See what we expect to affect you in Annapolis this year.
Last session, the General Assembly introduced legislation to change Maryland’s current standard for punitive damages as set forth by the Maryland Court of Appeals over 25 years ago in Owens-Illinois v. Zenobia. Such legislation would increase the cost of doing business in the state while profoundly altering historic legal dicta and creating precarious legislative policy and legal precedent.
In 2018, legislation was introduced that would have increased the maximum amount of noneconomic damages recoverable in any wrongful death or survival action, where there are two or more beneficiaries, from the current 150 percent, the statutory limitation currently in Maryland law, to 450 percent. This increase would also have been made applicable to medical malpractice actions, irrespective of whether the damages award was adjudicated through an arbitration panel or a civil trial.
Additionally, this legislation would have permitted a jury to be informed of the maximum allowable amount of non-economic damages that could be awarded. Disclosure of this information could unfairly bias a jury in determining an award of damages based not on the fair value of the claim, but on the maximum amount allowed by law.
If passed, this legislation would have substantially increased businesses’ liability exposure and corresponding liability insurance premium costs. The Maryland Chamber will continue to oppose legislative efforts to unfairly and disproportionately alter the judicial procedure and process.
APPRENTICESHIP/INTERN TAX RELIEF
The Maryland Chamber supported a number of bills in the 2018 session that would greatly expand the accessibility of apprenticeship and career technical education opportunities for the next generation of Maryland workers. From tuition waiver programs (Career Education Policy Act – HB 1599 of 2018) to tax incentives for new business internship programs (Income Tax Credit – Eligible Employees – Eligible Internships – SB 380 of 2018), fostering a skilled workforce and linking workers to employers’ needs is key to Maryland’s 21st century economy.
CYBERSECURITY & BIOTECHNOLOGY INVESTMENT TAX CREDITS
Alongside a strong workforce, the Maryland Chamber believes that it should be our goal as a state to retain and grow biotechnology, cybersecurity and other high-tech business innovators. Over the coming year, the Maryland Chamber will look to support legislation that will advance the existing cybersecurity and biotechnology investment tax credit programs, as well as responsible incentives to advance and encourage research and development.
It is anticipated that legislation will be introduced that will seek to facilitate the installation and expansion of 5G/Small Cell technology. State law should allow deployment of new technology while ensuring that any rules, regulations, taxes and fees are technology-neutral and do not favor one technology over another.
In 2018, legislation was introduced that sought to prohibit Internet Service Providers from being awarded state grants or contracts to procure services unless those ISPs consented to not block certain content applications and services, and not to impair or degrade certain internet traffic. Essentially, this legislation sought to implement, on a state level, federal regulations that were recently rolled back by the Federal Communications Commission. The Maryland Chamber successfully opposed this legislation and remains concerned that attempts such as this to regulate the internet on a state-by-state basis would create a patchwork of laws and regulations that would negatively impact business’ ability to effectively operate and provide consistent service across state lines.
Legislation was also introduced in 2018 that, among other provisions, sought to prohibit a broadband internet access service (“BIAS”) provider, with certain exceptions, from using, disclosing, selling, or providing access to customer personal information unless the provider obtains opt-in consent that the customer has not revoked. As with the net neutrality issue, the Maryland Chamber successfully opposed this legislation. We remain concerned that attempts to regulate the internet on a state-by-state basis would create a patchwork of laws and regulations that would harm business’ ability to effectively operate across state lines. This would heavily discourage investment in infrastructure and would harm the consumers and businesses that rely on the internet and telecommunications.
MANDATORY PAID LEAVE
During the 2018 legislative session, the Maryland Chamber fought to sustain the veto of a statewide paid leave mandate (Maryland Healthy Working Families Act – HB 1 of 2017), but the veto was overridden and the law went into effect. Since then, the Maryland Chamber has worked tirelessly with employers to monitor its implementation, take note of the mandate’s multiple shortcomings, and track its impact across the business community. The concerns the Maryland Chamber will seek to address this session include:
$15 MINIMUM WAGE
The Maryland Chamber has consistently opposed legislation to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $15. This increase, far above the federal and surrounding state minimum wages, will artificially alter the price of labor and therefore the price of goods and services to consumers. It will threaten jobs and available hours, as well as the competitiveness of Maryland’s business climate. Further linking the arbitrary wage floor to annual inflation takes away employers’ ability to adapt to the current economic conditions.
As introduced in prior years, fair scheduling legislation would enact employee shift scheduling requirements such as three-week advance scheduling and corresponding financial penalties for non-compliance (Maryland Fair Scheduling Act – SB 1145/1116 of 2017). The Maryland Chamber will continue to oppose unreasonably restrictive legislation that threatens businesses and the jobs they provide.
SECOND CHANCE EMPLOYMENT
An ex-offender’s ability to quickly transition into the community workforce is essential for a successful reintegration into society. The Maryland Chamber supports pragmatic academic and workforce development programs that prepare the returning citizen for that transition, in addition to responsible legislation that encourages employers to hire these individuals. However, the Maryland Chamber will oppose legislation with unreasonable roadblocks that serve as a disincentive in those efforts.
In 2017, the Maryland Chamber supported legislation (SB 55/HB 440) that would have protected certain employers from being held liable in a tort action for negligently hiring or failing to adequately supervise an employee simply based on evidence that the employee had received probation before judgement for an offense or been convicted of an offense. This session, it will look to support the re-introduction of that legislation.
INCOME TAX – PASS-THROUGH ENTITIES
Legislators have made several attempts in recent years to reform how Maryland’s small businesses are treated under the state’s personal income tax regime. Facing rates that are the highest in the region and among the highest in the nation, sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and S-corporations—almost three quarters of businesses in the state—are at a competitive disadvantage. The Maryland Chamber believes that fulfilling this key recommendation of the former Augustine Commission is critical.
CORPORATE INCOME TAX – RATE REDUCTION
As the state’s coffers experience a windfall of tax revenue from federal tax reform, Maryland must continue to evaluate and prioritize its competitiveness in our 21st century economy. A key and continually unaddressed recommendation of the former Augustine Commission, the Maryland Chamber supports legislation to reduce the corporate income tax rate from 8.25 percent back to its previous rate of seven percent.
CORPORATIONS AND BUSINESS ENTITIES – FILING FEES AND COMBINED REPORTING
This perennial legislation sought to impose a system of mandatory unitary combined reporting for corporate income taxes on those retail sales and food service corporations. In addition to creating a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states that do not use combined reporting, this legislation increases tax revenue volatility, unduly creates reporting complexities to small businesses, and risks alienating the very industries Maryland is attempting to attract.
The bills from the 2018 legislative session are in the books—passed, failed or vetoed. Now, you can see how we worked together to advocate for Maryland business.