ANNAPOLIS — A bipartisan group of senators hopes to support small businesses in the legislature this year by boosting access to health insurance, improving government efficiency and taking a look at reforming the state tax code.
The Senate Small Business Work Group Wednesday unveiled its legislative proposals at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s Meet the State event in Annapolis.
The group of senators said they wanted to address policy issues that could help benefit the state’s small businesses.
“Last session, I identified a gap: the need to clarify and amplify small business and the jobs that they create, the small business voice,” Sen. Katie Fry Hester, D-Howard and Carroll and the work group’s leader, said at the event.
Hester led the work group, which heard from small business and local chambers of commerce during the sessions interim.
One of the proposals, sponsored by Hester, would provide $15 million in tax credits for small businesses shopping for health insurance through Maryland’s Small Business Health Options Program.
The legislation, which has not yet been drafted, would also include $2 million for outreach by Maryland Health Benefit Exchange so small business know about the available subsidies.
Creating more tax subsidies could help more small businesses, particularly those with 15 or fewer employees, buy coverage and help them compete for employees in a tight labor market, said Michele Eberle, the exchange’s director.
“The exchange has identified that those small businesses, particularly 15 and fewer employees, have really been left out of the efforts we have been doing as a state to promote health insurance and get people covered,” she said. “The smaller ones really don’t know what options are available to them and what benefits are available to them.”
These subsidies would be available to small businesses on a monthly basis. The exchange is also working on applying for a federal waiver that would allow federal subsidies for small businesses to be applied monthly.
Right now those subsidies can only be applied yearly, which the exchange has found challenging for small businesses.
Hester will also sponsor legislation aimed at reducing the regulatory burden for small businesses. One bill would allow state regulatory agencies to accept compliance with a similar and equally rigorous local regulation as compliance with duplicative state regulations. A second bill would let regulatory agencies reduce fines and penalties for small businesses that fix the problems that led to the fines.
Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, will file legislation to create a work group charged with exploring “new and innovative strategies” to attract businesses and train the workforce to meet the needs of the 21st century and what he called the fourth industrial revolution.
Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, will sponsor legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel to look at revising Maryland’s tax code.
Today’s tax code essentially reflects the code as written in the 1960s, Feldman said. He wants the state to rewrite it to reflect the 21st century economy.
That commission will “take a complete, holistic view of the tax code and come back with some recommendations to the governor,” Feldman said. The commission would keep “in mind and attempt to have a structure that reflects a 21st century economy but also takes into account where we are vis-a-vis our neighboring jurisdictions in terms of a business-friendly climate.”
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, would make pass-through entities eligible for the SALT deduction without the individual $10,000 cap.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, will sponsor legislation to create a single application for nonprofits applying for grants and procurement contracts. She believes this will help streamline the process and reduce costs for both the nonprofits and the state.
Some legislation will also look at adjusting previous big-ticket items passed by the legislature, like the $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave, to help certain small businesses.
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R-Eastern Shore, will sponsor a bill to tighten paid sick leave verifications for seasonal employees. She will also co-sponsor, along with Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert and Prince George’s, legislation to include produce stand and farmer’s market employees in the minimum wage’s agriculture exemption.