A recap of this week’s top-five news items and resources from the intersection of business and government.
1. Four-day workweek bill withdrawn as costs, tradition derail proposal
Efforts to bring a four-day workweek pilot program to Maryland are over – for this year at least.
Sponsors of the House and Senate bills withdrew the legislation amid concerns it would institutionalize a 32-hour work week. Costs of the five-year pilot program and engrained attitudes concerning the traditional 40-hour work week appear to have derailed the legislation for this session.
Del. Vaughn Stewart pulled the bill Monday prior to a vote by the House Economic Matters Committee because of concerns that it might not pass due to costs – just under $1 million annually to establish a five-year business tax credit program. The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman was also withdrawn.
Stewart hopes to create a study by the state Department of Labor. Once a study is complete, supporters could take another run at the proposal before the end of the current term, he said.
2. House gives preliminary approval to bill that would regulate legalized cannabis industry
The Maryland House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Wednesday to legislation that would regulate and license the state’s budding cannabis industry, defeating attempts by Republican lawmakers to amend the bill with minor changes that they argued were necessary.
House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel began Wednesday’s debate by proposing two amendments – one that would allow employers to drug-test for cannabis with impunity, as they do now, and the second to clarify that the legislation is not an endorsement of operating a vehicle or machinery under the influence of cannabis.
Economic Matters Chair C.T. Wilson defended the bill, which he cosponsored, as is, saying that the legislation was simply a licensing bill that was needed after state voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing cannabis for recreational use beginning July 1. Amending the legislation to address matters beyond regulating the new business is outside the bounds of the debate, Wilson said.
3. Maryland officials make pitch to General Services Administration on new FBI headquarters
Governor Wes Moore and members of the state’s congressional delegation on Wednesday renewed their pitch to build a new FBI headquarters in Maryland, criticizing the selection process for lacking transparency and noting it would cost taxpayers $1 billion more to build in Virginia – and take longer.
Plans to replace the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., built in 1974, have been under discussion for 15 years. Momentum to pick a new site stalled during the Trump presidency, when plans to move the headquarters to the suburbs were scrapped in favor of a proposal to rebuild at the existing site. The General Services Administration has named three finalist sites: Springfield, Virginia; Greenbelt; and Landover.
Moore stressed how locating the headquarters in Prince George’s County, which is a majority-Black jurisdiction in the suburbs of the nation’s capital, would satisfy equity goals that President Joe Biden has raised. Budget documents estimate that roughly 7,500 jobs are tied to the new facility.
4. Transurban announces it will exit proposed Md. toll lane expansion
An Australia-based company that was the lead partner in a plan to build toll lanes to widen I-270 and parts of the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County announced that they will exit the project.
Transurban, lead partner in a consortium known as Accelerate Maryland Partners, issued a statement Thursday evening – the start of the Friday business day in Australia – announcing it will not proceed with the project. The announcement comes less than two weeks before the company was required to meet a key deadline and submit its design and finance plans for the project.
In a statement, the company said the project faced challenges including delayed environmental approvals, “a changing political landscape,” and unresolved lawsuits.
The project, first proposed by former Governor Larry Hogan, was considered to be the largest public-private partnership in the nation. Governor Wes Moore, however, has made it clear since last year that he sought a change of direction in the plan.
5. What businesses say about noncompetes
Many are following the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed rule that would ban the use of noncompete agreements in the United States. Some, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the proposed ban is not rooted in any authority granted to the agency by Congress.
But what are businesses saying? The U.S. Chamber conducted a survey and found that 80% of respondents utilize restrictive covenants – including noncompete agreements – but 62% said that less than 10% of their U.S. workforce is subject to noncompete restrictions. Furthermore, they found that 78% of employers who responded offer additional compensation that covers the span of the noncompete duration, or longer.
Participants were also asked how many times an employee subject to a noncompete agreement was able to join a competitor based on a successful negotiation between the employer and employee or competitor. Nearly half of the respondents said they have successfully reached a compromise that allowed both the employer to protect their interests and the employee to enter into new employment opportunities.
If a ban on noncompete agreements entered into force, the workforce can anticipate fewer opportunities and reduced investments in their development. 67% of respondents agreed that a near-total ban on noncompete agreements would have a negative impact on their business’s talent or compensation strategy.
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