AOBA Concludes Successful MD General Assembly Session

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After 90 days and 2,200 bills, the Maryland General Assembly ended its 2015 legislative session with several wins for AOBA members. Much of AOBA’s legislative effort is directed to stopping the enactment of legislation that would harm our members. We were successful in defeating in overwhelming numbers the bills we opposed. A few bills were enacted after we were able to obtain amendments easing problem provisions.

Here is a recap of some of the important issues that AOBA fought for and against, and their outcomes. A more comprehensive summary will follow as soon as bills are reprinted and signed into law.

Bills Enacted

· Security Deposit Interest - SB 408 and HB 782 correct provisions in Maryland’s security deposit interest law. The bills make two key clarifications to legislation enacted last year:

o Accrual of Interest – For over 40 years, Maryland law had provided that interest on a tenant’s security deposit accrued in 6 month intervals. However, last year’s legislation included language providing for the calculation of interest on a monthly basis, without removing the 6 month accrual provision. These bills resolve this conflict by providing for the accrual of interest on a monthly basis, with no interest paid on amounts held for less than 6 months or partial months.

o Effective Date – Interest accrued prior to January 1, 2015 was payable at the prior 3 percent rate (4 percent in Prince George’s County). These bills make it clear that the shift to monthly accrual of interest and application of the new 1.5 percent interest rate will be applied for all interest accruing on and after January 1, 2015. AOBA members should ensure that they have made the necessary changes to their accounting systems to reflect these provisions.

· Criminal Records ShieldingHB 244 will authorize an individual to request that court and police records for certain misdemeanor offences be shielded from public inspection three years after the person satisfies the sentence imposed for the conviction, including parole, probation and mandatory supervision. A court would only be authorized to grant one shielding petition in the lifetime of the person, and employers would be prohibited from requiring job applicants from disclosing shielded information. AOBA and other opponents were able to get misdemeanor theft offenses stricken from the list of crimes that could be shielded.

· False Claims for Payment - SB 374 and HB 405 will impose treble damages and fines of up to $10,000 per violation on a person found guilty of knowingly submitting a claim for payment that is false to the state or a county. Individuals would be entitled to bring suit on behalf of the government and, if successful, receive a bounty. At the urging of AOBA and allied business groups, several amendments were adopted, including an important provision requiring proof that the individual submitting the claim for payment had actual knowledge that the claim was false.

Court Fees - HB 54 will impose a surcharge on court filings to fund court records automation, including $3 on summary ejectments, effective July 1, 2015. AOBA testified that increasing court costs for tenants facing eviction by $1.6 million annually was a poor method for funding court automation. Additionally, as the District Court’s electronic filing system is not currently capable of accepting bulk filings of summary ejectment cases, rental housing providers and tenants would be paying a surcharge for a system that they cannot use.

Community Solar Energy - SB 398 and HB 1087 will require the Maryland Public Service Commission to establish a pilot program for a community solar energy generating system program and convene a stakeholder workgroup to study the value and costs of the program.

Bills That Failed

The success of AOBA’s legislative efforts is largely reflected in the demise of the following legislation:

· Avoided Employer Mandates

o Sick Leave - SB 40 and HB 385 would have required employers with 10 or more employees to offer paid sick leave to full and part-time employees, accruing at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked.

o Retirement Savings - SB 312 and HB 421 would have required every employer with 5 or more employees to participate in a State-sponsored retirement savings plan, unless they offered qualified pensions or automatic enrollment payroll deduction IRAs to employees.

o Equal Pay - SB 424 and HB 1051 would have imposed several vague employment mandates on employers relating to equal pay, such as making it a discriminatory practice to “direct an employee into a less favorable career track.”

o Employee Scheduling - SB 688 and HB 969 would have required every employer to post work schedules 21 days before the start of each workweek and authorize employees to reject unscheduled work.

o Hiring and Firing - SB 784 and HB 1072 would have made it a discriminatory practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire, discharge or otherwise discriminate against a job applicant or employee based on the individual’s engaging in lawful activities.

o Family Leave - HB 985 would have imposed assessments against employees and employers to fund up to 12 weeks of parental or family medical leave for full and part-time employees.

o Overtime Pay - HB 1027 would have expanded the conditions under which an employer must pay overtime.

· Avoided Business Costs

o Mechanics’ Liens - HB 442 and SB 323 would have made it easier for design services professions to place a lien on real property for unpaid bills.

o LLC Representatives - HB 351 would have required every newly created LLC in Maryland to designate an individual to serve as a company representative for purposes of communicating with the public.

o Vacant and Blighted Properties - SB 197 would have authorized a municipality to establish a registry of vacant and blighted properties, impose fines of up to $2,000 per day and impose additional real property tax rates of up to $10 per $100 of assessment for such properties.

o Montgomery County Transit Authority - HB 104 would have authorized the Montgomery County Council to impose additional property taxes above the Charter tax cap, as well as excise taxes, assessments and fees on behalf of a County Transit Authority.

o Prince George’s County Municipal Zoning - HB 628 would have authorized the Prince George’s County Council, sitting as the District Council, to delegate additional zoning authority to municipalities.

· Avoided Landlord/Tenant Complications

o Candidates Access to Multifamily Properties - HB 373 would have required owners of multifamily residential properties to open their properties to campaign candidates and their volunteers. AOBA led the opposition to the bill, which would have prohibited a person from preventing a candidate, or volunteer accompanying a candidate, from accessing a private residential area for purposes of campaigning, registering voters or distributing campaign materials.

o Rental Housing Stabilization Study - SB 480 and HB 420 would have established a 13-member Commission on Rental Housing Stabilization to study the establishment of a Rental Housing Authority to oversee landlord-tenant issues, Office of Tenant Advocate, Regional Housing Boards to adjudicate landlord-tenant disputes and rent control.

o Just Cause Eviction - HB 824 would have prohibited a rental housing provider from evicting or failing to renew the lease of a tenant without demonstrating just cause. Rental housing providers would have been prohibited from requiring a tenant to name them as an additional insured party on renter’s insurance.

o Social Security Number Privacy - HB 416 would have prohibited a person from requiring a consumer to disclose their Social Security number as a condition for the purchase or lease of consumer goods or services.

· Avoided Energy Costs

o Renewable Energy - SB 373 and HB 377 would have raised electric rates by increasing the amount of renewable energy that electric companies must purchase.

o Electric Vehicle Recharging - SB 762 would have required owners of residential and commercial rental properties to approve, under specified circumstances, the written request of a tenant to install electric vehicle recharging equipment at a parking space allotted to the tenant.

o Energy Efficiency Programs - SB 826 would have transferred the administration of energy efficiency programs from utilities to the Maryland Energy Administration. ll conduct budget hearings during May, with final budget approval scheduled for May 28.