2015 Maryland General Assembly Roundup

April 20, 2015

Having ushered in a new Administration and more than 70 new General Assembly members, 2015 proved to be an important year for educating lawmakers and achieving gains for many Marylanders, particularly on the environmental front.

This legislative session, The Hatcher Group had the opportunity to do what we do best: connect nonprofits with policymakers and the media. We are grateful to all of the nonprofit organizations with whom we had the privilege to work. The following are highlights of our clients’ 2015 legislative session accomplishments:

Reducing Pollution—and Increasing Transparency—From Agriculture

MCACFor years, the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition has been working to reduce phosphorus pollution through a new rule to better manage manure. Our efforts to convey the importance of the issue resulted in strong and on-message media coverage across the state and nationally. We helped to unite a variety of groups, giving the coalition a stronger voice in political negotiations, and collaborated with other environmental and legislative allies. We ended the legislative session with the long overdue phosphorus rule, and we continue outreach about the need to reduce agricultural pollution so we can restore local waterways.

The coalition also worked to increase transparency from agriculture, and we led communications efforts highlighting the need for 21st century improvements to the 45-year old Maryland Public Information Act through compelling messages and materials. We helped advocates pass comprehensive legislation that standardized and reduced fees and established stronger oversight. The coalition will continue efforts to end public information exemptions for the agricultural industry.

Protecting Pollinators, Wildlife and Public Health

The Smart on Pesticides Maryland campaign to restrict toxic neonicotinoid pesticides included an active digital media effort that reached more than one million followers on Twitter alone. bee-button-150x150We also created strong branding elements – from buttons to honey samples – to elevate the campaign and used an infographic, a public survey and traditional media outreach to battle well-funded opponents. The House environment committee intends to study the scientific research about how these pesticides affect bees, wildlife, aquatic life and human health this summer.

Improving Maryland’s Polluted Runoff Law

Working with the Clean Water, Healthy Families coalition, we countered negative political rhetoric and created compelling messages to inform the media and help advocates communicate the many benefits of local stormwater programs. We released a statewide poll and armed advocates with tools they needed to defeat multiple bills that would have repealed Maryland’s polluted runoff law. By session’s end, we helped to pass a stronger law that holds local governments accountable for cleaning up harmful stormwater pollution.

Protecting Vulnerable Marylanders

68We worked with the Climate Communication Consortium of Maryland to create clear, concise and compelling messaging on a variety of legislative issues that all focused around a cleaner Maryland now. By creating messaging and social media graphics, we provided the many organizations within the Consortium with tools showing the need to delay fracking in Maryland and increase Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Protecting Maryland’s Open Spaces

Funding for Maryland’s Program Open Space has been threatened over the past several years, and visually presenting the benefits of this program helped avert more drastic cuts. We designed three flyers for Partners for Open Space to demonstrate the value of preserving land for environmental or recreation uses. The General Assembly restored some of the proposed cuts, and discussion will continue next year about the future needs of the program and how it will be funded.

Keeping the Door Open for Vulnerable Marylanders

We launched a new campaign for the Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition, asking legislators to “Keep the Door Open” for Marylanders who need mental health or substance use disorder care. We designed a logo, a Twitter account, a new website and helped stage a rally in Annapolis that drew hundreds of people.

We successfully raised awareness of the need for behavioral health care services, and the legislature restored some of the damaging budget cuts.

Strengthening Our Communities

We helped the Community Development Network of Maryland support local efforts to strengthen communities statewide. By assisting with the creation of a fact sheet and one-pagers on important issues, developing and promoting an op-ed on priorities and maintaining and growing their Twitter and Facebook accounts, we spread the word on the importance of community development work using clear, concise and compelling messaging. Many of the Network’s state investment priorities were maintained.

Protecting Vulnerable Families

We helped the Abell Foundation document problems with tax sales in a compelling report that we disseminated to policymakers. By creating an infographic that described the complicated tax sale process, we illustrated the need to strengthen policies to protect struggling homeowners. The General Assembly responded to the report and passed legislation that raises the minimum debt that could trigger a tax sale to $750.

Raising the Profile of Special Education

We organized a Lobby Day for the Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities, which represents schools serving children with disabilities. Our communications support helped the organization make a successful case for increased funding for members schools.