2015 End of Session Wrap Up: Business Affairs

This post summarizes the status of Business Affairs bills that MACo took a position on during the 2015 Regular Session.

Animal Cruelty – Payment of Costs: HB 362/SB 393  as originally introduced placed the responsibility for the costs of the care of an animal that has been lawfully seized for abuse or neglect on the owner, not the county shelter or animal control. As amended the bills authorized a court to order a defendant convicted of a specified charge of animal cruelty, as a condition of sentencing, to pay, in addition to any other fines and costs, all reasonable costs, not exceeding a specified amount, incurred in removing, housing, treating, or euthanizing an animal confiscated from the defendant. MACo supported HB 362/SB 393, as Maryland is one of the few states that does not have safeguards in place to protect local animal control agencies and shelters from shouldering the burden of care. The cost of care for these abused and neglected animals accumulates quickly and can be significant.

MACo testimony on HB 362/SB 393.

Final Status: HB 362 and SB 393 both passed out of their respective houses with amendments. The bills expired in conference committee as the House and Senate did not concur on the amendments before the session ended.

Animal Shelter Standards Act of 2015: HB 876 established a comprehensive state-wide set of standards regarding animal care that include the handling and destination of animals, euthanasia, loaning of humane animal capture traps to the public, and record-keeping. The bill required animal shelters to develop and adhere to a specified written veterinary care protocol, stated requirements for the written veterinary protocol, and required an animal shelter to meet specified veterinary care requirements. MACo opposed this bill as local governments largely regulate and fund animal shelters. Each jurisdiction manages whether they operate a shelter or contract with an entity to operate a shelter. As animal shelters vary in size, budget, and scope of services a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach was not suitable and impugned on already established authority.

MACo testimony on HB 876.

Final Status: HB 876 was heard by the House Environment and Transportation committee, but no further action was taken.

Telecommunications Law – Modernization: HB 1166/SB 577  altered some of the regulatory controls the Public Service Commission has over telephone companies. However, it also included a section that puts broad and vague restrictions on local government. MACo supported SB 577 with amendments that would remove the provisions restricting local government authority.  While telephone companies largely control technology medium for the delivery of services (e.g. fiber, copper wires), the delivery has traditionally been done through “buried utilities” which are laid in the local government’s rights of away. It was important to ensure local governments retained their authority to regulate through zoning ordinances, easements, rights of way, and consumer protection laws.

MACo testimony on SB 577.

Final Status: SB 577 was heard by the Senate Finance Committee. The committee held workshops on SB 577 and a similar bill SB 207, which streamlined regulatory requirements for telecommunication companies. An agreement was reached between stakeholders regarding overlapping the provisions of the bills. SB 207 was voted out of committee and passed the General Assembly. It awaits action from the Governor. No further action was taken on SB 577. HB 1166 was introduced late and was not released from the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Professional Engineers – Review and Approval of Engineering Documents: HB 752/SB 738 required engineering documents prepared in connection with specified projects conducted by, jointly with, or under contract with the State or a political subdivision of the State, be reviewed and signed by professional engineers with responsible charge for the project. MACo opposed this bill as it would be costly and unnecessary for local governments. Counties employ engineers for a wide-range of projects, including code compliance, zoning ordinance requirements, and road and sewer work projects. The majority of review staff are unlicensed engineers who work effectively and safely under the supervision of professional engineers.

MACo testimony on SB 738.

Final Status: HB 752 received an unfavorable report from the House Economic Matters committee. SB 738 was heard by the Senate Education, Health and Environment committee, but no further action was taken.

Board of Electricians – Licensing and Regulation of Electricians: SB 616 changed the name of the State Board of Master Electricians to the Board of Electricians; authorized the Board to issue an apprentice license and a journeyperson license; authorized the Board to adopt a State electrical code, and alters duties and membership of the Board. This bill also requires a county to enforce the State electrical code or a specified local electrical code and establishes a licensing exception for a person that provides limited energy services or that is licensed or registered to provide security systems services. MACo opposed this bill as it creates a statewide licensing programs for all types of electricians and removed licensing authority of local electrical boards. Local electrical boards are best situated to oversee and discipline electricians working in within the counties as they have been effectively doing so for many years.

Final Status: SB 616 was withdrawn by the sponsor before a hearing was held.