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2010 Legislative Session Roundup: Maryland

In spite of the recession, the Maryland Legislature maintained a balanced budget of $32 billion for fiscal year 2011.  During its 90-day session, the Maryland government focused on funding vital issues such as education as well as ensuring that more Marylanders gain access to health care.  As significant as these accomplishments are, several good bills did not pass the legislative threshold because of time wasted on less relevant matters.

The Budget:  Effective July 1, 2010, the proposed budget leaves the state with a projected cash balance of $829 million.  This includes setting aside $633 million, or five percent of the “Rainy Day Fund,” and $205 million in general fund surplus.  The legislature failed to enact "combined reporting" to stop multi-state corporations from evading state taxes.

Despite achieving a balanced budget this year, as the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy assesses, deficits will likely persist into future years.  Only 86% of the budget expenditures, they observe, come from ongoing state revenues, with heavy dependence on transfers from the federal Recovery Act and from special funds.

The legislature also approved, SB 106, the Job Creation and Recovery Tax Credit Act, which gives tax credits for businesses that hire out-of-work Marylanders and is expected that the law will create 4,000 new jobs.

Health Care:  Legislation passed during this session will help reinforce the success of federal health care reform.  HB 1564, the Maryland Health Insurance Plan/Administration of National Risk Pool Program, paves the way for swift and robust local implementation of federal health care reform by authorizing a benefit package and premium rate for individuals enrolled in the national high risk pool program.  Another bill that passed the Legislative threshold is the Kid’s First Express Lane Eligibility Act (HB 1375), which aims to help uninsured children get better health care.

To deter waste and fraud in the state health care system, a False Claims Act (SB 279/HB 525) will encourage whistleblowers with knowledge of false Medicaid claims to file suit and share in damages with the state, which could recoup for the state up to $20 million annually in fraudulent claims.

Workers’ Rights:  The legislature approved some important measures for working families this session.

  • Unemployment Benefits:  A revision of unemployment benefits rules (SB 107/HB 91) will qualify the state for $127 million in federal stimulus funds by creating an Alternative Base Period (ABP) to count recent work history in calculating benefits, make amendments to the state’s existing part-time worker provision, and provide an additional 26 weeks of benefits to individuals participating in a state-approved training program for high-demand careers.
  • Collective Bargaining for Child Care Providers:  Making permanent a 2007 Executive Order, HB 465 will allow child care providers to collectively bargain for better pay and keep the best qualified people in the profession.
  • The Fairness in Negotiations Act, HB 243/SB 590, establishes a Public Education Labor Relations Board to administer and oversee labor relations laws for local boards of education and their employees.  This carefully crafted law puts a neutral and independent Board in charge of any disputes that cannot be solved by mediators.
  • Rest Breaks for Retail Employees:  SB 789 ensures that workers receive at least a 15 minute rest break if they work four straight hours and a thirty minute rest break if they work six straight hours.

Foreclosure Reform:  Maryland enacted HB 472 mediation bill, which requires mortgage companies to help struggling homeowners keep their homes.  The law requires lenders to provide homeowners with a loss mitigation application, the state hotline number, a detailed foreclosure timeline, and the eligibility requirements to participate in a lender’s loan modification program.  The program emulates Nevada and cities like Philadelphia which have promoted mediation to deter foreclosure.

HB 711/SB 654 incorporates federal foreclosure rules, which allow most tenants the right to stay in a house declared in foreclosure for the rest of their lease, even after the property has been sold in foreclosure.  While incorporating the major provisions of the federal law, it omits the federal three-year sunset clause.

Clean Energy:  Maryland enacted a number of bills to promote alternative and reduced energy use:

  • Thanks to SB 355/HB 801, Maryland will enjoy a more robust market for energy creation.  The law requires electric companies to provide payment to a customer-generator for excess generation credits through renewable sources.  It also alters the net energy metering program by changing the way an eligible customer-generator may accrue credits from excess generation from a kilowatt-hour (kWH) basis to a dollar basis.
  • SB 277/HB 471 will accelerate Maryland’s solar energy production.  This bill comes at a time when Environment Maryland recently found that a quarter of Maryland homes would be ready to capture energy that is now being unused.
  • The Green Maryland Act (SB 693), requires all state agencies and departments to establish internal recycling and composting plans, to phase in usage of 90% recycled paper, to use green contracting and procurement rules, and to establish in the Governor’s office a Green Purchasing Committee for the state.

Banning Toxins:  Maryland joined the trend of states that are banning products containing toxins. Two bills, SB213/HB 33 and SB 556, received the overwhelming support of the legislature.  The first bill banned Bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical found in baby bottles; BPA has been linked to cancer, developmental disabilities in children and reproductive problems in women.  In passing SB 556, Maryland became the 5th state to ban the use of Decabrominated Diphenyl Ether (Deca-BDE), a toxic flame retardant found in the plastic casings of televisions, linked to developmental problems in children and health problems in firefighters.

SB 311/HB 943 creates the Chesapeake Conservation Corps to help train young people and recent college graduates in green jobs while they work to clean and protect the Chesapeake Bay.

Smart Growth:  SB 760/HB 1155 establishes smart and fair growth criteria for funding transportation projects.  The bill requires the Maryland Department of Transportation to evaluate all state-funded transportation projects against existing state transportation goals, which include safety and security, environmental stewardship, and fixing existing roads and bridges first.  This bill makes it easier for the state to choose proposals that ensure transportation and land use decisions work together, providing more travel choices to Maryland citizens, especially for those who do not own cars.  It will also reduce environmental damage from transportation projects and improve access to jobs.

Smart, Green, and Growing — The Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 (SB285/HB 475), coordinates key revitalization programs such as Maryland Main Street Program and Community Legacy.  This key smart growth victory passed the House and on Sine Die unanimously passed the Senate.  It is expected to increase state expenditures by $15 million in fiscal 2012 to 2014.

Also sitting on the Governor’s desk is SB 780, which will create a way for nonprofit community developers and local governments to set up “affordable housing trusts” that will permit the trusts to develop affordable housing and then sell it to low or moderate-income purchasers at a below-market rate.  In return, the purchasers will own their house in fee simple for as long as they like but, when they decide to sell or if they die, their house must be sold at the same price for which they purchased it plus interest over the years.

Voter Protection:  The “No Representation Without Population Act,” SB 400/HB 496, requires that prisoner populations be counted in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated.  According to the ACLU of Maryland, “The legislation corrects an unfair enhancement of voting power that districts with a prison receive at the expense of the voting power of any other district without the prison."

SB 292 (also HB 217) sets the registration age at 16 years of age even though the individual still may not vote until the age of 18.  This law will allow all young people to register at the MVA when getting a drivers license, which will reduce barriers for civic participation.

Education:  The Maryland State Education Association expressed its satisfaction with the Maryland General Assembly which “continues to recognize that in order to maintain our great public schools, we must consistently have adequate funding.”  HB 350, the Early Learning Act, gives more young children access to affordable early learning programs by obtaining more funding from the federal government.  The legislature also succeeded at capping in-state tuition growth at 3% by approving SB 283/HB 470, which allocates $42.1 million to the Higher Education Investment Fund.

Promoting Responsible Business Practices:  SB 690 creates a new form of corporation, the “B” or “Benefits corporations”, such as those relating to environmental preservation, improving human health, or promoting the arts and sciences.  As the law’s author elaborates, “this will not only permit businesses to build public purposes alongside private ones into the very DNA of the corporation but it will signal to prospective shareholders, customers and other businesses the character of the corporation.”  Further, SB 690 provides legal protection to directors and executives if sued by shareholders for making a socially or environmentally responsible decision, like refusing a lucrative takeover bid by a polluter that would make big money, but thwart the company’s social purpose.  Maryland is the first state in the country to allow corporations to actually designate themselves as B corporations and register that way with the state.

Missed Opportunities:

  • SB 910 and HB 522 would have required the creation of a state energy plan that is consistent with all state environmental laws. 
  • SB 720/HB 1014 would have helped property owners afford clean energy projects by altering the requirements of the Clean Energy Loan Program. 
  • SB 713/HB 827 would have required that all government and commercial building owners publicly disclose their building’s energy use. 
  • SB 455 would have added televisions to the list of products regulated under the Maryland Efficiency Standards Act and would have given the Maryland Energy Administration the ability to set minimum energy efficiency standards for new televisions. As televisions have become larger, they consume more than three times the energy they did a decade ago
  • Failure to enact HB 394, which would have required the Department of Juvenile Services to serve children in the juvenile services system with programming that provides females, on a regional basis, with a range and quality of services substantially equivalent to those offered to males.
Resources:
Maryland League of Conservation Voters — 2010 Environmental Legislative Wrap-Up
Progressive Maryland — 2010 Session of General Assembly Mostly Positive for Working Families
ACLU of Maryland - ACLU, NAACP Celebrate Passage of “Prisoners of the Census” Redistricting Legislation
PIRG Maryland — Landmark Legislation Introduced to Protect the Health of Children, Families
Maryland State Education Association - Maryland Legislative Session a Victory for Students and Educators
Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute - Maryland Budget Summary Fiscal Year 2011
The Baltimore Sun - Maryland Aims for 100,000 Solar Rooftops in 10 Years