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 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

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 Opposes Changes to Child Abuse Reporting System

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, provided written testimony in opposition to House Bill 697, “Child Abuse and Neglect – Statewide Reporting – 2-1-1 Maryland,” to the House Health and Government Operations Committee on February 23, 2017.

HB 697 would shift the critical responsibility of answering calls concerning child abuse and neglect from local departments of social services to the statewide 2-1-1 system. While the concept of a statewide hotline is well intentioned, it has practical shortcomings.

From MACo testimony:

The child welfare system in Maryland is primarily managed locally by each Local Department of Social Services (LDSS). Screening of child abuse and neglect calls is one of their core functions. Each county has highly trained and specialized staff that respond to those calls. The localized system allows them to efficiently and effectively gather necessary information, assess the situation, and dispatch local resources. In cases of child abuse and neglect, every minute counts and LDSS are best trained and situated to respond to urgent concerns.

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

MACo Backs Regulation of Short-Term Rentals, Protects Local Autonomy

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu and MML Director of Government Relations Candace Donoho jointly testified in support with amendments on Senate Bill 463, “Business Regulation – Limited Residential Lodging,” before the Senate Finance and Budget and Taxation Committees on February 22, 2017.

The bill is an effort to regulate the burgeoning market of short-term residential rental arrangements through online intermediaries.  Counties support regulation of the limited residential lodging industry to protect the safety and welfare of their communities, but wish to ensure that any regulatory scheme is developed without unintended consequences that may undermine the benefits.

Specifically, the bill should be amended to ensure that the regulations are not overly burdensome on residents that serve as hosts. The record-keeping obligations and penalties are onerous and could prevent residents from hosting. This may be particularly acute for casual hosts who do not rent out their properties or rooms on a frequent basis. Likewise, the sprinkler requirement, which has been a controversial issue for rural counties in recent years, presents an additional hurdle for hosts.

From MACo testimony:

Counties across the state are currently studying and grappling with how to regulate short-term rentals in the best interest of their diverse and distinct communities. Local governments are best situated to address the specific needs of their communities – particularly in regards to public health, public safety, and zoning matters that have long been within their purview. Accordingly, the bill should be amended to expressly protect the authority of local governments to enact local laws concerning the regulation of short-term rentals and to prevent against state preemption.

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

MACo Encourages Improvements to Foreclosed Property Registry

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, provided written testimony in support of House Bill 954, “Foreclosed Property Registry – Updated Information – Notice to Local Governments,” to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 21, 2017.

The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) operates an online, password protected, Foreclosed Property Registry in which every residential property purchased at a foreclosure sale must be registered. This information can be used to facilitate code enforcement, property maintenance, nuisance abatement, law enforcement, and emergency services. HB 954 would require a foreclosure purchaser to update as necessary any information submitted when initially registering the property. Additionally the bill requires DLLR to promptly send a copy of the initial registration and any subsequent updates to the appropriate county or municipality.

From MACo testimony:

These changes expedite and streamline the notification process to ensure that local jurisdictions are in the best position to take action on foreclosed properties that may pose a danger to the community. The local jurisdictions would be spared the time-consuming task of periodically checking the site for updates and having to crosscheck street addresses with county borderlines. Instead, the information would be clearly and promptly provided to the appropriate county authority. It also creates a safeguard against inaccurate or outdated property information.

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

MACo Backs Tax Credit to Incentivize Local Internships

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, provided written testimony in support of Senate Bill 522, “Income Tax Credit – Eligible Employers – Eligible Internships,” to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 21, 2017.

SB 522 creates a program that allows businesses to receive a credit against the state income tax for employing eligible interns enrolled in public and private nonprofit higher education institutions in the state. In turn, the interns receive valuable and paid experience in a field that interests them. Counties appreciate that this bill offers a state-funded tax benefit, without a “spillover” residual effect on county revenues and services.

From MACo testimony:

Internships supplement classroom experience by providing students exposure to real-world problems, increasing their marketability to employers, offering opportunities for advancement within organizations, and other professional growth opportunities. Employers benefit from the well qualified pool of potential employees the internships create.

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

MACo Endorses Increased Access to Overdose Prevention Medication

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, provided written testimony in support of House Bill 791, “Overdose Response Program – Prescribing and Dispensing of Naloxone – Noncertificate Holders,” to the House Health and Government Operations Committee on February 21, 2017.

HB 791 authorizes naloxone to be prescribed, dispensed, received, possessed, or administered to an individual that has not received training or certification through an overdose response program. Currently, community members must receive hands-on training and certification through the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DHMH) Overdose Response Program (ORP) in order to receive the life-saving medication without a prescription. The bill will make it easier for community members to have access to naloxone in cases where they are unable to attend a training through the ORP.

From MACo testimony:

Opioid abuse and addiction continues to be a major public health crisis affecting the welfare of millions of people across the nation. In Maryland, opioid-related deaths and usage continue to rise in epidemic proportions. Naloxone is a safe means of saving lives. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help prevent overdoses by opioids such as heroin, morphine, and oxycodone by blocking opioid receptor sites, reversing the toxic effects of the overdose. It is not a controlled dangerous substance. There are no adverse effects from use nor does it have any potential for abuse, physical dependence, or overdose. It will neither help nor cause harm if used on someone who is not overdosing from opioids.

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

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