Maryland Capitol Police arrested about a dozen anti-fracking activists who blocked an entrance to the State House on Thursday and called on Senate leaders to allow a vote on a bill to ban fracking, a controversial gas-extraction method.
The bill easily passed the House of Delegates last week, but has not moved out of a Senate committee.
“We cannot love God with all our heart if we destroy God’s creation . . . nor can we frack and love our neighbor as ourselves,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and a Sunday-school teacher at a Presbyterian church, who was among those arrested. Dozens of other activists chanted, sang and waved signs.
The protest came four days before “crossover day,” the date by which bills must pass out of at least one chamber to have a realistic chance of landing on the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Participants said they were concerned that state Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), who heads the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, will not allow a vote on the ban bill in time for that deadline.
A two-year state moratorium on fracking, technically known as hydraulic fracturing, is due to expire in October. Conway has proposed legislation that would extend the hold for two years and require each county and Baltimore to hold voter referendums next year on whether to ban the practice locally.
Hogan said Wednesday that he would review any fracking bill that passes out of the legislature. But he has stated in the past that he supports fracking, with strict safeguards to protect public health and the environment.
Maryland’s Department of the Environment proposed hydraulic fracturing regulations last year that would bar drilling in four watersheds and require four layers of steel casing and concrete around fracking wells to prevent water, gas and other fluids from migrating to other areas. Hogan said the rules would be the most stringent in the nation.
Sens. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) and Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), both of whom support the proposed fracking ban, showed up at the demonstration to cheer the activists’ efforts.
“Taking a stance is crucial,” Pinsky said. “There’s an old phrase, ‘Dare to struggle, dare to win,’ and I think that applies today. Keep up the struggle.”
Also Thursday, the state Senate approved a paid sick leave bill by a vote of 29 to 18, a veto-proof majority, a day after Hogan (R) said he would veto the measure if it reaches his desk. Four Democrats joined the Republican senators voting against the bill.
The measure would require companies with 15 or more employees to provide five days of paid sick leave a year. It now heads to the House, which passed a version requiring seven days of paid sick leave. The two bills will have to be reconciled.
Senators who oppose the measure said it will be “crippling” to small businesses that are already trying to adhere to the 2014 law that has gradually increased the state’s minimum wage. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Calvert), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said other states have not experienced the devastating consequences that many are predicting.
Meanwhile, the House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to legislation that would require the governor’s budget to include at least $1 million a year for the state attorney general’s office to sue the federal government for actions that threaten “the public interest and welfare” or residents, beginning with the state’s fiscal 2019 spending plan.
The action came one month after the Democratic-majority legislature approved a resolution giving the attorney general blanket authority to take legal action against the federal government, partly in response to the Trump administration’s executive orders dealing with undocumented immigrants, refugees and health care.
The House also passed a bill Thursday that would bolster funding for family planning in response to the GOP’s federal health-care plan, which would cut off Medicaid reimbursements and family-planning grants to Planned Parenthood for one year, but then reinstate them if the organization stops providing abortions.
The Maryland legislation, backed by dozens of Democrats, would direct $2.7 million toward family planning programs at health centers including Planned Parenthood clinics. The Senate will take up the bill next.
The House also passed Hogan’s $43.5 billion budget, restoring about $81 million in cuts Hogan made to annual spending requirements. The measure now moves to the Senate, where the Budget and Taxation Committee began work on its own changes Thursday.
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