A recap of this week's top-five news items and resources from the intersection of business and government.
1. Key Legislation Approved by the Maryland General Assembly
The Maryland General Assembly adjourned its 2021 Legislative Session this Monday, marking the end of a session packed with bills on issues from pandemic relief to police reform. Below is an overview of key bills that have become law or were sent to Governor Larry Hogan for his review. Hogan has until June 1 to sign or veto the bills or allow them to become law without his signature.
Some of the legislation that passed during the 90-day session include:
- Pandemic financial relief: The governor and the Maryland General Assembly worked together on the RELIEF Act, an aid bill enacted last month providing more than $1 Billion in targeted tax relief and economic stimulus for families and small businesses.
- Improving unemployment: A package of bills passed that would require a study of how to improve the unemployment benefits system, allow recipients to earn more money before their benefits are reduced, require payment plans for businesses for their unemployment taxes and expand a work-share program that helps companies avoid full layoffs.
- Local taxes: The Local Tax Relief for Working Families Act of 2021, legislation that would allow local governments to have more flexibility in setting rates for local income taxes, including allowing for graduated rates for different income levels, received final approval in the General Assembly on Friday and was sent to Governor Larry Hogan for his consideration.
For a full list of approved legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly, please click here.
2. HB 581 - Maryland Essential Protection Act (Employment Standards During an Emergency)
A heavily amended version of House Bill 581 passed the Maryland General Assembly late Monday night and is awaiting review from Governor Hogan. In general, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce (MDCC) is comfortable with the many changes that have been made to the bill and maintains a neutral position.
Broadly, the bill establishes the following rights, benefits, responsibilities and obligations related to essential workers, essential employers and catastrophic health emergencies:
- An essential employer must provide safe working conditions during an emergency and, subject to availability, necessary amounts of safety equipment at no cost to essential workers.
- An essential employee has a right to refuse to perform an assigned task as provided under current OSHA and MOSH rules and regulations.
- An essential employer must take proactive steps to minimize the risk of transmission of the communicable disease that is the subject of the emergency, including paying for an essential employee to be tested for the disease if free tests are not available and the employee’s insurance does not cover it.
- An essential employer must provide an essential worker with public health emergency leave when federal or State funding is made available for that purpose, calculated based on an employee’s average working hours.
- An essential employer may not knowingly misclassify an essential worker as an independent contractor or other classification to avoid any other benefits due to an essential worker during an emergency.
3. SB 787 - Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax and Tobacco Tax - Alterations and Implementation
Due to the broad interpretation of what “digital goods” were subject to a new sales tax in HB932 of 2020, the MDCC formed a working group of tax experts to develop a set of recommended amendments providing clarity in the law. After much work, amendments on two major issues were agreed upon and included in SB 787, which passed Monday night and awaiting review from the Governor.
The amendments do two things:
- Clarify that a taxable “digital product” does not include educational instruction or seminars conducted by educational institutions or professional organizations and business associations.
- Clarify that certain types of computer software and related services are not taxable, where the purchase involves software that is unusable until it is configured or modified as necessary to perform the required functions and for the software to operate as intended. This is often referred to as “enterprise software” used by businesses.
4. Climate Bill Dies as House and Senate Fail to Compromise
An effort to reconcile the competing versions of major environmental legislation collapsed in the final hours of the General Assembly session Monday night, declaring the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021 dead. The MDCC opposed this bill as it would have required the state to comply with new costly requirements to achieve net-zero statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Senate President Bill Ferguson said he was “disappointed” that the climate bill did not get through but plans to enter the 2022 legislative session with a bolder and more robust package.
5. Update on 2022 Maryland Governor and Comptroller Races
With Maryland’s General Assembly session wrapped up, more potential candidates are coming out with news about their plans to run in 2022 for governor and comptroller positions. A major announcement came from Republican Secretary Kelly Schulz, who released a video talking about what has inspired her to run for governor. Joining her in the race is Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who announced on Friday that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor once again. Read more here.
During a press conference on Thursday, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) announced that he will run for Comptroller. During remarks to supporters, the 59-year-old said “the comptroller is the voice of the taxpayer and is also their watchdog.” Delegate Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) and Bowie Mayor Timothy J. Adams (D) have also launched comptroller campaigns, with other Democrats also considering a bid. Read more here