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Airbnb Bill Ignites Debate Between Old Regulations and New Economies

The general assembly is grappling with a bill intended to tax and regulate short-term rental companies, such as Airbnb, in a manner similar to that of traditional hotels and bed and breakfasts.

This bill is but one of many that lawmakers across the nation are considering that challenge whether old regulations can be imposed on businesses within the burgeoning sharing economy or whether new approaches are necessary.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

As state lawmakers debate how to regulate short-term rentals, the mismatched portraits underscore one of the challenges that regulators face: how to make the old tools, long used to regulate traditional enterprises, fit new business models.

Maryland lawmakers have passed bills in recent years to clarify rules for online travel sites and the rideshare app Uber. They’re looking at Airbnb and a more aggressive online sales tax collection this year. The state’s Office of Food Protection is looking into questions around new meal and food delivery services. Federal authorities are studying online lending.

Airbnb, like Uber and other firms in the so-called sharing economy, is powered by a shifting crowd of independent contractors, such as the people who testified last week. They use online platforms to connect to consumers — in the case of Airbnb, travelers looking for accommodations — and the corporation takes a piece of any transaction.

Michael Sanderson, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, sees the back-and-forth over Airbnb in the tradition of wrangling over corporate regulations to keep up with technology.

But he said the dynamics of Uber and Airbnb — which have not been shy about mobilizing users to their side — have changed the flavor of debates.

Earlier changes were “sort of corporate versus corporate,” he said. “A lot of this is individual- and small-business- and citizen-driven.”

MACo supported the bill in question, SB 463, with amendments. Counties support reasonable regulation of short-term rentals in the interest of protecting the safety and welfare of their communities. However, they also wish to ensure that any regulatory scheme is developed without unintended consequences that may undermine the benefits and prevent the industry from continuing to thrive.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun

MACo Opposes Speed Camera & Red Light Camera Ban

MACo submitted written testimony in opposition to legislation (HB 536) that would ban the use of local government speed cameras, highway work zone speed cameras, and red light cameras. The bill was heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 23, 2017. Delegate Warren Miller sponsored the bill. From MACo’s testimony:

Both red light camera and speed camera programs have been shown to be effective in altering driver behavior and increasing public safety. Various studies have shown that red light cameras reduce the number of serious and fatal “t-bone” vehicle crashes.

As for local speed camera programs, in August of 2015, WTOP news reported that speed camera tickets have dropped significantly in both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties as drivers altered behavior and reduced their speeds in targeted zones [Citation omitted]….

Wicomico County ended its speed camera program in December of 2015 because the program has been successful in reducing speeding in targeted school zones. [Citation Omitted]

Finally, this Committee and the General Assembly passed legislation in 2014 (HB 929 and SB 350) that comprehensively updated the local speed camera statute. The update included both additional program safeguards and necessary clarifications. The bills passed with bi-partisan support and had the support of MACo, the Maryland Municipal League, and AAA-Mid Atlantic. There have been no significant reported issues with local speed camera programs since the passage of the legislation and a repeal of the programs is unnecessary and unwarranted.

Useful Links

HB 536 of 2017

MACo Testimony on HB 536

Delegate W. Miller Webpage

MACo Bill Tracking Tool

Montgomery, Howard Get Connected Via Bus Rapid Transit

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman are partnering to get connected via the  U.S. 29 Bus Rapid Transit project. From your4state.com:
The route would connect the two counties with service from Columbia to Silver Spring. Both county executives are hoping this plan would reduce traffic congestion and spur economic growth.
“Montgomery County and Howard County, as you know, are [in] close proximity, and we have an opportunity now to build on that proximity. Something that’s very important to us is the Route 29 Corridor,” said County Executive Leggett.
Leggett said he expects the project to be done by 2020.

MACo and Partners Support Initiative Bills on Police Body Camera Footage

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, testified in support of a pair of cross-filed bills, Senate Bill 970 and House Bill 767, “Public Information Act – Inspection of Records From Body-Worn Digital Recording Devices,” before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee on February 21, 2017.

The bills are one of MACo’s four legislative initiatives for 2017.  Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City saw the issue of  how body camera footage is treated under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA) as vitally important to address. Joining MACo in support of these bills were Bill Jorch, Maryland Municipal League; Hilary Ruley, Chief Solicitor, Baltimore City; John Fitzgerald, Chief of Police, Chevy Chase Village (representing the Maryland Association of Chiefs of Police and the Maryland Sheriffs Association); and Lisae Jordan, Executive Director & Counsel for the Maryland Coalitions Against Sexual Assault.

The bills would create a needed policy on how police body camera video would be handled under the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA). The bills would provide for: (1) law enforcement officer accountability and transparency; (2) protection for victims of abuse, domestic violence or sexual attacks; and (3) clarity of and protection from potentially abusive requests to local government and State records custodians. MACo believes these bills achieve these necessary protections for all parties without altering any current discovery rights or PIA exceptions.

From MACo testimony:

 MACo believes that SB 970 offers a thoughtful and reasonable solution to the issues posed by police body cameras under the PIA. The bill ensures police officer accountability and transparency, includes victim protections, and addresses the expense and potential for abusive requests facing local governments and State records custodians.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Chairman Davis: Local Preemption Bill Will Die in Committee

A bill in the House Economic Matters Committee that would prohibit counties and municipalities from increasing wages and benefits above state levels lacks the votes needed to move forward this session.

According to The Washington Post,

“I don’t believe the support is there,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee.

He said that the bill will die in committee.

Davis said he introduced the measure last month because he thought it would help the state recruit and retain businesses. He said he was influenced by his participation last year on the Augustine Commission, a task force aimed at making Maryland more business-friendly.

“One of the key issues — above taxes — was inconsistency and constantly changing rules,” Davis said.

Davis faced fierce opposition to his proposal from labor unions, who argued that the measure would suppress wages, and local elected officials, who viewed it as a power grab.

MACo opposed the one-size-fits-all approach of HB 317, which limits local decision-making. The preemption of local authority outlined in this bill would significantly undermine a local government’s ability to implement policies that reflect the diversity of local economies.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: MACo, Counties Defend Autonomy On Labor Issues

The Washington Post Article

Promising Pilot Program in Dorchester Turns Chicken Manure Into Energy

A Bay Journal article (2017-02-09) discussed a pilot program in Dorchester County that is turning poultry manure into energy. The disposal of poultry waste has long posed a challenge to the Eastern Shore’s chicken industry. A primary disposal method in the past was to spread the manure on nearby farmland but that practice has resulted in many fields becoming overloaded with phosphorus, which threatens the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways.

The pilot program in Dorchester features a $3 million dollar system installed in two poultry houses on Brad Murphy’s “Double Trouble” farm by the Irish firm BHSL. The State committed $1 million to the project. From the article:

The [BHSL] system curtails the ammonia fumes that not only make poultry houses stink, but compromise the birds’ health. It also can give farmers a financial boost — they can avoid paying for propane to heat the houses, and even make a little income from selling excess energy generated by the system that’s fed into the electric grid.

Maryland’s Department of Agriculture has committed nearly $3.8 million to try out a variety of manure-to-energy projects, $1 million of which went to the Double Trouble project. It’s the largest investment made by any Chesapeake Bay watershed state toward finding alternative uses for the massive amounts of animal waste generated by poultry, dairy and other livestock farms.

On a visit to the farm Feb. 13, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan praised the Murphys for “leading the way for farmers to improve water quality, increase energy independence, and improve animal waste management to ensure the sustainability of animal agriculture in our state.”

The article explained how manure-to-energy research is being supported by Maryland, nearby states, and the federal government. The article noted that the BHSL system appeared to be one of the more promising technologies for reducing both phosphorus overload in soils and ammonia in air emissions:

 [Because of soil phosphorus build up], manure-to-energy projects have attracted state and federal officials. Virginia and Pennsylvania are also funding similar pilot projects. But the BHSL system is the only one determined by an independent analysis to lower air emissions while also keeping phosphorus out of the water, said Kristen Hughes Evans, executive director of Sustainable Chesapeake. The nonprofit group is coordinating the manure-to-energy initiative for the Bay watershed states. …

In a tightly controlled experiment, two of Murphy’s chicken houses are using traditional propane heat, and the manure the birds produce is cleaned out every six to eight weeks and hauled away to area farms for fertilizer. But in the other two, the poultry litter — a mixture of manure and wood shavings — is kept on site and burned to generate heat and electricity. The University of Maryland is tracking the data. …

In 2011, the Chesapeake Bay Commission sponsored a manure-to-energy summit in Maryland to discuss the potential of new technologies. A representative from BHSL was there, and he later invited members of the tri-state legislative advisory body to see a plant in England. Several Maryland policy-makers made the trip, including Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton.

“It has huge, huge potential,” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who is the Maryland Senate’s only full-time farmer, said of [BHSL’s] system. “And these are very dedicated people.”

According to the article, the BHSL system generates approximately 1 ton of phosphorus rich ash based on 10 tons of poultry manure. Besides being much easier to transport than the unprocessed manure, the ash has potential as a fertilizer product that can be used elsewhere. The cost of the system does remain a challenge, but the article noted that cost could come down significantly if its components could be manufactured locally instead of overseas.

Useful Links

BHSL Website

Maryland Department of Agriculture Website

Sick Leave Bill Voted Out of House Committee

A bill that would require Maryland employers to provide many of their workers with paid sick and safe leave was voted out of the House Economic Matters Committee Thursday. The Committee voted 14-9 to send the measure to the full chamber for consideration.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

The bill would require companies with at least 15 employees to offer up to seven days of paid sick leave to full-time workers per year. Smaller companies would have to offer unpaid sick leave.

Part-time workers would earn sick leave based on the hours they work.

“I’m very excited that we’ve gotten this far again,” said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who is the lead sponsor of the bill.

The bill has been designated House Bill 1, which signals its place as a top priority of the Democratic leadership in the legislature.

Last year, a version of the legislation cleared the House but got hung up in the Senate and failed to pass, though negotiations went down to the final day of the 90-day General Assembly session.

The bill would also require county governments to provide sick leave to all employees. While county governments generally provide generous benefits, at a much higher rate than the legislation would require, MACo opposed the legislation, raising concerns with the bill’s potential effects on provision of emergency and essential services and with the bill’s broad requirements for providing leave to part-time, seasonal, and contractual employees in the same manner as full-time employees.

Useful Links

MACo Testimony on HB 1

The Baltimore Sun Article

MACo Defends Local Autonomy Under State Forest Conservation Act

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified in opposition to legislation (HB 599) that would impose significant and costly new Forest Conservation Act (FCA) mandates on local governments, utilities, and development projects before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 22, 2017. Delegate Anne Healey sponsored the bill.

HB 599 makes three alterations to Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act (FCA). First, the bill increases the minimum reforestation rate from ¼ acre for every acre removed to 1 acre for every acre removed. The bill also limits an existing exemption under the FCA for the clearing of public utility rights of way and land for electric generating stations to areas of 1 acre or less of forest. Finally, the bill authorizes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or a local jurisdiction with a forest conservation program to increase the rates under the fee-in-lieu by 20% for each acre for which money is contributed in lieu of meeting the program’s reforestation or afforestation requirements.

In addition to the significant costs and practical challenges posed by the bill’s requirements, Kinnally responded to the proponent’s contention that the bill was needed to meet Maryland’s “No Net Loss of Forest” policy. From MACo’s testimony:

While the bill poses fiscal challenges to a variety of stakeholders, Maryland appears to be maintaining its tree canopy coverage established under Maryland’s “No Net Loss of Forest” policy established by HB 706 of 2013. According to DNR’s Forest Action Plan 2016-2020, Maryland had a statewide tree canopy cover of almost 50%, exceeding the “No Net Loss” policy of maintaining 40% or more tree canopy cover. This raises the question of why is the bill needed.

Blue Water Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Choose Clean Water Coalition, Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club,  Maryland Forestry Association, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and the South River Federation testified in support of the bill.

Joining MACo in opposition to the bill was the Maryland Association of Realtors, Maryland Building Industry Association, Maryland Municipal League, and NAIOP-MD.

The cross-file to the bill, SB 365, was heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental  Committee on February 7.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo’s Weekly County News & Notes…from Twitter

The social media site Twitter has become a fast-moving setting for news, information, and advocacy on public affairs. We welcome followers of MACo’s own twitter feed for updates from the Conduit Street blog and other MACo hot topics, and often use Twitter to reach our own audience, and to hear from others following the same issues as county leaders.

Here are some tweets that caught our eye this week:

For more news and information:

Follow MACo
Follow Executive Director Michael Sanderson
Follow NACo
See Tweets on #mdpolitics

MACo Resists Effort to Dictate Local Land Use Policy

MACo Policy and Legal Counsel, Les Knapp, provided written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 532, “Temporary Family Health Care Structures – Permits” before the Senate Finance Committee on February 22, 2017.

SB 532 would require a local legislative body to acknowledge a temporary family health care structure as a permitted accessory use in areas with single-family detached dwellings if the structure is used by a family member for the care of a related mentally or physically impaired individual. The legislative body may not require a caregiver to obtain a special use permit for the structure or impose any zoning law on the structure (subject to certain exceptions). The bill also defines the size, design, and requirements the structure must meet and limits a local government to charging a $100 application fee and a $50 annual renewal fee. Finally, the bill exempts the services provided by the caregiver from being included as an “assisted living program” under the Health – General Article.

From MACo testimony:

The care of a physically or mentally impaired relative affects many families and counties will typically work with an individual who is in such unfortunate circumstances. However, the bill imposes a “one size fits all” solution and usurps local land use control rather than acknowledge that a variety of approaches exist.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.