James Richardson
Phone: +1 404 527 4086 Email: james.richardson@dentons.com

James Richardson serves as managing editor of Soap Box and as a managing director in Dentons' public policy and regulation practice. A former spokesman and advisor to Governors Haley Barbour and Jon Huntsman and the Republican National Committee, he has written for the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, USA Today, The Guardian, TIME, The Atlantic, Newsweek, GQ, CNN, Fox News, Politico, and others.


Read More

With budget signed, a look ahead at remainder of Wisconsin’s legislative session

The following comes by way of Dentons50 partner firm Capitol Consultants

Now that the budget has been signed and the type of vetoes that Governor Tony Evers has made are not compelling the Legislature back into session, attention now turns toward the remainder of the 2019-2020 Legislative Session.

Legislative Committee activity will drop in frequency for the next month, although some Committees will still meet. Committee activity then will ramp up again in August in preparation for the September, October and November floor dates.

2019-2020 Session Schedule at a Glance

January 7, 20192019 Inauguration
January 15Floorperiod
January 22-24Floorperiod
February 12-14Floorperiod
March 5-7Floorperiod
April 9-11Floorperiod
April 25Bills sent to governor
May 14-16Floorperiod
June 4-8Floorperiod
August 1
August 1
Nonbudget bills sent to governor
Budget bill sent to governor
September 17-26Floorperiod
October 8-10Floorperiod
November 5-14Floorperiod
December 5 Bills sent to governor
January 14-23, 2020Floorperiod
February 11-20Floorperiod
March 24-26Last general-business floorperiod
April 16Bills sent to governor

As of today:

  • Governor Evers has signed 10 bills into law, including the 2019-2021 Budget.
  • Vetoed 5 bills (4 abortion-related bills and a middle-income tax bill)
  • 15 bills await his signature or veto.
  • 334 bills have been introduced in the State Assembly
  • 315 bills have been introduced in the State Senate

Wisconsin Assembly passes budget on 60-39 vote

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner firm Capitol Consultants

After 10 hours of debate, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed the 2019-2021 Executive Budget on a 60 to 39 vote. All 36 Democrats and 3 Republicans voted against passage of the budget. Joining the Democrats, were Republican Representatives Janel Brantjen (R-Menomonee Falls), Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger) and Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport).

The amended legislation now moves on to the Wisconsin State Senate, which is scheduled to begin debate on the bill at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Democrats offered five amendments to the budget that were tabled on a party-line 63-35 vote (Representative David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, was not present).

Those amendments were:

  • Assembly Amendment 2: Health Care related amendment. Includes Medicaid expansion and other healthcare investments.
  • Assembly Amendment 3: K-12 related amendment. Funds special education at the level that Governor Evers proposed, plus other provisions.
  • Assembly Amendment 4: UW related amendment.
  • Assembly Amendment 5: Clean water related amendment
  • Assembly Amendment 6: Dark Store “loop hole” related amendment

After a lively 10-hour debate, Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Finance John Nygren (R-Marinette) noted the majority of the debate centered around issues that Assembly Democrats did not offer amendments on; like taxes, transportation funding, legalization of marijuana, shared revenue and increasing funding for stewardship

SCOTUS upholds redrawn Va. House of Delegates district lines

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Capital Results in Richmond

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal on Monday from Republicans in Virginia’s House of Delegates in a ruling that will uphold redrawn district boundaries that likely will make this fall’s state elections tougher for Republican candidates.

In a 5-4 vote, the high court ruled that the House lacked standing to appeal a lower court’s determination that legislators had racially gerrymandered 11 House districts. The court’s majority wrote that the Virginia attorney general’s office, led by Democrat Mark Herring, has the authority to represent the commonwealth in the matter but had opted not to do so.

The ruling is expected to roil election campaigns currently under way, with Republicans fighting to maintain their slim majorities (51-49 in the House of Delegates, and 21-19 in the state Senate).

For many longtime legislators, Monday’s ruling means that they will be campaigning for re-election in districts that are unfamiliar, and where many of the voters may not know who they are.

The 11 House districts determined to be racially gerrymandered were all occupied by Democrats, who claimed that Republicans had packed black voters into those districts in order to dilute their influence in surrounding districts, providing Republicans with an advantage to retain control.  Three of the affected districts are in the Richmond area; one district is in Petersburg, south of Richmond; and six are in Hampton Roads, which includes the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

With the redrawn boundaries now in effect, many Virginia Republicans will find themselves fighting in new territory in order to retain control of the chamber. House Speaker Kirk Cox and Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, who oversaw the House’s redistricting effort in 2011, are particularly vulnerable in districts that now feature considerably more Democratic-leaning voters.

Democrats, who hold all three executive offices, are looking to build on the electoral gains they posted in 2017 and assume control of one – or both – chambers in Virginia’s bicameral legislature.

The general election is set for Nov. 5, 2019, and the legislature will undertake its decennial redistricting in the 2021 session.

Everything you need to know about Virginia’s primary election

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Capital Results in Virginia.

Republicans currently hold the slimmest of majorities in the Virginia House of Delegates (51-49) and Senate (21-19). With several veteran legislators announcing they would not seek re-election, both parties have identified this election year as an opportunity to flip seats or install new standard-bearers in key districts.

The biggest upset of the night occurred in the Democratic primary for Richmond’s Senate District 16, where former Del. Joe Morrissey trounced party favorite and incumbent Rosalyn Dance by 13 percentage points. Morrissey, an antagonistic and colorful attorney, has a checkered history; he once was disbarred for fighting another attorney at a courthouse, and in 2015, he served in the House while on work-release from jail for charges stemming from a sex scandal with a teenager whom he eventually married. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, also a former governor, all campaigned for Dance.

The Senate’s Democratic Majority Leader, Dick Saslaw, barely survived a challenge from liberal activist Yasmine Taeb in the nominating contest for northern Virginia’s District 35. Saslaw, who has served in the Senate since 1980, raised nearly $2 million to Taeb’s $178,000. In the end, he earned about 500 more votes to secure the nomination. No Republicans have filed to challenge him in November.

On the Republican side, Sen. Emmett Hangar fended off an intense challenge from Tina Freitas, wife of Republican Del. Nick Freitas, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate last year. Tina Freitas campaigned heavily against Sen. Hanger’s years-long support of Medicaid expansion. Hanger, however, relied on his deep ties in the community and a pragmatic business sense to ride a nearly 15-percentage point margin to victory.

Republican Del. Bob Thomas didn’t fare as well for his support of Medicaid expansion. The Fredericksburg-area delegate was upended by Paul Milde, a former member of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors and strident opponent of Medicaid expansion. Milde edged Thomas by about 160 votes and will face Democrat Joshua Cole in the general election. While traditionally a Republican-leaning district, Democrats have made significant gains here in recent years.

The Republican nominating contest between Del. Chris Peace and challenger Scott Wyatt remains undecided. Peace also voted for Medicaid expansion and has enjoyed House caucus support. But Senate Republican leaders have lined up behind Wyatt, highlighting divisions between the party’s legislative leaders. Wyatt also carried Tea Party support and claimed victory at a May 4 convention for the nomination, while Peace claimed a firehouse primary victory on June 1. The outcome may not be resolved for weeks.

All 140 seats in the bicameral legislature are up for a vote in the general election on Nov. 5, 2019.

That’s a wrap on Connecticut’s 2019 legislative session

The Connecticut General Assembly wrapped up its 2019 regular session on Wednesday, June 6th with a flurry of bills passed in both chambers shortly before the House and Senate adjourned Sine Die.

In the end, many of the big ticket pieces of legislation Gov. Lamont and Democratic leaders had prioritized on the campaign trail did not materialize. Tolls, legalized sports betting, legalized recreational marijuana, and an increase in the state’s renewable portfolio standard all failed to make it to a vote on the floor of either chamber.

Despite falling short on those issues, however, the Democrats still racked up some significant accomplishments. After years of attempts, legislation authorizing a comprehensive paid family medical leave program was finally passed in both chambers. Lawmakers also voted to raise the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour, authorized the procurement of 2000 MW of offshore wind energy, and raised the smoking age to twenty-one.

What’s next now that the regular session has wrapped up? Lawmakers will head back to their districts to rest and meet with constituents, and will then be called back for at least two special sessions. One session will cover tolls, and the other will cover bonding and school construction. 

Paid family and medical leave passes Ct. Senate with threat of veto

After 6 hours of debate, the Senate passed Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation. The bill creates a quasi-public agency to oversee the funds gathered from a .5% tax on payroll, and funds up to 12 weeks of paid time off for an individual in need of time away from work. The bill passed with a margin of 21 to 15. Gov. Ned Lamont has already come forward to say that in its current form, he would veto the bill, putting a damper on what Senate Democratic leaders have called a major legislative victory. 

Under current FMLA laws, a company with 75 or more employees must offer paid time off, but this bill would extend FMLA to all private employees. Payroll deductions would begin Oct. 1, 2020, and paid leave would begin Jan. 1, 2022. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that funding an agency to administer the program would cost $18.6 million a year, which would come out of the payroll deduction.

During the Senate debate, Democrats emphasized the benefits that Paid Family and Medical Leave would provide. “This bill will provide working families with time off to take care of their kids with wage replacement, so that they don’t have to pick between their family members and a paycheck,” remarked Sen. Julie Kushner. Republicans attacked the idea of a state-administered program of this magnitude as unnecessary and unwieldy.

Governor Lamont ran on a platform that included the passage of a paid FMLA program. He has threatened to veto the bill because of its creation of a new quasi-public entity to oversee the program. Governor Lamont would prefer to put oversight of the program out to bid to an insurance carrier. 

Minnesota legislature adjourns regular session ‘in a whimper’

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Hill Capitol Strategies in Minnesota.

After nearly six months of committee hearings, floor sessions, long debates and a modern-day record of bill introductions, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, “the Session ended in a whimper.” 

On Sunday, with less than 30 hours left before the constitutionally mandated end of the 2019 Legislative Session, the House, Senate, and Governor came to a budget agreement and global budget targets.  In a normal year, conference committees at that point in a session would have already resolved many of their policy differences and come to tenuous agreements on many of the provisions within each bill. However, this year’s general stalemate between the DFL Governor, DFL House and GOP Senate was too difficult to overcome. 

When the Constitutionally mandated deadline was reached at midnight Monday, the Minnesota Senate had passed two of the ten budget bills necessary to fully fund state government.  The House, like the Senate was able pass the Higher Education Omnibus Finance Bill and send the bill to the Governor. However, the House was unable to pass the Agriculture and Housing Omnibus Finance Bill before the midnight deadline.  This means most of the state government remains unfunded, the Legislature must pass the budget prior to July 1st, which is the start of the new biennium.  

For a session which started with bipartisan commitments to greater transparency, new deadlines intended to help move the budget process along and talk of easy early legislative wins, this session will likely go down as one of the least transparent sessions in the modern history of the state.  The late agreement of budget targets led to a final day of closed-door negotiations between members of the Legislature and the Walz Administration.  

Only two budget conference committees were able to meet a 5 pm Monday deadline to complete their work.  The failure of the remaining 8 Conference Committees resulted in what can only be described as individual budget tribunals involving the Governor, Senate Majority Leader, the Speaker of the House and the individual conference committee chairs.  It was suggested Leadership and the Governor would use these meetings to resolve any outstanding issues and close-up the budget bills. However, it doesn’t appear as though these meetings resulted in any final agreements.  

As it stands, larger bills, like the more than 1000-page Health and Human Services Omnibus Finance Bill and the Tax Omnibus Bill, must still be negotiated.  Numerous controversial policy provisions remain undecided in virtually every budget bill. While Conference Committee reports cannot be amended when heard on the floor of the House and Senate, during a Special Session the slate is wiped clean, and every bill must be reintroduced before being put to a vote. 

It is unclear as to exactly when the Governor will call a Special Session, House and Senate Leadership have both mentioned a possible one-day Session on Thursday, May 23rd. However, in order to complete their work quickly, the minority party in both bodies must agree to provide the votes necessary to suspend the rules and process legislation.  It appears unlikely the House Minority Leader is willing to help the House DFL pass the budget, especially given his exclusion from any of the budget negotiations. It does not appear one day will be enough to settle all the outstanding differences.

Minnesota special session adjourns until next year

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Hill Capitol Strategies in Minnesota.

At 6:57 Saturday morning, a rare Memorial Day Weekend Special Session adjourned.  The 10 remaining budget bills were adopted during the 21-hour Special Session.  The following budget bills and a pension bill were adopted:

·         Taxes

·         E-12 Education

·         Health & Human Services

·         Environment & Natural Resources

·         Public Safety & Judiciary

·         Jobs & Energy

·         Transportation

·         Agriculture & Housing

·         State Government Finance & Veterans Affairs

·         Legacy

·         Pensions

The Global Budget Agreement reached between the Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader included passing a $500 million Capital Investment or Bonding Bill, however the bill was not brought forward for a vote in either body.  While the initial response from the Minority Leaders in both bodies was to not provide the votes necessary to suspend the rules and allow for a quick session, in the end private discussions likely led to some non-public agreements with the minority.  The outcome of those discussions and any agreements may never be made public or they could include changes we won’t see until the Legislature returns in 2020.  Whatever those discussions were, minority members in both bodies did offer a handful of amendments to various bills.  Those amendments were not adopted and the Legislature was able to meet the 7 am adjournment time agreed to with the Governor.  The Governor will sign the bills as they are presented to him this week

The new budget goes into effect on July 1, 2019.  The Legislature is not scheduled to return until noon, Tuesday, February 11, 2020.  Numerous House Committees have indicated an interest in conducting hearings or listening sessions over the Interim.  With the end of the Regular Session, Minnesota’s prohibition on fundraising from Lobbyists and Political Action Committees during the session also goes away.  It certainly didn’t take long for the mailbox to fill with invites to numerous fundraising events. 

Sine Die in Maryland: policy, political highlights from this year’s legislative session

The following deep dive comes by way of Dentons 50 partner firm Mannis Canning & Associates.

The 2019 General Assembly Session came to a close at midnight on April 8. This session was the first of a new four year term with a total of 60 legislators out of 188 beginning their role as a new senator or delegate and with several changes in committee chairmanships. The session was also an emotional one as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. announced he had prostate cancer at the start and House Speaker Michael E. Busch passed away the day prior to Sine Die.

A total of 2,481 pieces of legislation were introduced – 1,051 originating in the Senate1,430 originating in the House, 16 Joint Resolutions, and two simple resolutions.  Of this number, the General Assembly passed 864 pieces of legislation and 2 resolutions.

Legislators focused on balancing the fiscal year 2019 budget, increasing the minimum wage, expanding opportunity zones, laying the ground work for increased funding for K-12 education, banning the use of polystyrene, and moderating the costs of prescription drugs to name a few.

Becoming more of a trend with a Republican Governor and Democratic majority in the General Assembly, a number of bills were passed and presented to the Governor at the end of March/early April to provide sufficient time for the General Assembly to override any potential vetoes. Of the bills presented, the Governor vetoed four bills on March 27 and one bill on April 4, all of which were overridden by the General Assembly. Legislation referred to as the “Federal Shutdown Paycheck Protection Act” had broad support and was passed and signed by the Governor the end of March.

With the early presentment of bills, one bill signing was held prior to the end of session on March 26. The traditional bill signing, which is held the day after session, was canceled this year to appropriately honor Speaker Busch and other bill signings were scheduled following his services. Bill signings have been scheduled for April 18, April 30, and May 13.

Below is a summary of some of the major issues that passed the 2019 General Assembly Session. A more detailed overview of significant legislation that passed and failed can be found in the Department of Legislative Services 90 Day Report.

Fiscal Year 2020 Budget

The fiscal year 2020 budget as enacted by the General Assembly (House Bill 100) totals $46.6 billion, a 4% increase from fiscal year 2019. The general fund budget, the portion supported by tax related revenues such as the income tax, sales tax, and state lottery, accounts for 41.6% of the total budget or $17.9 billion. The general fund budget is subject to volatility as its revenue sources are directly affected by the economy. The term structural deficit or shortfall often refers to the gap between general fund expenditures and general fund revenues.  Significant revenue over attainment mostly eliminated any cash and structural shortfalls for fiscal 2020, but projections for fiscal 2021 indicate a structural deficit returning of more than $1.4 billion.

Following submission of the Governor’s budget, revenues were revised downward by the Board of Revenue Estimates resulting in a larger than expected shortfall. To keep the budget in balance, the Governor introduced a supplemental budget to make some adjustments and House Bill 1407 – the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2019 was introduced to address the revenue shortfall and fund certain budget priorities.

The budget as enacted by the General Assembly leaves a $118.2 million general fund balance and a structural surplus of $26 million at the end of fiscal year 2020. $1.1 billion is preserved in the State’s Rainy Day fund and state spending was constrained in preparation for fiscal 2021.  State support for public schools is a record $7 billion and total state aid for primary and secondary education will increase by an estimated $435.2 million. The budget dedicates at least $255 million to support the fiscal 2020 recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission) and funding for school construction, both operating and capital, is $500 million. To achieve these funding levels, the General Assembly repurposed $182.2 million in general funds and $101 million in special funds to provide $104.8 million for Kirwan, $127 million for school construction in the operating budget, and $25 million for housing programs originally funded with taxable bonds in the capital budget. The budget also directs the Governor to process a budget amendment to provide an additional $150.3 million to implement recommendations of the Kirwan Commission.  Additional funding for Kirwan may be provided by Senate Bill 728/House Bill 1301 which requires a marketplace facilitator and a market place seller to collect and remit the State sales tax. Revenues in excess of $100 million are to be distributed to “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund” created through the Kirwan legislation.

Other budget priorities include Medicaid funding to provide coverage to 1.4 million residents, an additional $80 million targeted at substance use disorder treatment, and funding to moderate tuition increases at Maryland’s public four-year colleges and universities.

Additional information on the fiscal year 2020 budget as enacted by the General Assembly can be found in the Budget and State Aid section of the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) 90 Day Report.

Income and Sales Tax Legislation

Opportunity Zone Enhancement Program

The Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 established the Qualified Opportunity Zones Program to incentivize private investment in distressed communities. These zones are specified areas designated as a federal opportunity zone under Section 1400Z-1 of the Internal Revenue Code. Senate Bill 581 establishes the Opportunity Zone Enhancement Program which provides qualifying businesses within an opportunity zone enhanced incentives under the following tax credit programs: (1) job creation; (2) One Maryland; (3) enterprise zone; (4) biotechnology investment incentive; (5) cybersecurity investment incentive; and (6) More Jobs for Marylanders.

The bill also extends the More Jobs for Marylanders program by two years and expands the program’s geographic and business eligibility criteria. Additionally, the bill extends the geographic eligibility for a number of other State economic development/tax credit and financing programs available for priority funding areas and/or sustainable communities to include opportunity zones in Allegany, Garrett, Somerset, and Wicomico counties.

Remote Sales Tax Collection

Senate Bill 728/House Bill 1301 requires an online marketplace facilitator and a marketplace seller to collect and remit the State sales and use tax under specified circumstances. The need for this legislation results from the South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. decision where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a South Dakota law requiring remote sellers with sales over $100,000 or with more than 200 different transactions to residents in the state to collect the state’s sales tax. Effective October 1, 2018, regulations promulgated by the Comptroller require a similar threshold for the collection of sales tax by out-of-state vendors who sell tangible personal property or taxable services for delivery in Maryland. However, the regulations did not address the collection of sales tax by online marketplace facilitators that host third-party marketplace sellers.

In addition to requiring the collection and remittance of the State sales tax, the bill establishes tax collection and licensing requirements for marketplace facilitators and marketplace sellers. The first $100.0 million in sales taxes collected from marketplace facilitators and certain out-of-state vendors is to be distributed to the General Fund.  Any revenue in excess of $100.0 million from these sales taxes is required to be distributed to The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund to fund K-12 education.

Business and Labor

Alcohol and Tobacco Commission

Legislation that passed in 2018 established the Task Force to Study State Alcohol Regulation, Enforcement, Safety, and Public Health. The task force was required to examine whether the Comptroller’s Office, the Office that currently regulates the alcoholic beverage industry and enforces the laws, is the most appropriate agency to carry out these activities or if another entity should perform this function. In its final report, the task force recommended establishing a new separate agency in charge of regulating and enforcing alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel laws in the State.

House Bill 1052 (Ch. 12) implements this recommendation and establishes the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC). The commission is granted various powers and duties, including (1) educating the public on topics related to using and consuming tobacco products and alcoholic beverages; (2) ensuring that all alcoholic beverages sold in the State with an alcohol content exceeding 4.5% by volume bear a large and conspicuous label stating the percentage of alcohol content; (3) conducting certain studies; and (4) developing best practices for various topics related to alcoholic beverages regulation. The Act also transfers the Field Enforcement Division and the personnel of the division from the Comptroller’s Office to the commission. House Bill 1052 was presented to and vetoed by the Governor in late March.  The General Assembly overrode the veto and the bill became Chapter 12 of the Acts of 2019.

Minimum Wage

One of Democratic Leadership’s legislative priorities, Senate Bill 280/House Bill 166 (Chs. 10 and 11) increase the State minimum wage rate to $15.00 per hour. For employers with 15 or more employees, this will occur in six increments until the full phase-in is reached on January 1, 2025. For employers with 14 or fewer employees, the wage rate reaches full phase-in after eight increments on July 1, 2026. The Board of Public Works (BPW), however, may temporarily suspend one scheduled increase in the State minimum wage for one year between October 1, 2020, and October 1, 2024, if it determines that the seasonally adjusted total employment is negative as compared with the previous six-month period. If total adjusted employment is negative, BPW may also consider the recent performance of State revenues in making its determination.

Senate Bill 280/House Bill 166 were presented to and vetoed by the Governor in late March.  The General Assembly overrode the veto and the bills became Chapter 10 and 11 of the Acts of 2019.

Education

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education – Kirwan Commission)

Senate Bill 1030 extends the term of the Kirwan Commission and establishes The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future as a policy to transform Maryland’s education system and align it with the recommendations in the commission’s January 2019 interim report. The fiscal 2020 budget provides funding for multiple programs and entities established under The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future: (1) $75.0 million for teacher salary incentive grants; (2) $65.5 million for the education of students with disabilities; (3) $54.6 million for concentration of poverty school grants; (4) $31.7 million to expand full-day prekindergarten for four-year-olds; (5) $23.0 million to provide transitional supplemental instruction grants; (6) $2.5 million for teacher collaborative grants; (7) $2.0 million to fund a full-time mental health services coordinator for each local school system; (8) $689,137 for an Office of Inspector General for Education; (9) $500,000 to expand MSDE’s direct certification IT system to include Medicaid data; and (10) $250,000 for outreach and training on The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

While provisions in the fiscal 2020 State operating budget, and in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, House Bill 1407 (Ch. 16), restrict and direct funds to cover the $251.6 million increase in State aid (as well as other provisions), funding of these fiscal 2020 enhancements is at the discretion of the Governor. In total, approximately $255.0 million is made available through separate legislation to implement The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in fiscal 2020, contingent on enactment of Senate Bill 1030. Section 47 of the fiscal 2020 budget bill restricts $100.8 million in Education Trust Fund (ETF) lockbox funds to specific purposes. It also expresses legislative intent that the Governor process a budget amendment to appropriate $134.5 million in special funds set aside in fiscal 2019 to implement the Commission’s recommendations.

Public School Calendar

On August 31, 2016, the Governor issued Executive Order 01.01.2016.09 (later amended by Executive Order 01.01.2016.13) requiring the local boards of education to open schools following the Labor Day holiday and conclude the school year by June 15, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year. During the 2018 session, legislation was introduced and passed to authorize a local board of education to extend the school year for up to five school days beyond June 15 without approval from the State Board of Education. Senate Bill 128, the Community Control of School Calendars Act, repeals the 2018 legislation and instead requires each local board of education to set start and end dates each year for public schools in the county. This again provides flexibility to the local boards of education to determine the start and end dates for the school year no longer complying with the Executive Order. Senate Bill 128 was presented to and vetoed by the Governor in late March.  The General Assembly overrode the veto prior to the end of session and the bill became Chapter 13 Acts of 2019.

Environment and Natural Resources

Polystyrene Ban

Expanded polystyrene foam is often used in food product packaging. Senate Bill 285/House Bill 109 prohibit (1) a person from selling or offering for sale in the State an “expanded polystyrene food service product” and (2) a “food service business,” which includes specified businesses, institutional cafeterias, or schools from selling or providing food or beverages in an expanded polystyrene food service product. To ease the financial burden placed on business entities, MDE may grant to a food service business or school a waiver from the bills’ prohibition for up to one year if MDE determines that compliance would present an undue hardship or a practical difficulty that is not generally applicable to other food service businesses or schools in similar circumstances.

Maryland is the first state to impose a statewide ban on these products.

Renewable Energy

Senate Bill 516 increases the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) from 25% by 2020 to 50% by 2030. Effective October 1, 2019, the bill reestablishes the expired Tier 2 of the RPS as an additional requirement to include electricity from large hydroelectric sources for two years, in 2019 and 2020. New offshore wind capacity is required beginning with at least 400 megawatts in 2026, increasing to at least a cumulative 800 megawatts in 2028, and to at least a cumulative 1,200 megawatts in 2030, along with goals and reporting requirements for minority business enterprise and minority workforce participation. The carve-out for solar increases to 5.5% in 2019, with further annual increases until the solar carve-out reaches 14.5% in 2028. Electric cooperatives are exempt from any solar carve-out increase beyond 2.5%. To control ratepayer impacts, the bill reduces Tier 1 Alternative Compliance Payments (ACP) beginning in 2019; by 2029, solar and nonsolar Tier 1 ACPs reach parity. ACP revenue remains dedicated to supporting new renewable energy sources in the State, but under the bill, those new renewable energy sources also must be owned by or must directly benefit low-income residents.

Oyster Sanctuaries

House Bill 298 establishes in statute a network of five oyster sanctuaries (in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, the Tred Avon River, the St. Mary’s River, and the Manokin River) and prohibits catching oysters in or removing oyster seed from the five sanctuaries or those established in regulation by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The bill also establishes requirements and deadlines relating to restoration plans for the five identified sanctuaries.

House Bill 298 was presented to and vetoed by the Governor in early April. The General Assembly overrode the veto prior to the end of session and the bill became Chapter 17 Acts of 2019.

Health

Prescription Drug Transparency and Affordability

House Bill 768 establishes a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to address issues of transparency and affordability.  The board must conduct a study on the entire pharmaceutical distribution and payment system and policy options being used in other states and countries. The board must also collect publicly available information and data and enter into memoranda of understanding with other states to collect data in order to identify prescription drug products that may cause affordability issues. The board may conduct a cost review of each identified drug product. If the board determines that it is in the best interest of Maryland to implement a process for setting upper payment limits on prescription drug products, the board must draft a plan of action to implement the process and submit the plan to the Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) for approval. If LPC does not approve the plan within 45 days, the board must submit the plan to the Governor and the Attorney General for their approval. The board may not set upper payment limits before getting approval of the plan.

Opioid Treatment Services

House Bill 116 establishes programs for opioid use disorder screening, evaluation, and treatment (specifically medication-assisted treatment) in local correctional facilities and in the Baltimore Pre-trial Complex. The program begins in four counties and phases in to include all counties and the Baltimore Pre-trial Complex by January 2023. The State must fund the programs of opioid use disorder screening, examination, and treatment of inmates, and the bill establishes requirements for screening and treatment. By November 1, 2020, and annually thereafter, GOCCP must report specified data to the General Assembly from local correctional facilities.

Survey of TN Political Insiders Offers Glimpse Into Most Influential Policy Shapers

Ed. note: The following survey and analysis comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Adam Nickas of Capitol Resources

Dentons 50 partner firm Capitol Resources conducted an anonymous survey on the news source, policy and advocacy organization preferences and habits of Tennessee policy insiders. The purpose of this survey was to discover what sources are considered most valuable and trustworthy by policy makers and shapers.

Survey recipients included state legislators and their staff, elected and appointed executive branch leaders and their staff, education officials from colleges and universities from across the state, municipal and local government leaders and registered lobbyists and organizations. While not inclusive of all policy organizations, the survey asked about twenty-five (25) specific statewide organizations and associations. 223 individuals responded to the survey.

In regards to exposure, 67% of participants indicated they regularly or often see or hear of the Beacon Center of Tennessee mentioned in connection with state or local policy issues. 63% indicated the same for the Tennessee Medical Association and 58.6% for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce.

The Tennessee Medical Association (86%), Tennessee Chamber of Commerce (80%), Beacon Center of Tennessee (80%), and Tennessee Hospital Association (80%) were identified as being influential in the formulation and debate of public policy at either a high or moderate level.

Among those entities that are either regularly or often studied, cited, or utilized by policy insiders, Tennessee Medical Association (49.7%), Tennessee Hospital Association (37.58%), Tennessee Chamber of Commerce (36.95%), and Beacon Center of Tennessee (32.5%) came out on top.

“The economy, health care and public safety clearly dominate the policy conversation in Tennessee,” said Adam Nickas of Capitol Resources’ Tennessee office.

“These findings fall in lockstep with the priorities Governor Bill Lee has set forth.  His focus on criminal justice reform, decreasing health care costs, and increasing vocational training and workforce development will provide these organizations the opportunity of becoming more influential in shaping public policy moving forward.”

Capitol Resources, LLC is one of the most comprehensive and successful government relations firms in the country and offers the full spectrum of lobbying and public affairs services tailored to meet the needs of their diverse array of clients.  With offices in nine states and Washington, D.C., their clients include Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, mission-driven non-profits and key trade associations. Capitol Resources is part of the Dentons 50 Network. 

The survey was conducted from July to October of 2018.