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

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.

You’re Invited: Join Us for Our Weekly Legislative Update Conference Call

Every Friday during the legislative session MACo will host a conference call that will update you on the Maryland General Assembly hot topics and bills that affect local governments. Join the conversation at 3:00 pm each week as MACo explores different topics and hosts guest speakers.

This week’s topic (February 24): Transportation / “Scorecard Bill”

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally will be joined by MACo Executive Director, Michael Sanderson to discuss transportation, with an emphasis on the highly controversial “Scorecard Bill.”

Conference call information: 1.877.850.5007, passcode: 2690043#

We look forward to your participation! Submit your questions in advance by e-mailing Kevin Kinnally.

MACo Opposes Statewide Community College Collective Bargaining

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified to the House Appropriations Committee on February 21, 2017, in opposition to House Bill 871, Education – Community Colleges – Collective Bargaining.

Counties oppose the one-size-fits-all approach of HB 871, which limits local decision-making.

The move to collective bargaining outlined in this bill could create potentially unsustainable costs for counties, who provide substantial funding for community colleges throughout Maryland – especially since the legislation does not envision any added State support.

From the MACo testimony,

Despite counties’ role in supporting community colleges, this legislation would
not provide any opportunity for county governments to participate in collective bargaining
negotiations. The combination of these effects – State-imposed system and costs, no county
participation in bargaining, and no additional State funding – is simply not affordable as a
statewide county mandate and could present substantial budget difficulties.

MACo opposed identical legislation in past sessions of the General Assembly.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

MACo Supports Grant Funding to Offset Declining Enrollment

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified in support of House Bill 684, “Education – Grant for Declining Education Aid,” to the House Appropriations Committee on February 21, 2017.

HB 684 would help to offset the sudden drop-off in education funding to jurisdictions with declining enrollment, ensuring school systems can offer equivalent courses and programs, even with fewer students.

Five Jurisdictions–Baltimore City, Calvert County, Carroll County, Garrett County, and Talbot County–are slated to lose a combined $45M in state education funding in 2018. Baltimore City is the most deeply affected, with a $38m loss in year-to-year total state education funds.

From the MACo testimony,

Counties value public education as a high priority, and an essential service and benefit to the citizens and the economy. State Budgeting formulas and requirements complicate this commitment, especially because nearly all state education funding is distributed on a per-pupil basis, meaning that the more students a school system serves, the more funding it receives.

By contrast, when the number of students declines, schools can experience a sudden drop in funding. This dynamic can strain local budgets – reflecting the reality that not every dollar spent in a school system is truly a “variable cost.” A sudden drop in students across a county school system may mean some cost savings in bus transportation and meals service – but may not have any effect on “fixed costs,” which account for most system-wide expenditures on education and administration.

To learn more about Maryland’s school budgeting formula, read “Why do Five Jurisdictions Lose $45M in Education Funds?” on MACo’s Conduit Street Blog.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

Prince George’s County Schools CEO Gets Second Term

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) announced Friday he was extending the contract for Kevin Maxwell, the schools’ chief executive officer.

According to The Washington Post,

It is the first time in nearly 25 years that a superintendent in Prince George’s County will get a second term. Before Maxwell, the state’s second-largest school system had seven superintendents in less than two decades.

Maxwell is paid just under $300,000 a year. He was appointed by Baker in 2013, shortly after the state legislature awarded the county executive broad new power over school-system governance.

His leadership is a central part of Baker’s plan to overhaul and stabilize the system after years of scandal, poor performance and dwindling public trust.

Maxwell, who grew up in and began his career in Prince George’s County, has seen graduation rates reach record highs at some schools. Enrollment and some test scores also have increased.

He expanded full-day prekindergarten and language-immersion offerings,and increased participation in dual-enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college-level courses.

“It has been challenging but at the same time, it’s been some of the most rewarding work that I have ever done,” Maxwell said at a news conference at DuVal High School, where he introduced a specialized academic program focused on aerospace science.

Maxwell cited letters he has received from grateful students, the number of strategic business and philanthropic partnerships that school officials have brokered and a more than $44 million increase in the value of scholarships offered to county graduates in 2016.

“I see this as my capstone for my career,” he said. “I see this as my legacy and reinvesting in the community that gave me the life that I have today.”

Read the full article for more information.

Legislation Could Provide Local Schools with Flexibility on Holidays

Closing schools for Presidents’ Day could become optional for Maryland school districts under a bill (HB 400) being considered in the General Assembly.

The same could happen to Easter Monday.

Concerned about Governor Larry Hogan’s 2016 executive order requiring the state’s 24 school districts to start classes after Labor Day and end by June 15, several state lawmakers want to give local jurisdictions flexibility by removing Presidents’ Day and Easter Monday from the state’s list of mandatory public school holidays.

As reported in The Washington Post,

“These couple of days would be important to the school schedule,” said Del. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), the chief sponsor of the bill.

The bill’s chances at passage are not clear. Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, called the idea of canceling long-standing holidays a slippery slope.

“What’s next?,” he said. “Martin Luther King Day? Labor Day?”

Last August, Hogan (R) signed an executive order dictating the start and end of school, saying the change would benefit families and the economy. Almost every school district in the state had been starting the academic year before Labor Day.

Although the promise of a longer summer vacation earned strong support from the public, many educators and Democratic lawmakers said the change would cut into learning and test-preparation time.

Hogan’s order led to the resignation of the vice president of the state Board of Education, who accused the governor of usurping the independent board’s authority.

In the meantime, school districts scrambled to ensure that their 2017-2018 school calendars adhered to the order. Anne Arundel County cut its spring break from one week to three days. Montgomery County reduced its number of scheduled school days from 184 to 182, with just two days allotted for bad weather.

John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said Beidle’s bill would provide “much needed” options as districts set up academic calendars, which must take into account state testing schedules, teacher in-service days and required holidays.

Current public-school holidays include Thanksgiving Day and the day after, Christmas Eve through Jan. 1, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, the Friday before Easter through the Monday after Easter, Memorial Day, and, for most counties, primary and general-election days.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor is pleased that nearly all Maryland counties are moving forward with “this return to common-sense scheduling.”

She said that starting school after Labor Day is “the right thing to do for Maryland families and students” and that instead of “focusing on [canceling] holidays, school districts should focus on removing the many unnecessary union services days.”

Chasse said Hogan will decide whether to sign the Presidents’ Day/Easter Monday measure if it reaches his desk.

In addition to Beidle’s bill, Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) has a bill that would allow a school district that has to close schools because of a state of emergency to reduce the 180-day required school year by up to five days without seeking a waiver from the state Board of Education.

The bill was requested by the Montgomery County school system, the largest in the state, with more than 159,200 students. It has the support of other school districts, as well.

Montgomery’s school board was able to meet Hogan’s requirements for the 2017-2018 school calendar, but school system spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said, “It’s going to be tough in the future.” Montgomery has scheduled 182 class days next school year.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent George Arlotto, said the school district sought a waiver from the state board two years ago to open on Easter Monday to make up for a snow day. If the legislation passes, he said, the district could decide on its own, without needing the state’s permission, to open or close on that day and Presidents’ Day.

“It’s the flexibility that we need in the calendar with the hard start and hard stop date established by the governor’s executive order,” he said.

Pinsky, a vocal opponent of Hogan’s order, says that school districts should legally challenge Hogan over it.

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s office issued an opinion last year that the governor may have exceeded his authority. Frosh (D) also said the legislature could overturn the executive order, but there has been no legislation introduced to do that.

Useful Links

The Washington Post Article

Previous Conduit Street Coverage on the School Calendar Debate

Trump Intergovernmental Affairs Official: ‘We Have an Open Door Policy’

The deputy director of the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs encouraged state and local officials to reach out: “Come in, meet with us, let us know what’s going on.”

The Trump administration’s intergovernmental affairs office wants to hear from state and local governments, an official from the office emphasized Thursday.

According to Route 50,

White House deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, Billy Kirkland, spoke during a meeting of secretaries of state from around the U.S. held in the nation’s capital. He said part of President Trump’s agenda “is going to be reaching out to you all individually and finding out what is important to each of your states, what is important to each of your offices.”

Kirkland did not offer new information on progress being made toward policy priorities Trump has identified—such as repealing the Affordable Care Act, changing the tax code and investing in infrastructure—which could have implications for states and localities.

He said the intergovernmental affairs team would not focus heavily on policy, that it would instead act as a liaison between state and local governments and White House policy officials.

“If they’re not getting back to you,” he told the secretaries of state, “we’ll be the ones that run over there and either knock on the door gently, or start kicking the door in, to make sure that you’re all getting the information you need in a timely manner.”

The intergovernmental affairs office, Kirkland added, would be “kind of divided into two separate silos,” with one side working mostly with governors and other statewide elected officials and the other side geared more toward local government issues.

Kirkland made his remarks during a panel discussion held as part of the National Association of Secretaries of State winter conference. During the discussion, he shared his contact information, including his personal cell phone number, with the entire audience.

“Give us a call, shoot us an email,” he said. “When you’re in town, we want you all to come in and feel like we have an open-door policy. Come in, meet with us, let us know what’s going on.”

Read the full article for more information.

Howard County Executive Kittleman Holds Annual State of the County Address

In his third annual State of the County speech, Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman Thursday touted the county’s continued strong economic growth and pledged continued focus on many fronts including public health and safety, education and efficiency in government.

According to a Howard County press release,

Kittleman addressed an audience of nearly 500 at the Howard County Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center, saying that, despite the flash flood that devastated Historic Ellicott City in July, the county remains strong due to an emphasis on fiscal responsibility and shared values.

“We, as a county, have been tried and tested. Yet we’ve weathered these challenges and have continued to make progress with our priorities,” he said. “After last year, our county has not only shown that we are resilient, but we have redefined the meaning of resilience.”

In the six months since the storm, Kittleman said 75 businesses have reopened, three new businesses have set up shop and nine more have committed to coming back to Main Street. “Residents have returned, traffic has returned and economic activity has returned,” Kittleman said.

Kittleman announced that Freshly, a gourmet meal delivery service, plans to invest $8 million in a location in the Route 1 corridor and will add 500 new jobs over the next several years.

Kittleman said he supports a much-needed detox and outpatient treatment center in the county, vowing to include the project in his Fiscal Year 2018 capital budget. Opioid overdoses and deaths are one of the greatest challenges currently facing the county, he said.

Saying that education “doesn’t start when students enter a school and doesn’t stop when they leave it,” Kittleman unveiled details of his Education 24/7 initiative. The county’s Local Children’s Board will implement a strategic, five-year plan to identify needs and gaps in resources, avoid duplication of services and ensure that money is most efficiently spent where most needed.

Other key successes and initiatives highlighted by Kittleman include:

  • A transformation of the Columbia Gateway business park into an “innovation district,” where leading-edge companies will work with educational institutions and startups on new technologies and services.
  • The launch of READY HoCo, a county-wide campaign led by the Office of Emergency Management, to help residents and businesses better prepare for natural disasters.
  • A commitment of $10 million for road resurfacing to catch up on a $56 million, 10-year backlog.
  • Early success with TRACKHoward, the county’s new performance management system, which already has netted $250,000 in savings through a more efficient, online procurement system.
  • A package of legislation filed recently to assist county farmers with everyday operations and help restore their property rights.
  • Progress with plans for a public-private partnership to replace the aging Circuit Court House with a new facility that will meet the county’s needs.

Kittleman said that many needed projects across the County had languished for years. He has been able to “fast forward” several projects as a result of bipartisan cooperation.

“This kind of collaboration is what makes us a stronger county. By working together, we know we can tackle our challenges more completely and effectively,” he said. “I know there is a lot of uncertainty right now about what’s happening at the federal level. But there should be no uncertainty here. Our values of inclusion and opportunity, understanding and responsibility, and collaboration and innovation will continue to drive our priorities as a county.”

To read the full text of Thursday’s State of the County address, go to https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Branches/County-Executive/State-of-the-County.