2021 Legislative Session: Public Interest Victories and Losses

This year there were hundreds of policies discussed which could safeguard public health, protect consumers in the marketplace, transform our energy and transportation systems, remove toxic threats, stop wasteful spending, revitalize our democracy, and protect Maryland’s environment.

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Emily Scarr
Maryland PIRG State Director

Author: Emily Scarr

Maryland PIRG State Director

(410) 467-9389

Started on staff: 2005
B.A., Vassar College

Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Recently, Emily helped win small donor public financing in Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George's County, and Baltimore City; the Family and Firefighter Protection Act to ban flame retardants in children's products, furniture and mattresses; and, the Maryland Keep Antibiotics Effective Act to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms. Emily serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition, the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working, and the Maryland Tobacco Free Kids Coalition. She also serves on the Steering Committees for the Maryland Pesticide Action Network and Marylanders for Open Government. Emily lives in Baltimore with her husband, children, and dog.

We advocate for the public interest in Annapolis. This year there were hundreds of policies discussed which could safeguard public health, protect consumers in the marketplace, transform our energy and transportation systems, remove toxic threats, stop wasteful spending, revitalize our democracy, and protect Maryland’s environment. Our job is to make sure that any decisions that got made during this remote legislative session were made in the public’s best interest.  

2021 Legislative Victories

Maryland Fair Elections Act: This bill updates and permanently funds the small donor campaign finance program to enable candidates for governor to run for office without large or corporate campaign contributions by providing limited matching funds for small donations. It was sponsored by Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Jessica Feldmark. Read our testimony and learn more about the groundbreaking policy.

School Safe Drinking Water Act:  Lead is a potent neurotoxin that affects how our children develop, learn, and behave. Testing is revealing lead in the drinking water in our schools. This policy strengthens existing protections for lead in school drinking water by lowering the action level to 5ppb. The bill was sponsored by Delegate Jared Solomon and Senator Cory McCray, and we have worked for years to pass it. Learn more about Maryland PIRG's work on this bill.

Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act: This bill strengthens voter participation on campuses, expands voter registration options for active military, and increases access to voting for large institutions. Here is our testimony on the bill.

Veto Override: Increase and Expand the Tobacco Tax:  This bills increases the tobacco tax and creates tax parity for all tobacco products including electronic cigarettes, which is proven effective way to reduce tobacco use. In 2020, it was sponsored by Senator McCray and Delegate Luedtke, but was vetoed by Governor Hogan. Here is our testimony from 2020.

Early Voting Access: A couple of bills expand access to early voting centers by increasing the number of early voting sites, ensuring early votes centers are accessible to voters, and extending hours of operation for early voting centers. You can read out testimony the number of vote centers and our testimony on hours of operation.

Vote by Mail Improvements: This bill enables voters to request their ballot be mailed to them for all elections and makes ballot drop boxes a permanent. Read out testimony.

Zero-Emission Bus Transition: This bill transitions the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) bus fleet to Zero-Emission buses to protect public health from diesel pollution, reduce traffic, and fight global warming. Read out testimony.

Safe Cosmetics Act: This bill restricts toxic chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products, including mercury, formaldehyde, parabens, and certain phthalates. Learn more by reading our testimony.

Reducing Organic Waste: This bill requires large generators of organic waste to divert waste from landfill or incinerators if a compost or anaerobic digestion facility is located nearby. Read our testimony.

COVID-19 Testing, Contact Tracing, and Vaccination Act of 2021This bill creates goals and a plan for Maryland’s COVID-19 response including expanded testing, contact tracing, and vaccine distribution. Read our testimony.

2021 Public Interest Losses

The PFAS Protection Act: Stopping the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foam, food packaging and rugs and carpets, and preventing the mass incineration or landfilling of PFAS chemicals. Marylanders are exposed to PFAS chemicals, which are linked to cancer and other illnesses, in water, food, and consumer products.  This bill was sponsored by Senator Sarah Elfreth and Delegate Sara Love, and did not receive a vote in either chamber. The legisalture, did, however, add money into the budget and require the Maryland Department of the Environment to create a plan for testing and remediation for PFAS in Maryland waterways. You can read our testimony here.

Right to Repair: Giving consumers and small businesses access to the parts, tools and service information they need to repair products. Electronics manufacturers’ repair restrictions make it harder and more expensive to get our electronics fixed, which is bad for consumers and the environment. This bill was sponsored by Senator Katie Fry Hester and Delegate Jessica Feldmark and was voted down by the House Economic Matters Committee. You can read our testimony here.

End the Nicotine Trap: Stopping the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, and cigars. We need to protect kids from nicotine addiction and all the harm that comes with it. This bill did not receive a vote in either chamber. This bill was sponsored by Senator Mary Washington and Delegate Jazz Lewis. You can read more about our work on the bill here.

Climate Solutions Now Act: This bill sets emissions reduction targets for the state, provides for the planting of new trees, and helps Maryland take a step in the right direction on climate change. The bill passed through both houses and was brought to a conference committee on the final day of session, but the two chambers were unable to reach a compromise. Here is our testimony on the bill. 

Reducing Plastic Waste:  The legislature considered a variety of bills to reduce plastic waste including the Plastic Bag Reduction Act (Senator Malcolm Augustine and Delegate Brooke Lierman), Producer Responsibility (Delegate Brooke Lierman), and to stop the expansion of Plastic to Fuel in Maryland (Delegate Sara Love). Read more about why Plastic to Fuel is bad for Maryland.

Maryland Consumer Reporting Act: Sponsored by Del. Julie Palakovich Carr,  this bill provides critical protections for consumers from mistakes on their credit reports by ensuring Credit Reporting Agencies ensure maximum accuracy and respond more quickly to complaints of credit report errors. This bill was voted down by the House Economic Matters Committee.

Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes: A variety of bills were introduced to prevent companies from reducing their state taxes including Combined Reporting, Adopting the Throwback Rule, and Ending pass-through and “nowhere income." These bills were sponsored by Sen. Pinsky, Del. Lehman,  Del. Stewart, Del. Palakovich Carr 

Energy and Water Efficiency Standards: This bill establishes minimum efficiency standards for our appliances and will save energy, reduce pollution and lower utility bills. It is sponsored by Sen. Pinsky and passed the Senate but did not get a vote in the House.

Remote General Assembly: Lessons Learned

As they legislated mostly remotely due to COVID-19, the General Assembly entered uncharted territory, its leaders worked hard to keep elected officials, staff and the public safe while conducting the people’s business in Annapolis. During the remote legislative sessions - and always - it’s vital that when the bills and policies that could impact our common interests are being debated, those discussions aren’t conducted behind closed doors, or without citizen involvement. We know our leaders were hearing from powerful interests, and their lobbyists, who weren’t afraid to try and use their access and influence to push for decisions which benefit their narrow agenda, instead of what is best for the people of Maryland. That’s where we come in.

Maryland PIRG’s advocates closely monitored the public interest policies being debated in Annapolis. We proposed and analyzed legislation, provided independent research, and expert testimony so that our leaders could make informed decisions. Our staff were watchdogs on how our elected officials were leaning and what political calculations they were making by tuning into work sessions, committee hearings, and votes. And we did our best to make sure that our leaders heard from the public, by bringing the voices of our members and Maryland residents into the Zoom calls, voicemails, emails inboxes, and social media platforms where critical public interest decisions were being discussed. 

We are incredibly proud we were able to move the ball forward on some of these issues in Maryland. Real progress does not come easy, and there is much work left to be done, especially to address the harms caused by polluting fuels and plastics waste. To ensure progress we need to give our public interest champions the support they need to to take bold action and reach out to those who could be swayed by the right facts, persuasive arguments and public opinion.

And we can’t do it without you. Your support and attention help to keep our elected officials accountable. 

 

SUPPORT OUR WORK

As your public interest advocate, we're working hard to stand up to powerful interests. With your help, we’re working to find common ground around commonsense ideas in 2021 and beyond.

Emily Scarr
Maryland PIRG State Director

Author: Emily Scarr

Maryland PIRG State Director

(410) 467-9389

Started on staff: 2005
B.A., Vassar College

Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Recently, Emily helped win small donor public financing in Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George's County, and Baltimore City; the Family and Firefighter Protection Act to ban flame retardants in children's products, furniture and mattresses; and, the Maryland Keep Antibiotics Effective Act to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms. Emily serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition, the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working, and the Maryland Tobacco Free Kids Coalition. She also serves on the Steering Committees for the Maryland Pesticide Action Network and Marylanders for Open Government. Emily lives in Baltimore with her husband, children, and dog.