Maryland Chamber lobbyist: ‘We’re going to have our work cut out for us in 2019’

By Mike Lewis
Kevin Rudolph, senior policy analyst for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, speaks to a group in Hagers-
town, Md. Rudolph and Lawrence A. Richardson Jr., chamber vice president for governmental affairs, reviewed the 2018 General Assembly and looked ahead to 2019.

After talking about the Maryland General Assembly for about an hour, Lawrence A. Richardson Jr. turned his remarks to business leaders.

“They (state lawmakers) see us all the time,” said Richardson, vice president for government affairs for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

It’s more effective, he said, when lawmakers hear directly from business leaders in their districts.

“We know it’s a hike to Annapolis,” he said. “We know it’s a pain … .”

But it often takes testimony from real business leaders to get a point across, he said.

That thought was echoed by Paul Frey, president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

“If we’re not heard, we’ll be shouted over,” he said.

Their remarks came at the end of a recent legislative wrap-up session at the Volvo Group’s facility near Hagerstown, Md. The Maryland chamber planned to hold several such events throughout the state. Richardson and Kevin Rudolph, senior policy analyst, spoke in Hagerstown.

Richardson and Rudolph told the group that the chamber tracked 90 issues through the General Assembly, which totaled 125 bills — counting those that were cross-filed in the House and Senate.

In the end, they said, 28.6 percent of the bills the chamber supported were passed; 90.2 percent of those the chamber opposed were defeated.

The two also noted that all state offices and all of the House and Senate seats are up for election in 2018.

“This is going to be an interesting year,” Richardson said.

After summing up what happened during this year’s session, they turned their thoughts to next year.

“We’re going to have our work cut out for us in 2019,” Richardson said.

Richard and Rudolph expect a number of issues to resurface next year, including:

• A push to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

• An effort to expand the paid leave act passed this year.

• A move to enact “restrictive scheduling,” which would set mandates for how businesses schedule workers. Richardson said this measure would hit retail and restaurant sectors particularly hard. “It’s just going to become a nightmare, especially for those smaller businesses, to deal with.”

• Another version of paid sick leave, which would create a pot of money, similar to workers’ compensation funds.

Richardson said many political measures are well-intentioned efforts to help individuals.

“We understand the need for the employee. But sometimes, some of this legislation just makes the assumption that business can pay for everything. And some businesses can’t,” he said.

“Most small businessmen and women work on a very razor-thin margin,” Richardson said. “In a number of small businesses, the owners take very minimal, if any, income because they’re trying to keep their business going, not only for their customers, but for their employees as well. And a lot of times, these well-intended, but damaging, bills that get introduced threaten that existence, threaten the very existence of the business and the number of employees that they can keep on board.”

In Western Maryland, layers of legislation can make it difficult for businesses in the Old State to compete with their neighbors to the north and south.

“That has always been a massive concern of ours, is that the layering effect of sometimes well-intentioned, but damaging legislation, essentially makes it harder and makes it more difficult to continue to do business here,” Richardson said. And especially in areas such as Western Maryland, when Pennsylvania is not that far up the road and West Virginia is not that far down the road. … Sometimes that small business, especially, has no choice. It’s either to move there or die. . … We definitely try to bring that message to the Legislature every year, that the layering effect of bill upon bill upon bill can have a very negative impact on the businesses and employees,” he said.