a day of “quiet enjoyment” of the outdoors for others: horseback riders, hikers, birdwatchers, etc. Beginning in 2002, a number of attempts were made in the Legislature to open Sundays to hunting on a statewide basis. When these statewide bills were unsuccessful, a new tactic was developed by Sunday hunting proponents: chipping away at the no-Sundays rule, one county at a time. This tactic has proved successful because these bills were often introduced by the entire county delegation, and as such were treated as “courtesy bills” - receiving favorable consideration as a matter of course.

MHC has begun to fight back in earnest against this “county courtesy” tactic, and we have had some successes. Last year we were successful in Anne Arundel (although we were unsuccessful in blocking a bill that allowed expansion in Allegany, Frederick, Garrett and Washington Counties). This year, we successfully blocked expanded Sunday hunting in Baltimore (HB18/SB378), Calvert and Dorchester (HB285/SB117), Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Charles, Dorchester, Harford, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester counties (HB411), Harford (HB655), as well as a statewide bill (HB414). We also worked successfully with Senate leadership in securing the repeal of a bill passed last year that added 3 months, including Sundays, to the hunting season in Charles and St. Mary’s Counties (SB68)

Our most successful defense against these “county courtesy” bills is vigilance at the county level itself. When county officials considering legislative initiatives hear from their constituents that a proposal is unpopular, that will often be the end of it. If you would be willing to monitor the agenda of your County Council, Commission or other governing body, to alert your fellow equestrians about measures that might affect them, please let us know! It will only take a few minutes of your time to check your county’s website periodically and it could make a big difference. If you can help, please contact admin@mdhorsecouncil.org.

The Department of Natural Resources has long taken the position that recreational hunting, including Sundays, is their most effective tool in controlling the burgeoning white-tail deer population. However, as anyone who owns a farm or garden can attest, the deer population continues to grow exponentially in most areas of the state, causing huge losses to crops, landscapes and forests, as well as increasing incidence of Lyme disease and vehicle collisions.

This year, MHC in collaboration with the Maryland Farm Bureau, introduced a bill (SB748) that proposed a more effective solution, allowing the sale of venison from deer taken under crop damage permits issued to farmers who can demonstrate deer damage to their crops. We crafted this bill as a pilot program, and because it represents a unique approach (Maryland would be the first state to allow the commercial sale of wild venison, although other states are considering it), we did not expect passage this year. Nevertheless, we are pleased with the discussion that the bill provoked, and will take these new ideas and suggestions into account as we work on a new version to be introduced next year. Consistent with our support of farmers in their fight against deer damage, we also supported a bill that would allow the use of rifles under crop damage permits in Frederick County (SB844). The bill passed.

We submitted written testimony expressing concerns about a bill (HB 151) that would prohibit a person from buying, selling, transporting, or offering or receiving for sale or transportation any equine or equine carcass or the meat of any equine if the person knows or reasonably should know that the equine, carcass or meat will be used for human consumption. MHC strongly supports education efforts for the care and welfare of horses, and supports the development of an infrastructure for humane end-of-life options for horses. However, we were not convinced that this bill, as written, was the best solution at the present time for the problem of unwanted horses and the abuse and neglect they may suffer, especially considering that, as the premise of the bill was based on knowledge and intent at the time of a transaction, it would seem that enforcement of its provisions would be difficult, if not impossible. The bill did not pass.

Here are some other bills that we took positions on:

HB153 - Would prohibit leaving a dog restrained and unattended for longer than 15 minutes when a hazardous weather warning is in effect or for longer than 1 hour when temperature is below 33 degrees or above 99 degrees. Opposed; did not pass. We opposed this and other similar bills (HB956; SB26) because they did not take into account their application to pets who live on farms, or kenneled Foxhounds. These bills did not pass.

HB536/SB345 - Would give tax benefit to purchase of livestock manure loading and hauling equipment. Supported; did not pass.

HB928 - Would have repealed the sales tax exemption for the purchase of agricultural inputs. Opposed; did not pass.

HB946 - Would make all noncompete and conflict of interest provisions in employment contracts null and void. Opposed; did not pass.

HJ5/SJ5 - Resolution urging MD Congressional Delegation to work with Congress and Dept. of Interior to extend goose and duck hunting season through February. Opposed; did not pass.

If you have any questions about any of these bills, please let us know. You can get full information about any of them, including their full texts, any amendments, which legislators voted for/against, etc. by going to mgaleg.maryland.gov and typing in the bill number in the “Find legislation by number” box at the top of the home page. We have been updating our website; copies of any written testimony submitted by MHC this session will be posted to our Legislative page soon.

Finally, MHC, in conjunction with the Maryland Horse Industry Board hosted our very first MD Horse Industry Day in Annapolis on March 23, 2015. Numerous promotional events, including videotaped interviews with some of Maryland’s horse industry leaders that appeared on centermaryland.com, newspaper coverage, MHC visits to some county delegations, etc. preceded a terrific happy hour for legislators at the Calvert House in Annapolis. Although it was very late in the session and the legislators’ schedules were tight, we had a great turnout of MD Senators, Delegates, Cabinet Secretaries and other Hogan Administration officials and horse industry leaders from across the entire spectrum of our diverse industry - all coming together to make the point that Maryland’s horse industry is wide, deep and strong. Next year we are looking forward to an even bigger and better event, and we hope you can join us in making our voice heard to our legislators!

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