Advocacy groups make final push as session winds down

Maryland FlagAs the 2018 Maryland legislative session enters its final days, state advocacy groups are making a final push for the passage of legislation.

“While there are a few bills still alive that we’re still supporting, unfortunately most of the major environmental legislation this year was either voted down or amended down into a non-sensitive form,” said Elaine Lutz, staff attorney for the Maryland office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an organization which advocates for the health of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways.

Lutz said the CBF’s primary focus during this session was strengthening the Forest Conservation Act, which she said designates certain areas in the state as priority forests and calls for them to be preserved, but provides few specific criteria or guidelines towards accomplishing that goal.

“We are seeing the loss of some of our best contiguous forests,” Lutz said. “The legislation we introduced this year would have provided specific, transparent criteria for preserving the forests and reforestation requirements, but after opposition from some of the counties and the development community, the senate amended it into a more task force-oriented bill to find out where the forests are being lost and require certain recommendations to be made.”

Lutz said the bill is now before the House Environment and Transportation Committee, chaired by Del. Kumar Barve (D-17), which rejected a similar bill during last year’s session.

“We’re hopeful that the House will take up the bill this year,” Lutz said.

Lutz said that the CBF also supported legislation introduced by Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-17) for a statewide ban on polystyrene, modeled on bans already enacted by Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, but that the measure was voted down in the Senate Finance Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee.

Lutz said that, despite the disappointing defeat of several key pieces of legislation, her organization was encouraged by the state’s budget.

“Most of the major environmental programs are funded and there is language in the budget for staffing enforcement positions, which has been a problem for the Department of the Environment in the past,” Lutz said.

Mark Procopio, executive director of Free State Justice, Maryland’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, said his organization was concerned with several pieces of legislation this session, including the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. This legislation, sponsored by Sen. Rich Madaleno, (D-18), and Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-19), would ban state-licensed mental health practitioners from performing “conversion therapy,” or therapy intended to “cure” LGBTQ youth of their sexual orientation. It passed both the House and Senate by wide margins.

“The progress we have seen on this bill has been driven by the leadership of Delegate Cullison and Senator Madaleno,” Procopio said. “Given the signs that we have seen from the governor’s office about this legislation, we are very hopeful that he will sign it.”

Other legislation backed by Free State Justice included an amendment to the law allowing transgendered persons to change their gender on their birth certificates. The amendment adds physician’s assistants, who are often transgendered persons’ primary care providers, to the list of qualified medical professionals who can authorize the change. The legislation was sponsored by Del. Marice Morales (D-19) and passed the House of Delegates.

Another measure supported by Free State Justice which passed the House is the Ending Youth Homelessness Act.

“It’s estimated that over 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ,” Procopio said.

The bill would require cultural competency on the part of homelessness service providers.

“In other states, LGBTQ advocates’ efforts are focused on identifying and stopping bad bills,” Procopio said. “In recent years, we’ve seen very few of those introduced in Maryland and when they were, they were quite minor. The biggest blemish on the legislative session is that the BOOST program continues to be funded by the state.”

The BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) program provides scholarships for students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs to attend nonpublic schools. Procopio said that an investigation by state PTA branches and teachers unions revealed that schools with discriminatory admissions policies were receiving BOOST funds.

“In future years, we need to focus on ending taxpayer-funded discrimination,” Procopio said.



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