In this issue…
The Maryland General Assembly’s return to Annapolis is just a few weeks away, and the Chamber is busily preparing to engage on the issues that will be significant to the business community during the 90-day session.
Ahead of session, please review our 2020 Legislative Priorities. Our staff is beginning to review bill drafts and pre-filed legislation impacting our membership, as well as the Department of Legislative Services’ 2020 Legislative Session Issue Papers, which can be found by clicking here.
Beginning January 8, our bill tracking system will become available to Maryland Chamber members. Concise summaries of each bill will be provided along with the Chamber’s positions—support, oppose, hold or amend. We encourage our members to regularly review this section of our website for the most up-to-date legislative information or contact our government affairs team to learn how to become more involved in our policy process if you are not already.
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce looks forward to the upcoming session, which presents an opportunity for us to promote the positive steps being taken by job creators to make Maryland a better place to live and work.
In recent weeks, there have been many announced changes to the make-up and leadership of the General Assembly. We are looking forward to engaging with House Speaker Adrienne Jones, Senate President-designee Bill Ferguson and all the members of the General Assembly, as we work collaboratively toward policy solutions for Marylanders.
Below, please find an overview of recently announced changes and assignments.
On December 2, Governor Larry Hogan announced the appointment of Delegate Andrew Cassilly (R-Harford) as his new senior adviser. Cassilly was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Keiffer Mitchell, who departed the post to serve in his new role as chief legislative officer for the Hogan administration.
Delegate Cassilly formerly served on the Ways and Means Committee. He has also served on the Environment and Transportation Committee, Regional Revitalization Workgroup, Veterans Caucus, Waterman Caucus and the Harford County Economic Advisory Board, among others.
The Cecil and Harford Republican Central Committees have been tasked with putting forward a nominee to fill Cassilly’s seat within 30 days of the vacancy.
On the same day, Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County) announced her retirement, citing health concerns. Pulliam served as vice chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
The 44th Legislative District in which Nathan-Pulliam serves is divided between Baltimore City and Baltimore County. As a result, both the Baltimore City and Baltimore County state central committees must work to identify her replacement. Following interviews for potential candidates, members of both central committees will hold a public vote to identify their selections. If the choice between the two jurisdictions differs, both candidates’ names will be submitted to Governor Hogan for his decision.
On December 3, State Senator Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) announced his resignation, effective January 1, 2020. Zirkin, who has served in the General Assembly since 1999, led the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for the better part of the last five years.
Zirkin’s departure will leave a vacancy in the Senate for approximately one-third of the 90-day legislative session, until the Democratic Central Committee names a successor and Governor Hogan ratifies the appointment.
Following the resignation announcement, two state delegates have emerged in the effort to fill Zirkin’s seat. Earlier this month, Delegate Shelly Hettleman (D-Pikesville) told the Baltimore Sun that she is running for the seat and has already begun an effort to pick up endorsements. Hettleman stated that, if she wins the Senate seat, she hopes to push for funding of school construction as well as the implementation of the Kirwan Commission recommendations, among other things.
Subsequently, Delegate Jon Cardin (D-Owings Mills) announced that he is also “very likely” to pursue the open Senate seat.
The Baltimore County Democratic State Central Committee is tasked with nominating a replacement for Zirkin. Applicants are given a two-week window to submit their intent. This is followed by public interviews, a vote from the central committee’s members for the 11th District and a ratification vote by the full membership of the county central committee. The nominee’s name is sent to Governor Hogan. The governor may accept or reject the nominee, but he cannot propose his own candidate to fill the vacancy.
As the result of and in response to any number of changes to the make-up of the Senate over the last several weeks, on December 12, Senate President-designee Bill Ferguson sent a letter to members of the Senate’s Democratic Caucus outlining leadership positions to be held during the 2020 legislative session. The new leadership structure is decidedly younger and more liberal, which is certain to impact the dynamic of the Senate moving forward.
In his letter, the Senate President-designee announced and asked for support for Senator Melony Griffith for president pro tempore. Also, of note, Senate Finance is the only Senate committee that will maintain the same leadership as 2019: Senator Delores Kelley will remain chairwoman, with Senator Brian Feldman staying on as vice chairman.
Below, please find an overview of leadership and committee announcements.
Majority Floor Leadership
Democratic Caucus Leadership
Senate Committee Leadership
Capital Budget Subcommittee
Senator Douglas Peters, Chair
Senator Craig Zucker, Vice Chair
Education, Business & Administration Subcommittee
Senator Craig Zucker, Chair
Health & Human Services Subcommittee
Senator Melony Griffith, Chair
Senator Sarah Elfreth, Chair
Public Safety, Transportation & Environment Subcommittee
Senator Cory McCray, Chair
Earlier this month, the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee elected Yvette Lewis to serve as the party’s chairwoman. Lewis formerly served in the post from 2011 through 2015. Most recently, she coordinated external affairs for U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen.
Lewis replaces Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who resigned as party chair in order to run for the open seat in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, which was made vacant by the death of Congressman Elijah Cummings in October.
On December 5, Governor Hogan announced a pair of education-focused legislative proposals that include a bold accountability initiative aimed at persistently underperforming schools, as well as the largest school construction plan in state history.
Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools (CLASS) Act
When the General Assembly reconvenes on January 8, the governor will introduce the Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools (CLASS) Act. If enacted, the legislation will designate “Innovation Schools” that operate with greater local autonomy and flexibility, while keeping school funding within districts. Under the provisions outlined in the CLASS Act, any school that receives a one-star rating for two consecutive years will be designated as an Innovation School. As a result, the local school board will establish a committee to develop a turnaround plan in a wide range of areas, including curriculum, budget, schedule, staffing and professional development. The committee will be required to hold a public hearing outlining its five-year plan and will comprise individuals with experience in education, youth development, management and finance. Innovation Schools will continue to receive full funding while being held accountable for meeting certain benchmarks related to graduation rates and student performance, as well as efforts to close achievement gaps.
Building Opportunity Act
The governor also announced his intent to re-introduce the Building Opportunity Act, which calls for $3.8 billion in school construction investment over a five-year period. The new funding for the initiative will come from a share of casino revenues in the education lockbox, an initiative that the governor spearheaded and enacted to ensure that an additional $4.4 billion in funding would be steered toward K-12 education. If the legislation is enacted, the Maryland Stadium Authority will have oversight of the additional school construction funds.
You might recall that last month, legislative leaders in the House and Senate unveiled their own school construction plan. Titled the Built to Learn Act, HB 1/SB 1 would appropriate $2.2 billion in extra funds to be steered toward local governments for the purposes of upgrading school facilities. The money would come from bonds issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority to be paid back over 30 years using $125 million per year in casino revenues, which has been set aside in the education lockbox.
Earlier this month, Governor Hogan announced a series of new initiatives and legislation aimed at addressing violent crime, particularly in Baltimore City. The governor’s proposals include:
When the legislature returns to Annapolis in January, the governor will put forward the following pieces of legislation:
Violent Firearm Offenders Act
This bill would significantly increase tougher sentences for violent offenders who commit crimes with guns and, if enacted, would increase penalties for the following: 1) individuals who repeatedly illegally carry firearms and for convicted gang members who illegally possess guns; 2) individuals who illegally transfer guns to others with the knowledge that they intend to be used for a crime; 3) individuals who steal or possess stolen firearms or engage in straw purchasing.
Judicial Transparency Act
This legislation would require the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to publish more sentencing records of judges in violent crime cases in order to hold the system more accountable for public sentencing decisions.
Witness Intimidation and Prevention Act
This legislation would toughen penalties for witness intimidation resulting in serious physical injury or death. It would also expand the courts’ ability to admit statements made by intimidated witnesses under certain circumstances to all crimes.
GOVERNOR RELEASES ENERGY LEGISLATION AHEAD OF SESSION
On December 17, Governor Larry Hogan outlined some of the details of his plan to help Maryland achieve 100% clean electricity by 2040. The Clean and Renewable Energy Standard (CARES) proposal builds on Maryland’s existing Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), and is meant to set a course for Maryland to achieve better environmental performance through the deployment of clean energy. According to the governor’s press release, if passed, CARES would do the following:
CARES is a pillar of Maryland’s comprehensive strategy to achieve the state’s climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40% by 2030. You may recall that in October of this year, the Maryland Department of Environment released its plan to achieve that goal. The draft plan includes more than 100 measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide. Key elements of the plan include:
MDE is implementing a public process to seek comment on the draft plan. Public engagement meetings are scheduled throughout the state. Comments on the draft plan can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
On December 10, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that House Democrats had reached an agreement with the Trump administration on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). This handshake deal paves the way for Congress to vote on ratification of the agreement in the coming weeks.
USMCA, which would replace the existing NAFTA free-trade agreement, was signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico in the fall of 2018. However, the agreement must be ratified by Congress before it can take effect.
In response to the news that House Democrats and the administration had reached a deal, Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, issued the following statement:
The U.S. Chamber welcomes the news that the Trump Administration and House Democrats have reached agreement on a path forward for USMCA. We thank U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, and members of the House Democrats’ Working Group for their leadership and hard work. We are optimistic this development will open the door to final approval of USMCA on a bipartisan basis by the end of the year, which will especially benefit American farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses. We look forward to reviewing the details of the deal with our members and assessing their impact.
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce has long been part of the coalition of business partners that has been pushing for swift approval of USMCA, as its ratification is crucial for the health of Maryland’s economy. In 2018, Canada and Mexico were responsible for the purchase of nearly one-fifth of Maryland’s total global manufacturing exports, and over the past decade, Maryland has increased goods exported to Canada and Mexico by more than 80%. Without the USMCA agreement, these goods could face a minimum of $36 million and up to $178 million in extra tariffs.
The Chamber has reached out to each of the members of our federal delegation to encourage their support for swift passage of the USMCA agreement now that a tentative deal has been reached.
For more information about USMCA, and to encourage your representatives to vote in support of the agreement, click here.
On December 13, the Trump administration and China announced an agreement on a Phase One trade deal that will result in a reduction in tariffs from both parties, as well as an increase in China’s purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer specified that, under the Phase One agreement, the U.S. would keep the 25% tariffs on some $250 billion of Chinese imports but drop the rate to approximately 7.5% on another $120 billion in imports. The deal also prevents a new round of 15% tariffs that was scheduled to go into effect on an additional $156 billion of imports on December 15. Lighthizer also stated that the U.S. had gotten concessions in the fields of intellectual property, technology transfer, financial services and currency.
In his announcement, President Trump added that negotiations for Phase 2 of the deal would begin immediately, rather than after the 2020 election as originally anticipated.
On December 16, congressional leaders reached a $1.3 trillion spending deal ahead of a looming government shutdown that would have occurred on Friday, December 20.
The most hotly debated item in spending negotiations centered on the president’s border wall priorities. In the end, congressional negotiators agreed to unchanged funding levels from 2019 amounting to $1.375 billion. This amount is short of the $8.6 billion initially requested by the president.
Other items contained in the spending package include the following:
Congress is expected to finalize passage of the deal at some point this week.
On December 10, Congress reached a landmark agreement that would guarantee federal civilian employees access to paid parental leave. The agreement comes after many months of negotiations between the House and Senate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense spending bill.
Currently, federal employees get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) for the following purposes:
Under a new provision, federal employees, both mothers and fathers, would get 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child or a newly adopted child or foster child. Employees must be in federal service for one year to be eligible for the benefit. They must also return to work for at least the length of the leave taken or pay the amount of leave taken.
In negotiations, House Democrats did not propose a method for paying for the measure, and its offset is not immediately clear. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the policy will cost $3.3 billion from 2021-2024.
Federal Ban-the-Box Language
The agreed-upon National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) language that passed the House also includes the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019. If passed, the bill would prohibit federal agencies and federal contractors in the private sector from asking about job applicants’ criminal backgrounds until later in the hiring process. It would still allow an employer to identify an individual’s criminal history before he or she is officially hired.
According to a release from the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), the Fair Chance Act would:
The bill has had strong bipartisan support from criminal justice leaders in both the House and Senate, including that of the late-Congressman Elijah Cummings.
NDAA passed the House in a 377-48 vote on December 11. On December 17, the Senate approved the bill in an 86-8 vote. It now awaits the President’s signature before becoming law.
Written by Ashley Duckman, Vice President of Government Affairs, Maryland Chamber of Commerce.