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Thursday, March 16, 2017
Senator Eckardt Legislative Weekly Update
Senator Adelaide Eckardt, District 37 Legislative Weekly Update March 15, 2017
I was honored to attend the grand opening of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Dorchester County. Please visit this historic center and learn more about Harriet Tubman's legacy.
PAID SICK LEAVE DEBATE
Senate Bill 230 – Labor and Employment – Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (Paid Sick Leave Legislation) has been debated on the Senate Floor over the past two weeks. Senate Bill 230 would require employers that employ fifteen or more employees to provide their workers with paid sick leave. This legislation received a favorable with amendment report from the Senate Finance Committee. Numerous amendments were proposed and adopted.
One amendment addresses temporary service agencies that provide temporary staffing services. Another amendment was offered in committee that addresses seasonal workers. This amendment states that an employee would not earn paid sick leave during the first 106 calendar days the employee works. On Tuesday, an amendment was brought to the floor that would allow for an employer to apply to the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation for a hardship waiver. Under this amendment, an employer must provide specific evidence that a significant financial hardship will result from the employer’s compliance with this bill. The Senate will review other amendments before this legislation receives a floor vote.
Governor Hogan proposed a more balanced paid sick leave, Senate Bill 305 – Commonsense Paid Sick Leave. This proposal requires businesses with 50 or more employees to offer paid sick leave totaling at least to 40 hours per year. Additionally, part-time employees will be provided paid sick leave with a minimum of 30 working hours. The Governor’s legislation also provides a tax relief incentive for businesses with fewer than 50 employees who choose to offer paid sick leave. I am following this legislation closely and will provide updates in future newsletters.
STATE RETIREMENT CHOICE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY WORKFORCE
Governor Hogan has introduced a State Retirement Choice Plan that addresses Maryland’s pension unfunded liability. Maryland’s current pension system will not be sustainable over time. Senate Bill 540 establishes the defined contribution (DC) State Retirement Choice Plan (SRCP) as an alternative to the Employees’ Pension System (EPS) for state employees and participating governmental units. Employees hired on or before July 1, 2018 would make a one-time irrevocable decision to join either the EPS or SRCP.
Granting new employees the choice upon employment will attract the millennial workforce. Maryland must address the current pension system and choose a new plan that would benefit all Maryland state employees and taxpayers.
SENATE BILL 452 – EDUCATION – ACCOUNTABILITY PROGRAM – ASSESSMENTS (LESS TESTING, MORE LEARNING ACT OF 2017)
Senate Bill 452 requires the State Board of Education, in collaboration with other stakeholders, to adopt regulations that limit the amount of time that may be devoted to federal, state, and locally mandated assessments for each grade. A mutual agreement must be met that would limit standardized testing to 2 percent of class time - approximately 21.6 hours for elementary and middle schools and 23.4 hours for high schools each school year. Time devoted to teacher-selected exams, quizzes, or performance assessments may not be counted toward the hour limit. Senate Bill 452 received a favorable with amendments report from the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. I will be following this legislation closely. Please look for updates on Senate Bill 452 in future weekly newsletters.
Senate Bill 667 would place a moratorium on the mandatory assessment of prekindergarten students until a complete audit of the Early Learning Assessment (ELA) is conducted. The audit shall determine whether this assessment provides accountable and reliable feedback to students, parents, and educators. This bill received a favorable with amendments report from the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee last week, and will be discussed on the Senate floor soon.
SENATE BILL 917 – MOTOR VEHICLES – GROSS WEIGHT AND AXLE LOAD AND EXCEPTIONAL HAULING PERMIT – POULTRY
Senate Bill 917 assists poultry farmers in Maryland. This proposed legislation increases the gross vehicle weight limit to 88,000 pounds for vehicles carrying live poultry from a farm to a processing facility. The State Highway Administration (SHA) would issue a hauling permit for a vehicle and must enter into an agreement with each poultry processing company located on the Eastern Shore counties to collect information on the implementation and use of the permits. Senate Bill 917 received a favorable report from the Judicial Proceedings Committee and passed the Senate. This bill will be heard in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. Senate Bill 917 is critical for the poultry businesses on the Eastern Shore and I am proud to support this important initiative.
SENATE BILL 441 – VETERANS AFFAIRS – MARYLAND VETERANS SERVICE ANIMAL PROGRAM – ESTABLISHMENT
Senate Bill 441 establishes the Maryland Veterans Service Animal Program within the Maryland Department of Affairs (MDVA). This program pairs “eligible veterans” with service or support dogs and helps facilitate their training. This bill received a favorable with amendments report from the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and passed the Senate. Senate Bill 441 will be heard in the House Health and Government Operations next.
UPDATE : SENATE BILL 397 – LOCAL INCOME TAX OVERPAYMENTS – LOCAL RESERVE ACCOUNT REPAYMENT - FORGIVENESS
Senate Bill 397 would repeal the requirement that a county or municipality that received an overpayment of local income tax revenue to reimburse the State. 21 million dollars of local income tax payment was misdirected over the years. Unfortunately, this error has required a number of counties and municipalities to repay the state. Since 2012, municipalities have noticed this error in the local income tax payment and tried to repay the state, but their checks were returned. Senate Bill 397 would provide aid to counties and municipalities throughout Maryland.
Senate Bill 397 received a favorable with amendment report from the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and passed the Senate. This bill will be heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on March 22 at 1:00pm.
Senator Adelaide Eckardt
District 37 – Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, Wicomico Counties