ANNAPOLIS — By the time the 90-day General Assembly session ends in April, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said he expects his chamber to introduce more than 1,000 bills, but first he needs his members to put them in the hopper.
Sen. Ron Young (D-District 3) is one of only a few senators to pre-file bills for the session and have them introduced on Wednesday. The early start may help breathe new life into bills that in past sessions have not made it through.
“We’ve got new chairs in most of the committees this year,” which may change the bills’ fates too, Young said.
Two of the bills that will resurface in 2019 deal with the collection of income tax, but from two very different groups: retirees and medical cannabis growers, processors, dispensaries and independent testing laboratories.
Relief from income tax for retirees making under $100,000 a year is a bill Young puts in every session. He is compelled to sponsor it because of studies he has read on the economic and social value of keeping retirees in communities, whereas the fiscal analysis prepared by the Department of Legislative Services tends to focus on the direct cost to the state due to the loss of revenue. The bill received an unfavorable report from the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in 2018 and died.
“I think we lose a real resource there” when retirees move out of state, Young said.
Young also hopes to provide income tax relief to the medical cannabis industry, which was legalized by the Legislature in 2012. The change would allow medical cannabis businesses to deduct business costs and pay income tax on their profits — like the rest of Maryland businesses, he said. This bill also died in committee last year.
“It’s unfair,” Young said. “I’ve had a couple other senators that have these places in their counties, and they — likewise — feel it’s unfair.”
Making Maryland’s business sector fairer to companies of all sizes is the cornerstone of his Small Business Fairness Act. The reintroduced bill would amend the tax code so that corporate food service and retail stores would be required to calculate their taxable income and pay taxes in Maryland through a process called “combined reporting.” This system is already in place in 26 states and the District of Columbia. The bill was scheduled to receive a hearing in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee last year and went nowhere.
“That doesn’t cost any Maryland taxpayer any more money. You’re already paying it. It’s just where they are reporting the income and paying taxes,” Young said.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced his legislative priorities for the session on Wednesday, after the House and Senate had adjourned for the day.
Hogan’s legislation falls in four broad topic areas: free and fair elections, crime, expanding economic opportunity and education. The one most likely to touch home is redistricting.
In November, the governor formed an emergency commission to address gerrymandering of the 6th Congressional District, which the courts ordered to be redrawn ahead of the 2020 election.
When the congressional districts were updated last — following the 2010 census — Democratic lawmakers split Frederick County between the 6th District and 8th District, when it historically had all been in the 6th District. This prompted a lawsuit by seven Republicans, who argued the district was unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Democrats, and the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2018.
The lawsuit has dragged Maryland into a larger national debate on the use of partisan gerrymandering, and the state’s case will return to the U.S. Supreme Court again in March as the debate intensifies.
“Maryland should be leading, but so far we aren’t even following,” Hogan said when announcing the commission.
Hogan will again propose the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting process for congressional and legislative districts. In 2017, Hogan proposed a similar bill and vetoed another passed by the Legislature, which would have required six states, including Maryland, to move together to a nonpartisan congressional districting process. He called the bill a “smoke screen.”
Hogan also plans to ask the General Assembly to consider:
Allowing residents to deduct 100 percent of the interest paid on their student loans from the state income tax.
Creating an independent Office of the State Education Inspector General to investigate unethical, unprofessional, improper and illegal conduct in local school systems.
Doubling the minimum sentence for repeat offenders who use a gun to commit a violent crime.
Delegate Jesse Pippy (R-District 4) said on Wednesday he had already signed on to co-sponsor some of Hogan’s bills. He did not specify which ones.
Bills to come
Though the rest of the Frederick County delegation’s bills are not yet available for public review, there are several likely to make an appearance this session.
Delegate Karen Lewis Young (D-District 3A) said she plans to reintroduce a bill that would create a “patients bill of rights” to standardize what a person seeking medical treatment can expect at all of Maryland’s hospitals.
She pruned down the bill from 28 provisions to 24 in the “spirit of compromise,” however, the bill will still face an uphill battle. Lewis Young plans to submit the bill early in the session, because of the expected back-and-forth it will cause, she said.
Delegate Ken Kerr (D-District 3B) is also working on legislation to promote “modern apprenticeships,” which he researched during a sabbatical from Frederick Community College, where he is a professor.
The model addresses a three-prong problem Kerr identified, which is that the state is investing millions of dollars in students who either don’t finish a degree, finish but can’t find a job or complete a degree with too much debt.
A modern apprenticeship would allow students to work at a company — such as a biotech company in Frederick County — to gain experience while working toward a degree. The student would be more compelled to finish his or her degree because they would have a job lined up afterward, Kerr said.
Modern apprenticeships will require a paradigm shift from companies, from waiting to bring on a student after they have a degree to bringing them on early in order to retain skilled workers.