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Steve's News from Annapolis

2016-03-20

Whew, another long week of bill hearings and voting on bills that effect the district and our state.  Last Friday we had a delegation briefing by Paul Comfort, the MTA Administrator about changes coming to bus, light rail, train and metro service. He was followed by four hours of voting on the House floor and then three hours of voting on bills in our Committee! Then we were back in on Saturday to keep going!

The House took time during the last couple of weeks to honor new Blue Ribbon Schools, including Towson’s outstanding George Washington Carver School of Arts and Technology, represented by Principal Karen Steele.  I had the opportunity to talk with students in Towson High School’s Law and Public Policy class who visited to see us in action.  I was also “shadowed” by a young man who is a senior in Government and Politics at the University of Maryland and a woman from Rodgers Forge who “won” the opportunity to be with me for a day. She commented that she was pleasantly surprised by the civil debate and discussions she saw.  It was enjoyable talking with both and giving them insights to the way the legislature operates.

This was our busiest week to date. While the House passed dozens of bills, let me highlight a few.

Bike safety

Following a number of months of working with stakeholders, my bike safety bill, HB 214, was passed in the House. While I was very pleased, I was disappointed that some of the rhetoric indicated a lack of understanding about the rights of bicyclists to be on the roads. The proposed law will require a vehicle, when coming upon a bicycle, to slow down to pass and essentially, to move over for a safe passage. It does not fully protect the 3’ Rule I wanted but, as BikeMD said in an email, “While the change did not give us everything we wanted, it is an improvement [over current law].”

Another bill that the House passed addresses “coal rolling”. In Committee, we saw outrageous videos of diesel powered trucks intentionally spewing heavy black smoke and soot from their exhaust pipes onto bicyclists as they pedaled on Maryland’s roadways.  This is not part of the regular operation of a diesel vehicle. We had testimony from other cyclists indicating that this was an all too common occurrence.  The bill will make it illegal to intentionally discharge smoke, soot or other exhaust emissions onto or in the direction of another person or vehicle and subject the violator to a fine.

Motor Vehicles

The Environment and Transportation Committee deals with a number of motor vehicle related issues.  One that we addressed this session is actually an older issue – driving with a handheld cell phone.  Although we made it illegal, drivers ignore the law and drive with cell phones in their hands.  The House passed HB 212 that increases the penalty from $75 to up to $500.  It is clear that, unless the penalty is pretty severe, people will continue to flaunt the law.

The House also passed – with no opposition – HB 1342, known as Noah’s Law.  Noah Leotta was a young Montgomery County police officer who was working DUI stops when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver who had a suspended license.  Noah’s Law establishes a mandatory ignition interlock requirement for a driver whose blood alcohol is .08 or more. Currently, the interlock requirement only applies to someone with a blood alcohol level of .15. The driver must blow into the interlock device and if any alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. The Ignition Interlock Program is a highly effective deterrent.

The new law will apply to the actions by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and by the Courts. A person who fails the breath test or refuses to take the test can either opt-in the Interlock Program for one year or be suspended by the MVA for the first offense. The MVA will have tougher administrative penalties:

  • 90 days suspension for a test result between .08 and .14
  • 180 day suspension if the test result is above .15, or
  •  270 day suspension if the person refuses to take the test

If the person is convicted in Court, he/she may have their license revoked and the MVA shall require the Ignition Interlock if the blood alcohol is .08 or above. The Interlock is required for 6 months for the first conviction and one year for the second conviction.

Tax Reform

The House passed a number of bills that address the tax obligations of individuals, families and businesses in Maryland. These include:

Earned Income Tax Credit Expansion - HB 1047 

  • Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a vital program for low to moderate working individuals and couples, particularly those with children.
  • Under current law, a worker must be between the ages of 25 and 64 to claim the tax credit.

This legislation expands the eligibility age to 21 year olds, increases the existing income thresholds to allow more people to receive a greater tax credit, and matches the value of the federal credit for childless workers.

Single Sales Factor for Maryland Corporations - HB 1252

  •  HB 1252 was a priority bill of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and a key recommendation of the Augustine Commission.  Maryland companies benefit by allowing them to invest more in their State workforce and ultimately expand their operations as well. 
  • 20 other states use the single sales factor formula, including our competitor states of Delaware and Pennsylvania.

The bill shifts the calculation of Maryland’s corporate income tax to a single sales factor formula, reducing the tax burden on a larger number of businesses. This is the same formula that has been in place since 2000 for Maryland’s manufacturers.

Reduced Interest Rates for Tax Deficiencies and refunds - HB 422

  • Currently, the Comptroller is required to set an annual interest rate for tax refunds and deficiencies at a rate of 13% or 3% above the Federal Reserve’ prime interest rate – whichever is higher.
  • Of the 44 states that impose an income tax, the average interest rate for penalties is 4%. Only 2 states (OK and WI) have higher interest rates than Maryland.

HB 422 reduces the 13% interest rate by 1% per year for 4 years until it is 9%.

Local Option Personal Property Tax Credit for New and Small Businesses - HB 69

This bill authorizes county and municipal governments to provide up to a 50% property tax credit for personal property that is owned or leased by a business that has been operating for 2 years or less, or has 15 employees or less.

Sales Tax Exemption for the Revitalization of Sparrow’s Point in Baltimore County - HB 1533

  •  The redevelopment of Sparrows Point – 3,100 industrial acres in Baltimore County – is projected to lead to over $1 billion of private investment and 10,000 to 15,000 permanent jobs.

HB 1533 provides a sales tax exemption for specific construction materials used in the redevelopment of the project. Incentivizing the building of new facilities will bring new and expanding businesses and create construction jobs and jobs at the new companies.  

Expanded Income Tax Deduction for Contributions to 529 College Savings Plans - HB 335

HB 335 expands the eligibility of individuals who can claim the existing income tax deduction for contributions to 529 savings plans and provides a meaningful incentive to provide additional college savings for Maryland’s students.

Protecting Pollinators

I was very pleased that my HB 132 passed the House. This bill will require three large state agencies to use best practices to develop, and implement, plans to maintain, restore, protect and enhance pollinator habitat on the lands they own and manage. It excludes productive farmland. This bill makes it clear that the state should help lead the way to providing pollinator habitat.  The bill will be heard in the Senate on March 22.

On Saturday, the House passed the Pollinator Protection Act of 2016, HB 211.  I was excited to be a part of the workgroup that developed this bill. As passed, after January 1, 2018, the retail businesses are prohibited from selling pesticides that contain neo-nicotoids unless they are licensed to sell restricted use pesticides. Similarly, after January 1, 2018, individuals will not be allowed to apply these “neo- nic” pesticides that are connected to bee deaths. Professional applicators, farmers and veterinarians are exempted and may apply these neo-nics. This is a terrific message about the importance of pollinators in Maryland!

Aid to Baltimore City

The uprising in Baltimore City last April highlighted many of the deep seated problems that the City faces. The Governor and the legislature have focused time and resources to addressing many of the challenges. Governor Hogan is to be commended for committing money to address blighted City blocks and, recently, for adding over $12 million to his budget for City schools.

Bills have been introduced to more holistically address current, and long standing, problems in the City. Legislation will address problems with the public schools, the lack of adult education, transportation needs, expanding job opportunities, increasing neighborhood revitalization initiatives, new development, senior center funding and more drug treatment programs.  One bill, HB 1403, the New Scholars Program, will provide mentorship for low income 8th grade students who commit to attend college. Another will support anchor institutions that are involved in community revitalization. Towson University will also be lending its expertise to support these efforts. The legislation, collectively, is aimed at both short and long term solutions through program assistance and additional funding.

Funding Support for Local Initiatives

A couple of Saturdays ago, I had the opportunity to present four bond bills which would support Towson area initiatives. Although such funding was in previous capital budgets, the Governor did not put funds in his budget to fund these important local projects.

Two bills would provide funds for local park improvements – Towson Manor Park and the proposed Radebaugh Park. Another will match private donations to help fund a memorial honoring the men and women who served in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The memorial will be constructed on County property near the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. The fourth bill would provide matching funds for further rehabilitation of the historic lime kilns at Cromwell Valley Park.

The Senate has already proposed $100,000 for Radebaugh Park and another $50,000 for the memorial. I will work to obtain similar funds in the House for all four of these projects.

With just three weeks left in the Session, we still have much to do.

And, as always, I welcome your comments or views on legislation we are addressing. You can contact me at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or at 410-841-3487.

Best wishes,

Steve

Contact Steve

Contact Delegate Lafferty
By Phone: 410-841-3487
By Email: stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us

Contact the Campaign
By Phone: 410-377-4521
By Email: lafferty@delegatelafferty.com

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