Maryland Chamber Vice President of Government Affairs Ron Wineholt met with members of the Baltimore County Chamber’s Legislative Committee in Towson yesterday to discuss the 2011 Maryland General Assembly session.
The meeting included representatives from State Farm Insurance, Miller’s Minuteman Press, Comcast, Baltimore County Public Schools and more. With 40 new legislators and a low bill volume (so far), the 2011 session is off to a slow start.
Wineholt touched on a number of business agenda items and early session developments:
Right now Maryland is at its debt limit with an ongoing annual gap between state spending and revenues of nearly $2 billion. Governor O’Malley will introduce his budget today, January 21, with likely reductions for education, Medicaid, local aid and more.
Because of cuts and ongoing budget deficits, there will continue to be pressure for new taxes. It is important that Maryland does not take action that would further damage our business climate.
The Judiciary’s Rules Subcommittee will proceed with its study of imposing a system of comparative fault in Maryland. The Chamber believes comparative fault would increase lawsuits against businesses, defense costs and insurance rates, which affects every business.
Legislation that would limit an employer from using an applicant’s credit history for hiring purposes will be back this session. The Chamber opposed legislation last session and has worked during the interim to develop a compromise bill that is more agreeable to the business community.
A minimum wage increase bill is expected soon. No bill has been filed yet, but Maryland Senators have discussed a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour next year and $10 per hour in 2013. The proposal would also index it to inflation after 2013.
Other issues expected to surface are redefining the overtime standard to working more than eight hours a day, instead of over 40 hours a week; mandated shift breaks legislation; and legislation prohibiting an employer from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on the initial job application.
There will be a proposal to double the Bay Restoration Fund fee. The Maryland’s Bay Restoration Fun Advisory Committee is recommending the increase. The fee would go from $30 annually to $60 annually.
There will be no new projects because lack of money, and the state continues to have many unmet transportation funding needs.
Senator Rob Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) is expected introduce a bill to increase gas tax by ten cents and increase vehicle registration fees to boost funding for transportation projects. He will also propose an amendment to the Maryland Constitution to establish that the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) may only be used for specified transportation purposes.
After the meeting, I caught up with Baltimore County Chamber President & CEO Keith Scott to learn more about the county chamber’s legislative agenda: