COVID Doesn’t Stop the General Assembly
January 13, 2021,
Chamber Hosts Legislative Preview
The Maryland General Assembly returns to work today to start the 2021 legislation session. The working environment will be much different as most committee meetings and public hearings will be held using an on-line format. Legislators will have to occasionally meet in-person for a vote and will do so in shifts and be protected by plexiglass “phone booths” as shown by the picture of the front page of today’s edition of the Baltimore Sun. On January 11th, the Chamber hosted the 2021 Legislative Preview to provide its members a detailed look into the issues that will be discussed and debated in the General Assembly. Eighty-three people participated and just like many aspects of the upcoming legislative session, it was held with a ZOOM format. The Chamber was pleased to have a bi-partisan panel of four legislators share their thoughts about the upcoming session and answer a series of questions about issues that are important to the Chamber and the business community. The Delegates on the panel were Nic Kipke and Sandy Bartlett and from the Senate we were pleased to have Ed Reilly and Pam Beidle.
The Chamber’s Chairman, Rob Norton from LIVE! Casino and Hotel welcomed the attendees and thanked the Legislative Panel for participating. He noted that the Chamber has adopted a different format this year and will be hosting individual events that feature a legislative and policy discussion about issues in the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and the State. In past, the Chamber brought all three levels of government together in one event.
Mr. Norton also highlighted the important contributions that businesses make to the community in terms of tax revenue, jobs and support of many local organizations. He encouraged legislators to keep in mind the impact any proposed legislation might have on small and large businesses located in Anne Arundel County.
The President of the Chamber, Mark Kleinschmidt, served as the moderator and asked the panel to share their thoughts and priorities for the 442nd meeting of the Maryland General Assembly. After each panelist shared their thoughts, they were asked a series of follow up questions concerning a wide range of topics. Here are some highlights:
Potential to Override of Governor’s Veto
The two high profile bills vetoed by Governor Hogan and facing a potential override vote by the General Assembly were funding for Kirwan and taxing digital advertising. The panelists expressed concern about the impact of these two bills during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
HB 732, which establishes a digital advertising tax, was vetoed by the Governor and would make Maryland the first state in the nation to tax internet advertising and would create administrative problems for many small businesses and increase the costs for all businesses that use the internet as a marketing tool. All the panelists expressed support for education but several cited cost concerns however, there seems to be support among Democrats to override the Governor’s veto. The bill known as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is a monumental bill that seeks to rebuild the state’s public school system through modified funding formulas and expanded programs recommended by the so-called Kirwan Commission.
Reasons to sustain the veto centered around implementation of new taxes to fund the Kirwan recommendations and that some of the recommendations might be reductant. The timetable for an override is uncertain as the House will probably not meet for floor votes until mid-February. Funding for the Kirwan recommendation would come from the tax on digital advertising and from the newly approved provisions to allow sports betting.
COVID Recovery Legislation
All the panelists talked about the need for legislation and policies that will help improve economic conditions. The need to keep Unemployment Insurance rates stable was highlighted during this time of increased unemployment. Businesses should not be penalized with higher rates due to the pandemic induced levels of unemployment. The need to help commercial and residential landlords was discussed and how many smaller landlords are being hurt because tenants cannot pay rent.
In general, panelist supported the concept of NO new additional fees and charges during the pandemic. This however was questioned because of the reduced revenue coming to the State because of the economic slowdown caused by COVID and the increased demand for services and the potential for additional expenses due to Kirwan.
There was an initial conversation about Governor Hogan’s new proposal, The RELIEF Act of 2021, which would provide $1 billion of assistance in the form of tax cuts, tax credits and direct payments to certain individuals. Since the proposal was announced during the meeting, all the details are not yet fully understood. A general outline of what is contained in the RELIEF Act with particular attention to the business-related items and the process for the General Assembly to approve this was discussed.
Education and Workforce Development
The COVID crisis has caused most schools and businesses to move to an online format. This has brought to the forefront the need to have easy access to quality internet connectivity. The panelists talked about efforts to expand broadband including 5G to underserved areas such as South County. The problem surrounding the issue of daycare and the changing school schedule was also talked about since it is a key issue facing many businesses and their employees. The need to continue to focus on workforce development to provide quality employees was pointed out.
Participating in the Legislative Process
The Chamber encourages our members to be involved in the legislative process, but the pandemic will make that more difficult in 2021. Members of the panel talked about the adjustments that have been made to provide a healthy and safe process to hold public hearings about legislation and conduct votes. The number of people allowed to testify in a hearing has been limited and all testimony will be done virtually. To find out more about the process to testify about pending legislation go to: https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite/
Click Here to watch the State Legislative Preview