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Climate change bill shows rift between House, Senate — and Democrats

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate gave final Friday approval to a modified version of a climate change bill, but the passage of the long-sought measure revealed deep rifts between the two chambers, including among Democrats.

The vote along veto-proof majority party lines sends the bill to the governor’s desk, possibly by Friday. Republicans, who opposed the bill, used the vote to highlight discord over how the bill was changed. Those senators said they plan to continue to raise concerns that the Senate is rolling over and showing its belly to the House on key issues.

"We're getting run over by the House of Delegates, and this is bill No. 1," said Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore. (THE DAILY RECORD/BRYAN P. SEARS)

“We’re getting run over by the House of Delegates, and this is bill No. 1,” said Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore. (THE DAILY RECORD/BRYAN P. SEARS)

“We’re getting run over by the House of Delegates, and this is bill No. 1,” said Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore. “I think everyone should be aware that we’re starting a ticker on how many bills are coming across like this where we’re going to have to take it or leave it.”

The bill calls for a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2031 based on 2006 levels. The state is expected to meet a carbon-neutral goal by 2045. Owners of large buildings are also expected to reduce or offset their carbon footprint in roughly 8 years.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s and chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, acknowledged some chagrin over changes but said the core of his original bill remains in place.

“We can tell our children and grandchildren we took steps,” said Pinsky, as he urged senators to agree with the House changes. “We didn’t stay silent. We didn’t put our head in the sand that’s getting more water. We didn’t ignore this. We didn’t deny climate change was real. We have taken steps.”

Some Democrats who supported the bill were already grumbling that the House watered down the original version.

One late change removed efforts to encourage the installation of solar panels on news schools as the state spends more than $2.2 billion to modernize those buildings statewide.

“Our grandchildren are going to refer to us as crazy and say ‘what were they thinking when they adopted policies that did not put solar panels on roofs but instead covered our agriculture productive land with solar panels?'” said Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County and sponsor of the solar panel effort. “It is the wrong way to go.”

Another House-induced change added a pilot program that would help some counties replace aging school buses with electric buses. Utility companies could help offset the costs and then get to lease back electricity stored in those buses during the summer during peak energy use.

The Senate Finance Committee is currently considering a House bill that would have created the program. That same committee has rejected similar efforts in other years.

"Overall, I'm very, very supportive of this bill, but this is very troubling. It's very, very troubling, and I'm very upset by it," said Sen. Malcom Augustine, D-Prince George’s. (THE DAILY RECORD/BRYAN P. SEARS)

“Overall, I’m very, very supportive of this bill, but this is very troubling. It’s very, very troubling, and I’m very upset by it,” said Sen. Malcom Augustine, D-Prince George’s. (THE DAILY RECORD/BRYAN P. SEARS)

Sen. Malcolm Augustine, D-Prince George’s, said the amendment supersedes the Senate committee process.

“I’m new here. I thought we had some rules, single subject, things like that,” he said. “I’m a little troubled by the way that this is happening. Overall, I’m very, very supportive of this bill, but this is very troubling. It’s very, very troubling, and I’m very upset by it.”

Some believe the change was made to help larger counties, namely Montgomery County, with their efforts to convert their bus fleets. Augustine said it could force residents of his county to help offset the cost of new buses purchased by neighboring Montgomery County through rate increases of as much as 7%.

Sen. Ben Kramer, D-Montgomery, said Montgomery County is already moving to clean bus technology. He denied his country would disproportionately benefit.

“What you’re witnessing colleagues is parochialism rearing its very ugly head,” said Kramer. “We are the state of Maryland. Our decision process does not end at jurisdictional boundaries.”

Republicans seized on the irritation with the House in the closing 10 days of the session, suggesting that the Senate was being dominated by what senators consider the “lower chamber.”

“We are all aware of it now. It’s not a secret anymore. It’s not, hey, games behind (the scenes) that are being played,” said Hershey. “We’re all seeing it and this is No. 1. I know that this side of the aisle is going to start pointing out these bills because we’re feeling marginalized. The Senate is feeling marginalized right now. We’ve now become the House of Delegates’ annex and it’s very, very frustrating to see all the work that we’re doing, whether we agree on the bills or not, we’re putting a lot of effort into good policy over here.”

The criticism also harkens back to last session when the House bottled up Pinsky’s climate change bill and later got its way on other key issues, including police reform and sports wagering.

Now, Republicans point to late changes in the climate bill as well as an overhaul of the Senate’s recreational marijuana legislation. The changes make the bill conform to one from the House that will include a constitutional amendment as well as a bill that lays out some broad strokes for implementation and a number of studies.

When asked if the marijuana bill was one Republicans would add to their list of legislation in which the Senate gave in to the House, Hershey said: “Definitely. The Senate dealt with market structure and licensing. The first 77 pages of (the Senate) bill was stricken and replaced with the (House) bill.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson made light of the situation as he called for a vote to concur with changes made by the House to a bill he sponsored.

“While we’re annexing, let’s just go ahead and annex the whole way,” he said, later adding “that the legislative process is at times about compromise.

“Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don’t and when we don’t we try to find a way to work through it and I think that’s what the best of the legislature looks like,” Ferguson said.