By Mike McClure

Ashley Duckman, Vice President Government Affairs for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, was the guest speaker at the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce’s January general membership meeting, which was held virtually on Jan. 21. Duckman tracks pending legislation in the Maryland General Assembly on behalf of the state chamber and its members.

Duckman reported that there was a loss of 140,000 jobs nationwide as of December. The leisure and hospitality industry has been hit even harder, with a loss of 500,000 jobs nationwide (December).

Ashley Duckman

Vaccination distribution is seen as a potential catalyst for jump starting the economy in Maryland. The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is working with Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the Maryland Department of Health to get information to employers about vaccinations.

“With the support of the private sector, we hope we can get vaccination distribution back on track,” said Duckman. “There is so much more that needs to be done to help with job creation.”

While the federal government approved a stimulus package at the end of 2020, it did not include state and local funding or liability protection for businesses. As a result, the state chamber is looking for the state to provide support to businesses.

Duckman reported that as of the second week of the legislative session, 770 bills had been pre-filed. Fears that the session may be abbreviated due to COVID-19 have caused an early rush to get bills through.

The pandemic has also curtailed lobbyists’ efforts to advocate for or against bills. Hallway conversations and in-person meetings are currently not possible and the number of people allowed to speak about proposed legislation in the Senate has been reduced to four for a bill and four against. Also, the Committee Chair decides who speaks for the opposition. The House allows as many as 50 witnesses in its hearings.

Many sessions are also taking place online. Duckman said citizens need to send personal emails or make phone calls to their legislators to be heard on an issue.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce has identified three main priorities, one of which is liability protection for business. This would thwart opportunistic lawsuits against businesses during the pandemic. She said the chamber is looking for protection for businesses during the right thing (following state and federal law) from frivolous lawsuits.

Another area the chamber is looking to help businesses with is the rising cost of unemployment insurance. With the federal government not providing state and local funding, an answer has not yet been found for this issue. The chamber is working with the state department of labor and the governor’s office to find a solution.

Duckman said businesses’ experience ratings would not be negatively affected as a result of a government order. The rating was not affected during FY 2020, but that period ended in June, while the pandemic continues. One solution may be for the governor to codify his order to make it for the duration of the pandemic. This would require legislative approval.

The state chamber is also in support of tax incentives and other measures that support job creation. That could include an increase in sales tax credits for small businesses.

It also opposes any new taxes, regulations, and programs during the pandemic. “Now is not the time to add more challenges to our struggling businesses,” Duckman said.

A member of the audience asked about the status of the proposed digital advertising tax. The general assembly passed a digital advertising bill at the last session, but it was vetoed by Governor Hogan. Now some lawmakers are looking to override the veto. Both the state and local chambers are part of a coalition looking to sustain the governor’s veto.

The February Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon will take place Feb. 18 at 11:30 a.m. at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. A panel with representatives from the local colleges will discuss how they are dealing with COVID-19. There will be social distancing and lunches will be served to the guests.