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Sneak Preview: 2016 Maryland General Assembly Session

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The Maryland General Assembly opens its 2016 session on Jan. 13, with bill drafters already busy at work. There have been 179 bills pre-filed, with several thousand more on the way.

AOBA maintains an Annapolis office year round to support its lobbying efforts. AOBA’s Maryland Legislative and Regulatory Issues Committee will meet frequently during the session to take positions on important bills. Contact AOBA VP Ron Wineholt to get engaged with the Legislative Committee at rwineholt@aoba-metro.org

Here are some of the significant issues for AOBA members that will likely be considered before the General Assembly adjourns on April 11.

· State Budget – Governor Hogan and legislative leaders will spar over how to best use the state general fund surplus, projected to reach over $500 million by the end of the current fiscal year. Hogan will attempt to achieve long-term structural balance for the state budget, while paying down pension liabilities, curbing new debt authorizations and seeking relief from future spending mandates. Legislative leaders will push for full funding of all existing budget mandates and expanded funding for education and other priorities. Governor Hogan will submit his budget on Jan. 20.

· Taxes – Governor Hogan has made clear that he will continue to look for ways to achieve tax reductions. While significant tax relief is unlikely, the recommendations of the Augustine Commission (appointed by the House Speaker and Senate President) will receive serious consideration as ways to make Maryland more competitive and business-friendly. Although the Commission has not yet released its report, possible areas for tax relief include reductions in the corporate income tax rate, personal income tax credits for pass-through business entities and personal property tax reductions.

· Environment – Several bills to alter aspects of Maryland’s lead-based paint remediation program will be considered by the General Assembly. Despite the doubling of rental licensing registration fees, expansion of registration to 1950 to 1978 rental properties and the continued drop in children detected with lead poisoning, new cases of lead poisoning continue to be detected. Some legislators are raising questions regarding the enforcement of lead paint laws by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Legislation will be introduced to expand the definition of elevated blood lead levels to recognize smaller trace amounts detected in testing of children.

· Employer Mandates – Statewide legislation to require employers to provide paid sick leave will again be one of the primary battlegrounds for business and labor at the 2016 session. Although similar legislation has failed the past several sessions, the enactment of local legislation by the Montgomery County Council (effective October 1, 2016) has changed the political landscape. The Prince George’s County Council has also made it clear that they will enact a sick leave mandate in the absence of state action. AOBA will work to ensure maximum employer flexibility in establishing leave policies and preemption of local leave laws. Legislation will also be reintroduced to establish additional requirements for employee scheduling and retirement benefits.

· Property Owner/Tenant – Several proposals will be considered to assist previously-incarcerated or convicted individuals overcome obstacles in obtaining employment and housing. Among the issues debated will be expansion of expungement or shielding of criminal records and changes to laws governing discriminatory housing practices. We will also likely again see “source of income” bills filed to mandate providers of multifamily housing to participate in federal Section 8 programs, and various proposals to constrain evictions and impose rent control.

· Energy – Legislation will be introduced to increase the amount of renewable energy that electric companies must purchase, to 25 percent by 2020. Current law requires that 20 percent of electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.