It can be overwhelming to consider the vast number of issues that are put forward to the General Assembly. A total of 2,745 bills were submitted in 2020 for review by senators and delegates. The pandemic has flipped that whole process on its head. Rightly so, the General Assembly pivoted to focus on what was most important at the end of last year’s session, however, as we now look upon a transformed landscape, it’s time to consider how we truly prioritize. I’m sure each one of us is re-assessing what is truly most important in our lives.
The General Assembly will have the tough task of sorting through a host of competing priorities during the 2021 session. There were many bills that would have significantly helped the people of Maryland that were shelved when the session ended early. A lot of great work by delegates, senators, advocacy organizations, and grassroots volunteers was halted.
With planning happening now for the 2021 session, the question is how you choose to prioritize what is important legislation. Given the pandemic, there will be a lot of pressure to focus on ways to sure up the economy which is important. However, we shouldn’t let that pressure limit our creativity in addressing gaps in fundamental rights. If there is one thing we learned from the pandemic, it was the value of nature in our lives, being able to take a walk and breathe clean air. Unfortunately, while we may value clean air, the right to clean air is not protected in Maryland, and not all communities are treated equitably. Communities of color are overburdened with air pollution and environmental degradation.
The Maryland Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) cites that “everyone has a fundamental and inalienable right to a healthy environment” but the state entities accountable to enforce those rights do not have rules or regulations to enforce this right. You can watch MDEHR’s webinar on MEPA here and read Russ Stevenson’s paper on MEPA here. Watch for upcoming blog posts for MDEHR’s actions to strengthen MEPA.
When the General Assembly opens in January of 2021, the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights (MDEHR) will be advocating to address the gaps in our fundamental rights to live in a healthy environment. We cannot achieve economic security without also addressing the health of communities, including the environment we live in. By embedding the “fundamental and inalienable right to a healthy environment” in our state constitution, we are providing the balance that is needed in our state, the ability of Marylanders to hold our state government accountable for the decisions they make that impact the health of the environment and the health of the communities in Maryland. MDEHR will be holding a kick-off for the amendment campaign in December and you can follow our blog page and our Take Action page for more details coming in November.