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Frederick lawmakers seek small law changes with big implications

ANNAPOLIS — Legislation from members of the Frederick County delegation continued to move forward this week.

Teacher rights

Freshman Del. Ken Kerr (D-Frederick) made his first appearance at a House committee hearing on Tuesday to defend a bill to protect Maryland School for the Deaf teachers from unreasonable termination.

The bill codifies in law that Maryland School for the Deaf teachers are state employees, rather than “at will” employees, and cannot be let go without reason. Kerr tag-teamed the bill this session with Sen. Ron Young, whose bill in the Senate will have a hearing in the Finance Committee on Thursday.

The American Federation of Teachers supports the bill, which puts into law what is already in practice at the school.

“They’ve been at-will state employees for a very long time, and two years ago, the school agreed to give them basic due process rights, but no legislation moved forward,” said Frank Pratka, a field staff representative for the teachers union, in an interview after the hearing.

Maryland School for the Deaf teachers will not get special treatment above and beyond other public school teachers. They can still be fired, but there is now an appeals process to discipline, Pratka said.

No one spoke in objection to the bill on Tuesday. James Tucker, superintendent of the Maryland School for the Deaf, said by email that the bills, if passed, would codify current personnel practices at the school.

“We’re just trying to make it official,” Kerr said. “It’s already in practice. We’re trying to put it in law.”

Small business

Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick), on the other hand, faced an uphill battle with two bills in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Wednesday.

The first would make Maryland a combined reporting state, which would require corporate retail stores and restaurants that have subsidiaries in multiple states to file one combined income tax report. Currently, Maryland taxes each company without regard to whether they belong to a larger corporation, according the Department of Legislative Services’ fiscal note.

The shift to combined reporting could generate approximately $50 million of additional revenue for the state’s general fund.

“We’ve already been over the budget in our committee and we’ve got a lot of things coming up,” Young told the committee. “... You look at the structural deficit, and it’s really started growing in the out years. So, to me, it’s just foolish to let $50 million to lay on the table and go to out-of-state companies when they ought to be paying taxes here.”

The Restaurant Association of Maryland, Greater Baltimore Council, Organization for International Investment, Council of State Taxation and Maryland Chamber of Commerce all spoke or submitted testimony against the proposal. They called it discriminatory and a bad economic move for the state, which could prompt chains to leave Maryland for more tax-friendly states.

“Walmart’s not going to leave Maryland. If they want to do business in Frederick, they have to be in Frederick,” Young said afterward.

A similar bill by Young submitted in 2018 died in committee. He was unsure how the committee would respond to it this year.

Young also introduced a bill — that he hoped would be less controversial — to eliminate the need to reauthorize a $3,000 tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles every three years. The rebate would become permanent if the bill passes.

Two representatives of the petroleum industry objected to making the rebate permanent, and questioned if the state was investing its money in the most beneficial way.

“They want to sell gas. I understand their point of view,” Young said after the hearing. “... Change is difficult. Something that hurts one business, helps another.”

Maryland has a goal is putting 300,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025, Young said.

As the number of electric vehicles on Maryland roads grows, the Legislature may need to consider a user fee based on the number of miles driven, since electric vehicle owners do not pay into the gas tax that is used to fund road repairs. But the saturation of electric vehicles isn’t there yet to warrant it, he said.

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