by Cliff Terry |
From tracking bills to communicating with your delegates or senator, you can find it all on the General Assembly's website
This years 3-month session of the Maryland General Assembly began Jan. 11. Proposals of environmental importance include those to:
1. Reduce emissions of four major air pollutants by the states seven dirtiest power plants (introduced as the Healthy Air Act, Senate Bill 154 and House Bill 189);
2. Stop spending most of the money scheduled for land conservation and parks under Program Open Space on other things; and
3. Fund programs to reduce polluted runoff from farms into streams and the Bay.
To discover whats going on in the General Assembly, theres no better way than the General Assemblys website. This article will point you to some of the most useful items there. You could find them on your own, but some are easy to miss.
The sites home page is at http://mlis.state.md.us/, and much of what youd want is listed right on the home page. The two-column table of contents near the top of the page takes you mostly to items on that page, so browsing that page may be the best approach.
For a description of the steps from introduction of a bill to its becoming law, click on Department of Legislative Services in the section with the same name just above the bottom of the page, then Documents & Publications, then 2005 Drafting Manual, and see chapter II.
The Bill Indexes section leads you to lists of every bill introduced on a subject you choose from a list. If you know the number of a bill youre interested in, the Bill Information and Status section leads you to its text, amendments if any, where it is in the process, and a statement of its fiscal impacts (Fiscal Note). The Fiscal Note also gives a good explanation of the bill. Links to Senate Synopsis and House Synopsis in the last line of that section give you lists of every bill introduced in the session so far.
The Hearing Schedules section ttells you when and where the assigned committee will hold a hearing on a bill. Anyone can testify, which means you can give your opinion and any relevant facts you can fit into the few minutes allowed, so dont be shy. See below on that page for information on parking and security.
In the next section, Budget Information, there seems to be plenty to help you find what you want to know.
Bills always show the existing statutory language they would change and some of the context, but if you need more, the Statutes section takes you to the full text of Marylands existing statutes.
Toward the bottom of the home page, under the heading Everything Else and the subheading Whats Happening at the Maryland General Assembly, click on 2006 Session - Dates of Interest Calendar for critical dates in the sessions schedule. Under the same subheading, click on Helpful Hints and Reminders for General Assembly Visitors for parking information and the warning that visitors must show photo ID and pass through a metal detector. (So dont carry sharp objects such as scissors and metal nail files.) In the same section, under the subheading Publications from the Department of Legislative Services, is a link to the Legislative Wrap-up, a weekly summary of whats happening to bills.
Instead of, or in addition to testifying, you can contact your own legislators, and the Contact Your Legislators section near the top of the page can help. If you dont know who they are or your district, click on Find your legislators using a street address and type your address in. The other item in the section invites you to e-mail them. To identify your legislators if you know your district, scroll down to the Roster section and click on View Roster and List of Committees, then Roster of Legislators by District. For mailing addresses and phone numbers, also click on View Roster and List of Committees, but then Senate Biographies or House of Delegates Biographies. For a letter, however, the name plus Senate (or House) Office Building, Annapolis, MD 21401 will suffice.
These are the highlights. Theres a lot more on the General Assembly website, as you will discover when you visit.
> 2006 Table of Contents