ANNAPOLIS – Maryland delegates vote pro-environment more often than state senators, according to an environmental watchdog group’s analysis, but both houses on average earned failing grades.
The analysis, released today by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, studied lawmakers’ votes on 15 environmental bills and committee votes over the past two years. The league releases its “scorecard” every two years.
The analysis shows that members of the House of Delegates voted favorably in the league’s opinion 63 percent of the time, while senators only voted with the league 56 percent of the time.
“It’s not a good sign that Maryland legislators are averaging failing grades when we have resources like the Chesapeake Bay that we need to protect,” said Executive Director Susan Brown.
This year, the analysis focused on six environmental bills in the House of Delegates, nine in the Senate, and committee votes in both houses.
The league – a political organization formed in 1979 to protect, restore and conserve environmental resources – chose the 15 bills for their high-profile nature and impact on the environment, said Executive Director Susan Brown.
“Some may have been politically difficult choices, but they were easy choices in terms of the environment,” Brown said.
The bills selected include: – A 2000 bill that prohibited dumping of dredged material at Site 104, which the league supported. It failed. – A 1999 bill that deregulated the state’s electricity industry, which the league opposed. It passed. – A 1999 bill that implemented Smart Codes to bolster Maryland’s Smart Growth law and allowed for easier redevelopment of existing neighborhoods,
which the league supported. It passed. – A 2000 bill that mandated the state Department of Transportation establish goals to decrease congestion by increasing the number of trips by mass transit vehicles, carpools, and bicycles, which the league supported. It passed.
In both houses, the analysis found Democrats voted for the environment almost three times as often as Republicans did.
“We’re worried that the environment is becoming a partisan issue,” Brown said.
Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, defended his party.
“We are willing to go to bat for the environment, and I think you’ll find a lot of our representatives are proud of their record,” he said.
“I think (15) votes can be made to look good for any group,” Ellington said.
Several legislators who received low scores in the last scorecard dramatically improved their scores this time. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who only voted with the league 16 percent of the time in ’97-’98, voted with the league 80 percent of the time in the past two legislative sessions.
“He indicated to us that he wanted to work on environmental issues, and we’re happy with his leadership,” Brown said.
When contacted Friday, Taylor said he had not seen the scorecard and declined comment.
Like Taylor in ’97-’98, Delegate Donald E. Murphy, R-Baltimore County, voted with the league 16 percent of the time. But unlike Taylor, in the past two legislative sessions Murphy did not cast a single vote with the league, the analysis found.
“I didn’t plan to get a zero,” Murphy said. “But if my constituents read the six bills I think they’d agree with me more often than not,” he said.
Murphy said the score will not affect his voting in the coming legislative session. “I can defend each one of my votes,” he said.
Only Democrats voted with the league 100 percent of the time. In the Senate, only three of Maryland’s 47 senators voted with the league 100 percent of the time. In the House, 23 of the 141 delegates voted with the league 100 percent of the time.
In her first two years in the Legislature, Mary M. Rosso, D-Anne Arundel, voted with the league 100 percent of the time. “I can’t imagine anyone going back to their community with a zero,” said Rosso, a former league member.