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Maryland General Assembly 2014 Session Review

Author: Miranda Bond Date: April 15, 2014

Every year the Maryland General Assembly, comprised of 47 districts represented by 47 Senators and 141 Delegates, meet for 90 days and consider over 2,000 pieces of legislation. Session adjourned April 7, 2014 and will reconvene January 2015. Below is a summary of business-related issues considered this session.

PASSED – Governor Signed

Estate Tax 
Outcome: Passed
Position: Supported
Summary: Numerous bills were introduced ranging from repeal to exclusions. The bill that passed will gradually raise the estate tax exemption threshold, from the current $1 million, up to match the federal governments at $5.34 million by 2019.

Minimum Wage Act 
Outcome: Passed
Position: Opposed
Summary: Numerous wage-related bills were introduced ranging from county specific rates to $15 an hour. The Governor made raising the minimum wage his top priority. The new law will increase minimum wage $2.85 over the course of four years. Wage phase-in dates begin January 1, 2015 at $8.00 and increase every July 1: 7/1/15: $8.25.  7/1/16: $8.75. 7/1/17: $9.25.  7/1/18: $10.10.
Note: Positive accomplishments made to origin bill include, removal of indexing, stretching out the wage hike from two years to four, tipped wage frozen at $3.63 instead of 70% of the minimum wage, added a six-month training wage for those 19 years old and younger to make at least 85% of the minimum wage, removal of the Six Flags carve-out, and extended the exemption of businesses with an annual gross income of less than $250,000 to $400,000.
*The legislative amendments added to the original bill are a direct result of legislators hearing how businesses would be negatively impacted by this bill and proves your voice makes a difference.
(for more information click here)

Unpaid Parental Leave for birth or adoption of a child
Outcome: Passed
Position: Neutral
Summary: Requires businesses with 15-49 employees to provide up to six weeks of unpaid parental leave, with benefits, for the birth or adoption of a child. This applies to employees that have worked for the employer for at least one year and submit written notice of intent at least 30 days before taking leave. If an employer provides paid leave, they may require eligible employees to use their paid leave for all or part of the parental leave. An employer may deny unpaid parental leave if denial is necessary to prevent substantial economic injury to the employer.

SUPPORTED

Tort Reform: Limitation on Noneconomic Damages
Outcome: Unfavorable report
Position: Supported
Summary: Recodify existing state law which imposes a reasonable cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases, and would lower the cap on noneconomic damages to $500,000. Bill would have amended existing law to eliminate a provision that previously resulted in annual increases to the cap.

Rain Tax: Stormwater Management-Watershed Restoration Program
Outcome: Unfavorable report
Position: Supported
Summary: In 2012 legislation passed identifying ten counties to pay a tax on the amount of rainfall on impervious surface to reduce pollution levels in the Chesapeake Bay. Numerous bills were proposed this session aimed at repealing or reducing the fees. Speaker of the House Mike Bush declared rain tax repeal legislation was dead on arrival.
Note: During budget negotiations, Frederick and Carroll counties, received an exemption from the tax, allowing them to use a portion of county property taxes to cover the fee.

Regulation Reform: Quarterly Implementation of New Regs
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Supported
Summary: Establish a quarterly implementation schedule for new non-emergency regulations

Electronic Filing of Personal Property Tax Returns
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Supported
Summary: Establish an electronic filing and payment option in addition to the current personal property tax filing process. Bill included an online filing fee for those who choose to utilize the online service.
Note: Maryland is the only state that does not have online filing option. As a result of this legislation, State Department of Assessment and Taxation claim to be working on an online filing system and have it available in time for the 2015 tax year filings.

OPPOSED

Paid Sick Leave
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Opposed
Summary: Require employers with ten or more employees to provide up to seven days of paid leave. Businesses with up to nine employees would be required to provide unpaid leave for illness for oneself or family member and in cases of domestic violence.
Note: Anticipate reoccurrence next session. If this type of legislation would impact your business, please share with NFIB.

Food Allergy Awareness
Outcome: Passed both chambers, died in conference
Position: Opposed
Summary: Require two things of all restaurants and impose harsh penalties. 1) Restaurants have to ask patrons to alert servers of any food allergies prior to ordering, or advise patrons on a menu or menu board to alert a server of allergies before ordering. 2) Restaurants must have staff on premises at all times that have completed allergy certification training and passed the test, to be available to discuss meal options with customers. Penalties: first time violations include a misdemeanor and on conviction subject to fines up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail. Second violation maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and/or one year imprisonment. Additional violations are subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000.
Note: NFIB was the only organization that opposed this bill. Anticipate reoccurrence next session. If this type of legislation would impact your business, please share with NFIB.

Fair Employment Preservation
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Opposed
Summary: Change the definition of a supervisor and made employers automatically liable in a hostile work environment in harassment cases. Broadly defined supervisor as an individual who undertakes or recommends tangible employment actions affecting another employee, including hiring, firing, promoting, reassigning, demotion, or directly supervises or evaluates the activities of another employee.

State Run Retirement Savings Program: MD Secure Choice Retirement Savings and Trust
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Opposed
Summary: Require employers with five or more employees to participate in a state-run retirement program or provide a retirement program.

Tort Reform: Civil Action – Noneconomic Damages Catastrophic Injury
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Opposed
Summary: Would raise existing cap on non-economic damages three times the current amount, even though current state statute provides the cap automatically rises by $15,000 each year.

Natural Gas/Marcallous Shale: Hydraulic Fracturing
Outcome: Unfavorable report or died in committee
Position: Opposed
Summary: Numerous anti-fracking bills aimed to prohibit or delay natural gas exploration efforts in Western Maryland.
Note: Anticipate reoccurrence next session, depending on findings of the Governor Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, set to come out later this year.

Bag tax: Community Cleanup and Greening Act
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Opposed
Summary: Implement a five-cent fee for each disposable carryout bag provided to a customer and divert a portion of the funds towards community cleanup and greening efforts.

Chicken Tax: Poultry Fair Share Act
Outcome: Died in committee
Position: Opposed
Summary: Bill would establish a five-cent fee for each chicken, in addition to transferring forty percent of revenue from the cover crop program, and disburse both into the Chesapeak Bay Restoration Fund. No state currently implements a chicken tax.

***Thank you to all who took action this session, and encouraged others to do so as well.***


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