ANNAPOLIS – Western Maryland lawmakers called the just-ended legislative session “a bang-up year” that included improved health care for the poor, a 5 percent income tax cut and passage of a bill to help state dairy farmers.
If there was one area where the region’s legislators said they were unhappy, it was with the new fertilizer run-off regulations aimed at controlling outbreaks of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida.
All farmers in the state will have to comply with the regulations, even though the microbe has only affected the Eastern Shore.
“Farmers have enough to worry about without getting meshed into the enforcement procedures from the state,” said Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll, who had hoped for voluntary run-off regulations. “They have always met the voluntary standards asked for by the state.”
But others in the delegation said the final version of the bill is a compromise that should be acceptable to farmers.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted out of the nutrient management bill,” said Del. Paul Stull, R-Frederick. “But it’s one that we can live with.”
Lawmakers said farmers should be helped by the approval of a bill to let the state join the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact. That move, which would let farmers set a minimum wholesale price for milk, was called “a big boost for the dairy industry” by Stull.
Ferguson called the dairy compact the “only silver lining” in the legislature for farmers — but he noted that it will only help dairy farmers.
But Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said the region received good funding for schools and, with the passage of the dairy bill, he said he “can’t imagine a better session.”
Del. Betty Workman, D-Allegany, said the tax cuts approved this session, education funding and tobacco legislation should make Western Maryland residents happy.
“I think the tax package is going to help quite a few people,” Workman said of the plan to increase a scheduled 2 percent tax cut this year to 5 percent.
She said a change in the law that will make it easier for the state to sue the tobacco industry should help Maryland pick up some revenues and will “send a loud and clear message” to the industry.
Workman also praised passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which expands Medicaid coverage to children whose families earn up to two times the federal poverty level. The bill is expected to extend health care to more than 60,000 children who are not now covered, and Workman said it will have a direct impact in Allegany County.
“I think that’s really going to help in Allegany County,” she said.
All things considered, Del. George Edwards, R-Garrett, and chairman of the Western Maryland delegation, said it’s been a good session.
“Most people probably would like the outcome of it,” he said.
Stull liked the outcome, too, particularly the passage of his bill making milk the official state drink. He hopes to eventually see a message on milk cartons that tells drinkers they are consuming the state drink.
“I think it can be a great tool for the fluid milk and dairy industries,” Stull said.