Voting and Advocacy Guide to 2024 Legislative Session

Repost from MD 4 Safe Tech

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Summary of legislation (download pdf version here)

What you can do:

  • email or call your Maryland representatives
  • Submit written testimony or speak at a hearing (see testimony links below)
  • Share links with your friends

HOW TO SUBMIT TESTIMONY

HB 505 / SB 682 increases oversight of the political activities of public utilities. The bill a) expands the list of political activities that public utilities cannot charge to their ratepayers and b) requires utilities to report political expenditures to the public service commission (PSC). Public utilities often rent out space on their infrastructure to telecom companies (for example, renting space to wireless companies for cell tower antennas to be attached to utility poles or water tanks). This infrastructure is paid for by ratepayers, and therefore the bill’s transparency provisions should apply to these activities. Support with amendments. Two hearings are scheduled for February 22 at 1 PM, one in the House (Economic Matters Committee, sign-ups and written testimony accepted on Tuesday, February 20, 8 AM to 6 PM) and one in the Senate (Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee, sign-ups and written testimony accepted on Wednesday, February 21, 8 AM to 6 PM).

Amendment #1: in paragraph 4-504 (B)(3), the list of costs that are considered political should include utilities promoting companies that lease or occupy the utility’s infrastructure, or the services they offer. For example, utilities should not charge ratepayers to promote wireless services. (For draft language see link)
Amendment #2: §405 (B) should require that the reports filed by utility companies are available to the public. Without this amendment, the public service commission would have this information, but the public could be blocked from accessing it.

HB 864 contains language that may encourage, and potentially create additional authority to implement, mandates for smart meters for electric and gas utility service, including in sections 7-222 and 7-226(A)(3). More broadly, the bill requires utilities to promote energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, and shift residents to electric appliances inside homes. While we support energy efficiency, we take no position on the overall bill. Proposed amendment: section 7-227 should expressly prohibit any entity, whether the public service commission, a utility provider, or the executive branch, from preventing any ratepayer from opting out of a smart meter on their residence, without fee or penalty. A public hearing is scheduled for February 29 at 1 PM (House Economic Matters Committee, sign-ups and written testimony accepted on Tuesday, February 27 8 AM to 6 PM).

PG/MC 112-24 (for Montgomery County only) would fund the Office of the People’s Counsel. The people’s counsel submits information, in the interest of having more complete information on the record for land-use decisions. Wireless facilities are considered land-use decisions. For more information see Mocodelegation hearing on November 27. While other bills from the Montgomery County delegation have moved forward and been voted on in committee, this bill has not yet had a committee vote. The Economic Development committee of the Moco delegation held a worksession on February 1. Urge all members of the Montgomery County delegation to support this bill so that it goes to Annapolis for adoption. SUPPORT.

SB 112 would require that each county in the state create a policy that prohibits the use of cell phones during instructional time in school, unless the teacher explicitly directs students to use their phones for educational purposes. This is a small step but a good one to support. The hearing was on January 17 and not a single witness showed up. Contact your state delegation and members of the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee. SUPPORT.

HB 210 would mandate that all appliances in new homes and apartments be 100% electric, starting in 2026. The bill makes no accommodation for residents with electromagnetic sensitivity (EMS) or EMS disability. The Access Board, an independent federal agency that develops design criteria for compliance with the American Disabilities Act, in its report on Indoor Environmental Quality, noted as early as 2005 that a “California Department of Health Services survey has found that 3 percent of the people interviewed reported that they are unusually sensitive to electric appliances or power lines…For people who are electromagnetically sensitive, the presence of…electric ranges and numerous other electrical appliances can make a building inaccessible.” A hearing is scheduled for February 14 (House Environment and Transportation Committee. Sign-ups and written testimony accepted Monday, February 12, 8 AM to 6 PM. We take no position on the energy policy in this bill. An amendment could allow Marylanders with EMS or EMS disability to opt out from mandated, increased exposure to electromagnetic fields.

HB 351 / SB 361 is a reauthorization for $1.8 billion of borrowing by the state. Among the borrowing, $353 million can be used for public school infrastructure, including costs eligible for federal E-rate subsidies. The FCC allows E-rate funds to be spent on wireless infrastructure, satellite, and Wi-Fi in schools (see Appendix B). It recently expanded eligibility to Wi-Fi on school buses, and is preparing to allow schools to use E-rate to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots for children to take home. Proposed “limitation amendment”: expressly exclude wireless infrastructure from being eligible for this funding (thereby prohibiting the state from incurring debt to purchase wireless infrastructure in schools).

HB 350 / SB 360 is the governor’s annual budget. It includes $172 million from the federal government, which the executive branch (Office of Statewide Broadband) will allocate to deploy broadband in areas that lack access. The draft plan by the Office of Statewide Broadband allows discretion for this money to be used for wireless infrastructure. Proposed “limitation amendment”: prohibit this money from being spent on wireless infrastructure.

Heard about other 2024 state bills affecting safe technology in Maryland? Please let us know via “contact us form” on the right hand side of this page

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