Legislative Session is Coming to a Close
The legislative session in Annapolis is entering the final stretch and because of the pandemic, the General Assembly had to adjust the process to hold committee meetings, interact with constituents and hold votes. Even with these restrictions, it was still a very busy legislative session with over 2,500 pieces of legislation introduced and debated by the State Senate and House of Delegates.
Maryland has a unique legislative process, the General Assembly only meets for 90 days starting in January and during this time, they enact legislation, pass resolutions, and prepare and adopt a state budget. This means a lot of work takes place over a short time particularly when you consider the state budget is approaching $50 billion. Unlike other legislative bodies where a piece of legislation can have a life span of several years, all legislation in Maryland comes to an end on the last day of the session which is April 12th this year. This is called adjournment sine die, a Latin phrase which means to stop meeting without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing.
Because of Sine Die the General Assembly will be busy voting right up until midnight on April 12th because all bills die as the legislative session ends. There is a tradition to celebrate the end of session at midnight, when most of the members and staff leave the statehouse for a midnight party that includes a breakfast buffet and a well-stocked bar. Due to the COVID-19 this tradition will be scaled back.
So far in this session, there were quite a few bills passed that focused on the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the most important was the Maryland RELIEF Act which provided business tax relief, additional grants and loans for struggling businesses, adjustments to unemployment assistance and direct economic impact payment to low and moderate taxpayers.
Through the recently passed American Rescue Plan, the State obtained an addition $6.5 billion to help stimulate the economy and aid those Marylanders who are struggling because of the pandemic. Earlier this week the Governor and legislative leaders announced a bipartisan agreement over how the state will allocate some of the funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Some of the money will be used to help underwrite the cost of the Maryland RELIEF Act and new funding will be directed towards the following areas:
- $1.1 billion to replenish Maryland’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund in order to maintain its solvency and stabilize rates over the next two calendar years;
- $800 million will be added to existing Maryland Emergency Economic Relief Programs;
- $600 million for the safe reopening of schools;
- $300 million to expand access to high-speed internet;
- $100 million for employment training and apprenticeship programs;
- $100 million in support of state employees providing essential services;
- $500 million in infrastructure and transit improvements, and
- $300 million to help struggling Marylanders with utility bills and temporary disability payments.
The General Assembly will be hard at work to beat the Sine Die clock. So far they have done a good job in allocating funds to help stimulate the economy and provide assistance to citizens who need help due to the impact of the pandemic.
The Chamber was particularly pleased to see the allocation of money to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Not many people realize that an employer pays an unemployment tax and there has been great concern that this tax would go up due to the spike in unemployment caused by COVID. By using some of the American Rescue Plan funds for the Unemployment Fund will help prevent a tax increase for employers at a time when they are struggling to recover as the economy slowly improves.
Stay tuned for a lot more legislative activity over the next twelve days as Sine Die gets closer.