Roundup: Abortion rights bills advance, offshore wind expansion passes Senate, and the duck hunting debate you never expected

A flag waves on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis, near the State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Lawmakers in the Maryland House of Delegates and Senate advanced two bills on Friday that are part of a package of legislation drafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

The Senate gave preliminary approval Friday evening to Senate Bill 786, which prevents the public disclosure of home addresses of healthcare professionals who perform abortions. The bill also restricts personal health information of patients who have the procedure unless the patient consents to the disclosure. Violations are punishable by a fine of $10,000 per day.

A similar bill received preliminary approval in the House of Delegates earlier in the day.

The Senate also voted 33-11 and gave final approval Friday to Senate Bill 859 without debate.

Under the bill as passed by the Senate, Maryland judges could not issue summons based on out-of-state criminal or grand jury investigations related to abortion procedures in Maryland.

The bill also prevents interstate depositions or the filing of out-of-state liens related to abortions performed in Maryland. People performing, helping others to access or receiving an abortion could not be extradited to a state where the procedure is illegal.

Additionally, state boards could not revoke, suspend or discipline an abortion provider in Maryland who was disciplined in another state because they performed a procedure that is legal in Maryland.

The House would still have to approve the measure before it can be sent to the governor for his signature.

Wind bill passes Senate

The Senate gave final approval Friday to a bill designed to help expand the offshore wind energy industry in Maryland.

The vote, following half an hour of debate, was 33-12 — with Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County) joining all the Democrats present voting in favor of the measure. Salling’s district includes the Tradepoint Atlantic industrial development, where two offshore wind developers plan to build and assemble wind turbines before installing them in the Atlantic off the coast of Ocean City.

“This bill gives us options,” Salling said.

The measure would dramatically expand the state’s offshore wind energy generation goals, authorize the state to pursue more federal wind energy leases, and instruct the Maryland Public Service Commission to study ways to bring transmission cables onshore from the turbines in the sea.

Republicans argued that the bill is too costly — especially when utility ratepayers have been paying to subsidize wind energy development for a decade with few tangible results.

“We haven’t put one turbine in the ocean but not we’re going to try to quadruple what the state is being asked to do,” said Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey (R-Upper Shore).

But Democrats said the bill has been crafted to make Maryland competitive with other East Coast states that are aggressively pursuing wind energy development — and addresses one of the great challenges of modern times.

“The climate crisis is at our doorstep,” said the bill sponsor, Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard). “Our children and our children’s children are watching what we’re doing here this evening.”

A ducking debate

It sounded just too ridiculous to be true:

Somewhere in the state of Maryland, people are raising ducks for the sole purpose of firing them heavenwards, en masse, from a cannon, only so that they can then be shot out of the sky under the banner of “hunting.”

Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) mentioned this impossibly preposterous notion when a routine bill on hunting and wildlife conservation (Senate Bill 327) that would raise the cost of hunting licenses for the first time in 40 years hit the Senate floor Friday for a preliminary vote.

“I’m not sure what is fact or fiction here,” he said.

Kramer asked the floor leader on the legislation, Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s), if there had been any discussion of this cannon rumor when the bill was considered by the full Education, Energy and the Environment Committee.

He had heard that this idea was hatched in order to get around prohibitions on hunting “migratory” waterfowl.

There are, he said, “some facilities that are actually raising ducks, domestically, on site, and then they are … being launched into the air with cannons to then be shot down by, I guess, those who are wealthy enough to have the opportunity to ‘hunt’ … these ducks that are launched from cannons.”

Kramer’s description it drew snickers and grins from the incredulous in the chamber.

But Augustine’s response that yes, such a thing was true, seemed to sober the Senate.

“Yes, senator, we did hear that. That is the current law. It is acceptable under current law, within the framework that is there,” Augustine said.

“Wow,” Kramer said, asking why the committee did not take up the “unnecessarily cruel” matter of ducks being shot out of cannons.

“The committee’s thoughts on that were this: The essence of this bill is to actually raise fees that have not been raised literally in 40 years,” Augustine said.

He explained that the subject of Sunday hunting began to dilute the discussion of increasing the fees in committee, and members deleted it to keep the legislation relatively clean, before bringing it out to the floor.

“It sounded so bizarre that I was trying to get a handle on whether there was any” truth to what he had heard, Kramer said.

Augustine said there was no further committee investigation into the number or location of the duck-cannon establishments in the state, because “we were staying focused on this bill.”

However, Augustine said, “It really does make sense that there is a separate piece of legislation that deals with that issue. I completely support that, but this issue is about raising fees that have been set from 40 years ago.”

Ultimately, the bill passed the chamber unanimously later in the day.

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