MD Legislative Report – Feb 15, 2021
The 2021 Session of the Maryland General Assembly has now been through one month of its three-month session. Over 2,500 bills have been introduced. A few bills have now passed, and others have made progress and I am recording in the front of the newsletter the latest developments. Later in the report I have listed below some of the bills I am following and the status of those bills If there is another bill you are interested in knowing about, please let me know.
COVID Relief Bill Passed by General Assembly and Signed into Law
The Maryland General Assembly passed a $1.5 billion relief package to help struggling Marylanders and businesses.
Stimulus payments. Individuals who qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2019 and/or 2020 will receive one-time stimulus payments. Eligibility is dependent on your income and number of children. For instance, a married couple with two kids making up to $53,330 a year is eligible. A single person with no kids can earn up to $15,820 a year and still qualify for the stimulus payment. For people who qualified for the EITC in 2019, they will receive $500 for families or $300 for individuals. People who qualify for the EITC in 2020 will receive $250 for families or $150 for individuals.
Expansion of the EITC. The legislation also includes an ongoing expansion of the EITC program, which is a highly targeted and effective way of helping low-income workers and raising people out of poverty. Maryland will now have the most generous EITC credit in the nation and low-income workers may receive hundreds of dollars more in tax refunds. This change takes effect with tax year 2020 and will be reflected on taxpayers’ refunds.
If you think that you are eligible for the EITC in 2020 and therefore also eligible for a stimulus payment, you should file your 2020 taxes soon. People must file their tax returns in order to receive this money. You can get free tax preparation help through the County by calling (240) 777-1123.
Unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits will be exempt from the State income tax, keeping over $225.0 million in the pockets of unemployed Marylanders. People whose claim for unemployment benefits is pending and who have been waiting in adjudication for at least 30 days will each receive $1,000.
Aid for businesses. Small businesses will be allowed to keep sales tax collections of up to $9,000 over three months. Up to 100,000 small businesses and nonprofits will be able to defer paying unemployment insurance taxes until early 2022 to help with cash flow. Additionally, layoffs during FY 2020 and FY 2021 will not impact the employer’s experience rating–saving businesses money on their unemployment taxes. Loans of up to $50,000 provided through the Minority and Small Business Loans program will be converted to grants. State taxes on COVID-related loans and grants from the state will be forgiven.
Other aid. The RELIEF Act also includes $300 million in additional relief. People receiving benefits from the Temporary Disability Assistance Program will get an extra $100 a month through June. Food banks will receive $10 million. $83 million is directed to paying overdue utility bills for Marylanders. Over $100 million in grants will be distributed to hard-hit business sectors and non-profits.
(Thanks to Delegate Julie Palakovich-Carr for providing a good summary of the legislation)
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 extends the state’s 6% sales tax to digital downloads of products such as e-books, songs, movies and streaming TV services. This bill will raise $150 million
* Long guns: This bill requires 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 charges 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.
Bills That Passed the House and Senate (but still must be reconciled before it is sent to the Governor)
Historically Black Colleges and Universities – SB 1 The Senate unanimously passed a measure that would send an extra $577 million to the state’s historically Black colleges and universities over the next decade.
Bills That Passed the House of Delegates
- HB 147: The Love Is No Defense to Sexual Crimes Act. This bill prohibits the spousal defense for sexual offenses, ensuring that individuals cannot use the fact that they are married to their victim as a defense for sexual crimes including rape.
- HB 487: The School Pedestrian Safety Act increases road safety near public schools. This bill requires school boards to create pedestrian safety plans when building new schools or renovating existing ones.
- HB 39: Action of Change of Name – Waiver of Publication Requirement This bill waives the requirement that people seeking to change their legal name publish their intentions in a local newspaper. It will help protect people’s privacy, especially for transgender individuals.
- HB 189: Establishes a mobile laundry for the homeless pilot program.
- HB 394: Prohibiting fees for summer school courses in public schools
Bills That Passed the Senate
Black Liquor SB 65 – The Senate gave preliminary approved to remove “black liquor” ― the gooey, pulpy byproduct of paper production ― from the roster of fuels that qualify for tax breaks under the state’s Renewable Fuels Standard.
Status of Other Important Bills that I am Following
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. HB 1312 Hearing Judiciary Committee 2/17
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. HB 581 / SB 486 – House Hearing Held
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. HB 1009/SB 724 – House Hearing 2/24 – 1:30 PM
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. These bills make several 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, these bills require the state to study several other structural issues and to recommend changes for future legislative sessions. HB 906, 907, 908
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 – Hearing Held
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. HB 120/ SB 178 – Hearings Held
o House Hearing Held Removing the Governor from Parole Decisions HB 3 – – There is already a Parole Review Board that makes recommendations on who should be paroled. In the last 20 years the number of people being let out on parole has gone down as Governors have brought politics in that decision. Governors interested in running for higher office have been overly cautious on paroling some criminals. Hearing Held
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. HB 660 – House Hearing Judiciary Comm 2/24 at 1:30 PM
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. HB 565/SB 514
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. No Bill # Yet
o Prohibiting Use of Credit History in Auto Insurance Rating Policies – HB 221 – Hearing Held
Democracy and Voting Rights
- Voting Rights for Imprisoned Felons – HB 53 Hearing Held
- Special Election to Fill a Vacancy in Office of the General Assembly – HB 265 / SB 6 Right now when there is a vacancy the Democratic Committee appoints the person to fill the term. This bill a person would be appointed only until the next Federal or State election. Hearings Held-
- Public Financing for Candidates Running for General Assembly – HB 536 – Hearing Held
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 – Passed the Senate and House
* 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. HB 583/ SB 414 Hearing Held
* 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 – Hearings Held
* 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. HB 84/SB 412 – Hearings Held
* Utility Regulation – Consideration of Climate and Labor – HB 293/SB 83 – House Hearing Held
* Climate Crisis and Education Act – Tax on carbon products – HB 33/SB 76
*Plastic Bag Reduction Act State-wide ban on plastic bags – HB 314/SB 223- Hearings Held
Limits on Lobbyist Spending – Limits the amount a lobbyist can spent on taking legislators out to dinner to $50 per person! HB 292 – Hearing Held
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 –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.
Housing – HB 534
o Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis – HB 32 – Hearing House Judiciary Comm – 2/16/21 – 1:30 PM
o Funding for Behavioral Health Crisis Response Services which would be channeled through the Department of Health This is a way to decrease police interactions with mental health situations. SB 286 Hearing Held
o Social Housing Legislation – This bill includes tenant protections, affordable housing and zoning changes that allow for duplexes, triplexes and quarterplexes. HB 1090 – Hearing 2/23 1:30 PM
o Right to Counsel in case of eviction – HB 18/SB 154 – Hearings Held
o Tenant Protection Act of 2021
* 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.
HB 50 – House Hearing Held
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 – Hearing Held
o Termination of Private Immigration Detention Centers: Required local entities that have existing immigration detention agreements to terminate their contracts. HB 16 – Hearing House Judiciary Comm. – 3/13 1:30 PM
o Driver Privacy Act – Protects the privacy of MD drivers by requiring ICE and other Federal agencies to obtain a warrant in order to access personal information that the MVA gathers about drivers. HB 23 / SB 234 – Hearing Held
o Universal Representation – Provide legal representation to detained MD residents facing deportation.
o Action of Change of Name – Waiver of Publication Requirement – HB 39 Bill voted out of Committee
o Energy Supplier Low-Income Act – This bill will prohibit deregulated, third party energy suppliers, who target low-income zip codes, to charge OHEP customers higher rates than the standard energy supplier rate. These suppliers have stepped up their door-to-door selling game during COVID and their predatory practices have reached an all-time high. SB 31/HB 397
Labor and Working Rights
- Time to Care Act establishes a family and medical leave insurance program that employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid leave in Maryland. The funding would come from both the employer and employee. It’s estimated to cost the employee $3 to $6 a week which would come as a payroll deduction. HB 375 / SB 211 – Hearing Sen Finance Comm – 1/28 at 1 PM
Prince George’s Local Bills (these are bills that only pertain to Prince George’s County) and are voted on by the Delegates and Senators from Prince George’s County
- HB 624. Elected School Board – 9 members elected by district. Right now, there is a hybrid school board. Some are appointed and some are elected. The school superintendent will be appointed by the board. The board selects the chair and vice chair
- HB 622 – Prohibition on MAGLEV coming through Prince George’s County
- HB 621 – Prince George’s County – Elementary School Students – Daily Physical Activity (Student Health and Fitness Act)
- HB 617 – Prince George’s County – Alcoholic Beverages – Licenses for Supermarkets
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 – Hearing Ways and Means Comm 1/28 at 1:30 PM
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 – House Ways and Means Comm 1/28 – 1:30 PM
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 357 Hearing – House Ways and Means Comm 1/28 1:30 PM
o Capital gains surtax- Apply a 1% surtax on capital gains income to partially offset special treatment in federal tax code. HB 201 – Hearing Held
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/SB 288 – House Hearing Held – Senate Budget and Taxation 1/28
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 Held
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 – House Ways and Means Comm – Hearing Held
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. HB 1120
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
*Make MD Tax Structure More Progressive – Changes the tax brackets to raise more revenue from wealthier individuals and less from people with less income. HB 275 – Ways and Means Comm – 1/28 at 1:30 PM
*Allowing Counties to Have Different Income Tax Rates Based on Income: SB 133 – Hearings Held
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. HB 80 /SB 286 – Hearings Held
Two Man Crew: This bill would prohibit the movement of freight in the same rail corridor as a high-speed commuter or passenger train unless the freight train has at least two workers. HB 492 – Voted out of Committee
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.firstname.lastname@example.org 410-841-3745
Delegate Diana Fennell (47A) Diana.email@example.com 301-858-3478
Delegate Julian Ivey (47A) Julian.firstname.lastname@example.org 410-841-3326
Delegate Wanika Fisher (47B) Wanika.email@example.com 410-841-3340
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.plgsolutions.