To say we’re excited to announce that legislation to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam passed both the Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland State Senate for the first time would fall short: after the three years of advocating for this bill, Maryland is on track to make history as the first state to pass a Foam Ban. This is significant, and special, and is our mission as an organization manifested!
Our bill sponsors -Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) and Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-46) – led these bills through the maze of the General Assembly, supported by countless other elected representatives coming together to take a strong stance on trash. It was even a priority bill for the Maryland Democratic Party on this year’s legislative agenda.
So, how much do you know about the process, and most importantly, what’s left to make it official?
Every bill in the MDGA is introduced in each chamber (called First Reader), and then referred to committees. Unlike previous years, the bill was assigned to a single committee in the Senate – Education, Health & Environmental Affairs (EHEA)- and was duly assigned in the House, both the Environment & Transportation (E&T) and Economic Matters (ECM) Committees. Getting a bill out of a committee is its own task, so multiple assignments multiplies that effort, but navigating three rather than four committees this year was another boon to the campaign. From here, the bills were scheduled hearings, where proponents and opponents come to testify, urging committee members to vote favorably or unfavorably, and/or suggesting any desired amendments.
Those of us in Annapolis met with committee members to brief them and ask for their support during the hearing, and we organized diverse panels of advocates – from nonprofits, government agencies, and the business community – to testify at bill hearings. Our leading advocates (special shout outs to Maryland Sierra Club and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters) helped conduct research to prepare bill sponsors and committee members, and to supplement the materials provided to all committee members in advance of the hearing. We collected studies and sign-on letters, and those on the front-lines of environmental protection shared photos and data to illustrate the scope and severity of foam pollution, and the support for a consistent, statewide ban of the material to move Maryland toward a cleaner future.
This is where YOU came in. Through our foam bill coalition, partners statewide mobilized their members – generating more than 12,000 emails and phone calls to legislators! As we met with legislators and conducted follow-up after the hearings, it was hard to ignore: many Marylanders supported a foam ban, and they were making that clear to their elected representatives, many of whom gained new understanding on the issue, and had their position influenced in favor of the bill.
Following hearings, the bill gets discussed in committee and/or sub-committee where amendments can be suggested and voted on. First up was the House Environment Subcommittee of E&T where we received the first indication of the rough waters ahead. A key concern the emerged from some of the Republicans on the committee was uneggspected based on past years’ experience — egg cartons and a desire to eggxempt them – which also became a theme in the Senate as well. We researched the prevalence of foam egg cartons in state, the cost of foam and alternative cartons, and worked to connect with egg producers on their thoughts about the bill. We found that cardboard cartons were cheaper, more eggs than not in Maryland markets were packaged in non-foam (and some that were would be exempted under the current bill language) and that many egg producers did not foresee a negative impact, and supported the intent of the bill.
Next up – full committee vote in the Senate, and then consideration by the whole Senate (aka onto the Senate floor). On Second Reader five weakening amendments were offered; all were defeated. The bill went to Third Reader and final passage where it passed 34-14 in a bipartisan vote.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the House Environment committee offered several amendments. We spent time reviewing each amendment with the bill sponsor and other subject matter experts and advocates, and shared our position with committee members. E&T voted the bill out of committee with some of these amendments, sending it to the secondary committee – Economic Matters – to discuss and hold their vote. Some further clarifying amendments – and conversations on cartons! – later, and ECM voted the bill out of committee, taking it to its next destination: the House floor. The House followed the Senate rejecting the same amendments during Second Reader and passing the bill on Third Reader in a 97-28 bipartisan vote.
So what next? Does it now go to the Governor? Not just yet. The House and Senate passed different versions and they will have to reconcile their differences. There are several vehicles to conform the two bills so that one version is passed and sent to the Governor. Over these final weeks of session, we’ll see that process unfold, and continue to keep our followers posted. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram!
-Kim Lamphier, Advocacy Director