2014 Legislative Issues
The MACo staff gave testimony this week on the following bills:
March 4, 2014:
- HB874: County Health Officers – Authority of County Governing Body and Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene testimony
MACo opposed the original version of this bill, creating several new and more rigid requirements for hiring and firing of county health officers. MACo and county health officers have since worked with the sponsor, the Department, and supported an amended version of the bill, which is still pending in its House Committee.
A MACo panel and other county officials supported this incremental phase-in of a share of state transportation revenues back to local governments as Highway User Revenues. This bill, arising from MACo’s 2014 legislative initiative, represents an incremental approach without upending the most immediate major state projects.
- HB1119: Board of Electricians – Licensing and Regulation of Electricians -Phase Out of Local Licenses testimony
MACo opposed this bill, which would completely phase out local boards of electricians, and largely minimize county oversight over these licensees.
- HB1250: Ethics – Lobbying Regulation – Associations Representing Counties or Municipal Corporations testimony
MACo opposed legislation targeting MACo and MML, which could have a chilling effect on governmental participation in policy affairs, and would create disparities in the treatment of different counties’ representation means.
March 5, 2014:
- HB742: Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise Zone Program testimony
- SB600: Regional Institution Strategic Enterprise Zone Program testimony
MACo suggested amendments to these bills authorizing special development zones around colleges and universities, seeking local agreement with the zone prior to any tax credits that affect the local government revenue streams.
- HB809: Local Government Tort Claims Act and Maryland Tort Claims Act – Damages Sustained on Artificial or Synthetic Turf Playing Fields testimony
MACo opposed legislation opening counties to more lawsuits arising from the use of artificial turf fields.
MACo supported a bill requiring studies of pollution and management practices surrounding the Conowingo Dam, whose federal permit is pending federal re-approval.
MACo supported legislation to incrementally adjust the per capita funding for public libraries across the state.
MACo opposed legislation expanding the breadth of considerations for state-granted permits, citing both cost and administrative concerns.
MACo supported greater “public access” laws for recreational projects, with amendments clarifying their intent and place within currently adopted recreation plans.
MACo supported an additional bill to fully restore the traditional 30% share of Highway User Revenues funding to local governments.
March 6, 2014:
MACo supported legislation authorizing additional federally-supported bonds for targeted school construction projects.
MACo supported this bill to improve the “nonrecurring costs” process for county school funding. The bill would better enable counties with one-time spending needs or one-time revenue capacity to direct funding toward school budgets, without triggering the perpetual funding requirements.
- HB1252: Property Tax Exemption – Disabled Veterans and Surviving Spouses – Percentage of Disability testimony
MACo opposed a broad expansion of tax credits, citing substantial fiscal concerns and lack of local autonomy.
MACo opposed changes to the tax treatment of home equity loans, but expressed interest in helping to resolve technical or administrative issues that may have given rise to the bill.
- HB1316: Crimes – Sale of Drug Paraphernalia to a Minor – Local Law Authorizing Business License Revocation for a Second or Subsequent Violation testimony
MACo supported granting local governments authority to withdraw local business license for multiple offender businesses.
MACo supported an additional bill to fully restore the traditional 30% share of Highway User Revenues funding to local governments.
- HB1342: Workers’ Compensation – Reimbursement for Repackaged and Relabeled Drugs – Fee Schedule and Requirements testimony
MACo opposed a proposal to create reimbursement rates for physician-dispensed medications, citing substantial cost increases under workers’ compensation in particular.
- HB1415: Chief Executive Officer or County Executive – Special Election to Fill a Vacancy in Office testimony
MACo supported granting charter counties flexibility to conduct special elections for county executive races, which is currently not allowed under the state constitution.
MACo opposed broad new collective bargaining rights for all community colleges, citing both administrative burdens and expected salary and cost inflation.
March 7, 2014:
MACo opposed a change to allowances for equipment depreciation, which could have dramatic fiscal effects on both the state and county income taxes.
To see online versions of MACo’s written testimony from the 2014 legislative session, click here.
In a March 6 Capital-Gazette opinion column, former Maryland legislator Gerald Winegrad attacked local government critics of the stormwater remediation fee mandated by 2012 legislation, arguing that the fee is needed to undo past growth decisions and population growth that have dramatically increased water pollution runoff in the Chesapeake Bay.
Political hypocrisy has reached new levels in the debate on fees to pay to clean up polluted stormwater runoff.
Many local politicians have attacked this polluter-pays concept and, after proclaiming their love for the Chesapeake Bay, pledged to block these fees while offering no viable alternatives. …Unfortunately, as sewage treatment plants reach capacity due to population growth, the nitrogen reductions will get us back to where we were before the [Bay Restoration Fund], after expending more than $200 million in [Anne Arundel County]. This means much more will have to be done to reduce the biggest source of county pollutants: stormwater runoff.
Clean Water Act requirements are forcing the counties to address this runoff. The cost to undo 100 years of poor development practices is estimated at $900 million in [Anne Arundel].
It is well past time for our elected leaders to face up to the need to fund these necessary measures.
A March 5 Capital-Gazette article reported on the General Assembly’s continuing rejection of bills that would repeal or exempt certain counties from the requirement to enact a stormwater remediation fee.
A House committee shot down a GOP proposal to repeal Maryland’s mandate that its 10 largest jurisdictions assess stormwater fees.
The House Environmental Matters Committee voted 14-7 to kill House Bill 50, a proposal sponsored by Dels. Wayne Norman, R-Harford, and Cathy Vitale, R-Severna Park. …Another repeal bill sponsored by Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, was killed by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Elsewhere, a bill that would have exempted Anne Arundel County from the mandate fell in the county’s Republican-controlled House delegation in February. A bill that would have exempted Frederick County failed as well.
Governor O’Malley is seeking input from local elected officials on how the Federal government can assist Maryland in planning for and responding to climate change. The Governor is currently serving as a member of President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, charged with advising the President as to how federal agencies can best help states and communities understand, prepare for, and reduce the impacts of climate change.
The Task Force is charged with providing recommendations for action to the President on how the Federal government should:
- Remove barriers and create incentives and otherwise modernize Federal programs to encourage investments, practices and partnerships that prioritize resources and facilitate increased resilience to climate impacts;
- Provide useful climate preparedness tools and actionable information for States, local communities and tribes; and
- Generally support state, local, and tribal preparedness for and resilience to climate change.
Comments are being accepted through a series of surveys on a variety of topics:
- Disaster Recovery and Resilience; Built Systems: Transportation, Water, Energy and Facilities Infrastructure;
- Natural Resources and Agriculture;
- Communities: Human Health, Community Development; and
- Information, Data, Tools and Resource.
Previous Conduit Street Coverage of Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan:
A March 3 Carroll County Times article reported the State has accepted a proposal by Carroll County to resolve concerns about its approach to 2012 legislation requiring it adopt a stormwater remediation fee. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Office of the Attorney General had warned the county that it faced civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day unless it adopted the stormwater fee as mandated by the 2012 legislation. Instead of adopting a fee, the County had created the required stormwater program fund and then identified other sources to fund the program. From the Times article:
Under the proposal outlined in a letter from Carroll County Attorney Timothy Burke to state officials last week, there would be no additional fees or tax rate increases for residents to pay for a stormwater management fund, as called for in a 2012 state law commonly derided by critics as the “rain tax.” Instead, the county would designate for the fund a portion of the revenues collected under the current tax rate each year based on the operational costs of the county’s stormwater management program.
For instance, in Fiscal Year 2015, the county will likely use about 5 cents per $100 of the assessed value of Carroll County properties from the current tax rate – set at $1.018 per $100 of the assessed of Carroll County properties — to put into the fund, said Phil Hager, director of the county’s Department of Land Use, Planning and Development. This will pay for the more than $900,000 in operational costs he expects for the stormwater program for the next fiscal year. …
In a response to the county’s letter obtained by the Times, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office said the fund as proposed would meet the requirements under the law. The response noted that officials with the office could not comment on other aspects of the county’s compliance with stormwater regulations, however, since the county’s letter only dealt with the fee requirement.
The response notes that the Maryland Department of the Environment also accepts the proposal.
The article explained that the potential agreement could resolve the ongoing dispute between the County and the State over the County’s compliance with the stormwater fee legislation. The County Commissioners will need to adopt the proposed changes to the County’s property tax rate ordinance.
A February 25 Governing article reported that during recent arguments before the United State Supreme Court, the Court seemed to question the approach the United States Environmental Program Agency (EPA) has been taking towards the regulation of greenhouse gases. While the authority of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases was not at issue in the case (the Court found the EPA had such authority in a 2007 ruling), industry groups and more than a dozen states were objecting to how the EPA is carrying out its enforcement authority. The article noted that at least 18 states supported EPA’s current approach.
A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed skeptical Monday of the Obama administration’s approach to regulating greenhouse gas emissions, in a case that tests the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority and has divided the states. …Specifically, those challenging the EPA say it is reading too broadly its authority to regulate greenhouse gases, carrying over limits from vehicle transmissions and applying them to stationary sources such as power plants. They also say the EPA is picking and choosing which parts of the law to enforce by establishing a permitting scheme for greenhouse gas emitters, because its threshold for when those regulations take effect is above the law’s limits.
The government argues a lower limit would potentially ensnare millions of buildings nationwide beyond the intent of the regulations, including public schools and some apartment buildings. It argues lessening the requirements allows for a transition and allows regulators to target only the most worrisome polluters. …
By the end of the arguments, even some of the more liberal justices seemed skeptical of the liberties the Environmental Protection Agency had taken on greenhouse gas emissions. Justice Elena Kagan seemed troubled at times by some of the agency’s decisions. And Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli what, in essence, would be the best way for the government to lose its case. (She apologized in advance of the question, saying she knew litigators hated being asked that question in court.)
Only Justice Stephen Breyer seemed willing to make a clear case for deferring to the agency and allowing “reasonable” exceptions to the law’s enforcement.
But it was Justice Anthony Kennedy (who was the fifth vote with the four liberals on the court at the time of its 2007 ruling) who pointedly challenged Verrilli, just minutes after stressing that the government’s broader authority to regulate greenhouse gases wasn’t in question.
“I couldn’t find a single precedent that strongly supports your position,” Kennedy said, referring to Verrilli’s brief in the case, and asking him to give him an example to cite in a potential ruling in the government’s favor.
“There aren’t a lot of cases, that’s true,” Verrilli replied, before going on to defend the agency’s approach, citing other cases, including some hypotheticals, where an agency is given leeway to decide how best to enforce regulations that leave precise methods or limits ambiguous.
On Saturday, March 22, the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) will host a free H2O Summit at the Silver Spring Civic Building. This family-friendly event will teach participants “how their actions affect local streams and rivers and how they can get involved in protecting drinking water”.
From Montgomery County’s press release:
“Montgomery County is committed to remaining a national leader when it comes to cherishing our natural resources,” said Bob Hoyt, director of the County’s Department of Environmental Protection. “For us, protecting our local waters, like the Potomac River, has always involved the teamwork of government and the public. The County and WSSC host the H2O Summit to ensure that this team continues to perform at the highest level.”
The morning session will run from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and feature guest speakers from local nonprofits, government and universities. Advance registration is required.
From 1 to 4 p.m., a water-themed festival will offer hands-on science activities, live music, games and other activities for all ages. Nearly 40 local organizations and green vendors will have interactive displays and information, which last year included a watershed pinball game, stream animals and an electric vehicle.
This year, a morning workshop will be offered to teach attendees how to assemble and maintain a rain barrel. At the end of the workshop, participants will be able to take their rain barrel home. The workshop is hosted in partnership with the local nonprofit, Granito de Arena. Advance registration is required.
Other event partners include Montgomery Parks, the University of Maryland Extension and the cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville.
Legislation requiring an economic impact study before further progress on new agricultural phosphorous regulations is still pending in the General Assembly, but many stakleholders remain optimistic and engaged.
Coverage in the Daily Times online indicates the topic is still drawing interest and attention at high levels:
Among the top concerns is the agriculture department had not put together an economic analysis or started one during 2013.
The Lower Shore lawmakers have put in six bills that would — to varying degrees — require an economic study of the tool itself or all regulations proposed in the manner the tool was proposed.
The meeting this week with the governor addressed that as well as the economic impact study now underway at Salisbury University by Memo Diriker, founding director of the Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network.
MACo has supported HB 193, sponsored by Delegate Conway, and SB 27, sponsored by Senator Mathias. From MACo’s testimony:
Agriculture remains a key industry and an important source of revenue for many rural counties; there has been great concern in the agricultural community about MDA-proposed regulatory changes regarding phosphorus management. While MACo believes that the agricultural community should address its nutrient runoff as required per the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and local TMDLs, it is not unreasonable to assess the potential economic impacts of any proposed new requirements. While MDA has stated that it plans to pursue an economic impact analysis in this instance, there is no guarantee such an analysis would be performed for future changes to phosphorus management policy and SB 27 would codify such a requirement.
On Tuesday, March 4, from 3-8pm, Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of the Environment (MDE) will host a public open house to learn about the current draft Watershed Agreement. The open house will be at St. John’s College, Mellon Hall, Francis Scott Key Auditorium Lobby, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401.
From DNR’s website:
Three decades after the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed, Chesapeake Bay Program partners and jurisdictions are seeking public input on a new agreement that will guide the next chapter of restoration across the watershed, recommitting citizens, stakeholders and local governments to conservation success.
The draft Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement outlines a new plan for collaboration across the Bay’s political boundaries and clarifies the Bay Program’s vision and values. It establishes a series of interrelated goals and outcomes that will achieve results to protect and restore the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them, as well as the health of the more than 17 million people who live here.
All citizens and stakeholders are encouraged to attend, learn about the current draft Watershed Agreement, speak with knowledgeable staff, and provide input to ensure the best possible final agreement for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The public comment period is open until March 17, 2014.
Visit DNR’s website for more information or to submit your comments on the draft watershed agreement.