An Unforgettable 2021 Maryland General Assembly
By Rachel Cain, Senior Associate
Many aspects of our daily lives have changed or shifted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic — including this year’s Maryland General Assembly. At Hatcher, we had to adjust to the new reality of a fast-paced 90-day legislative session where we could not be physically present with our coworkers, our clients, or even the Legislature itself. Gone were the days of huddling inside hearing rooms, managing on-location press conferences, and organizing in-person advocacy days. Despite the steep learning curve, we worked with our clients to not just adapt to this new and evolving space — but to thrive.
Together, we raised the profile of important issues, from banning flavored tobacco to improving clean water monitoring, and helped secure important legislative victories. The following are highlights of our clients’ 2021 legislative session work and accomplishments.
A coalition of tobacco control advocates, including the American Heart Association, successfully enacted Maryland’s first cigarette tax increase in almost a decade. The tobacco tax increase will raise over $95 million in revenue, reduce the long-term health care costs from adult and youth smoking, and protect all Marylanders from another deadly threat to their health — tobacco use. Hatcher is grateful to have supported the American Heart Association and its campaign through our digital media and earned media efforts.
This year, the Maryland General Assembly had a historic opportunity to save lives, address racial health inequity, and support our economy by enacting legislation (HB134/SB177) to remove all flavored tobacco products — including menthol cigarettes — from the market. With leadership from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and support from a broad-ranging coalition of faith leaders, health advocates, parents, students, and lawmakers from across the state, Hatcher helped expand the visibility of this important issue across social media — including developing a compelling motion graphic video — radio, and earned media. We drafted and placed five op-eds advocating for the legislation, including in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. Despite the bill not clearing both chambers, the client was thrilled with the groundwork we helped lay on this critical issue.
Hatcher worked with the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC) to raise awareness about SB420/HB372, legislation that would expand the decriminalization of drug paraphernalia possession in Maryland. Decriminalization helps create safer and healthier communities by decreasing community interactions with police and increasing access to sterile supplies. Previously, Maryland criminalized paraphernalia possession with penalties of up to four years in prison and a $25,000 fine. There was an exception for participants of syringe services programs, but that carve out was confusing and inconsistently enforced. We drafted and placed an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, authored by a member of BHRC and Honoring Individual Power and Strength (HIPS), in support of the bill and a public health approach to drug use. When an amended version of the bill was circulated in the Senate that would have weakened the legislation, we placed an op-ed in Maryland Matters, a publication widely read by lawmakers, calling on the Senate to pass the House version. Ultimately, the advocates won the day, and the House bill passed.
A new client to Hatcher this session, the BRIDGES Coalition fought hard to support SB279/HB396, legislation that would have authorized overdose prevention sites (OPS) in Maryland. OPS are a proven solution to the overdose crisis that provide people a place for supervised consumption, life-saving interventions, and access to treatment services. BRIDGES is a group of advocates working to end overdose and criminalization by promoting safe spaces, dignity, health, and justice for people who use drugs. Hatcher teamed up with BRIDGES to amplify its voice and raise awareness about the many benefits of OPS for the community. We created a fact sheet, developed an organic social media campaign, secured BRIDGES members interviews with On the Record (WYPR) and For the Culture on WEAA, and placed an op-ed in Maryland Matters. We also defined target audiences, crafted key messages, and created other tools that BRIDGES can use to keep the conversation going year-round. While the bill did not pass this year, we helped set up the coalition for future success as it continues the fight to bring OPS to Maryland.
This year, Hatcher worked with the Maryland Pesticide Education Network and the Smart on Pesticides Coalition on several legislative campaigns. We developed eye-catching print materials, social media graphics, and live-Tweeted hearings that helped pass legislation that provided a technical fix to the 2016 Pollinator Protection Act, closing a loophole that allowed stores to illegally sell dangerous neonicotinoid pesticides to non-authorized consumers. Hatcher also helped secure news coverage of the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act, which creates workplace safety standards and requires disclosure of positive COVID-19 cases among farmworkers. By creating action alerts, social media posts, and talking points, Hatcher also bolstered the network’s efforts to overturn Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a statewide ban on chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that harms brain development in children. We successfully placed op-eds on the topic in Maryland Matters and The Daily Record. Although the veto was not overturned, the Legislature is poised to take action on the issue if the state’s current regulation of the pesticide becomes more lenient.
Through support with media outreach, Hatcher helped Waterkeepers Chesapeake to promote several important bills this session that called for stronger implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act protections. The Climate Adaptation bill (SB 227/HB 295) will bring Maryland’s development and stormwater management regulations into the 21st century. The Citizen Intervention bill (SB 334/HB 76) gives Maryland citizens the right to intervene in a civil action under the Clean Water Act, leading to cleaner water through stronger enforcement and penalties. The Environmental Enforcement Reporting Act (SB 324/HB 204) requires Maryland to keep electronic records of water pollution and enforcement data and make them accessible to the public. This suite of legislation will protect Maryland’s families and communities from water pollution as intended under the Clean Water Act. All three bills passed both chambers and are awaiting the Governor’s review and signature. Waterkeepers Chesapeake also endorsed the Conowingo Dam Emergency Legislation (HB427/SB540) to prevent Maryland from waiving its Water Quality Certification authority in any binding agreement, including the settlement agreement with Exelon on the Conowingo Dam 50-year federal relicensing. Hatcher helped place an op-ed in the Daily Record in support of the bill. Unfortunately, the bill didn’t make it out of committee.