first published in the September 2021 Equiery
by Kimberly K. Egan and Corinne M. Pouliquen
We considered several opening lines for this month’s letter, each of which reflected how we felt about the weather in the middle of August, but none of which conveyed how much work we have been doing. “When the going gets hot, the hot get going.” “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of Annapolis.” “Hey horse, why the … hot … face?” Whatever we tried, we couldn’t get around the fact that it’s summertime, and the livin’ is–busy.
Why? The summer is when our Government Relations Committee gets ready for the next session of the General Assembly. Though the session does not begin until January, this is the time when legislators start drafting bills, when non-profits start work on state bond fund requests, and when MHC solidifies its support in Annapolis. If we were to wait until the session started, we’d be out of the running.
Here’s what we’ve been up to so far.
MHC Task Forces
We convened two task forces this summer to focus proactively on legislation for the 2022 session.
Therapy Horse Task Force: The Therapy Horse Task Force worked on strategies to expand the number of therapeutic riding facilities that qualify for veterans’ services reimbursement funds. Current law limits eligibility to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) Premier Accredited Centers (PAC) or programs that have Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) certified professionals on staff. The task force felt that these eligibility requirements are not well-suited to the specific needs of the Maryland veterans’ community, and decided that a new eligibility protocol that took the best practices of PATH and EAGALA and modified them specifically for veterans would be a better approach. Over the course of the next few months, the task force will work with the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs to develop this protocol. We will then draft legislation to expand eligibility to those facilities that meet this Maryland-specific protocol.
In addition, the Therapy Horse Task Force will work this fall to add equine-assisted therapy to the list of therapeutic recreational activities eligible for reimbursement under the Medicaid Autism Waiver program. This will likely be a regulatory project as opposed to a legislative one.
Shared Use of Public Land Task Force: The Shared Use of Public Land Task Force has begun work on a state-wide legislative approach to keep our public lands safe and accessible to all user groups, including equestrians. This issue is of particular concern now because more Marylanders than ever are turning to outdoor recreation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Baltimore Sun reported that in 2020, state parks saw a 45% increase in visitors, and rangers had to close 14 state parks 292 times, which was triple the amount of times they had to turn away visitors in 2019.
The task force is considering draft legislation to require farmers who lease public land to leave a 20-foot border around their fields to allow unobstructed access to trail heads, as well as draft legislation to prohibit weapons in the parks on one weekend day each week. The task force will also engage with the new legislative commission charged with studying park capacity. The commission will be headed by former Governor Parris Glendenning.
Requests from Legislators
Two legislators contacted MHC over the summer to ask for input on potential legislation for the 2022 session. Del. Mary A. Lehman (D – Anne Arundel & Prince George’s) contacted us about a helmet law for minors. We conducted a membership survey in August and of those who responded, 59 members supported such a law in concept, while 7 opposed. MHC will work with Del. Lehman on draft legislation.
Del. Sara N. Love (D – Montgomery) asked MHC for input on a “right to ride” bill. MHC drafted a proposed bill for Del. Love and secured a co-sponsor for her, Sen. J.B. Jennings (R – Baltimore & Harford). The bill recognizes that equine activities: i) are a valued part of Maryland’s historical, cultural and social heritage; (ii) provide unique recreational benefits to the residents of the state; (iii) contribute to state and local economies, tax revenues and employment; and (iv) support the conservation, preservation, and management of open space and natural resources using primarily private dollars. The bill says that in light of the foregoing, it is the intent of the General Assembly that Maryland residents have a right to engage in equine activities. In addition, MHC is organizing a tour of Montgomery County horse farms in District 16 this fall for Del. Love.
Our Government Relations Committee also worked on a number of other issues over the summer. We responded to a veterinarian member’s concern about the fact that rabies is not a required vaccination for horses in Maryland. We surveyed our member veterinarians for their views, and we have now expanded our survey to all equine veterinarians, regardless of their MHC membership status. Depending on the survey results, we will consider approaching the Maryland Veterinary Board about possible rule changes.
We also conducted a webinar for MHC members on how to secure state bond funds for capital projects at eligible equine facilities. The panelists were Senator Katie Fry Hester (Howard & Carroll Counties), Del. Michele N. Guyton (Baltimore County), and David R. Brinkley, the Secretary of Management and Budget. They explained the legislative and regulatory process for bond bills, they expressed their dismay that constituents are reluctant to ask for bond funds, and they said that both the General Assembly and the Governor’s office are more than happy to work with the horse industry on capital projects. Each of them also stressed, repeatedly, how important it is to get to know your state representatives.
Please don’t hesitate to contact MHC if you need help initiating a bond bill or if you are not sure who your state representatives are.
Upcoming State Regulatory Initiatives
MHC will participate in two state-wide regulatory initiatives this fall. We are members of the 2022 Maryland Horse Census committee and will be helping the Maryland Department of Agriculture design the questions and solicit responses. We will also be part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s FY2022 Horse Outreach Workgroup (HOW). The goal of HOW is to generate best management practices for horse operations on issues such as pasture management, equine carcass composting, manure removal, and the like.
As you can see, there are a lot of legislative and regulatory issues at play this year. Please reach out to us if you are interested in participating, or if you have any questions or concerns about any of these projects. You can contact Kim at email@example.com or Corinne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in participating but are not already an MHC member, please join today at https://www.mdhorsecouncil.org/index.php/membership.