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Lawmakers anticipate reforms to DBED

Task force to release findings on how to make state business-friendly

Recommendations to overhaul the Department of Business and Economic Development and other business-friendly changes to government could be delivered to legislators as soon as early February, according to Del. Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County and the speaker pro tem of the House of Delegates.

Jones said that Democrats understand the message of the election and voter concerns about taxes and the economy.

“We’ve heard what our constituency has said,” Jones said. “We’ve heard from the business community.”

A committee established last year to examine ways to make the state more business-friendly is expected to continue its work through the fall. During that time, the group will study tax structure in the state “with the goal of creating and retaining more jobs in Maryland and helping Maryland businesses expand and grow,” Jones said.

Jones told a gathering of business and education leaders at a breakfast sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Committee that she expects the interim recommendations of the committee chaired by Norman Augustine to include:

• A new state government structure for the Department of Business and Economic Development that better aligns government with private-sector needs.

• Revisions to the regulatory process to better account for the impact on small businesses.

• Improved customer service in agencies that directly interact with business and the public.

The Augustine Commission, formed nearly a year ago by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., met around the state throughout the summer as part of its review of the business climate in the state.

While specifics of the expected recommendations were not available, the committee did discuss the potential for privatizing some or all of the functions of the Department of Business and Development.

The committee was expected to deliver recommendations in December. That report was delayed in order to expand the committee’s tasks to include a review of state tax structure.

Votes for sick days

Business leaders were also told that the votes appear to be in the Senate to pass a bill mandating paid sick leave for employees.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, D-Baltimore City and majority leader, is similar to federal legislation supported by President Barack Obama that would require businesses to provide sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked.

The bill has died in committee in each of the last two sessions. It’s supported by a number of organizations, including labor unions, but opposed by business groups.

Pugh said some companies have raised concerns about the ability to carry over the days or the amount of days, which would equal about seven days off.

“Of course, everything is negotiable,” Pugh said.

It is not clear if Hogan will support the bill if it is passed. Supporters have said they believe he would likely veto such a bill.

“We know we have the votes to get it passed, but we also want to make sure that this administration gets off to a good start and that we are cooperating with each other,” Pugh said.

Red and Purple Line evaluations

Fate of the multibillion-dollar Purple and Red Line rail projects continues to be up in the air.

Gov. Larry Hogan left money in the budget for both projects but called each a placeholder until the projects can be evaluated by his Transportation Secretary-designee Pete Rahn.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County and a member of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, told the gathering that there are concerns about ongoing costs for each project, including maintenance expenses

“I don’t think they’ve been completely addressed,” Szeliga said. “How much is it going to cost us annually? Can we afford this right now? That’s the question lawmakers have to look at very seriously. I would say it is not off the table, but I don’t think it will move forward without investigation of the full fiscal ramifications of building those lines.”

But supporters of the projects, including Pugh, said the lines represent important economic development opportunities and vowed to continue to advocate for both.

“It is a ball we can’t keep pushing down the road, I can tell you that,” Pugh said. “Transportation is essential in terms of jobs and job opportunities.”