By William F. Zorzi
The Maryland General Assembly crossed the midpoint of the final week of its regular 90-day session Wednesday, giving final approval to key legislation and sending it to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) for his signature.
The bill with the biggest price tag is the Hogan administration package put together to lure Amazon to Montgomery County to build its second headquarters and with it, an estimated 50,000 new jobs. The measure – by far, the highest-priced economic development package in state history — was passed by the House of Delegates, 78-60, Wednesday after an extended debate.
Estimates by the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services put the total public cost over the next 35 years at $6.5 billion in tax incentives, which includes $924 million in local tax breaks. That coupled with $2 billion for unspecified transportation projects brings the total cost of the package to $8.5 billion.
The Hogan administration maintains the bill – which it calls the PRIME, Promoting ext-Raordinary Innovation in Maryland’s Economy, Act – carries a total price tag of $5 billion. That would include $3 billion in incentives and $2 billion in unspecified transportation improvements.
In other action:
• The House of Delegates gave final approval to two Senate emergency bills that would prop up the state’s ailing individual health insurance market in the short and long term, while offering continued coverage through a state program.
The bills, which were the result of two months of bipartisan brainstorming by legislators, policymakers, bureaucrats and outside experts, to deal with problems that in part were brought about by federal tax-cut legislation in which congressional Republicans gutted a key “individual mandate” component of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
One bill, which passed the House 130-6, authorizes a request to the federal government for a so-called “Section 1332 Waiver” to divert money to Maryland that is now being set aside to ease the dollar-draining effect of high-risk patients on the ACA’s insurance pool and use it in the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange for financial help in making insurance more affordable.
The second bill, approved on a 78-60 vote, would impose a 2.75 percent tax on premiums of any insurance companies doing business in the state and pump millions into the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, to hold down the cost of individual insurance offered in that marketplace.
• The Senate gave final approval, 35-11, to a measure that would ban the sale, manufacture and possession of rapid fire trigger activators — so-called “bump stocks” — after Republicans tried on the floor and failed to amend the bill five different times.
“Bump stocks” were all but unheard of until last fall, when a 64-year-old man, using the device on his automatic rifles, fired an estimated 1,100 rounds from his 32nd-floor hotel room into a crowd gathered in Las Vegas for a country music concert, killing 58 people and injuring more than 800, before killing himself.
The incident, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, prompted Maryland lawmakers to get behind the effort to ban “bump stocks.” The result was this bill, which Hogan said he would sign.