At the end of this week, 1,343 bills had been introduced in the House of Delegates. Many of the bills are "delegation" bills applying only to one county; some bills make only minor corrections or changes in the law; some bills are introduced by the Speaker "By Request of" the governor or an executive Department; a number of bills require a "study" or a "task force"; many of the bills modify alcohol and hunting laws; there are some bills that do no harm; and there are some good bills.
Then, there are the irresponsible bills that undermine accountability, and the "feel-good" bills that, if passed, will continue to pile over-burdensome and unnecessary regulations onto all businesses (small businesses in particular); eliminate jobs; and continue to erode the business climate in Maryland. This week produced an unusual number of those bills.
"Fair Scheduling, Wages, and Benefits"
). Of all the bills I have ever read, this one scares me the most. This bill has 18 pages of new requirements that strictly regulate how private employers may schedule their employees. Here are some of the bill's provisions.
- There is no exemption for small businesses -- of any size.
- The employer must post a written schedule 21 days before the start of a work week.
- If a change is to be made to that schedule after it is posted, the employer must pay the employee 1 hour of Predictability Pay" for each shift that is changed
- If the employer must notify the employee that a shift has been canceled less than 24 hours in advance and if the employee chooses to show up, he or she must be paid for four hours of work, regardless of the actual hours worked by that employee.
- An employer must offer additional hours of work to current employees before hiring new employees, subcontractors, or temporary employees; AND must post a notice for at least two days prior. There is no provision regarding how or if overtime pay is relevant.
- If more than one qualified employee applies for the extra hours, the employer must split the work among however many apply.
- The rest of this bill requires the employer to keep a multitude of records, sets forth rebuttable presumptions against the employer, sets forth specific instances of violations, such as, "Each day the employer fails to keep a record."
- In addition to civil penalty damages, the law provides for "an additional amount of liquidated damages."
Unfortunately, the actions of one or some bad employers hurt people, and legislators want to prevent people from being hurt. But the reaction here is to punish ALL employers, and lacks any comprehension of how businesses actually function. Virtually no very small business could survive following these rules.
(Hearing scheduled for 3/09 at 1:00 p.m. in the Economic Matters Committee).
"Healthy Working Families Act".
This bill was defeated in the Economic Matters Committee last year. Next to the one above, this bill imposes the next most burdensome requirements onto businesses. Again, we would all hope that employees are able to take sick leave without having to fear for their jobs. And no doubt, there are some employers who either don't allow sick leave, or who use it as an excuse to get rid of an employee, most employers, by far, allow for their employees to take sick leave.
This bill requires that all employers provide for their employees "sick and safe" leave earned at 1 hour per 30 hours worked. Employers with more than 9 employees must provide paid leave; employers with nine or fewer employees can provide unpaid leave.
The problem with this, and bills of its kind, is that it is based on the concept that most employers are "bad," and that the requirements will help most employees. Employers are no more "bad" as a class than legislators -- or employees. By imposing a rigid leave system, many businesses will have to redesign or eliminate the plans or practices they currently have in place -- even if their employees prefer the existing plans. By creating another legal requirement that businesses must follow, it creates another way for "bad" employees to take advantage of the system. (Hearing set for 3/01 at 1:00 p.m. in Economic Matters).
HB 1013. Who Runs Transportation (22 co-sponsors, including the Speaker). Urban legislators are mad because Governor Hogan wisely eliminated the so-called Redline rail project from the transportation capital budget. This bill will wrest all judgment and control of determining our transportation needs, from the Department of Transportation and supplant it with a formulaic determination created by the legislature and requiring heavy investment in transit as opposed to roads. This is how it works. The bill sets forth eight goals:
- Safety and security
- System preservation
- Quality of service
- Environmental Stewardship
- Community Vitality
- Economic prosperity
- Equitable access to transportation, and
- Cost-effectiveness and return on investment
Major capital projects will be determined not by the interests of the jurisdictions throughout the state, or the people who come testify, or the judgment of the transportation experts. They will be determined by a "Point System." The Department is directed to give each potential project a score of from 1 - 100 for each goal, using the specific criteria listed within each goal. This is where the bias arises. For example, under "Quality of Service," I would expect to see something like "get's citizens where they're going fast and efficiently." But it doesn't. The criteria under "Quality of service," are:
- How many more jobs are accessible within 45 minutes on highways or within 60 minutes via transit. (50% of the score) [Working people don't need more job choices; they need the ability to get to the job they've chosen as fast and efficiently as possible.]
- How many more jobs are available for disadvantaged populations within 45 minutes on highways or within 60 minutes via transit. (20% of the score)
- The degree to which the project promotes multiple transportation choices. (30% of the score).
Under "Environmental Stewardship" is the criteria: "the degree to which the project advances the State environmental goals." Under "Community Vitality" is the criteria, "the degree to which the project is projected to increase the use of walking, biking, and transit." And under "Cost effectiveness and return on investment there are only two criteria: (I) "the extent to which the project is projected to enhance access to critical intermodal locations for the movement of goods and services," and "the degree to which the enhancements to the project area are weighted against the per capita cost of the project."
Having spent four years as Dept. Secretary of Transportation /CEO of the Maryland Transportation Authority under Governor Ehrlich, this is an area with which I am very familiar. I know the value of transit when it is used appropriately. I also know that the pipedream of everyone getting out of their cars and onto a bus or train to travel to work ignores the most significant asset in today's world: TIME. Transit serves less than 10% of our citizens and we currently spend more than 50% of our Transportation Trust funds on transit. And if this law passes, the days of building or expanding roads is over. (No hearing scheduled yet.)
HB 1338 Mandated Transportation Spending on Rail.
This bill requires the Governor to include at least $100,000,000 in the budget over the four-year period, FY 2018 - FY 2021, to finance improvements to Maryland Area Rail Commuter service.
HB 1274. New Program -- New Tax. This bill creates a new "Community Development Program -- and a new "Community Development Transfer Tax" to fund it. (No hearing scheduled yet.)
HB 1154 Establishes a new Strict Liability Claim.
This bill establishes a strict liability claim against manufacturers of lead pigment used in paint. The term "strict liability" means that someone can be held liable for injuries that they had no direct responsibility for causing.
The law states, "The manufacturer of lead pigment SHALL BE LIABLE . . . for damages caused by the presence of lead-based paint in a residential building" --
regardless of whether the lead-based paint in the building contains any lead pigment made or sold by the manufacturer. The manufacturer is liable if there is simply a
possibility that its product was present in the paint. And it is left up to the defendant manufacturer to "affirmatively" prove an impossibility (for instance if the company wasn't in business at the time).
The manufacturer is liable for damages to for personal injury to an individual, to the owner of the building required to abate the problem, lost rent, and reasonable costs for future testing and removal -- regardless of the building owner's personal culpability in using the paint in the building.
Individuals who owned the manufacturing company prior to the current owners are also liable.
In addition to an injured party, the State may also bring an action against a lead pigment manufacturer. (No hearing scheduled yet)
HB 891 What Happened to Accountability?
he state of Maryland operates one and subsidizes a second major transit system: it operates the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and pays one-third the cost of the Washington Metro system (WMATA).. No mode of transit in either system produces sufficient revenue to cover its operating costs -- including the Washington Metrorail system, which does the best at around 75%.
Nonetheless, in an effort to incentivize efficiency, the Legislature passed legislation creating a 50% "farebox recovery rate" for the MTA This meant that all of its transit modes collectively must recover 50% of their operating costs from the farebox. In the ensuing years, the MTA never came close.
Meeting the farebox recovery rate is a simple matter on paper - you raise the fare or lower the operating costs. But instead of insisting on a better performance, in 2008, the Legislature decided simply to lower the Farebox Recovery Rate -- to 35%. The MTA has never come close. And again, the legislature did nothing to require MTA to follow the law.
Here is an example of why the MTA can't meet its farebox recovery goal. In 2009, MTA's negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) came to an impasse and they were required to go to "binding arbitration," meaning that whatever the arbitrator decides is final. And in 2010, in the middle of the great recession, an arbitration board awarded employees of the ATU Local 1300 an hourly wage increase totaling 11.5% and an increase in pension benefits of approximately 40% And again, the legislature did nothing.
This year, it appears the legislature might once again address the MTA's failure to meet its farebox recovery requirement by passing HB 891. HB 891 would simply eliminate the requirement altogether. Well, at least then MTA and the legislature could stop worrying about it!
That's accountability? (No hearing scheduled yet.)
The "Bernie Sanders" college financing bill? As nice as the idea of free college may seem to parents facing the overwhelming financial prospect of putting 1, 2, 3 or more offspring through four years of college, having the State contribute to families earning as much as $225000 per year is not they way to go.