ANNAPOLIS ROUNDUP: Senate Vote Scheduled for Oyster Shell Recycling Bill

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 19, 2018)—The Maryland Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill that would further incentivize oyster shell recycling.

"This bill continues to promote a very viable shell recovery program that's been in existence for five years," said Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne's, the bill's chief sponsor.

The Shell Recycling Alliance, an Oyster Recovery Partnership program, picks up discarded shell from restaurants and seafood distributors in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia.

Its employees drive trucks around collecting barrels of stinky shells from restaurants, recording how much shell each establishment saved. The program totals the amount of bushels each restaurant recycled at the end of each year, creating a tax credit certificate.

Prior to this legislation, each restaurant could earn $5 per bushel against its state income tax, for up to 150 bushels — or $750. Senate Bill 153 doubles the maximum allowable credit to $1,500 per year.

"What we found out in talking to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, that not enough restaurants were going through the process for only a $750 tax credit," Hershey said. "If the amount were a little bit higher they'd go through the effort to go in and claim that tax credit, which obviously means they would provide more shells as well."

Scott Herbst, the owner of Sailor Oyster Bar in Annapolis, said that it's a win-win when considering the tax credit and shell recycling's greater impact on the bay.

"Any sort of tax break for a small business is beneficial," Herbst said. "Every penny counts."

Hershey's bill also makes the previously temporary program permanent. More restaurants supplying a steady stream of shell could be very beneficial for the Chesapeake.

"This tax credit is a win-win-win for everyone – restaurants benefit, oyster producers benefit and ultimately the Bay benefits," Oyster Recovery Partnership spokeswoman Karis King wrote in an email to the University of Maryland's Capital News Service.

The shell recycling program recycled 33,400 bushels — or 1,169 tons— of shell from 340 establishments throughout the Bay region in 2017, according to a Recovery Partnership press release.

Last year's 33,400-bushel effort was the Shell Recycling Alliance's record. But it's still short of the demand required for large-scale oyster restoration.

"The bottom line is that oyster shells are in critically short supply," said Tom Price, operations manager for the alliance.

That's a problem because, as Hershey acknowledged, scientists have determined that native oyster shell is the best material to construct man-made reefs, which in turn are covered in spat — baby oysters — and become self-sustaining.

A healthy oyster reef can filter billions of gallons of water and provide habitat for some of the bay's keystone species, like blue crabs.

Tobacco only for those 21 and older, bill states

Persons younger than 21 would not be able to purchase tobacco products, paraphernalia or electronic smoking devices under a new bill making its way through the Maryland legislature.

The bill also includes those electronic smoking devices in the definition of "tobacco products," which would not be distributed without examining government-issued photo identification for anyone the distributor believes is younger than 30.

According to a state fiscal analysis, 42 million adults and 3 million middle and high school students nationwide smoke tobacco products, and the Surgeon General estimates the economic costs of both smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke approach $300 billion annually.

Senate bill 456 will, according to the analysis, likely increase local revenue minimally from fines, but general fund revenue would decrease significantly on the state level. Medicaid expenditures would also likely decrease from reduced health care costs, according to the analysis.

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, is the lead sponsor of the legislation, which had a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

In testimony, Kelley equated the issue to the state's legal alcohol-drinking age — raised from 18 to 21 which she said reduced the number of minors consuming alcohol. Towson High School students testified Thursday, describing the negative impacts of tobacco products they've observed among other teenagers.

"I know some people love smoking and some are trying to stop smoking and are struggling with it," Kelley said. "But it really is one of the major health hazards of our time."

Bills would provide health services to female inmates

Two bills that supporters say would provide needed health services to female inmates are moving through the Maryland Legislature this session.

The first one (House bill 787/Senate bill 629) requires all corrections facilities to develop written medical care policies for pregnant inmates. While the State of Maryland and a few counties have these policies in place, some jurisdictions' detention centers leave pregnant inmates "in the dark," said Diana Philip of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland.

The second (House bill 797/Senate bill 598) requires all corrections facilities in Maryland to provide menstrual hygiene products free of charge and in the quantities inmates need.

"These women should not have to jump through hoops for basic needs," said Sen. Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, one of four sponsors of both bills.

"Everyone gets their supplies, everyone gets their dignity," said Philip, who was joined by other advocates from female health organizations.

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