U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen addresses rural stakeholders at Annapolis legislative

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U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen speaks to a standing-room only audience at the recent legislative luncheon, hosted by the Rural Maryland Council.

More
than 125 rural leaders, legislators and government officials gathered in
Annapolis recently to discuss the challenges facing their rural communities and
to set the legislative priorities for the 2019 Maryland Legislative Session.

            The event featured guest speaker
U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, who commented on issues such as the 2018 Farm
Bill, conservation efforts and broadband access. “We are increasingly dependent
on being plugged in,” says Senator Van Hollen. “There needs to be more federal
support and intervention in the area of high speed Internet in our rural areas.
We are going to work with all of you on this issues,” he adds.

            Hosted by the Rural Maryland
Council, the legislative luncheon not only set the tone for the legislative
session underway, but also to prepare the attendees for a Maryland budget
deficit in the not too distant future. Maryland is currently experiencing a
short-term budget surplus for fiscal year 2020. However, budget deficits are
projected for fiscal year 2021, which are anticipated to grow to almost $1.4
billion by fiscal year 2024.

            With this looming deficit on the
horizon and the fact that according to the Maryland Department of Legislative
Services, Maryland economic growth has underperformed with employment growth of
0.8% in the first half of 2018, the Rural Maryland Council introduced the
following 2019 legislative priorities including:

•   Advocating for continued funding for Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund (RMPIF) to address disparities in unemployment and poverty rates in Maryland’s rural communities;

•   Encouraging
rural economic development in the form of tax credits;

•   Supporting the recommendations offered by the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless and Cellular Service;

•   Creating viable Agriculture, Aquaculture, Forestry & Rural Communities by supporting programs and policies that will sustain and enhance agricultural production and agritourism; and

•   Addressing the shortage of health care professionals by supporting efforts to enable and expand telehealth to provide access to preventative and critical care services in rural areas.

Susan O’Neill and Matt Teffeau, co-chairs of the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund committee, give a report during the Rural Maryland Council legislative luncheon, which was recently held in Annapolis. O’Neill is executive director of the Upper Shore Regional Council. Teffeau is state manager at Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE).

            In addition to Senator Van Hollen’s
remarks, highlights of the luncheon included a presentation by Ashley Biggs,
outreach librarian for the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically
Handicapped, a small business spotlight, presented by Jack Reitnauer, farm
manager at Warwick Mushroom Farms, and Rural Maryland Council board and
committee reports.
            “We have a lot of important
topics on the legislative docket this year, not the least of which is broadband
access in our rural communities,” says Charlotte
Davis, executive director, Rural Maryland Council. “The legislative luncheon is
our way of not only setting the priorities, but also getting everyone energized
to roll up their sleeves and work aside by side to accomplish this crucial
work,” she adds.

            The 2019 legislative priorities
established by the Rural Maryland Council, include:

  • Advocating for
    continued funding for Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund (RMPIF) to
    address disparities in unemployment and poverty rates in Maryland’s rural
    communities;
  • Encouraging rural
    economic development in the form of tax credits;
  • Supporting the
    recommendations offered by the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband,
    Wireless and Cellular Service;
  • Creating viable
    Agriculture, Aquaculture, Forestry & Rural Communities by supporting
    programs and policies that will sustain and enhance agricultural production and
    agritourism; and
  • Addressing the
    shortage of health care professionals by supporting efforts to enable and
    expand telehealth to provide access to preventative and critical care services
    in rural areas.

            Founded in 1994, the Rural Maryland Council (RMC) serves as the state’s federally designated rural development council and functions as a voice for rural Maryland. To learn more about RMC visit rural.maryland.gov or call (410) 841-5774, email rmc.mda@maryland.gov or connect with them at facebook.com/RuralMaryland or on Twitter @RuralMaryland.

Stopping for a quick picture are: front row, from left: Charlotte Davis, RMC executive director; U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen; and RMC chair Scott Warner and executive director of the Mid-Shore Regional Council. In the back row is Josh Hastings, RMC immediate past chair and deputy director of the Lower Shore Land Trust.