Lobby Night in Annapolis!

Wow! Spring went by super fast, and suddenly it’s May! Ashley, Pam, and I are taking a few days to update our blog with what we’ve been doing. I’ll start off with a post about an amazing opportunity we had back on Leap Day to visit the Maryland state legislature in Annapolis and to meet with legislators to discuss environmental policies.

The Lobby Night was organized through the Sierra Club Maryland chapter, and lots of other Sierra Club members were there! After school, we all piled into the car and blasted down the highway to Annapolis to park, just in time for the debriefing before we split up to meet with individual legislators that corresponded to our districts.

The primary point of the meetings was to discuss key policies that the Sierra Club was promoting within the legislature. Here’s a quick list of some of the bills and their status — whether they passed or not. The Maryland legislative session runs from January to mid-April, so it’s all over now, and we know how it ended.

  • Renew the Greenhouse Gas Reduction ActPASSED The renewal set state goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 2006 levels by 2030. The renewal received wide bipartisan support and was quickly signed into law by Governor Hogan.
  • Pass the Bottle Bill (Maryland Renewable Beverage Container Recycling Refund & Litter Reduction Act): NOT PASSED This bill would institute a 5-cent deposit on all beverage containers. It didn’t receive traction and died in committee.
  • Pass the Pollinator Protection ActPASSED (still needs Hogan’s signature) Despite conservative kickback, this bill passed both houses and is now awaiting Hogan’s signature. You can urge him to sign the bill here.
  • Pass the Community Cleanup and Greening ActNOT PASSED This bill would have banned plastic bags throughout the state, would have instituted a 10-cent fine for each paper disposable bag issued, and would have put in place a 5-cent credit for each reusable bag used. The bill received an unfavorable report from committee and died.

Overall, the Lobby Night was a fun experience! Pam, Ashley, and I are all in different districts (you can find your state legislative district HERE), so we met with different representatives. I met with Delegate Sandy Rosenburg, who is very pro-environmental legislation, and Delegate Nathaniel Oaks, who was not on many committees pertaining to the matter but who did engage with me in a very interesting discussion about his aggressive fight to curb lead poisoning in Baltimore City. Both delegates seemed extremely concerned about their constituents, which was heartening to think that government may actually be serving its purpose.

 

legislaturehallway

The only picture I managed to take of the evening — it was so hectic! A behind-the-scenes view of a hallway in the Maryland House of Delegates building.

The one disappointing thing to me (which Delegate Oaks talked with me about) was the lack of interconnectedness within policy. Basically, sustainability is a term that means something beyond environmental issues — it’s so much more. Public health, political issues, social inequality, and environmental degradation all intersecting in one field. Yet government tends to categorize everything. Suddenly a bill is labeled as the “environmentalist” bill, and we all know the bad rap that tree-huggers and the EPA get. Yet if we were to approach government with the argument that the bill actually influences multiple other aspects of communities, maybe they’d listen. Maybe a trash incinerator becomes not just a pollution problem but a public health issue for local communities. Maybe a plastic bag ban becomes not only a wildlife issue but a water cleanliness issue. We are definitely approaching government at the wrong angle, and continuing to compartmentalize makes work easier for everyone but fails to address the root causes.

Yet, at least trying to pass the preliminary environmental bills still does some good. After all, without our pollinators, we wouldn’t have any fresh food to fill food deserts with to increase nutrition. It’s all a circle, and meeting with your legislators helps them realize that and makes them understand that one of their constituents cares! The way Delegate Oaks’s face lit up when I talked to him about lead poisoning and expressed my similar concern made my day. He seemed to be elated that his constituents agreed with what he was doing, and bridging that disconnect that often forms in state and national government (and even local) is essential. So get active! Join the conversation! Meet with your legislators, testify for a bill, and sign petitions. Political participation matters — that’s what I learned from Lobby Night.

 

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