Legislation

March 2017 Legislation Update

Katie Nash
Policy Director, Greenwill Consulting Group
SMMCOC Lobbyist

Week 10 was a week of surprises with the quick veto-proof margin passage of sick leave legislation, a compromise from the Senate to address the Governor’s legislation to repeal a 2016 transportation bill, and the announcement by Governor Hogan that he supported a ban on fracking. Session has been lasting much longer, throwing scheduling amuck as it typically does this time of year. On Tuesday the Senate was in for more than five hours, delaying the work of the Committees that day.

Last week we discussed the budget and highlighted some of the challenges the budget committees were facing. We mentioned that it is at this time that the House and/or Senate budget committees are striking funding requests as they move through the legislative process of reviewing the Governor’s budget. The committees cannot spend a lot of time going back and forth on these edits. The legislature must adopt a balanced budget by the second Monday in April, per the Maryland Constitution. If they fail to do so, special provisions must be made and the legislature will remain in session until the budget is passed. This week, the House of Delegates voted to send the Budget over to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

From here, the professional staff of the Senate committee will go through every line item as the House committee staff did. They will review the amendments that were placed on the budget and offer a series of recommendations to make cuts to make room for priorities of the members of the Committee. This means that there will be items that are cut and groups will be appealing for funding to be restored, increased, etc. To further complicate the process, Governor Hogan will release a “supplemental” budget request in the coming weeks. After the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee finishes their work, the budget will head to the full Senate for a vote. Here, Senate Republicans will offer amendments and arguments to protest an action (or several) taken by the Democratic Leadership. The budget vote will not be close and will sail through, but this budget debate offers the Minority Party an opportunity to debate policy as well as eat up precious time. After the vote, a Conference Committee of the two chambers will be appointed to resolve any differences before the final FY18 budget is taken up by the full legislature again. Then, after the differences are worked out, the budget will be passed quickly and without too much fanfare.

Also, as we discuss the budget, we must report that there has been increased buzz about a summer special session in response to the actions taken by the federal government related to the Affordable Care Act (ACT). With the legislation’s repeal comes a repeal of federal dollars spent in Maryland. There is the general presumption that action will need to be taken in the interim to make the necessary policy decisions to move forward. June is what is being tossed around the halls for now and we will provide updates as they are available. For your ease of review, a copy of the President’s budget proposal will be included with this week’s report.

We have been reporting on the status of the sick leave legislation, as it will be touted by some as the most significant legislation of the session. The House Democratic Leadership legislation sets forth a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work, up to a maximum of seven full days per year. At the beginning of the week, we were hearing that the Democrats did not have the number needed to override a veto in the Senate and that Leadership was stalling to line up additional votes. We had heard that specifically, Baltimore County Democratic Senators were concerned and would not be voting for the bill. Our contacts with industry groups such as the Chamber of Commerce were all saying the same thing, the bill was in trouble. Yet, we all knew that there was plenty of time to work it out. We expected that this debate would continue in the coming weeks as we approached the final weeks of the legislative session. The Governor announced that he would veto the legislation and the following day, the Senate crossfile of the bill was voted through the Senate. The Senate legislation would require all companies with more than 14 employees to provide all employees that work more than 12 hours a week at least 5 sick days a year. Interestingly, some of the amendments that were offered from the Senate floor were from Baltimore County Democrats – as we had heard that the Democratic leadership was having a difficult time having those legislators sign on to the legislation and preventing the necessary votes to override a veto, should the legislation pass and head to the Governor. In the end, Leadership was able to persuade enough legislators to vote for the bill, reaching the magic “29” number needed to override a veto in the Senate. The House bill was heard this week in the Senate Finance Committee – we expect some version of this legislation to ultimately pass.

Transportation funding and the process to fund projects has remained a hot topic this session. This week, the Senate passed a heavily amended bill (SB0307) that was originally introduced as Administration legislation that would fully repeal the 2016 transportation scoring bill (affectionately dubbed the “Road Kill Bill” by the Hogan Administration). The compromise was in the form of a study bill – a 7-member panel (Workgroup on the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act) comprised of the Senate and House Majority and Minority leaders (or designees), members of the budget committees, and the Secretary of Transportation would review the process for determining capital improvement plan projects and their funding levels. For a quick comparison of the bill as amended and the Governor’s original bill, simply compare the unanimously-approved Senate bill with the unamended House bill (HB0402) that has yet to move out of Committee. The amendments also lengthened the amount of time for the study, with the workgroup reporting out its findings in January 2019 (well after the 2018 statewide election).

On Friday afternoon, the Governor surprised everyone with an announcement that he supports a ban on fracking in Maryland. His announcement stated that the risk outweighed the benefits and asked the legislature to move on from this issue. This move was surprising because the moratorium was expected to continue this year with the ban being revisited in the election year. On Thursday there was another large demonstration in Annapolis to protest fracking. As you may recall, the Chair of the Senate Environment, Health, and Education Affairs (EHEA) Committee was quite candid in her comments during the hearing to ban fracking.  She informed the bill sponsor and Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Bobby Zirkin, that he would need to find the votes to override a veto from Governor Hogan (again, that 29 number).  It was important then, when Governor Hogan made his announcement on Friday, Chairman Zirkin was standing to his right and offered comments immediately following the Governor’s announcement. By the time the Governor had made his announcement, EHEA Chairwoman Conway was stating that the bill (SB0740) to ban fracking would be coming out of her committee. The Senate will now be pressured to act quickly.

Medical cannabis will continue to be a hot topic this session. The Greenwill Medical Cannabis Division was invited to attend a snow-day workgroup to work on this year’s legislation. Our team has a history of working closely with the Maryland General Assembly on this issue:  we assisted in the re-writing of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Program in 2014, we have continued to work on the regulations with the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission, and we have been a member of the Maryland Cannabis Industry Association (MDCIA), the membership trade organization representing those interested in participating in Maryland’s emerging medical cannabis market.  In fact our team boasts MDCIA Founder and former Executive Director, Darrell Carrington.  Going forward, Greenwill is uniquely qualified to offer guidance on best practices with respect to the Maryland Program assisting our clients in securing grower, processor and dispensary licenses, including the only African-American led group that won a processor pre-award.

Our crossover date is Monday, March 20th. This is an important day – Monday is meant to be a deadline of sorts with the House and Senate scurrying to send those bills they pass favorably to the other chamber. This certainly doesn’t limit all bills from continuing to move, but legislation that has not moved at all after having a hearing in January and February will most likely not pass this session. Committee work now shifts to conference committees and determining the posture of the bills that have been given the green light.