Talking Politics: General Assembly
March 6, 2023,
There are a number of bills that focus on making changes to the existing minimum wage standards. The Governor is pushing to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This would basically accelerate the schedule established by the General Assembly last year by one year. He is also seeking to index the minimum wage rate to CPI with a 5% cap. In addition, SB 803 would seek to make changes to the pay structure for tipped workers which would have significant impact on the hospitality and restaurant industries.
Annapolis has been abuzz since the start of the 2023 Maryland General Assembly in anticipation of the state’s recreational cannabis bill. The General Assembly authorized “legal weed” last session but did not figure out the details which must be done by July 31, 2023 when the sale of recreational marijuana becomes legal. Locations for sale, tax rates and license fees for “legal weed” have to be hammered out. The likely first locations will be the existing medical dispensaries.
There are great uncertainties about the implication of marijuana in the workplace. Linger effects from using it and rules/penalties for use in the workplace. Stay tuned as this moves along.
The Entrepreneurial Equity Act
HB 1152 seeks to waive certain license and registration fees for early stage businesses and direct a small percentage of funding from several existing economic development and financial assistance programs to early stage businesses.
The Moore Agenda
The Governor has a package of nine (9) bills that focus on the policy positions he put forth during his campaign. The SERVE Act and the Minimum Wage bills have garnered the most attention and debate.
HB 548: Access to Banking Act
The act would compel Maryland’s commissioner of Financial Regulation to create a Maryland Community Venture Investment Fund. The fund would provide an incentive for banks and credit unions to locate physical branches in low- to-moderate income communities and would provide capital to financial technology companies to develop tech solutions designed to assist financial institutions in providing necessary lines of credit to small businesses in lower-income communities.
HB 546: The SERVE Act (Serving Every Region through Vocational Exploration)
This is the bill that would set up Moore’s proposed system to provide a service year option for high school graduates to work for community organizations and nonprofit groups. This program will serve as a springboard for participants to enter post-service year employment, higher education, or apprenticeships while creating a culture of service in communities across the state.
HB 547: The Family Prosperity Act
This legislation would permanently extend the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and would remove the $530 cap for adults without qualifying children. The bill would also expand the state’s Child Tax Credit to cover taxpayers with children 5 and under who have a federally adjusted gross income of $15,000 or less. The bill retains the existing credit for children older than 6, which only applies to children with disabilities.
HB 549: The Fair Wage Act
This legislation would fulfill Moore’s promise to accelerate the state’s $15-an-hour minimum wage, fully implementing that wage for all covered employers as of Oct. 1. The bill would also index the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index beginning on July 1, 2025, capped at 5% per year.
HB 550: The Clean Energy and Transportation Act
The bill would bolster incentives for people and businesses that purchase electric medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks and charging stations. The bill would allow businesses that switch from fossil fuel-consuming trucks to electric trucks to receive grants that cover 100% of the cost differential. The measure would also enhance incentives to install EV charging stations and would enable the Maryland Energy Administration to cover more of their administrative costs.
HB 551: The Broadband Expansion Incentive Act
The measure would create a five-year moratorium on sales and use taxes for broadband infrastructure equipment and would end state taxation of federal broadband grants.
HB 552: The Innovation Economy Infrastructure Act
The legislation would establish a pilot program within the state Department of Commerce, the Build Our Future Grant Pilot Program. It envisions leveraging state dollars for grants to businesses, local governments, non-profits, and academic institutions for infrastructure and technology programs.
HB 553: The Healthcare for Heroes Act
The bill would establish a program within the Maryland Military Department to reimburse members of the Maryland National Guard for health care and dental premiums that they currently pay for.
HB 554: The Keep Our Heroes Home Act
The bill would expand the state’s existing tax exemption for military retirement income. Maryland currently allows retirees under age 55 to exempt up to $5,000 of military retirement income and retirees over age 55 to exempt up to $15,000. The legislation would eliminate the age distinction and allow for the exemption of up to $25,000 in tax year 2024 and up to $40,000 beginning in tax year 2025.
Fair Scheduling Act
HB 349 and SB 345 aim to cut down on last-minute schedule changes for retail and restaurant workers. The Maryland Fair Scheduling Act would see retail shops and restaurants with more than 10 locations across the state pay time-and-a-half for employees who are asked to work overtime within an 11-hour window of their original shift, as well as pay workers for being on standby for hours that the businesses did not dole out to workers.
Lawmakers argue that retail workers often do not know their schedules until less than a week before, and changes beyond that can cause undue stress, schedule disruption and transportation costs that are not offset by hours worked being less than hours originally scheduled. Critics of the bill point to higher costs for chain employers in the retail and foodservice industries who are already facing financial hardships and labor shortages – leading some to fear further increased costs for the consumer and fewer jobs to offer.