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(Feb. 12, 2021) The Maryland General Assembly 2021 legislation session continues to be defined by the coronavirus pandemic and the pursuit of economic relief.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s $1 billion coronavirus emergency stimulus and tax relief package, known as Senate Bill 496, passed on Feb. 5.

“Passing this emergency covid-19 relief and stimulus package now to assist struggling Maryland families and small businesses should be the top priority of every member of the Maryland General Assembly,” said Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), who co-sponsored the legislation. “I am completely committed to working with the governor and members of the legislature from both sides of the political aisle to fast-track this emergency legislation and move these needed funds to those who have been hardest hit by covid-19. Now that the Senate has unanimously approved the emergency covid-19 assistance package, I call on the House of Delegates to act now on this much-needed relief so it can go into immediate effect.”

Carozza also co-sponsored Senate Bill 1, which would financially benefit the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and other historically Black colleges and universities across the state. It passed on Feb. 5 as well.

In addition, members of the Maryland Senate Republican Caucus presented a legislative package that stiffen election procedures.

 “We support and encourage every Marylander to exercise their right to vote, but before we consider expanding mail-in voting programs and making pandemic-year measures permanent through legislation, we must also put in the appropriate safeguards,” Carozza said. “Expanding voter access and protecting the integrity of our elections are intricately intertwined and are not mutually exclusive issues.”

The package includes legislation that would require voters to present identification at the polls, legislation against ballot harvesting, legislation to increase penalties for people convicted of voter fraud, voter intimidation, voter suppression and voter impersonation and legislation that creates more privacy and tracking for mail-in ballots.

In addition to dealing with legislation, members of the General Assembly continue to follow covid-19-related restrictions on how constituents and advocates can interact with lawmakers during the session. Carozza met with pharmacy students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore on Feb. 2.

“One of my favorite days during session is student pharmacy advocacy day. Several students from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore outlined their legislative priorities of allowing pharmacists to administer injectable medications, which would especially help those living in rural communities,” Carozza said.  “I look forward to visiting these students on campus in April for the groundbreaking of the new UMES Pharmacy and Health Professions Building.”

With the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, the Maryland General Assembly Student Page program is virtual for the 2021 legislative session. Last week, Eric Cropper, a senior at Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, served as a Senate Page.

As for the House of Delegates, Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38 C) co-sponsored House Bill 391 to prohibit celebratory balloon releases with Del. Regina Boyce (D-43), Del. Steven Arentz (R-36), Del. Jessica Feldmark (D-12), Del. Ken Kerr (D-3B), Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-34A) and Del. Sara Love (D-16).

“I spent a lot of time offshore fishing, and it’s not many trips you don’t go out there and see balloons or clusters of balloons floating,” Hartman said. “When I was on the City Council, there was a family in Ocean City, the Blume family, and they did a balloon round-up.”

“The sheer number of balloons they collected in a short amount of time was just phenomenal to me,” Hartman added.

The Blume family testified in a similar bill hearing during last year’s General Assembly.

“We actually used their written testament and submitted it,” Hartman said. “Part of my presentation was information from their work last year.”

He also said he would hear about sea creatures mistaking the balloons for food and dying from ingestion of them.

House Bill 391 would establish a civil penalty of $250 for anyone 13 years or older that intentionally releases a balloon into the atmosphere and authorizes certain agencies to enforce the legislation.

The bill hearing took place on Jan. 15 and passed through the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Feb. 5 with a 20-3 vote.

The legislation has also been cross filed in the Senate.

Currently, there is no statewide ban against releasing a balloon into the atmosphere. However, in August 2019, Queen Anne’s County became the first county in Maryland to establish a ban on the intentional release of nonbiodegradable balloons. The ban in Queen Anne’s County took effect Oct. 1, 2019. Wicomico and Montgomery counties also recently passed similar bans. Wicomico County’s ban took effect Feb. 7, 2020, and Montgomery County’s ban took effect Dec. 30, 2020. Ocean City also prohibits the release of balloons as part of its ban on littering on public property.

“Being the only delegate that represents Maryland’s coast, I feel it’s important that I continue to push the effort forward,” Hartman said.

Hartman had a bill hearing this Wednesday for his concealed carry bill that would require the Secretary of the State Police to automatically grant to certain high-risk occupations a concealed carry permit unless they would be previously prohibited for some reason.

“That bill was the request of some of my constituents in Wicomico County,” Hartman said in an interview on Monday.

Hartman added that the Worcester County Commissioners voted last week to not support his Sunday hunting bill because of the inclusion of public lands.

“[The Department of Natural Resources] DNR created verbiage for legislation a year or two back, so public land doesn’t mean necessarily Pocomoke State Park,” Hartman said. “There’s wildlife management areas and in Worcester County, that’s the way it was described to me, is basically about 2,000 acres of swamp land.”

He plans to meet with the commissioners to discuss amendments to the bill for their support.

Lastly, Hartman said he opposes, which would create new regulations and mandates on small businesses.

“How can government dictate when a business has to pay additional money and so forth? I think government is interfering in too many private contracts and this to me is no different,” he said. “I think businesses know what they need to do at different times to attract and retain their employees, and I just think this bill goes too far. During a pandemic is certainly not a time for such legislation.”

He is concerned about businesses closing because of the legislation’s requirements.

Included in the 20-page legislation are requirements that would obligate employers to back-date an additional $3 per hour in hazard pay, establish a leave program without an employee proving that they contracted an illness at the workplace and allowing employees the right to refuse work without verification.

Additionally, Hartman said “there is no burden of proof” that the illness was contracted through work.

“It would just put a burden on businesses that truly isn’t relative to something that even happened at work,” he said.

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