2023 Session’s Final Days: What We’re Still Watching

With the 2023 General Assembly session slated to conclude Monday night, many issues are completed, many are pretty clearly on their way to a certain end… and some remain unresolved. Here’s a quick look at several issues affecting county governments with an unknown final fate.

Cannabis Reform – SB 516/HB 556

The “must-pass” adult-use cannabis implementation bill has passed, in different versions, in both the House and Senate. To finally pass, an identical version must pass both chambers. The House Economic Matters Committee heard the lengthy list of Senate differences on Friday morning, and there are two obvious paths toward a final resolution. The chambers can appoint a Conference Committee (a few members from each chamber), or they can coordinate a compromise and pass that version of a bill through each chamber’s second vote on the opposite chamber’s bill.

House action on Friday suggested the latter path is more likely, as the Committee discussed and approved a set of amendments to alter the Senate bill, rather than merely resist the Senate amendments. In the version advancing in the House, the still-limited revenue distribution is set at 0.45% and is split between counties and municipalities.

Blueprint Coordinator Funding – HB 1196

The Kirwan Blueprint required each school system to appoint, jointly with its county, an individual to oversee and coordinate the local implementation of the multiple programs and outcomes of the Blueprint plan. HB 1196 was introduced to require the State to provide $150,000 in funding for this position in each county – the House-amended version splits this funding responsibility between the State and county government by the wealth-adjusted formula used in multiple areas of education funding but made a new funding obligation atop the current required levels. The bill also has two tightly defined elements that alter school funding requirements for Baltimore City and Kent County. The bill has passed the House but received no action in the Senate.

“Pay Parity” For Special Education – SB 311/HB 448

These bills, passed by both chambers but in different forms, seek to ensure that educators in private schools accepting public school student placements for special education services provide pay parity with the equivalent public school staff. The substantial fiscal note to the amended House Bill suggests a nearly $30 million fiscal effect, phased in from FY25 through Fy27, and (unlike the bill as introduced) the new costs are subject to a 70% State/30% county cost split.

The Senate version of the bill specifies that the county government must directly pay these costs, on top of funding requirements under the Kirwan Blueprint, and accelerates the phase-in one year.

As with cannabis above, the resolution could be a conference committee or coordinated amendments to effect a compromise. However, the House Appropriations Committee has not yet been presented with the Senate version of the House Bill. If that Committee (and the House floor) votes to “concur” with the Senate amendments, then the Senate version of the bill, with faster costs landing directly onto counties, will be enacted.

Lawsuits Over Officer-Caused Deaths and Injuries – HB 430

As amended in the House, this bill would require the Maryland courts to notify the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission upon any lawsuit filed claiming a police officer caused an individual’s death or serious injury. The bill, substantially amended from its far broader original effects, has yet to pass out of the House of Delegates, and has substantial progress to receive final support.

State Overreach on Local Tax Rates, Audits – SB 116

As introduced, this bill did not impact county governments, as it set a cap for municipal business personal property tax rates. One municipal government’s potentially concerning tax rate actions may justify some State action or oversight, but the amended version of SB 116 represents a broad and sweeping new process that potentially jeopardizes county and municipal revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars per annum. The potential for concerning effects on local bond ratings by creating such uncertainty is hard to overstate.

Current law requires local governments to file audit reports annually or once every four years under specified conditions. The vast majority of local governments routinely submit timely, accurate reports. However, in rare cases, extenuating circumstances may inhibit a local government from meeting the reporting deadline. As amended, SB 116 would require 20 percent of specified state aid to be withheld from a jurisdiction if their local audit is more than one year late.

MACo opposes the bill as amended, as there is no widespread pattern of worrisome behavior of the nature that might suggest the need for SB 116, and its dramatic potential to withhold enormous amounts of State support. The Senate bill received a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee but has not advanced.

…and who knows what else?

While this list does not include references to bills that “appear to be on their way,” counties and MACo are monitoring literally scores of additional bills that have not yet received a complete disposition. If past sessions are a guide, some will stumble toward their final outcome and require attention — where stakeholders may need to resolve concerns, offer final amendments, or make closing policy arguments. The 90-day session invariably creates a few twists in the final days.

MACo, as ever, will remain active through the final days and hours of the session – but are grateful for the many partnerships and collaborations that this session has afforded with legislators from across the State and across the ideological spectrum.

More on MACo’s Advocacy:

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2023 legislative session on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database

Learn more about MACo’s 2023 Legislative Initiatives

Read more General Assembly News on MACo’s Conduit Street blog

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties