From the halls: Agriculture legislation ruffles feathers

(March 26, 2019—ANNAPOLIS, Md.) With just 13 days left in the 2019 legislative session, it’s a crucial week to determine the future of many bills being reviewed by the General Assembly. Numerous bills that the Maryland Chamber of Commerce has taken a position on still have an undetermined fate. We continue to anxiously monitor a number of priority bills, including:

House Bill 904/Senate Bill 546 – Agriculture – Nutrient Management – Monitoring and Enforcement

HB 904/SB 546, as originally presented, would have created a multitude of changes to current law involving nutrient management compliance and enforcement including: voluntary certification of commercial manure haulers and brokers; concentrated animal feeding operation permitting and fees; and shallow water quality monitoring in tributaries located on the lower Eastern Shore.

Under the original legislation, existing poultry operations in Maryland and the small, local blue collar businesses that support them, would face both increased fees and exposure to penalties. Additionally, there would be the administrative burden of increased paperwork placed on the industry’s supporting businesses.

This legislation would also have established a voluntary certification program for local businesses to qualify as a “commercial” manure hauler—for a fee. It would then mandate that any farm that uses someone not registered as a “certified commercial manure hauler or broker,” would be subject to an administrative penalty of $1,000 per violation.

With the Maryland Chamber’s voiced opposition, the onerous and unfair regulations, that would have penalized small farm owners and small businesses that engage in movement of chicken manure, have been amended in this bill.

Join the Maryland Chamber Foundation for the next Rural Advisory Group meeting on April 18, 2019. The Foundation brings together business leaders from rural parts of Maryland to discuss how to address their unique public policy concerns.

House Bill 994/Senate Bill 839 – Labor and Employment – Criminal Record Screening (Ban the Box)

HB 994/SB 839 would prohibit employers from requiring a job applicant to disclose information regarding their criminal record until the first in-person interview. Additionally, the Commissioner of Labor and Industry would be authorized by the Attorney General to resolve complaints, either informally or through mediation, on behalf of the applicant or employee.

Employers often say that the most important decision they make is hiring their staff. When hiring a new employee, employers take on a significant amount of risk. One of the risks they should not be concerned about is court action against them by the Attorney General—and civil penalties—for inadvertent error.

While the intent behind HB 994/SB 839 is understandable, the punitive nature of the enforcement provisions for violations are too severe. An employer who violates the requirements is subject to an escalating fine up to $1,000 with no allowance for an inadvertent error on the part of the employer, or any requirement of deliberate intent. We continue to monitor this bill and expect updates to be made in the following weeks.

The Maryland Chamber fully supports second chance programs and legislation that is beneficial to both employees and employers. Read more about the research the Maryland Chamber Foundation has collected on second chance initiatives.

House Bill 166/Senate Bill 280 – Labor and Employment – Payment of Wages – Minimum Wage (Fight for Fifteen)

Our effort to keep you apprised of the status of the $15 minimum wage bills continues. HB 166/SB 280 made it to Governor Hogan’s desk last week. The bill he is currently reviewing phases in a $15 minimum wage over a six year period at $0.75 per year for businesses with 15 or more employees. Businesses with less than 15 employees will phase in the wage increase over a 7.5 year period at $0.60 per year, until the minimum wage hits $14.60, and then it will go up $0.40 until the minimum wage hits $15.

Once receiving the bills, Governor Hogan has six days, excluding Sunday, to make a decision. If he is to veto an increased minimum wage, there is still time left in session for the veto to be overridden. It is expected that Governor Hogan will veto the bill. However, since there is a veto proof majority within the General Assembly, it is likely to be overridden and become law.

Interested in learning more about how legislation like $15 minimum wage will impact your business? Join the Maryland Chamber Foundation for the next Human Resources Advisory group meeting on April 17, 2019.

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