"Sine die" is Latin for "without day". Essentially it means that there is no further meeting scheduled. This is the name given to the final day of the Maryland General Assembly session.
This year was my first experience getting heavily involved in the state legislature. It gave me a great excuse to wear my one and only suit.
West/Rhode Riverkeeper was a partner in the effort to try to pass a Stormwater Utility bill, and we also took positions on several other bills that had the potential to affect water quality in our Rivers - either positively or negatively.
Here is a run down of some of the bills we lobbied for (or against)
Stormwater Utility (SB686/HB999) - This bill would have required counties and some municipalities to setup a stormwater management fee based on impervious surface coverage. The amount of the fee would be left to the local jurisdictions. The money would go into a dedicated fund which would be spent on stormwater management projects. We supported the bill but it did not make it out of committee. We expect that it will be reintroduced again next year.
No Discharge Zone (SB513/HB999) - This would have directed the state to apply for a No Discharge Zone designation for all of Maryland waters. The bill was amended near the end of the Session to change it to be a study only, and passed the Senate. Nevertheless, the watered down bill didn't even make it out of the House. We are disappointed that the bill died, but we are glad it raised the issue of pollution from boat waste. We hope that next year, the General Assembly will address this issue again.
Abandoned Boats (HB527) - This bill, introduced by local Delegate Virginia Clagett, reduced the time it takes to declare a boat "abandoned" on private property. Current law stated that private property owners had to wait 90 days - a whole summer - to begin the process to remove a boat from their property. This bill reduces that time to 30 days. It passed both chambers and will be signed by the Governor.
Marine Contractor Licensing (SB382) - This bill established a procedure for licensing marine contractors who do work in our wetlands and waterways. The premise of the bill was good, but we vigorously opposed provisions in the original version which had inadequate fees and fines, would have given release of liability to contractors doing Living Shoreline projects, and exempted an undefined category of projects from permitting requirements. Working with other partners in the environmental community, the bill was amended to take out all the parts we felt would negatively impact the environment, and we supported the final version. It passed both chambers and awaits the Governor's signature.
University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic - A rider was attached to the budget which would restrict funding to the UM Environmental Law Clinic pending a report on the cases they took. This encroachment of academic freedom was a result of the case the clinic took, representing Assateague Coastkeeper in its suit against a lower Eastern Shore farm and Perdue chicken. This legislative bullying came about because some influential polluters were trying to influence how the Clinic operates. Fortunately, the funding threat was stripped out of the final budget, but the precedent is a dangerous one. What are we teaching our young law students - "be careful which polluters you sue?"
Overall, this was a very strange session of the General Assembly, which isn't too surprising given the poor economic climate and the fact that this is an election year. A week before the session ended, environmental groups were prepared to release an angry statement, effectively proclaiming that the Bay "got the shaft". However, during the final week of the session, it appeared that many legislators got the message and began restoring some of the environmental priorities. The Bay Trust Fund was restored to the Governor's original funding request ($20 million), most funding for Project Open Space was preserved, and a bill to consider environmental impacts when planning transportation projects was approved.
Despite these successes, it is difficult to point to specific policies enacted this session that will actually improve water quality. The Stormwater Utility bill died in committee, as did the No Discharge bill. And then there was the stormwater "compromise" which codified guidance from MDE on the implementation of the 2007 Stormwater Act, set to be enacted on May 4, 2010. The compromise allowed grandfathering of many projects in the pipeline, so that they might be built without adhering to the new tougher stormwater regulations.
All in all, I would say that it was a disappointing session, although the environmental was able to "eke out" some wins at the last moment.