The 435th 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 approximately 2,000 bills to be filed each session, and every single one of them receives at least one hearing before session adjourns on April 13.

This past Friday, Feb. 6, was the last day that a senator could introduce a bill through standard procedures, and this Friday, February 13 will be 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 what do we know so far?

Partisan Smack Down Begins

On Monday, February 2, Governor Larry Hogan, only the second Republican governor in Maryland in 45 years introduced his budget. On Wednesday, January 4, he delivered his State of the State address, and by Thursday, February 5, it was “game on” with Senate President Mike Miller, left, Gov. Larry Hogan and House Speaker Michael Busch declaring that Hogan will not get far in this session.

Undoubtedly, it will be a challenge for Governor Hogan, who is all too keenly aware of how difficult Miller and Busch made it for the last Republican governor. And certainly both Miller and Busch radiate a confidence that reads, “We were here before you, and we will be here long after you are gone.”

What about legislation?

As of Friday, February 6, only a small handful of bills have so far been identified as impacting the equestrian community, which is somewhat unusual but it has been speculated that many interest groups may have chosen to sit out this session so they could see how things shake out with the new regime.  That said, bills are still being introduced on the House side, so we shall see.

House Bill 362/Senate Bill 393: CRIMINAL LAW: Cost of Care for Seized Animals

While there is much to appreciate about these bills (such as its original intent), the devil is in the details, and in this case there is much about this bill that is bedeviling.

HB 362 & SB 393 would establish that the owner or custodian of an animal that has been seized is liable for the reasonable costs relating to the care of the animal during a specified period, among other things. On the surface, this seems reasonable. However, the bill as it is contains no definition of “reasonable” and no perimeters for crafting such definitions, which means there is no upper limit on the “reasonable” expenses, effectively giving the seizing authority (as well as the animal rescue group with which it has contracted) a blank check. The bill also does not provide any alternatives. The definition “reasonable costs of caring for the animal” automatically implies that the animal will be cared for by the seizing authority instead of euthanized or sold.  As we read this bill, since there is no upper limit, were this bill to pass, the seizing authority (and/or its subcontractors, the animal rescue facilities) could conceivably now have a powerful economic motivation for seizing animals. The owner is left with two options: either immediately forfeit their animals or agree to give the seizing authority a blank check. We would like to see a third and fourth option added to this bill; the owner should have the option to immediately sell or auction their animals or euthanize their animals, and not just the two options of either forfeiting their animals or agreeing to underwrite unlimited costs of care as determined by someone else.

This is not the only problem with these bills. There are a variety of additional administrative issues, all of which can be resolved. However, until this bill is radically amended, The Equiery urges that all Maryland animal owners oppose this bill.

Finding Real Solutions to Deer Population that Enables Shared Use of Natural Resources

Instead of constantly fighting regional bills to expanding deer hunting to more and more Sundays and the premise that this is the most effective means of reducing the deer population in Maryland, The Maryland Horse Council is working with the Maryland Farm Bureau on what the two organization believe could be the most effective means of reducing the deer population: allowing farm owners to sell venison, which is known as “market hunting.” Both MFB and MHC believe that allowing farm owners to sell venison will provide the most effective incentive yet for harvesting does in addition to trophy bucks. Currently, except for state-imposed requirements mandating the hunters harvest a certain number of does prior to harvesting a trophy buck, there is very little incentive for hunters to harvest does.

There are also a myriad of ways that hunters get around the requirements mandating does before bucks. And hunters can only fit so much venison in their own personal freezers, decreasing the incentive to harvest more deer – to harvest anything beyond the trophy buck and maybe one doe. Providing a market place for venison provides an effective enticement to harvest more deer. Providing an effective enticement for harvesting more deer Monday through Saturday will eliminate the “need” (or at least the justification) for expanded Sunday deer hunting. Market hunting will ultimately allow for shared use of natural resources among all users groups during hunting season. Containing a market hunting program to farm owners and tying it in with crop damage will make not only make the farmers happy but should assuage concerns about increased hunting Monday through Saturday. This will be a program limited to land owners, farmers and their designated assignees.

In the meantime, several local bills have been filed that would expand Sunday hunting.

House Bill 18/Senate Bill 378: Sunday Hunting in Baltimore County

Baltimore Countians, from homeowners to hikers, bikers and birdwatchers were a strong and undeniable presence in the Baltimore County delegation meeting on Friday January 30. And apparently Baltimore County horse people have hammered Baltimore County delegates and senators with emails opposing HB 18 and its cross-filed cousin SB 378.

As of this writing, the Baltimore County delegation had not yet voted to support the bill.If you would still like to make your voice heard on the issue, click here to contact your representative.

Senate Bill 117/ House Bill 285: Sunday Hunting in Dorchester & Caroline Counties

SB 117 would allow for hunting on private and designated public land on any Sunday when that animal or bird is in season.  As advocates for the horse industry and for preserving the right of horseback riders and others to participate in outdoor recreation at least one weekend day per week without concern for adverse interactions with hunters, the Maryland Horse Council has a long standing policy of opposing any bill that allows for Sunday hunting.  The Bill is being heard in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 17, 2015. MHC is encouraging Maryland horse people to either contact the committee members by email or testify. If you are interested in testifying, please contact MHC at Click here to contact members of the House committee hearing the bill; click here for members of the Senate.

House Bill 151: Maryland Wholesome Meat Act/Prohibitions/Equines and Equine Meat

The Maryland Horse Council has expressed a variety of concerns about this bill, including perhaps most importantly is the unenforceability of this bill, noting “as the premise of the bill is 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.”

MHC also notes that, in light of substantial evidence that, under current realities, actions to reduce or prevent slaughter can have adverse unintended consequences for the welfare of horses, including an increase in abandonment and neglect see, e.g., GAO  study: HORSE WELFARE, Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter and American Association of Equine Practitioners statement, we think that the right of equine owners to make appropriate decisions regarding their livestock should be preserved. Therefore, although we love our horses and are devoted to their wellbeing, we cannot support the passage of HB 151.”