The 437th session of the Maryland General Assembly is in full swing! Also known as the “Legislative Session,” these 90 days are an intense roller coaster of parliamentary drama.
Most Maryland senators and delegates leave their “real jobs” and “real lives” for 3 months, relocating to Annapolis to craft the laws and regulations that govern our state. It is not uncommon for 2,000 – 3,000 bills to be filed each session, and every single one of them receives at least one hearing before session adjourns on April.
Session convened on January 11, and the first month is usually pretty low-key – think of “back to school” week for adults. Lots of meets and greets, not too much action in the hearings.
Things heat up in February. On the 1st of this month, Governor Hogan delivered his State of the State Address. February 3 was the last day a senator could introduce a bill through standard procedures, and February 10 was the final day in which a bill can be introduced via the House. Bills can still be introduced going forward, but the process is more cumbersome and a hearing is no longer guaranteed.
So now things are getting interesting! As of today, over 2,600 bills have been filed. Hearing are heating up, bills are coming out of committees and going in front of full bodies.
The Maryland Horse Council is the only lobbying organization representing the entire horse industry and equestrian community in Maryland. Its members include every sport and discipline, from racing to trail riding, from hunters, jumpers to jousters and drivers, dressage riders, carriage operators, breed association, lesson stables, training barns – you name it. MHC represents over 35,000 horse people.
Below are a few of the bills being monitored in this session by MHC. Check back for updates, or follow the bills on the Maryland General Assembly’s website.
ANIMAL WELFARE, NEGLECT & CRUELTY
SB80/HB625 Animal Abuse Penalties and Restitution
Synopsis: Prohibiting a person from committing specified abusive acts involving 10 or more animals; establishing penalties of up to $2,500 or up to 3 years imprisonment for a violation of the Act; authorizing a court to order a person convicted of or found to have committed a delinquent act to pay restitution to specified entities for expenses incurred as a result of the violation; authorizing a court to order a minor convicted or found delinquent under Act, the minor’s parent, or both to pay specified restitution under specified circumstances; etc
Comment: It is unclear what the purpose of this bill is, and no matter how noble the intent, the wording appears flawed. The Senate Judiciary Committee killed the bill, but it is still in play on the House side.
SB 631/HB941 Animal Abuse Emergency Fund
Synopsis: Requiring specified fines to be remitted to the Animal Abuse Emergency Compensation Fund; establishing the Animal Abuse Emergency Compensation Fund; providing for the uses, purposes, sources of funding, investment of money, and auditing of the Fund; requiring the Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) to administer the Fund; providing that the Fund is a continuing, nonlapsing fund not subject to specified provisions of law; etc.
Comment: The various county animal control divisions have long been seeking a mechanism by which they can pay for contracts with non-profits to shelter and care for seized animals. While most local animal control can handle small animals, they are generally not equipped to handle livestock.
SB 790/HB 455 Animal Cruelty standards.
Synopsis: Clarifying that a person who has charge or custody of an animal and who unnecessarily fails to provide the animal with proper air, proper space, proper shelter, or proper protection from the weather is guilty of violating a specified prohibition against abuse or neglect of an animal; and clarifying that a person who intentionally mutilates, intentionally tortures, intentionally cruelly beats, or intentionally cruelly kills an animal is guilty of violating a specified prohibition against aggravated cruelty to animals.
Comment: This bill essentially cleans up and organizes the existing statutes so that when individuals are charged with misdemeanor or felony neglect or cruelty, the charges are more clearly defined.
SB 84 Animal Abuse Registry
Comment: The synopsis is too long to publish here. Suffice it to say that, while we all abhor those who abuse animals, this bill overreached and was in excess of even sex offender registries. The committee must have thought so as well, because they killed the bill. Committees usually only kill bills when they are trying to a statement; otherwise they will just let is stall out.
HB 155 MD Ag Land Preservaton Foundation – Easement Termination
Synopsis: Making pre-2004 MALF easements eligible for termination “only under extraordinary circumstances” as opposed to when profitable farming is no longer feasible.
Comment: This bill was requested by Governor Hogan, and if passed, would help to maintain Sen. Clark’s original vision for MALPF, which was the first state ag land preservation foundation in the country. Sen. Clark’s family has long been involved with horses (and his mother was a founder of the Howard County Hunt Club). The Maryland Horse Council is supporting this bill, and on Mon. Feb. 20 it was given a favorable report in its committee.
SB254/HB1174: Tax Incentive for Conservation Easements
Synopsis: Providing a subtraction modification under the Maryland income tax for the first $250,000 in proceeds from the sale of a perpetual conservation easement on real property in the State.
Comment: In general, The Equiery is supportive of incentives to preserve open space; MHC is monitoring. The House version will have a hearing in March.
SB708/HB 977 – Funding for Fair Hill
Synopsis: Authorizing the creation of a State Debt not to exceed $250,000, the proceeds to be used as a grant to the Board of Directors of The National Steeplechase Foundation, Inc. for the acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation, reconstruction, site improvement, and capital equipping of the Fair Hill Race Course, located in Cecil County; providing for disbursement of the loan proceeds, subject to a requirement that the grantee provide and expend a matching fund
Comment: Although earmarked for NSF, the improvements would benefit aspects used by a variety of equestrian organizations and would greatly enhance Maryland’s bid to be the second U.S. host of an FEI 4-star event.
Shared Use of Natural Resources
MHC watchdogs a variety of bills that pertain to the shared use of natural resources, including but not limited to those bills, which expand firearm deer hunting. MHC works with a variety of hunting groups and with the Department of Natural Resources to find ways to reduce the deer herd (including, but not limited to, increasing managed sharpshooter hunts, marketing hunting and other lethal methods with firearms) in an effort to ensure fair shared use of resources by all users. Some of this year’s bills include:
- SB 629/HB 312 – Kent County Sunday Hunting
- SB 953/HB 1111 – Eastern Shore – Extending Deer Firearm Season.
- SB 954/ HB 1201 – Talbot County use of rifles under DMPs.
- HB 894 – Wicomico Sunday hunting
- HB 310 – Montgomery County Sunday Hunting
- HB 788/SB 844 – Allowing deer hunting on all Sundays under a deer management permit.
SB170/HB 150 – Racing Commission and International Race Cost Shifting
Synopsis: Moves $3 million out of racing’s purse dedication account to fund the Racing Commission and the International Thoroughbred Race.
Comment: Currently the Racing Commission is funded via the general funds. Governor Hogan’s budget recommends the shift in funding, undoubtedly as a way to be more fiscally prudent about the general funds. In general, The Equiery has found that the Governor to be a prudent fiscal manager. Understandably, however, this proposal is causing a great deal of uproar in the racing community. One of the arguments against using racing money to fund the Racing Commission is that racing is regulated by the State, and thus is should be the State which funds the activity. To learn more about the issue, see the article in this issue by Frank Vespe.
SB 178/HB 606 – Bowie Race Course – State Purchase or Condemnation
Synopsis: Authorizing the State to acquire, by purchase or condemnation for public use with just compensation, private property relating to the Bowie Race Course Training Center if the owner of the Bowie Race Course Training Center does not meet specified requirements of law; and requiring that all proceedings for condemnation for public use or private property as authorized under this Act are to be in accordance with specified provisions of law and specified rules of procedure
Comment: The Equiery is always leery of any bill that increases the ability of government to seize private land; the Maryland Horse Council did not support the bill, but did testify that, no matter what, it would like to see at least some portion of the property be maintained for some sort of equine-related use. The Maryland Jockey Club testified against the bill. Both versions have had hearings, but as of press, there has been no vote.
HB 481/SB 578 Racing Commission Equine Medical Director
Synopsis: Authorizing Racing Commission to hire Equine Medical Director and requiring standardbred and thoroughbred track licensees, owners and breeders to pay the cost, 80% by thoroughbreds and 20% by standardbreds.
Comment: The racing industry asked that these bills be withdrawn after the introduction of bills that would require that the industry fund the racing commission out of the purse accounts; see article by Frank Vespe.
HB 662 – Including Fair Hill for Racetrack Renewal Funds
Synopsis: Currently, Fair Hill, although it has a parimuteual license and a racetrack, is not included in the list of tracks that receive funding via the Racetrack Facility Renewal Account; all the other tracks in Maryland do (Pimlico, Laurel, Timonium, Rosecroft and Ocean Downs).
Comment: On Fri. Jan. 16., the hearing for this bill was canceled; we suspect it might have to do with the uproar surrounding the bill regarding funding the Racing Commission.
HB 16 Maryland Equestrian Day
Synopsis: Requiring the Governor annually to proclaim the day designated for the final race of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing as Equestrian Day.
Comment: This is not a horse industry bill, but a good will bill put in by the sponsor. There is debate in the equestrian community about whether the selected date really makes sense, but no one wants to look a gift horse in the mouth; this bill had a hearing in January, but has not moved since.
HB 109/SB102: Repealing Certain Fence Law Provisions in St. Mary’s County
Synopsis: Repealing the requirement that joint farm fences be built to certain specifications (post-and-rail at 4 feet, bottom plank 8 inches from ground, plans/rail no more than 8 inches apart, etc.). Repealing the obligation of neighboring farmers to maintain joint fences.
Comment: We find it interesting that St Mary’s had such specific fence laws! The Senate version has passed and crossed into the House.
HB 1296 – One time, Permanent Registration for Trailers Towed By Passenger Vehicles or Trucks
Comment: if this bill passes, then we horse people would not have to keep renewing trailer registration; MHC is testifying in support.
HB 216/SB 269 – Emergency Veterinary Care – Immunity from Liability. Synopsis: Providing that prohibitions relating to the practice of veterinary medicine do not apply to emergency veterinary care for which a person may not be held civilly liable; providing immunity from civil liability for specified people providing emergency veterinary aid, care, or assistance to an animal where the owner or custodian is not available to grant permission under specified circumstances.
Comment: The bill on the surface seems like common sense; The Equiery has reached out to the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association and has not received a response, and there is nothing about the current session on the MVMA’s legislation page. On Feb. 20, the House version came out of committee favorably.