2021 Maryland General Assembly Update Week Seven: Mass Vaccinations on the Shore, Halfway Mark Hearings on Tourism, the Environment, and Small Businesses
As the lyrical genius Bon Jovi said, “Woah, we're halfway there.” We have officially reached the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session. The committee and Senate Floor work is picking up the pace as we approach the Crossover Week deadline on March 22. This week Senator Carozza thanked the Hogan Administration for their announcement that a mass vaccination site will be located at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury. Carozza also participated in bill hearings for legislation to increase tourism in Maryland, protect the environment, and provide relief to small businesses.
SHORE MASS VACCINATION SITE
Senator Mary Beth Carozza today said that Governor Hogan’s decision to locate the COVID-19 mass vaccination site at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center will benefit thousands of Shore constituents who are opting to receive the vaccine.
“I encourage my constituents to take advantage of having a COVID-19 mass vaccination site right here in Salisbury, the crossroads of Delmarva,” said Senator Carozza, who thanked Governor Hogan and his Administration for ‘prioritizing our Shore seniors,’ noting that an estimated 20 percent of District 38 residents were over the age of 65, according to Census data.
“I am continuing to push for increased vaccine availability for my constituents and will not rest until all my constituents who want a vaccine are able to receive one. I encourage my constituents to receive the vaccine when it becomes available as we work together for a full COVID-19 recovery,” added Carozza.
Senator Carozza is assisting constituents as they navigate the COVID-19 vaccine registration process. She encourages them to contact their local health departments and utilize state resources such as covidvax.maryland.gov and 1-855-MDGOVAX (1-855-634-6829).
BALLOON RELEASE BILL HEARING
Senate Bill 716—Solid Waste Management – Prohibition on Releasing a Balloon Into the Atmosphere was heard in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 24 and prohibits the intentional release of a balloon into the atmosphere. Delegate Wayne Hartman has introduced the legislation in the House of Delegates as House Bill 391 and it passed on February 16, 2021, with a vote of 94-34.
“The purpose of Senate Bill 716 is to educate individuals on the harmful effects that balloons have on our environment including killing wildlife, causing power outages, and polluting our trees and waterways,” testified Senator Carozza, noting that she participates in beach cleanups in Ocean City and supported similar legislation last session. “I urge my colleagues and committee members to pass this common-sense and bipartisan legislation to protect our birds, sea-life, and of course, our beloved Assateague ponies.”
This legislation applies to any person over the age of 13, a corporation, a partnership, an association, a nonprofit entity, the State, or any unit or political subdivision of the State. This bill does not apply to the negligent or unintentional release of a balloon or balloons released for scientific or meteorological purposes.
Testifying alongside Senator Carozza was Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce President Kerrie Bunting. Kerrie has been a long-time advocate for prohibiting the release of balloons and originally brought the issue to Senator Carozza’s and Delegate Hartman’s attention. Assateague Island Alliance Board President Nancy Gaither submitted written testimony in support of the bill and provided critical background information and photos on the impact of balloon releases on Shore wildlife.
“While our unique location in the state affords us the unfortunate opportunity to witness birds, fish, turtles, Assateague ponies, and seals perish because they eat or became entangled in a balloon and its string, animals everywhere face this possibility, Kerrie Bunting noted. “Local farmers tell tales of their horses eating the balloon or getting spooked by one and harming themselves. This issue is not specific to aquatic environs, all animals are at risk and litter can happen anywhere.”
“Horses have been seen to ingest anything offered to them as they are curious, which is beyond troubling and, of course, the balloons wreak havoc with sea animals. Additionally, balloons that are released can be found in quantities on the beach and our supporters are known for collecting them to dispose of properly,” testified Nancy Gaither, who shared the photo of pony Alexandria’s Angel with a balloon in her mouth on Assateague Island.
Senate Bill 716 is bipartisan and has the support of the Maryland Coastal Bays Foundation, the Assateague Coastal Trust, the Assateague Island Alliance, the Ocean City Surf Club, the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, the Humane Society, the Maryland Farm Bureau, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Zoo, and the Ocean Pines Chamber of Commerce.
TOURISM TAX RELIEF
Senator Carozza testified in strong support of Senate Bill 730— Income Tax - Credit for Travel, Hospitality, and Entertainment Expenses in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 24. The legislation was introduced by Senator George Edwards of Garrett County and provides State income tax credits to Marylanders who travel within the state and spend money on hospitality-related purchases. Senator Carozza is the lead cosponsor of Senate Bill 730, and Delegate Wayne Hartman is the House sponsor of the same bill.
“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on our economy, especially the tourism sector. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 15.8 million travel-related jobs in the U.S. have been lost due to the pandemic. This has resulted in an industry unemployment rate of 51 percent which is more than twice the rate our country experienced as a whole during the Great Depression,” Senator Carozza testified, noting that Maryland lost 34,000 jobs in the accommodation and food services industries between February and November 2020.
“This tax credit would incentivize Marylanders to travel within the state and would increase sales, accommodations, admissions, and amusement tax revenue. Our tourism community in Maryland, hard hit by the pandemic, would benefit from this tax credit,” added Carozza.
The original legislation as proposed would allow individuals to claim a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the qualified expenses incurred during qualified travel, not to exceed $4,000 for an individual, or $8,000 for married couples who filed jointly, plus $500 for each dependent child. Given concerns about the fiscal impact, an amendment was introduced alongside both versions of the bill reducing the individual credit to $500 and the couple or individual with dependent children would be changed to $1000.
This legislation states that the in-state travel must occur at least 50 miles from the principal residence of the individual, and purchases are limited to food and beverage, lodging, transportation, tickets for live entertainment, or expenses related to attending a conference or business meeting. The Maryland Tourism Coalition reports that tourism supports 226,000 direct and indirect jobs, making it the 11th largest industry in the state. Without tourism in the State of Maryland, each household would pay $1,175 more in local taxes. In 2020, Worcester County alone contributed $238.4 million in state and local revenue and provided 10,929 tourism-related jobs.
“This is a win, win, win for Maryland. We would accelerate Maryland’s tourism recovery and save jobs, boost the state’s overall economy, and have Marylanders discover new parts of Maryland while spending our vacation money in Maryland.”
SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF
The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Senator Mary Beth Carozza’s Senate Bill 594— Labor and Employment - Maryland Healthy Working Families Act – Verification on Thursday, February 25. This targeted legislation allows employers to require verification of the appropriate use of paid sick leave by seasonal employees during the 107th- 120th day of employment.
“Our seasonal employers continue to be challenged by the current seasonal exemption of 106 days. I continue to push for relief to cover 120 days of seasonal employment to reflect the true timeframe of the season to include the shoulder season and the time needed to train workers before the season starts,” testified Senator Carozza, noting that the legislation was a product of the work of the bipartisan Senate Small Business Workgroup.
This legislation would authorize a seasonal employer to require verification that earned sick and safe leave is used appropriately by an employee when the leave is used during the period between the first 107 and 120 calendar days if the employer provided written notice about the verification requirement at the time the employee was hired. An employer may deny an employee’s request to take earned sick and safe leave during that period if an employee fails or refused to provide any verification required by the employer.
“This is an important priority for Maryland’s seasonal employers especially during the hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Carozza added.
Testifying alongside Senator Carozza in support of Senate Bill 594 was Mother’s Cantina owner Ryan James from Ocean City, who highlighted the importance of this legislation to keep his business safe and running, and representatives from the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce and the Maryland Restaurant Association.
“It’s my duty to give employees time off to recover from sickness. I am happy to provide that time. But I need to know they are being treated and healthy enough to return to work. If an employee returns to work without being treated, they could be putting their coworkers and customers at risk for sickness…Senate bill 594 helps me protect my staff, my customers, and the wellness of the whole team,” Ryan James testified.
CONSTITUENTS CONFIRMED BY SENATE
As a State Senator, Senator Carozza has the opportunity to vote on constituents who are appointed and reappointed by Governor Larry Hogan to serve on various boards and commissions throughout the State of Maryland. This week, Senator Carozza voted to confirm Carolyn Hall to the Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners, Martha Pusey to the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners, and Anna Giles Newton to the Wor-Wic Community College Board of Trustees. Their confirmation votes took place on Friday, February 26.
SHORE VIRTUAL VISITORS
Senator Mary Beth Carozza hosted a virtual meeting with Senate Pages from District 38. The Maryland General Assembly Student Page program is virtual for the 2021 legislative session to keep the participating students safe and healthy. Senate Pages are responsible for providing vital services to the legislature and have the opportunity to work directly with elected officials. The District 38 Senate Pages for the 2021 legislative session are Margaret Harkins and Tenley Pelot (Parkside High School), Eric Cropper (Stephen Decatur High School), Mary Sigrist (Pocomoke High School), and Xavier King (Washington High School).