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Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, center, sits between Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, left, and House Speaker Michael Busch(AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Business sees mostly positives in legislative session

Praise for Augustine panel bills, dismay that ‘Angel’ credit dies

The 2015 General Assembly session that ended at midnight Tuesday didn’t create any new hurdles for companies in Maryland, but advocates still believe there is work to be done before the state is truly “open for business.”

There were no new mandates in terms of workforce regulation and a package of bills aimed at addressing concerns raised by a commission formed to improve the state’s business climate passed. The bills do not become law unless signed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“I would say overall this past session, I think, was a very positive session. We had some very positive pieces of legislation that passed,” said Mathew Palmer, senior vice president, government affairs at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Palmer said his organization was particularly happy about the passage of five bills coming from the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission — referred to as the Augustine Commission after its chairman, Norman Augustine. The bills address a variety of issues ranging from forming a commission to examine the impact of regulation on businesses to creating customer service training for front-line state workers.

“The big issue that our members have talked to us over the years, that it’s not so much what the regulations are, or what the statute says, it’s more of their interaction with the actual state workers that really impacts them, or a lack of customer service there,” Palmer said.

Business advocates were also encouraged by the defeat of a handful of bills they believe would have had a negative impact on businesses in the state. Those defeated proposals include mandating paid sick leave for workers, “combined reporting,” which would force businesses to report income from all subsidiaries to the state, and an effort to prevent Maryland’s estate tax from re-coupling with the federal estate tax by 2019 . These bills will almost certainly come back again next year.

But business interests didn’t get everything they wanted during the session. Legislation reducing the personal property tax burden on small businesses and a proposal to create an Angel Investor Tax Credit that would give a 50 percent credit on investments up to $50,000 in a developing “innovation company” both failed. There will also be a push next year to raise the cap on the state’s research and development tax credit.

Brian Levine, vice president, government relations at the Tech Council of Maryland, which advocates for the technology and life science sectors, said wins for these industries in this session was preserving economic development funding, maintaining the biotechnology tax credit and modernizing some telecommunication regulations.

“I can tell you that the overall tenor in Annapolis, I think, continues to improve. I’ve always thought that many legislators in the General Assembly were pro-business, at least when it came to issues related to the technology and life sciences community,” Levine said.

Some business advocates weren’t as impressed with the results of the session.

Duane Carey, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, described his reaction to the past 90 days as “not overly pleased.” He said there continue to be a tendency in Maryland government to want to interfere in areas where it shouldn’t be. He said a prime example of that is a bill that extends eligibility to expunge criminal records.

“The idea of expunging criminal records so that employers can’t have that knowledge when they’re evaluating perspective employees, that’s a pretty amazing example of: ’We’re the government. We know better than you. You can’t have this information,’” Carey said.

About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.