Maryland Horse Council Newsletter May 1999

Message from the President, Sol Goldstein


The ninety-day 1999 Maryland legislative session closed on Monday, April 9, much to the relief of Maryland horsemen as we successfully defeated a bill that would have dramatically impacted trail users and pleasure riders throughout the state.

A well-organized network of hunting groups, the “Sunday Hunting Coalition,” introduced a bill that would have extended deer hunting to seven days a week. Currently, Maryland allows hunting six days a week, with no hunting allowed on Sundays. Although bow season begins in September, the hunting issue really becomes serious for trail users during firearm season, beginning the day after Thanksgiving and concluding in mid-January. During this time, trail riders, in addition to hikers, bikers, bird watchers and others, generally limit their public park usage to Sundays. Of course, we had no way of knowing that this bill was going to be introduced until it was, but once it was introduced, the equestrian community and other trail users quickly mobilized. Word spread like wildfire via e-mail, phone and fax; not to mention the MHC newsletter in The Equiery.

The Maryland Horse Council made defeating these bills (HB 906 & SB 566) our number one legislative priority, sending I our lobbyist, Ira Cooke, to battle the issue. Because the bill was sponsored by House members Weir, Boutin, Eckart, Guns, Klausmeier, McKee and Redmer, all of whom are on the House Environmental Matters Committee, and because Del. Guns is the chair of this same committee, we decided to focus our efforts on defeating the bill on the Senate side. A bill must bass both the House and the Senate before it can become law. Numerous members of the equestrian community testified at the initial House hearing on March 4th, as well as at the Senate hearing on March 5th. Both committees were impressed with the rapid mobilization of opposition forces with such short notice, as those testifying in opposition greatly outnumbered those that testified in favor.

On March 5th, MHC testified before the Senate Economic and Environmental Matters Committee. Hunters supporting the bill argues that blue laws (prohibition of certain activities on Sundays, the Christian Sabbath) are antiquated; that hunting is a family activity and hunters are being denied quality family time because they can only take their children hunting on Saturdays (or they have to pull them out of school during the week); that other states permit Sunday hunting; and that Sunday hunting is necessary to cull Maryland’s growing deer population.

MHC’s opposition to the bill was based on one premise: equality, fair access to the public trails and parklands for all users: hikers, bikers, trail riders and others. MHC immediate past president, Malcolm Commer, himself an avid deer hunter and a statistician for the University of Maryland, successfully used statistics to show that adding Sundays would not significantly impact or reduce the deer population, and noted that Maryland’s deer season is already significantly longer than the states that allow hunting on Sundays (in general, those states only have about a ten day firearm season for deer, whereas we have a six to seven week season). Crystal Brumme, MHC secretary and publisher of The Equiery, testified that trail riding, hiking, biking, bird watching etc. are also family activities, which families can only do on Sundays during hunting season. She also explained the size and economic impact of Maryland’s equestrian community, that trail riding is the number one equine activity, and noted that The Equiery had received more phone calls, faxes, emails and letters on this legislative issue than on all others combined. Several other Maryland horsemen testified (see below), noting how hunting currently impacts their lives and recreational activities, and explaining what the impact of extending hunting to Sundays would mean.

As expected, HB 906 did pass through the House (after several hearings and amendments). However, we knew it still had to pass through the Senate Committee, which is where we had already laid our groundwork on March 5th, and where SB 566 had already died. Nevertheless, we received numerous outraged phone calls from the equestrian community, as word spread that the bill had “passed” – without understanding that the bill had to pass through yet another committee, and then before the whole Senate before the hunters could declare victory.

Once the House passed their amended version of the bill (which would extend only bow hunting to Sundays), the Senate Committee was forced to reconsider the issue. Although a closed hearing was originally scheduled, the Committee gracious opened it to limited testimony. Malcolm Commer recapped his and Crystal Brumme’s testimony, while Anne Bennof concisely noted TROT’s opposition (TROT being the largest organization for trail riders in the state), and Jacqui Cowan spoke on behalf of multiple organizations (such as the Girl Scouts). The committee then soundly vetoed the bill, with Senators Blount, Hollinger, Conway, Dyson, Frosh, Harris, Jacobs, McCabe, Pinsky, Sfikas voting against the bill, and only Senator Collins voting for the bill. Remember that, people, at the polls in the next election. In the meantime, a nice thank you to all those senators will go a long way to endearing the horse community to them.

I am proud of the Maryland equestrian community for their fast action, commitment and dedication. I am proud of our MHC committee for their excellent testimony. I am pleased with the work of our professional legislative representative, Ira Cooke, and his able assistant Cindy Ambrose. This issue demonstrates the effectiveness of the Maryland Horse Council, what we can do when we work together.

But it also demonstrates the benefits of hiring professional counsel. Not all the issues are going to be so dramatic and have such obvious and immediate ramifications. Sometimes the ramifications can be subtle, long reaching and not interesting enough to stir the passions of horse people, but critical nevertheless. It is times like that when it benefits the horse industry to have a continual presence in Annapolis representing us. In addition to the Sunday Hunting bill, MHC and Ira Cooke were monitoring and active on may other bills that impact our community. It is a never-ending battle, but one which we hope you will continue to support by being a member of the Maryland Horse Council.

We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our next meeting, July 27. Until then, Happy Trials! - Sol Goldstein

MHC Executive Committee
Sol Goldstein, president
LuAnne Levens, vice president
Keith Wills, treasurer
Crystal Brumme, secretary
Tim Capps
Malcolm Commer
Denis Glaccum
Dorothy Troutman
Mike Erskin
Bev Raymond
Shirley Geis