General Assembly highlights for Maryland & Virginia
Here’s a look at highlights from the Maryland and Virginia General Assembly sessions, as compiled by the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Nonnative Oysters: Legislation addressing the research and reporting requirements that must be met before the Maryland Department of Natural Resources can introduce a non-native oyster into state waters was passed this session. These requirements include meeting the recommendations set forth in the 2004 National Research Council report on the Asian oyster, C. ariakensis, as well as the research recommendations established by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. An independent oyster advisory panel will review and approve specified data and assessments and identify any additional research needs.
Land Conservation Programs: An increase of $88 million in fiscal 2006 state funding for land conservation programs was approved by the General Assembly, bringing the total expenditures for local and state land conservation programs to $124.6 million. This action was in response to prior year diversions of Program Open Space funds to the general fund. The General Assembly did not accept the governor’s proposal to redirect a specified percentage of transfer tax revenues to the general fund in future years.
Disposition of State Property: Two bills passed that add restrictions upon the disposition of open space, conservation, forest, recreation and park lands by the state. One of these bills is a proposed constitutional amendment that will be submitted to voters at the next general election in November 2006.
Farmland Preservation: A Critical Farms Program will be created that will provide interim or emergency financing for agricultural conservation easements on farms that would otherwise be sold for non-agricultural uses. The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation and the Department of Planning must first explore options for funding the program and submit a report with proposed legislation by Jan.1, 2006.
Renewable Fuels: Beginning in 2008, farmers who plant small grains for the production of ethanol and biodiesel will receive credits that could total up to $4 million annually. The small grains envisioned as a source of ethanol can be used as winter cover crops, which serve to reduce nutrient runoff to the Bay.
Air Quality: Bills seeking to reduce emissions from cars and coal-fired power plants failed to gain passage this session.
Capitalizing The Water Quality Improvement Fund: Legislation was passed appropriating $50 million to the Water Quality Improvement Fund. This money will be used to modernize publicly owned sewage treatment plants to reduce the amount of point source nutrient pollution going into the Virginia’s rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, annual appropriations to the fund will be used to reduce agricultural nonpoint source nutrient pollution and for grants to significant dischargers and treatment works that participate in the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act to design and install state-of-the-art nutrient removal technology. The amount of financing available to the treatment facility for point source nutrient removal technologies will depend on the financial need of the community.
Study On Funding Options For Chesapeake Bay Cleanup: A joint subcommittee was established to study options and develop recommendations to provide a long-term funding source for cleaning up Virginia's polluted waters, including the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Menhaden Management Measures: In Virginia, the General Assembly has historically managed the menhaden fishery. To address times when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission requires a change in management of the menhaden fishery and the General Assembly is not in session, the governor is now authorized to issue a proclamation to manage the menhaden fishery. Before issuing such a proclamation, the governor, in consultation with the secretary of natural resources and the commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, must determine whether the measures are both necessary for the conservation of the Atlantic menhaden fishery and in accordance with scientific, biological and social data.
Non-native oysters: The Virginia Marine Resources Commission was authorized to allow the placement of nonnative C. ariakensis oysters on state-owned bottomlands. Before diploid, or fertile, C. ariakensis oysters are to be placed in state waters, the commission must hold at least one public hearing to receive data, views and arguments concerning the placement of such oysters.
Duck Stamp: The Virginia Migratory Waterfowl Conservation Stamp must be purchased for $9.75 in advance by those who hunt migratory waterfowl. The proceeds from the stamp’s sale will be used to fund the administration of the stamp program; habitat improvement grants to nonprofit organizations; and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries initiatives to protect, restore, enhance and develop waterfowl habitat.
Foundation For Virginia’s Natural Resources: The Foundation for Virginia’s Natural Resources was created to encourage the non-regulatory conservation programs within the agencies of the Secretariats of Natural Resources and Agriculture and Forestry and to foster collaboration and environmental stewardship among businesses, communities and the commonwealth’s environmental enhancement programs. The foundation will expire on July 1, 2007, if no moneys have been received in the foundation’s fund by that time.
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