Less than three weeks remain in the 2014 General Assembly session. Below is a roundup of some of the issues the Maryland Chamber has been working. You can view all of our bill positions here. There has been no action on bills to:
Estate Tax Reform
Legislation to recouple Maryland’s estate tax with the federal law was passed by the House of Delegates. The bill crossed over to the Senate and passed second reading today. Final approval could come as early as tomorrow. The Maryland Chamber supports the bill as a priority issue for the 2014 session. This legislation would help small business owners by reducing their tax burdens and the complexity of their estate tax planning. It would also help keep high income earners in Maryland, supporting our economy and nonprofit sector.
Minimum Wage Increase
The House of Delegates passed legislation to increase Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10 in three annual increases by 2017. The bill was amended to remove the provision that would have indexed the minimum wage to inflation after 2017. The legislation has crossed over to the Senate and will be heard by the Finance and Budget & Taxation Committees on March 26. The Maryland Chamber opposes the legislation. Imposing additional labor costs on small businesses could force impacted business owners to make difficult decisions like eliminating positions, trimming benefits or raising prices.
Shielding Criminal Convictions
The House of Delegates passed an amended version of HB 1166 to shield from the public, including employers, conviction records relating to certain misdemeanors including some drug offenses, traffic offenses, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and more. The Maryland Chamber opposed the bill because it would have prevented employers from accessing relevant information for evaluating applicants for employment. The bill was amended to remove the record from a State website, but the public and employers would still be able to obtain court records upon request. The bill has crossed over to the Senate and is now in the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
R&D Tax Credit
The Maryland Senate passed legislation to increase the total amount of Research and Development Tax Credits that may be awarded annually from $8 million to $10 million. The Maryland Chamber supports the bill. Maryland is a national leader in research and development, and we must ensure that our R&D tax credits remains competitive with other states. The bill is awaiting action in the House Ways & Means Committee.
Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise (RISE) Zone Program
The Maryland Senate unanimously passed a bill to create the RISE Zone program and unitize property and income tax credits and accelerated depreciation schedules to spur investment in areas around anchor institutions like universities and other State and federal facilities. The Maryland Chamber supports this program. Maryland’s economic strength lies in its highly educated workforce an strong focus on innovation and technology. The RISE Zone strengthen relationships between anchor institutions and their surrounding communities while fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, helping to take innovative research from the laboratory to the private sector. The bill is awaiting action in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Cybersecurity Investment Fund
SB 603/HB 740
Both houses of the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation to create a new Cybersecurity Investment Fund to provide early stage seed funding for emerging Maryland companies focused on cybersecurity. The Maryland Chamber supports the legislation. For a modest annual investment of $2 million, Maryland can bolster its reputation as a cybersecurity leader. Supporting Maryland’s cybersecurity industry at all levels has great potential for creating and retaining high paying jobs in Maryland. The bills await action in the opposite chamber.
Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative
The Maryland Senate unanimously passed legislation to establish this new initiative that would allow for the auctioning of varied tax credits to the private sector to match higher education funding to attract the best and brightest talent to Maryland universities. This will leverage public and private sector capital to fund endowed chairs in targeted areas of science and technology research. The goal of this program would be to create globally recognized research and development programs that maximize Maryland’s innovation assets and create private sector investment, opportunities and jobs. The Maryland Chamber supports this program. The areas of science which this program is targeting will further enhance Maryland’s already growing technology and innovation sectors, and will likely lead to greater creation of business spin-offs and start-ups in these areas. The bill will be heard by the Ways & Means and Appropriations Committees on March 25.
Streamlining Regulatory Process
SB 449/HB 166
Both houses of the General Assembly have passed legislation to establish quarterly effective dates for certain nonemergency regulations. The Maryland Chamber supports the bill because it would streamline the regulatory process and give business more predictability regarding the effective dates of regulations. Similar legislation was passed unanimously by both houses last year, but the session ended before the opposite house votes could be completed.
Hydraulic Fracturing Prohibition
SB 360, HB 292
Legislation to prohibit anyone from engaging in hydraulic fracturing of a well for the exploration or production of natural gas in Maryland was voted down in both houses. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposed this bill because it would prevent natural gas development in Western Maryland and could have impeded the economic development natural gas could bring to the State.
Small Business Reserve
SB 975/HB 487 & HB 14
Two years ago, the Maryland Chamber supported legislation to expand the definition of “small business” under the Small Business Reserve (SBR) program. That change has helped grow the number of small businesses participating in the SBR and bring more state agencies closer to their goal of awarding 10 percent of procurements to qualified small businesses. That expansion sunsets this year. Both houses have passed legislation to repeal that sunset. In addition, the House unanimously passed legislation to require state procurements with an expected value between $15,000 and $100,000 to be designated for the SBR program. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate.