By Maryland State Senator Roy Dyson
You cant miss it, election season is here. Signs are up along our local roadways with political hopefuls advertising themselves and their messages to voters.
One aspect of this election that has not received much publicity is a very important constitutional amendment that passed during the 2005 General Assembly Session. It was a bill that I worked very closely with Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Brian Frosh and Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chair Paula Hollinger to get passed.
Outraged over a secret sale by the Ehrlich Administration of 836 acres of pristine state owned land at a rock bottom price in St. Marys County to a prominent Baltimore City developer, we introduced Senate Bill 102, which essentially will prohibit this practice.
After initial opposition to the bill from the governors supporters in the Maryland Senate, virtually all of them eventually signed onto the constitutional amendment that will appear on the November ballot as co-sponsors after they heard from their constituents that the practice of giving away land to wealthy developers is a bad way for the state to do business.
Senate Bill 102 (now Chapter 617) passed into law after it passed unanimously in the Senate and by a wide margin in the House of Delegates.
This bill will amend the Maryland Constitution to prohibit the Board of Public Works from approving the sale, transfer, exchange, grant or other permanent disposition of any State-owned outdoor recreation, open space, conservation, preservation, forest or park land without General Assembly approval.
The Board of Public Works is made up of the governor, the comptroller and the state treasurer.
Since this bill has passed, Senator Brian Frosh and other elected officials have personally visited the property—which is commonly referred to as the Salem Tract - which has received statewide media attention In each case, Senator Frosh and others were accompanied by a group of concerned citizens who lived near the land that the administration had prepared to sell and feared that it would be developed. It was later revealed that development was indeed planned on the state-owned property if sold. It was these civic-minded citizens that helped prevent the sale and who ultimately led the legislature to pass the constitutional amendment. I call them heroes.
According the Senate Bill 102s fiscal note, concern was raised in September 2004 as a result of a proposal to surplus an 836.5 acre tract of land in St. Marys County (The Salem Tract). The land, which is currently a timber forest, was purchased by the State in October 2003 in order to preserve its significant contribution to Marylands resource based industry and its high overall ecological value.
It would have been a terrible thing for the state if this valuable open space had sold for development. It would have also set a terrible precedent that the State of Maryland was serving as a real estate agent for politically connected developers.
Polling has showed significant support for this constitutional amendment. Oftentimes in elections, people go to the polls to vote for the people they like for various elected positions and ignore other ballot initiatives. Please make sure to remember to vote for this constitutional amendment so that debacles such as the proposed Salem Land tract sale are not allowed to happen in this great State.
While this constitutional amendment is the big one, there will be other initiatives on the ballot that will impact our state so it is important that you look over those as well. Check out these ballot questions before you go to vote. In many cases, they are as important as the public figures you vote for and against.