Report: The Cost of Work-Family Policy Inaction

An analysis quantifies the costs families currently face as a result of lacking U.S. work-family policies as $28.9 billion.

A report from the Center for American Progress focuses on the cost to families of work-family policies such as paid family and medical leave. From the synopsis,

The lack of federal work-family policies in the United States marks the nation as an extreme outlier among other advanced economies. One of the many costs of the lack of work-family policies is lost wages, which occur when individuals are forced to quit working or must reduce their work hours because they cannot access child care or paid leave. Every year, as our new analysis shows, working families in the United States lose out on at least $28.9 billion in lost wages because they lack access to affordable child care and paid family and medical leave.

Read the full report from the Center for American Progress.

Maryland’s General Assembly will likely pass a mandatory sick leave legislation in this coming year’s legislative session. Last year, the sick leave bill passed the House in the final days of the legislature’s calendar, but it did not proceed through the Senate for final passage.

While county government employers provide generous work-family policies to full time employees, the legislation in the General Assembly last year would require extension of the provision of earned sick leave to part time and seasonal employees.

For more information on Maryland’s sick leave legislation, see Conduit Street‘s previous post, House Sends Amended Sick Leave Bill to Senate.

 

 

 

 

Post-Labor Day School Start Is Law of the Land, For Now

With no legal challenges on the horizon, school boards are planning the 2017-2018 calendars according to the Governor’s Order.

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John Woolums speaks with MACo’s Legislative Committee about school start dates and the Governor’s Executive Order.

This week in Annapolis, John Woolums, Director of Governmental Relations of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), addressed MACo’s Legislative Committee on the topic of school start dates.

Woolums detailed key parts of the Attorney General’s recent letter of advice on the Governor’s Executive order, and described the input his organization submitted to the Attorney General on the topic. MABE’s correspondence to the Attorney General’s office outlined several potential legal issues with the Governor’s action. The Attorney General’s letter of advice predicted that a reviewing court might find the executive order exceeded his authority.

Barring any pending legal action, however, Woolums clarified that the executive order is still the law of the land. Local and state boards are currently implementing the Governor’s order, and, to his knowledge, no boards of education have taken steps to challenge the legality of the Governor’s Order.

Woolums also shared several possible implications that could have an effect on county governments and other educational programs:

  • Because of the many dual-enrollment and crossover programs between schools and community colleges, the Governor’s Labor Day start date order has the potential to become an implied mandate on community college calendars
  • If school boards are granted waivers from the 180-days of school requirement, there could be financial savings. At the same time, requirements to open school early to provide special needs and low-income student services could lead to additional requests for funding.

State and local implementation of the Governor’s Order includes:

  • All school systems in Maryland are planning for a post-Labor Day start for the 2017-2018 school year.
  • The State Board will be adopting criteria for granting waivers from requirements that school systems must hold 180 days of school. These criteria could be guidelines, not regulations, speeding the process of adoption.

For updates on the State Board’s waiver policy, check the State Board of Education’s website.

 

MACo Adopts 2017 Legislative Initatives

The MACo Legislative Committee adopted its four legislative initiatives for the 2017 session during its meeting on September 21. The four topics, have all gathered broad interest and discussion across the state during the last year.

28 different initiative proposals were received from a wide swath of county officials and organizations. MACo’s Initiatives Committee met through the summer to recommend a slate of no more than four items, consistent with the MACo by-laws. The limited number of initiatives is designed to keep the Association’s focus limited — but does not preclude involvement and effort on behalf of other important issues.

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2017 Legislative Initiatives

Re-invest In Local Roads, Bridges, and Infrastructure – Recession-driven cost shifts have left local roadways lacking proper maintenance, bridges in dire need, and other public infrastructure neglected. Re-investing in infrastructure – a call being heard at every level of government – is good for Maryland jobs, business attractiveness, and quality of life across the state. Meanwhile, funding for school maintenance, water delivery systems, and public safety centers all lack predictable centralized funding commitments. MACo calls on state leaders to take action in 2017:

* Approve meaningful new FY 2018 funding for restoring Highway User Revenues – using the fair, statewide formula used for decades

* Enact a phased-in restoration of the historic 30% local share of state transportation revenues – enhancing safety and road quality for motorists everywhere

* Document and assess the state of public infrastructure across Maryland – assessing the needs and reliable revenue sources targeted for each area of service

Strong and Smart State Funding for School Construction – The State’s commitment to school construction funding needs to remain strong and smart – to best serve the modern needs of our schoolchildren, educators, and communities. Strong state funding will recognize modern cost factors as we achieve new environmental and energy standards, satisfy heightened needs for technology, ensure student safety, fulfill community resource needs, and mesh with evolving teaching methods. Smart state funding will provide flexibility for county governments seeking cost-effective solutions to meeting student and community school construction needs. A smarter state-county school construction program will reduce unnecessary regulation, revise processes to work alongside county budget decisions, provide a county voice in state school construction funding decisions, promote statewide and regional efficiencies, and provide a meaningful opportunity to pursue alternative financing for school construction.

Energy Facility Siting – For decades, the state has exercised a very narrow pre-emption of local planning and zoning authority for major power plants, grounded in the need for the larger power grid to receive ample power supply. Recent cases before the state’s Public Service Commission threaten to dramatically widen that principle, applying it to virtually any generation facility, regardless of its size or importance to the regional power grid. A new generation of power facilities – from solar farms to alternative technologies – could be freed up to ignore local zoning and oversight. This decision threatens local land use control — and the important rights of communities to guide their own historic, agricultural, and residential character.

Balancing Release of Police Body Camera Video – As governments work to implement sensible police body camera policies, the State should clarify how body camera footage is treated under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA). The PIA was largely created to handle paper documents and only recently updated to better handle static electronic records. However, the PIA still does not address the practical, technical, and privacy challenges facing a local government from potential requests of hundreds of hours of accumulated body camera video, all of which must be subjected to attorney review and redaction where appropriate. In light of such challenges, MACo supports legislation to strike a reasonable balance between making affected people having proper access to the footage while preventing overbroad, abusive, or invasive requests.

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In the weeks ahead, Conduit Street will feature more detail on the policy and legislative importance of each of these major topics.

Proposed BAT Septic Regs, MDE FAQ Sheet Published

The proposed regulations to repeal the mandate for best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic systems outside of a critical area (beyond 1,000 feet of the waters of the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays or their tributaries) were published in the 2016-09-16 issue of the Maryland Register. Public comment on the proposed regulations is open through October 17. It is likely that the legislative committee that reviews regulations – the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) – will request a hearing on the proposed regulations and could potentially place a temporary hold on them. Assuming no unexpected procedural disruptions, the regulations could be finalized and go into effect in early 2016.

Additionally, the Maryland Department of the Environment has released a FAQ sheet on the proposed regulations. The FAQ sheet describes the proposed regulations and then answers several questions on the implementation process and the effect on homeowners and developers. From the FAQ sheet:

When can we expect the regulations to change?

The final adoption date of draft regulations is not available at this time. The draft regulatory changes were submitted to the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review committee (AELR) on August 22, 2016. The AELR Committee reviews the proposed changes, the draft regulations are published on the Maryland Register for 45 days, which includes a 30 day public comment period. The proposal to change the regulations may take several months; a final date is not known at this time.

Can I submit a septic permit today that does not indicate a BAT unit will be installed?

No, the regulations that are currently in place are applicable and every Approving Authority must adhere to those regulations. …

My new construction is not to be completed until next year; can I hold off on installing the BAT unit?

Yes, if the Approving Authority is in agreement and the property will meet all requirements under the draft regulation. However, use and occupancy of a new structure cannot be approved until the septic construction permit is finalized.

Can a homeowner take an existing BAT and convert it to a conventional septic system or make the BAT inoperable?

The Approving Authority may allow this proposed change on privately purchased BATs at their discretion so long as the property is approvable with a conventional septic disposal system and the draft regulations are adopted as final.

If the property received any Bay Restoration Funds (partial or full grant) for the purchase, installation, and operation and maintenance (O&M) contract, the BAT shall not be converted to a conventional septic system or be made inoperable.

Must a homeowner maintain service in perpetuity of the BAT system?

Yes, the regulation does not change the requirement for the operation and maintenance in perpetuity. Any BAT unit installed in Maryland, existing or proposed, must be serviced by a certified service provider. …

Can an existing 5 year Operation and Maintenance contract be changed to a 2 year after the regulation is in effect?

If the property received Bay Restoration Funds for the purchase, installation, and O&M contract, the O&M contract cannot be reduced. If the property did not utilize BRF funds, the homeowner may renegotiate with the manufacturer and service provider for a two year contract.

Useful Links

AELR Committee Webpage

MDE Talks BAT, Nutrient Trading & WIPs with MACo Legislative Committee

Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs and Policy Horacio Tablada provided updates on the proposed best available nitrogen removal technology (BAT) septic system repeal, nutrient credit trading, and watershed implementation plan (WIP) review to the MACo Legislative Committee at its 2016-09-21 meeting.

BAT Septic System

Tablada noted that repealing the requirement for BAT Septic Systems was the top request received by Maryland’s Regulatory Reform Commission and that the proposed regulations for the repeal were published in the 2016-09-16 edition of the Maryland Register. Along with the repeal, MDE is strengthening its enforcement on maintenance for existing septic systems and looking at additional ways to address failing septics, such as connecting those homes to sewer lines. Tablada stressed that local governments retained the authority to require BAT septics in all or part of their jurisdictions. Tablada noted that MDE had released a FAQ sheet on the proposed regulations (link below).

Nutrient Credit Trading

Tablada stated the Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin (Ben) Grumbles remains interested in and committed to nutrient credit trading. He referenced the ongoing efforts of Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee (which has 5 MACo and county representatives with a sixth rural member to be added shortly). The Committee is conducting a final review of a draft trading manual at its 2016-09-22 meeting. Tablada noted that buyers and regulators will need to have confidence in the validity of the credits in order for the system to work and that some regulatory changes will need to be made starting in the Spring of 2017. Tablada said that MDE hoped to do a pilot program with several local jurisdictions before rolling out a statewide program.

Tablada also explained that trading can help those counties with Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits. However, until the final trading regulations are in place in approximately 1 year, trading could only be allowed if MDE rewrote a jurisdiction’s permit to allow for trading or MDE included trading as part of an enforcement tool or consent order.

WIP Review

Tablada reiterated that 2017 is a major review year for the State and local WIPs, with new pollution targets and requirements possibly following in 2018. MDE has begun conducting an internal review of its water programs in anticipation of the full review next year. Tablada stressed that Maryland must: (1) address water pollution in its own local waters and the Chesapeake Bay; and (2) encourage enforcement against external pollution sources that affect the state (such as the Conowingo Dam and Susquehanna River).

Useful Links

BAT Septic Regulations in Maryland Register

MDE FAQ on Proposed BAT Septic Regulations

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of BAT Septic Systems

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Nutrient Credit Trading

State Revenue Write-Down Softens Fiscal Footing

The state officially reduced its estimates for state revenues by nearly $800 million across the current and upcoming fiscal years.

At the September 21 meeting of the Board of Revenue Estimates, the three-member body approved a revised fiscal estimate that is $800 million lower than expected. The Board estimates that Maryland will collect $365 million less than expected in the current fiscal year and $417 million less next fiscal year. In addition to the $250 million shortfall from last fiscal year ending June 30, the state has received over $1 billion less than anticipated over three years.

Board Executive Secretary Andrew Schaufele reported that the weak collections largely reflect a slow recovery and sluggish gains in income despite improving employment. 

Such projections have great potential to deepen the partisan chasm between Governor Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly, as Hogan continues to prioritize elimination of spending mandates in state law, and legislators insinuate that the Governor has neglected to assume responsibility. The General Assembly and Governor will have to accommodate for the projected $417 million shortfall in budget deliberations this upcoming session. 

Read the Baltimore Sun’s coverage here.

Anne Arundel Police Serve Addicts With Letters of Encouragement

Police officers in Anne Arundel County are giving heroin addicts they arrest and overdose victims they come in contact with a letter encouraging them to seek treatment.

As reported in The Annapolis Patch:

Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare penned a letter early this year that officers give to drug addicts they arrest and overdose victim they deal with on the streets. Its message is simple: Drug treatment is always available to help.

“We have had to look too many mothers in the eye and tell them their child is gone,” Altomare wrote. …“It takes a lot of courage to seek help. … Drug treatment can work. People recover from addiction every day. WE BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT BUT WE CAN’T DO IT FOR YOU.”

At the end of the letter is a resource: Addicts who are seeking help are urged to call the county’s WARMLINE at 410-768-5522. It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As of Aug. 31, Anne Arundel County has seen 566 overdoses; double the 249 total for 2015. Of this year’s overdoses, 79 cases have been fatal and 487 have not, police said.

“Our police department is willing to do whatever it takes to beat this heroin epidemic. We are continuing to keep an open mind and think outside the box,” police spokesman Lt. Ryan Frashure told Patch. “We have seen that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, so we need to be creative. The traditional avenues are not working, so we need to combine enforcing the law with follow-up treatment.”

For more information read the full article in The Annapolis Patch

MDOT Files Draft Scorecard Law Regulations

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has filed draft regulations with the Maryland General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee, implementing the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, informally referred to as the “scorecard” law. The draft regulations may be viewed here.

Under the much-discussed law, MDOT must adopt regulations on or before January 1, 2017 to address certain aspects of that law. Specifically, it states that MDOT shall:

 (1) In accordance with federal transportation requirements, develop a project-based scoring system using the goals and measures established under subsection (c) of this section;

(2) Develop the weighting metrics for each goal and measure established under subsection (c) of this section; [and]

(3) On or before January 1, 2017, adopt regulations to carry out the provisions of this section[.]

Maryland Annotated Code, Transportation Article, § 2-103.7(b). Additionally, the law states:

The Department shall multiply the total combined score of each major transportation project by a weighting factor equal to one plus the results of dividing the population in the area served by the project, as determined in regulations adopted by the Department, by the population of Maryland.

Maryland Annotated Code, Transportation Article, § 2-103.7(c)(3).

The draft regulations assign one set of weighting metrics for all relevant Consolidated Transportation Program projects, and define the “area served by the project” as the county or counties in which those projects are located.

Under “Opportunity for Public Comment,” the form indicates:

Comments may be sent to Eric R. Backes, Regulations Coordinator, MDOT, 7201 Corporate Center Drive, Hanover, MD 21076, or call 410-865-1158, or email to ebackes@mdot.state.md.us, or fax to 410-865-1113. Comments will be accepted through November 13, 2016. A public hearing has not been scheduled.

Solar Development Divides Farmers, Ellicott City Development Halt Draws Strong Support

Two proposals to dramatically alter development patterns in Howard County drew mixed testimony at a County Council hearing Monday night. Hundreds of acres of Howard County farmland protected from development at taxpayer expense could become fertile ground for commercial solar development.

From The Baltimore Sun,

The bill would allow landowners who sold their development rights to the county by entering their land into preservation to allow commercial solar facilities between 10 to 75 acres.

Some farm groups like the Howard County Farm Bureau support the move, which they said provides a steady income stream for struggling farmers while encouraging clean renewable energy.

“Like the weather we’ve had last summer, you never know if you’re going to drive or drown,” said Howie Feaga, president of the Howard County Farm Bureau.

But opponents said the move threatens farmland and undermines the intention of the county’s agricultural land preservation program, which aims to preserve the county’s best remaining farmland and generally prohibits large-scale non-agricultural development.

Ted Mariani, president of the Concerned Citizens of Western Howard County, said the bill is a clear “violation of trust” between the county and taxpayers who entered land into a preservation program that prohibits industrial and commercial use.

“If this goes through, this might be the biggest bait and switch in the county,” said Dan O’Leary, president of the Greater Highland Crossroads Association.

The bill’s opponents stressed they were not against renewable energy — only on land intended for preservation.

“We do not need to sacrifice our farmlands in order to support clean energy,” said Susan Garber on behalf of the Howard County Citizens Association.

Supporters said the move is unlikely to lead to widespread proliferation of solar development.

George Brown, owner of Nixon’s Farm in West Friendship, the first farm in the county to generate solar electricity sold to an electric company, said the approval was “arduous.”

Farms must be within a mile of a BGE substation and it can cost $1 million per mile to connect lines to substations, Brown said.

Farmland is not permanently transformed into solar development, Brown said; “The land is still the land.”

To date, the county has received few applications for commercial solar development.

The county’s hearing examiner denied a proposal to build a commercial solar facility on 37 acres near Old Frederick Road late last year.

About 290 parcels of land of at least 10 acres would be eligible for the program.

Read the full article for more information.

Montgomery Proposal Aims to Crack Down on ‘Zombie Foreclosures’

Buyers of foreclosed properties in Montgomery County who fail to register their purchases with the state within 30 days would face $1,000-a-day fines under a bill introduced Tuesday by Council member Tom Hucker.

The 2012 state law requiring such registrations was aimed primarily at lenders and investors who buy foreclosed properties but delay formal transfer of the title, making it difficult for authorities to identify who is responsible for payment of taxes, condominium fees or other obligations.

From The Washington Post,

Critics say such “zombie foreclosures” — which can linger as long as nine to 18 months — contribute to blight and reduced property values.

A provision of the state law allows localities to levy the $1,000 fine.

Hucker (D-Silver Spring) said state data shows that 34 percent of foreclosures in the county during fiscal 2015 were either unregistered or were registered long after the 30-day deadline had elapsed.

“This will give the county an overdue tool,” Hucker said. “Having a meaningful penalty for these violations of state law will be a deterrent.”

Hucker introduced a companion bill that would require owners of vacant residential buildings that are in poor condition to register with the county’s housing department and pay fees to be set by the county executive. He said his office receives numerous complaints about vacant structures that are not properly maintained.

A public hearing on both bills is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 18.

Read the full article for more information.