Where you’ll find the lobbyists in Annapolis

By Kristen Harbeson, resident Lobbyist and Political Director

I love tracking my steps during session – wondering how many miles I logged in a day.  Although there are days when my feet ache from all the walking, there is at least as much sitting as there is walking: sitting in committee rooms (and occasionally on the floor outside of committee rooms); sitting around tables during coalition meetings and while talking to legislators; sitting in the public lounges for emergency conversations with colleagues.

One of the most likely places you’ll find me during much of the Session is in a wingback chair in the hallway on the second floor of the House Office Building.  From there, I can talk to Delegates and their staff pass by on their way to and from the Environment and Transportation and Economic Matters Committees.  I’m not the only one who tends to find herself there – it’s a spot where lobbyists from every kind of advocacy group will find a place to take a call, charge their phones, or catch a few minutes on their laptops between meetings.

These kinds of relaxed locations are where conversations happen that build community, and sometimes provide news in bits and pieces that, when taken together, can help provide context to help shape a legislative strategy.

Ramon Palencia-Calvo, our Deputy Director testifies for one of our priority pieces of legislation.

Ramon Palencia-Calvo, our Deputy Director testifies for one of our priority pieces of legislation.

This week there was a hearing on our first priority bill.  Ramon testified on the importance of fully funding the Maryland Transit Authority, which has a $2 billion shortfall over the next ten years according to a study released last summer. The MTA serves every jurisdiction in the state, but low-income and already disadvantaged communities suffer the most from failures due to inadequate maintenance. Additionally, a strong, affordable, and accessible public transportation system is essential to reducing Maryland’s greenhouse gas pollution. (Did you know that the transportation sector – especially highway traffic – represents more than 40% of our greenhouse gasses?!) This is always an important moment in a campaign.  It’s the first time that arguments for and against are presented side by side, and examined by the committees who make the decision of what happens next. It’s a little bit like a play, and a little bit like a polite boxing match.

In this case, the hearing was in front of the House Appropriations Committee which works with the State Budget.  Ramon, and all of our partners provided strong testimony after the bill was presented by Delegate Lierman.  The Department of Transportation spoke against the bill, which isn’t uncommon, especially for bills that require the Governor to spend money in a specific way. Next week, the same bill will be heard in the Senate, and then we work on the next step: A vote from subcommittee.

Sitting or standing, or running through the halls, you can count on your Maryland LCV staff working hard next week to pass strong environmental laws.  Next week we’ll have some marathon bill hearings, too, so stay tuned!

Circles within circles

Weekly Counter

The weekly counter of our Political Director

By Kristen Harbeson, Political Director

There are a lot of analogies to describe Annapolis during the legislative session. One of my favorites is thinking of it as a dance: spinning, and turning, passing hand to hand; dozens of interactions, sometimes brief and sometimes lengthy, that ultimately creates a community. Circles within circles, everyone relentlessly moving through the steps of the dance that does not end until Sine Die, the last day of session. 

I was reminded of the nature of the community last week. When an emergency took me away from Session immediately after it began, the legislative work didn’t miss a beat. The Maryland LCV family and our coalition partners all stepped in to make sure that, while I took care of urgent family business, none of the important work we do together suffered: the dance continued. 

Coming back on Monday I was able to jump right back into the circle, only slightly disoriented with having missed a few rounds of the routine. The community is also extremely caring: While we all have our roles – legislator, aide, and advocate – we all are people first, and the human connections can be both strong and affirming. It’s one of the many reasons I love this job and this world. 

This week’s work was visiting legislative offices with the “blue backs” (in the House) and “white backs” (in the Senate) of our priority bills. These are literally copies of the bills, where legislators can sign their names as cosponsors before the bills are introduced.

 Asking for cosponsors helps us to determine the level of support for a particular bill (signing on as a co-sponsor is a strong commitment of support), and an opportunity to answer the questions that legislators and their staffs may have on our bills. Walking into their offices also, sometimes, gives the legislators a chance to say “hey! I wanted to talk to you about this other bill I’m thinking about. Do you have a minute?” 

Last week we were walking around two priority bills: the Plastic Bag ban and the ban on Chlorpyrifos – which I will talk more about in the weeks to come. Both of these are just about ready to move to their next step – being “read out” on the floor and assigned to a committee for a hearing date. We’ll be doing the same process next week with other bills, as the steps of the dance become ever more complicated (and interesting!).