ANNAPOLIS – Lobbyists for the Eastern Shore’s biggest industry, the poultry producers, and the Eastern Shore delegation enjoyed a successful 90-day General Assembly session, not only because of what happened, but for what didn’t by the time it ended Monday.
While the Eastern Shore delegation won approval of its top priority – a regional economic development council – the poultry industry got a reprieve from fighting increasing state regulations.
This year was nothing like 1998 for the industry, when it unsuccessfully fought the Water Quality Improvement Act. The act was an effort to reduce nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay in response to the Pfiesteria piscicida crisis that caused massive fish kills in the bay in 1997.
The only major restriction proposed this year was a bill to study antibiotic content in chicken feed, and it was defeated.
“This was a fairly quiet session for the poultry industry,” said Bill Satterfield, Delmarva Poultry Industry spokesman.
The bill sponsored by physician and Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, D-Montgomery, was an effort to get to the root cause of increasing human resistance to antibiotic drugs.
The poultry industry and the Eastern Shore delegation contended the study would have provided incomplete data and would have unfairly exposed corporate secrets.
“The bill would have singled out animal agriculture and people would have jumped to conclusions,” Satterfield said.
The Eastern Shore delegation also succeeded in passing its most important priority – the creation of two regional economic development councils, which could help bring federal money to the shore.
“Last year, Maryland lost an estimated $2 million in Economic Development Administration money to Virginia because there were no qualified regional entities in place to receive federal grant monies,” said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester.
The money could help raise the shore to the same economic level as the rest of the state. All nine shore counties, except Talbot, are well below the state’s average per capita income. That includes Cecil County, the home of the powerful chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Walter Baker, who surprisingly opposed the bills.
Baker held up the bills in the Senate after they unanimously passed the House because he thought the councils were nothing more than a few artificial jobs created for an unnecessary bureaucracy.
“It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “The employees that (the counties) have now can do it. It’s got nothing to do with economic development . . . that’s propaganda.”
The delegation did not see Baker’s opposition coming.
“I was surprised when I found out about it,” said Norman Conway, D- Wicomico.
In the end, Baker amended the bill to take Cecil, Queen Anne’s and Kent counties out of the proposed Upper Shore Council, leaving the other six counties to form Mid-Shore and Lower Shore councils.
“My goal was the Eastern Shore,” Conway said. “I think as a region we still have to go as unit. . . . I wish we could have everybody there.”
However, most of the delegation is still upbeat about the new economic councils and the session in general.
“I think a tri-county council for us on the Lower Shore is excellent,” said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset. “The Eastern Shore fared very well.”