Md. legislative roundup: Elephants, artificial turf, ‘unspecified’ ID gender

Maryland state law does not protect elephants in traveling circuses. (Thinkstock)

Alex Mann, correspondent

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Bills working their way through the General Assembly would outlaw using elephants in certain animal acts; ban using state funds for artificial turf fields or playgrounds; and add “unspecified” to the gender selection option on a motor vehicle license or state ID.

Criminal law: Using elephants in traveling animal act

The House Judiciary committee on Thursday was scheduled to address a bill that would outlaw using — or authorizing the use of — elephants in traveling animal shows.

Sponsored by Del. Aruna Miller, a Democrat representing Montgomery County, the legislation would penalize offenders with a fine of up to $10,000. It applies to such parties as circuses, carnivals and fairs but not permanent institutions like zoos, according to a state analysis.

Elephants are not protected by state law. Those used in traveling shows are subjected to inhumane conditions, Miller said.

“We have the responsibility to be the voice for all living creatures,” Miller said. “Animals don’t get to vote.”

The massive mammals can spend a majority of their life in chains, Miller said, and on the road.

Traveling elephants can be kept in relatively small boxcars with no temperature control, Miller said. Some are forced to eat, sleep and defecate in these cramped quarters, she added.

Miller referred to a 2011 Mother Jones article that detailed treatment of elephants by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. (The circus stopped using elephants in its performances in 2016 and closed in 2017.)

Current state law prohibits the import of certain wild and exotic animals — everything from skunks and crocodiles to bears and certain venomous snakes. The statute carries fines of up to $1,000 and $10,000, although there are exemptions for those with the required permits, animal sanctuaries and licensed veterinarians, among others.

State funds for artificial turf

A bill that would ban the use of state funds to build new — or renovate existing — athletic fields or playgrounds with synthetic material was scheduled to be presented Thursday to the House Appropriations Committee.

The fields can be made of plastic blades that often contain lead and shredded tires — known as crumb rubber — which contain carcinogens, potentially increasing the risk of cancer, according to the Children’s Environmental Health Network.

“We know there’s lead in it, so why are we exposing our kids to this?” said Miller, who is also this bill’s sponsor. She pointed out that these artificial turf facilities are primarily used by children.

Natural grass blades have antimicrobial properties that kill bacteria, Miller said. Plastic does not.

“When athletes get turf burn” resulting in open lesions, Miller said, there’s a greater risk for infection.

Sen. Douglas Peters (a Democrat representing Prince George’s County), who in the past has proposed legislation to expand the use of turf fields in his jurisdiction, said the research that reveals potential health risks was done outside of Maryland. He’s “not aware of any field across the state where” health problems occurred.

Artificial turf is often used as an alternative to natural grass because, despite higher installation costs, it is cheaper to maintain and can be more durable.

Turf fields cost about $800,000 to install, while natural grass fields have been estimated to cost $110,000 to install. Grass fields cost approximately $30,000 annually to maintain, compared with $4,000 annually for turf. However, under current law, state grants and capital funds can be used to pay for artificial field installation, according to a state fiscal analysis.

The 10-year cost of an artificial turf field is higher, the bill’s fiscal and policy note showed.

“Typically, the turf fields are supposed to last 10 years,” Miller said. But they usually last about seven years, because the surface gets so hard that it becomes unsafe for athletes to use the fields due to an increased risk of concussion, she said.

Turf fields with their black rubber pellets also trap heat, causing the field temperature to rise considerably.

“As legislators, our priority is to keep the public safe,” Miller said. “And this product does not.”

Peters explained that turf fields can accommodate more sports and other activities, like band practices. He said his county recently added lacrosse as a varsity sport, and with turf fields, the lacrosse teams can play and not “have to worry about football” tearing the field up in the fall.

“Turf fields have been a great success for our county schools,” he said. “In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the possible risks.”

License application gender: male, female, unspecified

House Bill 13 would mandate that state applications for licenses, ID cards or moped operator permits give applicants the choice to identify as male, female or “unspecified.”

The unspecified gender designation would be displayed as an “X” on each of the documents, according to a state analysis.

People are safer when their identity documents match their gender identification, said Laura DePalma, a staff attorney at FreeState Justice, in her testimony before the committee. She represents a host of LGBTQ clients in her work.

“The current law makes it very difficult” for transgender people to obtain appropriate documentation, DePalma added.

“Adding the gender marker ‘X,’” she said, “adds accuracy and inclusion.”

The bill sponsor, Del. Shane Robinson (a Democrat representing Montgomery County), was absent for the hearing on Thursday in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. He was diagnosed with pneumonia Thursday morning, according to his legislative aide Sean Mullen, who testified on behalf of the delegate.

The state’s fiscal analysis of the bill shows that the law would cost about $220,000 to set up, but Mullen said it could be less.

Washington, D.C., Oregon, Washington state and California recently passed similar legislation, according to a state analysis.

Those who testified in favor of the bill pushed the importance of accurate gender-marker identification. Many detailed the arduous process of obtaining a gender marker change under the current Motor Vehicle Administration policy.

Current Maryland MVA policy states that applicants must either provide an original or certified copy of a “court order showing requested gender designation,” a federal or state-issued identification showing the requested gender designation, a “birth certificate showing requested gender designation,” or an “authorization letter obtained from the MVA’s driver wellness and safety division.”

An authorization letter from the driver wellness and safety division requires the applicant to fill out more paperwork, get a physician’s approval and have a mental health professional provide an “assessment of your gender identity,” according to the administration’s website. For the two steps involving doctors or mental health professionals, the MVA division’s staff “will contact your provider to verify the information provided is correct and accurate.”

“Self-attestation should be enough,” said Dana Beyer, who testified before the committee.

There was no opposing spoken testimony to the bill on Thursday.

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