Big Challenges Ahead in the 2020 MD Legislative Session
What a year!! Is there much more to say? Between Trump and COVID I have never lived through a year like this. While our attention has focused on the horrific events that occurred at the Capital this week, there will be important issues developing in Annapolis starting next week.
The 2021 Session of the Maryland General Assembly starts on Wednesday January 13. In Maryland as well as the rest of the country we are facing a crisis from COVID 19 and a need to work on criminal justice issues. There will be major initiatives to prohibit rent increases, foreclosures, and late fees during the pandemic and to allocate funds to landlords to allow for rent forgiveness. Another initiative (MD Essential Workers Protection Act) ensures that during a state of emergency essential employees receive $3/hr. hazard pay; 14 day paid sick leave; the right to refuse dangerous work; free COVID testing; and PPE at no cost to the workers.
Here are some of the legislative bills that I will be following this year. I will be adding bills and their numbers as they are posted. If there is another bill you are interested in knowing about, please let me know.
The legislature will also be voting on overriding Governor Hogan’s vetoes of bills passed by the General Assembly last year. Normally this is done in the first few days of the session but because of COVID the procedure will be different. This year the House of Delegates will solely be holding committee hearings for the first month and will not convene to vote on bills (including overriding vetoes) until the middle of February.
Overriding Governor’s Vetoes
* Kirwan Commission Reforms: The “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” required billions in extra spending on public schools to carry out education reforms recommended by the Kirwan Commission on education. The programs included expanded prekindergarten, higher teacher pay, improved career- and college-prep and more support for schools with concentrations of students from poor families. The veto of this bill meant that another bill on school construction will not go into effect. Hogan allowed the Built to Learn Act to become law, generating $2.2 billion in extra funding for school construction over the next five years using bonds that would be paid back with casino revenues. But a provision in the bill tied the two education measures together. Until the Kirwan bill becomes law, the school construction bill does not go into effect.
* Digital downloads: This bill would have extended the state’s 6% sales tax to digital downloads of products such as e-books, songs, movies and streaming TV services.
* Long guns: This bill would have required background checks on private sales and transfers of rifles and shotguns. The buyer and seller would have to go to a licensed dealer to have a federal background check completed.
* Prescription drug review board: This bill would have charged a fee to companies that sell prescription drugs and used the money to run the state’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board.
* Tobacco, nicotine and digital ads: Multiple taxes were rolled into one bill: an increase in the per-pack tax on cigarettes, new taxes on nicotine vaping systems and a first-in-the-nation tax on digital advertising.
Confronting the COVID CRISIS
o COVID-19 Eviction and Housing Relief Act of 2020
* Prohibits rent increases and late fees during the pandemic and allocates funds to landlords to allow for rent forgiveness; ensures landlords demonstrate just cause in order to stop the renewal of a lease.
o MD Essential Workers Protection Act
* During state of emergency essential employees 1) Receive $3/hr. hazard pay; 2) 14 day paid sick leave; 3) Right to refuse dangerous work; 4) Free COVID testing; 5) PPE at no cost to employees.
o Foreclosure Protection Bill
* The bill: 1) extends foreclosure moratorium through state of emergency; 2) requires services to grant forbearance; 3) sets default (opt-out) repayment option as deferring missed mortgage payments to the end of the loan; 4) requires prompt notice of all these rights; and 5) creates private right of action to sue if any rights are violated.
o Unemployment Insurance Reforms:
* Unemployment insurance is crucial, both as a safety net and as a countercyclical stimulus to prevent a deeper recession. This year far too many people struggled with accessing their unemployment benefits. This bill makes a number of fixes to the system including requiring increased staffing so people who need assistance can speak to a human being, timelines for completion of claims and resolution of appeals, improved language access, and greater transparency. This bill also develops a seamless connection from the unemployment insurance process to allow applicants to connect to health benefits, in a process the bill changes the benefit calculation so that people who work multiple jobs and lose one, don’t lose out on unemployment income their family needs. Small businesses would also be protected by freezing the rates they paid from before COVID, so they do not pay higher rates for having to lay off workers due to the emergency. Finally, this bill requires the state to study several other structural issues and to recommend changes for future legislative Sessions.
Criminal Justice Reform
o Repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights – It would put police officers under the same rules that cover other government employees who come under investigation;(e.g., Police officers have 5 days before they are allowed to be investigated in a disciplinary matter) – HB 151.
o Public Information Act – Personnel Records – Investigations of Law Enforcement Officers (Anton’s Law) When you file a complaint of police misconduct, you cannot find out how the department investigates your complaint. All you can find out is the outcome and any discipline; you cannot find out whether the department conducted a thorough or lackluster investigation of your complaint. This is because the complaint file is considered a “personnel record” under Maryland’s Public Information Act, and personnel records may never be disclosed. THE SOLUTION. Remove the complaint file from the personnel record category, thereby allowing the police department to disclose the inappropriate situations.
o Increasing the amount of money low-wage workers can protect from Garnishment: Currently it is $11,000 a year. The bill would increase it to $26,000.
o Medical Debtors Protection Act – Expand consumer protections for individuals sued for medical debt and to create an income-based repayment plan before a lawsuit can be filed; prohibit lawsuits for all medical debts below $1000.
o Drivers Bill of Rights – Limit the use of zip code in auto insurance rates and requires insurance companies to provide rebates to drivers through the state of emergency.
o Funding for Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) This bill would provide an additional $577 million to Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities over 10 years to end the state’s lengthy lawsuit over inequitable funding of the schools. – HB 1 / SB 1
* Climate Solutions Now Act, this is a comprehensive bill, which will increase the statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction requirement from 40% by 2030 to 60% and requires the State to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045. It also sets targets for electrifying state vehicle fleets, supporting solar on buildings and planting trees. Finally, it has justice/equity provisions which will support already burdened communities.
* Community Choice Energy, which will be enabling legislation for each county that will allow them to aggregate their rate payers to negotiate for better rates and for the kind of energy (solar, wind, fossil fuel) that their residents want to use.
* Climate Crisis Act, (a tax on carbon) Charges a fee for fossil fuel use in the state. The fee is used to fund: 1) Kirwan, 2) a benefit fund to offset any costs to low-income Marylanders, and 3) clean energy and resilience infrastructure improvements – HB 33.
* Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Rights, which will give everyone in Maryland the right to clean air, water and a pollution free environment. HB 82/SB 151 – Hearing House Economic and Trans. Comm – 1/20 – Sen EHE Comm 1/26
* Right to Repair – Our electronics are manufactured with a large environmental footprint which is intentionally amplified when manufacturers produce products that either cannot be repaired, or for which repair information is not disclosed. This bill will require manufacturers to publicly disclose repair information, decreasing waste and aiding small businesses.
o A ban on 3D printed guns and guns with no serial number, which will require the creation of an agency to manage serial numbers.
o Study on Universal Health Care – SB 228 Establishes a Commission on Universal Health Care to develop a plan for the State to establish, a universal health care program to provide health benefits to all residents of the State through a single-payer system.
o Healthy Maryland Act – Establishes a comprehensive, universal single payer health care program to provide health coverage for every Maryland resident.
o Social Housing Legislation – This bill includes tenant protections, affordable housing and zoning changes that allow for duplexes, triplexes and quarterplexes.
o Right to Counsel in case of eviction – HB 18/SB 154
o Tenant Protection Act of 2021 – HB 50
* Make utility bill charges more accessible and transparent for tenants whose landlords use a ratio utility billing statement (RUBS)
* Require landlords to provide documentation for materials and services used when using security deposit funds to fix damages.
* Allow tenant associations to use apartment/living complex meeting rooms for tenant organizing meetings.
* Allow a tenant to break their lease if they are a victim of stalking.
* Allow a therapist or third-party professional to certify that a tenant is a victim of stalking or abuse, instead of just cops or a judge.
Immigration and Social Justice
o Trust Act – End partnership between local and state enforcement and ICE. HB 304 / SB 88 – Hearing Senate Judicial Proceedings Comm – 1/27
o Termination of Private Immigration Detention Centers: Required local entities that have existing immigration detention agreements to terminate their contracts
o Driver Privacy Act – Protects the privacy of MD drivers by requiring ICE and other Federal agencies to obtain a arrant in order to access personal information that the MVA gathers about drivers. HB 23 / SB 234 – Hearing Sen Judicial Proceedings 1/28 11 AM
Universal Representation – Provide legal representation to detained MD residents facing deportation
Raising Revenue Through Fair Funding Initiatives
Little can be done without a realistic plan to raise revenue. A group of legislators are proposing a package of revenue proposals that would raise close to $3 billion a year by taxing corporations and the super-wealthy in Maryland and not working people. Some of these proposals are:
o Combined Reporting – Requires large, multistate corporations to pay their fair share in corporate taxes for profits generated from subsidiaries in Maryland. HB 172
o Throwback Rule -Require large, multistate corporations to pay their fair share in corporate taxes for profits generated related to sales in Maryland. – HB 229
o Close the pass-through/LLC loophole– Apply a 4% entity-level tax on profits over $1 million for LLCs. LLCs are limited partnerships which do not pay a corporate business tax. – HB 357 Hearing Date 1/21 – Ways and Means Comm
o Restructure personal income tax brackets and rates – Lowers income tax rates on income earners below median, raise rates on income earners above, restore millionaire tax at 7%. HB 275
o Capital gains surtax- Apply a 1% surtax on capital gains income to partially offset special treatment in federal tax code. HB 201 – Hearing Date 1/21 – Ways and Means Comm
o Carried Interest – Apply a 19% state income surtax on the distributive or pro-rata share of a pass-through entity’s taxable income that is attributable to investment management services provided in the State. HB 215
o Estate Tax Giveaway Reversal – Reverses handout to wealthy given in 2014 by resetting the estate tax exemption limit at $1 million instead of $5 million. HB 165 – Hearing Date 1/21 – Ways and Means Comm
o Effective Corporate Tax Rate Transparency Act of 2020 -Requiring a publicly traded corporation that is required to file a Maryland income tax return to attach a statement identifying the corporation’s effective tax rate and an explanation of the calculation of the effective tax rate; requiring that the statement be made under oath, signed in a certain manner, subject to audit by the Comptroller, and treated as confidential taxpayer information; requiring the Comptroller to submit a certain report to the Governor and the General Assembly by March 1 each year; etc.- HB 330
o Country Club Bill Would provide $100 million in additional revenue over the next 10 years by taxing country clubs statewide at the same property tax rates that other property owners pay, $10 million in one year.
o Decouple from federal CARES Act tax breaks: The Federal CARES Act contains several major changes to tax policy. These changes will reduce Maryland’s revenues by $110 million in fiscal years 2020 and 2021. This legislation would decouple from these costly federal provisions that disproportionately benefit wealthy taxpayers.
Purple Line Tree Replacement: Construction of the Purple Line required the removal of large mature trees. While the overall plan required replacement of these trees, they were replaced in areas far from the communities that lost them. Many of the areas that lost trees are already suffering from heat island effects and poor air quality. Walking and biking along these corridors for transit-dependent individuals is even hotter and more unpleasant without these trees. While these trees cannot be replaced in the exact locations they were removed, they can be replanted in the same neighborhoods on a combination of state, county, and private land. This legislation requires the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Department of the Environment to coordinate this effort to replant trees in these communities, prioritizing communities suffering multiple environmental health harms. Lorig Charkoudian is introducing this bill.
There is a good website that tracks bills. You might want to look at the Maryland Legislative Coalition: http://mdlegislative.com
Please remember, the reason I inform people about these bills is so you can contact your state legislators and let them know how you feel about legislation they’re going to vote on.
If you want to know any more about any of the bills go to the Maryland General Assembly website: www.mgaleg.maryland.gov and type in the bill number.
For the first time ever, you are now able to watch video live-streaming of the House floor proceedings. The 2020 session is a pilot, with only one in three days being live cast.
Previously, only the audio portion of the floor sessions was available online. That meant that the only way for the public to watch floor debates was to come to Annapolis and watch in person from the floor viewing gallery.
Archives of video from prior legislative days are available on the General Assembly website. In addition, meetings of most committees are available online, as in past years. To view and listen to proceedings go to the General Assembly website: www.mgaleg.maryland.gov.
If you want to contact your representatives in District 47 about any of the bills, you should email or call:
Senator Malcolm Augustine Malcolm.augustine@senate.
Delegate Diana Fennell (47A) Diana.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Delegate Julian Ivey (47A) Julian.email@example.com.
Delegate Wanika Fisher (47B) Wanika.firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you do not know who your representatives are, you can go to www.mdelect.net to find out who are your elected representatives There is also a very good smart phone application MD GOV which lists all the Delegates and Senators, their Committees and their contact numbers.
You can read all my past newsletters at my Peoples Lobbying Group website: www.plg.solutions.