Sunday 24 June 2018

Open Government (Transparency) (6)

Maryland’s 2018 Legislative Session Wrap-Up Featured

With the 2018 Maryland Session coming to a close earlier this month, we’d like to let you know about the important legislative victories we achieved along with some of the policies we may revisit in 2019. Over the past few months, Waterkeepers Chesapeake partnered with Maryland waterkeepers and other environmental organizations in the General Assembly to increase public access to government records, increase public participation at the Public Service Commission (PSC), prevent the use of harmful chemicals, decrease the amount of foam in local waterways, and close loopholes under current law that enable the net loss of forests in Maryland -- to name a few.   Legislative Victories Thanks to the work of Fair Farms and others, we were able to secure funding for the Maryland Farms and Families program.The Maryland General Assembly included $200,000 in the final budget for this program that matches purchases made by low-income Marylanders using federal nutrition assistance like SNAP (food stamps) at participating farmers markets. While the Governor still needs to allocate the funds for this program -- you can ask him to do so here -- we are now one step closer to having Maryland fund a successful program that directly supports small farmers, food-insecure Marylanders, and our local economy. This past session the General Assembly also legalized hemp production in Maryland. Hemp has a number of benefits for our environment, provides a new income stream for farmers, diversifies our state’s agricultural system, and may bring new jobs and opportunities to Maryland. You…
On January 5, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require congressional approval on all major regulations.  Any major regulation that does not get the approval of Congress and the President after 90 days will effectively die. This is just one of the many “regulatory reform” bills currently before the U.S. Congress. The package of reform bills, taken together, could seriously undermine the current regulatory process – leaving the public and the environment less protected, while opening the doors for the political system to be subject to more abuse by those with political and economic power. Another reform bill – the Midnight Rules Relief Act – also passed the House in the first week of January.  If enacted, this bill would enable Congress to swiftly undo groups of finalized regulations without any consideration for the merits of each regulation.  Any group of regulations passed during the last few months in office by a president will be subject to this law. GOP leaders said that their top targets will be President Obama’s rule to decrease the environmental impact of coal mining on nearby streams and his rule to reduce methane emissions. The most sweeping regulatory reform bill – the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017 – will have a dramatic impact on the way federal agencies implement new regulations.  This omnibus bill imposes more than 60 new analytical requirements for agencies that are already subject to a robust system of vetting for every new regulation.  The bill, among…
On February 10, 2016, Waterkeepers Chesapeake Executive Director Betsy Nicholas testified before the Maryland General Assembly's House Judiciary Committee in support of anti-SLAPP legislation. A SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit is a specific kind of legal proceeding that is generally filed to intimidate or silence critics, with little intention to be won on the merits. For whistleblowers or others who might be working in the public interest, such lawsuits come with burdensome legal fees, something that House Bill 263 could possibly remedy. The bill is being sponsored by Delegate Samuel Rosenberg of Baltimore. In a story for the Daily Record, legal affairs writer Steve Lash said that the bill would remove the requirement that "groups seeking to dismiss such litigation prove they had been filed 'in bad faith' and were 'intended to inhibit' their free-expression rights."  Joining the Waterkeepers Chesapeake coalition were the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association (MDDA), and the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA). Nicholas said that the bill will enable environmental groups to speak out against polluters without fear of costly, meritless litigation designed only to keep them quiet.  Below is Nicholas' submitted tesimony to the committee:  WATERKEEPERS® Chesapeake is a coalition of nineteen independent programs working to make the waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable and fishable. Waterkeepers Chesapeake amplifies the voices of each Waterkeeper and mobilizes these organizations to fight pollution and champion clean water. The members of Waterkeepers Chesapeake work locally, using grassroots action and advocacy to protect…

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