In a legislative session cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland lawmakers approved a ban on an agricultural pesticide and passed a handful of other environmental bills before hurrying home Wednesday.Those legislators chose to save their own lives first, dammit!
But the General Assembly’s first work stoppage since the Civil War stalled dozens of bills that looked highly likely to pass. That number encompassed several environmental and climate change-related measures that will have to wait until a possible special session during the last week of May.
The Maryland General Assembly failed to pass any major climate-related legislation during its shortened session.
“I don’t think this is a session like anybody has ever seen,” said Kristen Harbeson, political director for the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “There were a lot of things we were hoping to get done that we just weren’t able to.”
Many bills that conservationists supported sailed through one chamber or the other. But as lawmakers and a skeleton staff rushed to finish the state’s business during the session’s final days, some of that legislation got left behind, groups say.
Chesapeake crab industry remains crippled by visa shortage, coronavirus
Responding to employers’ calls, including those of crab meat processing companies in Virginia and Maryland, the federal government announced March 5 that it would release an additional 35,000 temporary visas for foreign workers.Quick, let's let in a bunch of Mexicans in the midst of the epidemic! What could go wrong? They won't get sick, will they?
That still may not be enough to quench the Chesapeake Bay seafood houses’ demand for temporary workers, according to the trade group that represents the industry. And they may still arrive too late to help much or perhaps get stuck on the other side of the border, as the United States today closed its Mexican border for unessential travel because of coronavirus concerns.
Several seafood company owners and watermen had implored the Trump administration to issue 64,000 more visas, the cap set by Congress.
Jack Brooks, co-owner of J.M. Clayton Seafood Co. in Cambridge, MD, and president of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, said he expects a worker shortfall, despite the government’s action.
Initially, the Department of Homeland Security doled out 33,000 work visas, which are in effect for six months beginning April 1. With the added 35,000 visas, the total still falls well short of the 100,000 slots that U.S. employers nationally had sought to fill.
The agency will likely conduct a lottery to determine which companies obtain visas, Brooks said.
“It’d be great to think that all of [the crab houses] get lucky and win, but I don’t think the odds are great that they all get staffed up,” he said.
The temporary visas, known as H-2B visas, are made available annually to workers in seafood, landscaping, construction and other seasonal fields. To be eligible, employers must prove there aren’t enough domestic workers willing or able to fill the positions.
Only three of the county’s nine picking houses had received their workers during the first visa release, businesses say.
Now, because of the sweeping coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear if and when the additional 35,000 workers will arrive, said Amanda Wright, CEO of Virginia-based Phoenix Labor Consultants.
Releasing those visas “is not even being talked about now” at the federal government, said Wright, whose clients include Chesapeake seafood processors.
Mexico is one of the main sources of seafood workers. Its likely they will be considered essential workers, but the United States has shuttered its embassy consulates in Mexico, which threatens to halt the visa application process.