Friday Five | March 20, 2020

Happy 2nd day of spring. We hope you are enjoying the first signs of the season from the comforts of your own home, at a safe distance from others. What a whirlwind it has been since we last provided you an update. Here is your Friday 5 for this week.

1. COVID-19 | Maryland Chamber of Commerce resources for employers

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce remains dedicated to supporting our state’s business community throughout the COVID-19 crisis. There continues to be an overwhelming amount of information being circulated about the virus and its public health and economic impact. We are working diligently to compile resources from various subject-matter experts and convey them in real time to our membership.

Below, you will find a comprehensive overview of resources developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the state of Maryland and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Our goal is to ensure that you and your employees have the information necessary both to prevent the spread of the virus, but also to maintain continuity of operations during this unpredictable time.

You can also find this information on the Maryland Chamber’s website. We will continue to update this page as more information becomes available.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a guide for employers to plan for and respond to COVID-19.

The CDC encourages employers to:

The full employer guide can be found here.

Maryland Department of Health

The Maryland Department of Health has created a COVID-19 Information Portal. The portal includes the following information:

The portal also includes all press releases related to COVID-19 from Governor Hogan.

Maryland Interagency Website: COVID-19 information for businesses

The state has created an interagency resource guide for businesses to utilize during the COVID-19 crisis. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce encourages our members and business partners to regularly visit this website, as it contains the most accurate and up-to-date information related to the economic impact of the virus. On this website, you will find the following information and supporting resources:

For any specific questions that are not addressed through these resources, businesses should email Secretary.Commerce@maryland.gov. We have been assured that a representative from the Maryland Department of Commerce will respond to specific inquiries within 48-72 hours.

Comptroller announces extension of business tax filing deadlines

To assist businesses affected by the economic impact of COVID-19, Maryland’s Comptroller Peter Franchot announced that the deadline for filing business-related taxes will be extended to June 1. This extension applies to certain business returns with due dates during the month of March, April and May 2020 for businesses filing sales-and-use tax, withholding tax and admissions and amusement tax as well as alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel excise taxes, tire recycling fee and bay restoration fee returns.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce resource guide

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is working closely with the Trump administration, U.S. government agencies and foreign government officials to ensure that businesses have the most up-to-date information and resources.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has put together two succinct documents featuring workplace health and safety information from the CDC.

Much of the U.S. Chamber’s content has been pulled from the CDC’s “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers.

Federal & state legislative resources

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is actively monitoring federal and state legislation seeking to address challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to ensure that it appropriately balances public health and safety with the economic realities employees and employers are facing at this time.

Federal

HR 6201 | Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On Wednesday evening, President Trump signed HR 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as a broad response to many of the labor, employment and economic challenges presented by COVID-19.

“Today, I have signed into law H.R. 6201, the ‘Families First Coronavirus Response Act.’ The Act makes emergency supplemental appropriations and other changes to law to help the Nation respond to the coronavirus outbreak,” President Trump said in a statement on Wednesday.

The legislation provides paid sick and family leave for some for U.S. workers impacted by the illness, expands unemployment assistance, and includes nutrition assistance and free COVID-19 testing, among other provisions.

A full summary of the legislation provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce can be found here.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also calling on President Trump and congressional leadership to swiftly enact the following three policy proposals:

Lastly, the U.S. Chamber is calling for a series of measures to help businesses weather supply chain disruptions, support business operations, assist employees and protect small and mid-sized businesses.

Also, for your awareness, the U.S. Department of Treasury has proposed three key terms for COVID-19 legislation specific to the Exchange Stabilization Fund, economic impact payments, and small business interruption loans. Click here to view the full stage three proposal.

State

In its remaining days before adjourning Sine Die, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to address several ongoing COVID-19 challenges. SB 1080/HB 1663, the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act of 2020, authorizes the governor to take actions relating to health insurance, Medicaid, retailer profits, employer actions and personnel at state health care facilities.

A summary of the legislation can be found here.

We will continue to monitor ongoing efforts at the state and federal levels to provide COVID-19 updates for Maryland businesses, workers and families, and provide our membership with regular updates as they materialize.

Other resource links

World Health Organization COVID-19 Updates

OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

U.S. Small Business Administration: Guidance for Businesses and Employers

Maryland Small Business Development Center

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Announcement of COVID-19 Coverage and Next Steps

Archived Webinar: Shawe Rosenthal

 2. General Assembly adjourns Sine Dine

In the midst of looming uncertainty and unpredictability surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, the leadership of the Maryland General Assembly announced on Sunday, March 15, that the legislature would adjourn Sine Die on Wednesday, March 18, three weeks ahead of its previously scheduled adjournment.

The General Assembly is typically required to be in session for 90 days each year.

Legislative leadership announced plans to return to Annapolis during the last week of May for a special session to address any remaining critical legislation.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce government affairs team will be analyzing the legislation that passed in the final days of session and developing a comprehensive legislative report that will be available in the coming weeks.

 3. General Assembly passes Kirwan Commission with amendments that provide an off-ramp in a down economy

Before it adjourned on Wednesday, the General Assembly moved swiftly to pass HB 1300: Blueprint for Maryland’s Future—Implementation, better known as the Kirwan Commission recommendations.

Prior to final passage, the Senate adopted several amendments meant to address some of the lingering concerns of policymakers. One included an amendment that will limit the implementation of Kirwan reforms during an economic downturn. The added language outlines that if state revenues drop by 7.5% in a given year, Kirwan would be put on hold, and increases to education spending would be limited to the rate of inflation.

The Senate also adopted an amendment establishing an “academic oversight checkpoint.” The language establishes that in FY 2025, if an oversight board determines that the reforms are not being properly implemented or that increased student performance is not being achieved, increases in school funding will be halted.

The amended language was not enough to assuage all policymakers. Late on Monday evening, the Senate voted 37-9 to approve the bill, as amended. Six members of the GOP joined Democrats in support of the amended language.

On Tuesday, the House voted 96-38, along party lines, to concur with the amended version of the bill. It now advances to the desk of Governor Larry Hogan. The governor has previously been an outspoken critic of the legislation due in large part to its price tag and lack of viable funding sources. Should he veto the bill, Democratic leadership may attempt an override if/when they return for a special session at the end of May.

As it relates to the price tag, HB 1300, as enrolled, would impose a $3.8 billion annual funding mandate on state government. The state will be required to cover approximately three-fourths of that amount, with the rest covered by local jurisdictions.

In the final hours of session, Democrats moved forward with their plan to derive revenue from a handful of tax bills, which they portend will bring in more than $700 million annually to fund Kirwan recommendations. These include the tax on digital downloads and digital advertising and an increase in the tobacco tax. More information regarding the revenue proposals and their fate are included in our update on key Chamber priorities during the 2020 legislative session.

4. Fate of key Chamber priorities during the 2020 legislative session

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce commends members of the Maryland General Assembly for passing legislation critical for businesses before adjourning sine die.

SB 397: Sales-and-Use Tax and Personal Property Tax–Exemptions–Data Centers

The Chamber supports any legislation that seeks to drive economic development, attract businesses to Maryland and spur innovation and infrastructure investments in our state. SB 397, which provides a sales-and-use tax exemption for data center equipment, will do just that.

Indeed, the positive, long-lasting effects of this legislation, which would empower local communities to determine the best way to provide and apply the incentives, are many. Local taxes paid by data centers support schools, law enforcement and local public infrastructure, including the expansion of broadband in underserved areas. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one large data center can add $243.5 million in economic activity and $9.9 million in revenue for state and local governments, during the construction phase alone.

The Maryland Chamber Foundation recently commissioned Mangum Economics to conduct a thorough research study on the potential economic and fiscal impact of bringing data centers to Maryland. According to the study, the potential economic and fiscal impact of data centers in Maryland is immensely positive. The study analyzed four Maryland counties for the impact of just one large data center locating in their jurisdictions. In their preliminary findings, analysts determined that a large data center would provide a very high benefit-to-cost ratio for these counties in terms of the tax revenue it would generate relative to the government services that it and its employees would require

The Chamber, and the Maryland Data Center Coalition, appreciates the support of the General Assembly in passing this very important initiative.

Other business tax proposals

The Chamber also appreciates that members of the General Assembly heeded the call to take a more measured approach as it relates to business tax proposals that had previously been up for consideration.  The COVID-19 crisis has already had a tremendous impact on our economy—an impact that continues to intensify. We continue to see historic plunges in the stock market and emergency moves by the Federal Reserve and U.S. Department of Treasury meant to stabilize the economic impact of the virus. We know that negative economic impact, including supply chain disruptions and sharp declines in revenue for certain industries, will continue over the coming days and weeks.

Throughout the legislative session, the Chamber has maintained that tax policy is complex and results in many unintended consequences, both positive and negative. The imposition of new taxes or tax policies would have only worsened this crisis for Maryland businesses and the citizens they employ. While we are disheartened by the passage of legislation that expands taxes in some areas, including digital products and digital advertising, we appreciate that the General Assembly recognized that a period of major economic downturn is not the time to implement a full slate of complicated tax measures that stand to negatively impact businesses already struggling to plan for and overcome the impact of COVID-19.

The Chamber looks forward to engaging with policymakers and stakeholders moving forward to address the measures needed to ensure Maryland’s economy makes a full recovery and continues to thrive and expand well into the future.

5. Maryland primary election information

On March 17, Governor Hogan announced that Maryland’s regularly scheduled April 28th Presidential Primary will be postponed to June 2. The postponement is due to the rapidly changing situation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak and concerns about the further spread of the disease.

However, the special election to fill the currently vacant 7th Congressional District will be held on the original date of April 28, by absentee ballot only.

Under the current economic conditions, it is more important than ever for Maryland’s business community to be heard at the polls. We strongly encourage those of you in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District and those with concerns about the potential large crowds at polling locations for the June 2 primary to request your absentee ballot now.

Requesting an absentee ballot is quick and easy. Visit the Maryland State Board of Elections website and follow the directions to have your ballot delivered to your home or email inbox.

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