Legislative Update, May 2016 (as featured in The Equiery)
Funding Restored for Preservation and Conservation
As far as any one can recall, this session may have set a record for how quickly both the Operating (SB 190) and Capital (SB 191) Budgets were finalized (in March!).
Even better news is that funding has been restored to some of the programs that are most critical to ensuring open space and viable agriculture.
In April, Governor Larry Hogan signed into law HB 462, “Program Open Space – Transfer Tax Repayment – Use of Funds,” which was passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate. The act restores at least some of the previous diversions from Program Open Space, which will help to ensure future protection of farms, forests and historic places.
With his signature, the Governor has delivered on his promise to restore funding to Program Open Space (POS), has provided a $6 million increase in POS funding for Baltimore City, and has created a repayment plan to restore funds diverted from POS during previous administrations. Additionally, the program would return to full cash funding in FY 19, and beginning in FY 19 if there are new cuts, the governor must include a plan to restore one-third of the cut over each of three successive years.
While the original Program Open Space Act of 1969 dedicated these funds to land preservation, for many years administrations and legislators have raided and diverted them for other purposes. POS funds land conservation, historic resource protection and park development across the state, for state agencies as well as county governments and the City of Baltimore. Projects funded protect water quality and wildlife habitat, create new recreation opportunities, and protect farmland and historic sites.
Fiscal Year funding for land conservation and recreation with the Department of Natural Resources is as follows:
Program Open Space Statewide: $13.8 million
Program Open Space Local: $21.7 million
Rural Legacy: $7.8 million plus an additional $4.862 million for a total of $12.662 million from the operating budget, and $5 million from the capital budget.
Maryland Ag Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) funding was secured.
Additionally, income tax credits related to preservation and conservation easements will become law. The Maryland Farm Bureau reports that this new law alters the existing preservation and conservation easement income tax credit by allowing (1) a member of pass-through entities to claim the credit and (2) easements conveyed to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to qualify for the credit. The bill specifies that the sum of all credits claimed by members of a pass-through entity in a taxable year may not exceed $5,000 and the total amount of credits available per year may not exceed $200,000. The Comptroller must adopt regulations to specify the procedures for a member of a pass-through entity in order to claim the credit.
Hefty Fines For Poaching
Equestrians who are fed up with hunters who do not abide by the laws will be pleased to know that Maryland law enforcement now has more muscle when prosecuting poaching incidents. Individuals hunting out of season are not considered hunters, they are poachers. Individuals hunting in areas where hunting is not permitted are not hunters, they are poachers. Maryland law now has the teeth to back that up, with poachers now facing fees of as much as $10,000 per misdemeanor count.
Legislative Update, April 2016 (as featured in The Equiery)
A key date in the ninety-day session of the Maryland General Assembly is “cross-over day;” this is the day that if a bill is not voted out of its original house, so that it can “cross-over” to the opposite chamber for debate, it is effectively dead for this year.
2016 cross-over day was March 21; the 2016 legislative session will officially adjourn on April 11 (also known as “sine die”), and so – as you read this, there is a flurry of activity as committee chairs rush to wrap things up. Hearings will be scheduled with much shorter notice, sometimes only a day in advance. When there are hearings, many will allow only sponsors to orally testify (others may still make an appearance in the committee to support the sponsors and to be available for question, and may still file written testimony).
So, as we go to press, post-cross over day, what bills are left in play that may be of concern?
The Maryland Horse Council is seeking to combat the flurry each year (for the last 12 years) of what are called “local courtesy bills” which expand hunting by a day or two in small, geographic regions by brokering a state-wide compromise that would ensure the fair use of shared natural resources among all users groups. MHC succeeded in getting a bill drafted this year, Senate Bill 1061, courtesy of bill sponsor Joan Carter Conway, who is the chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. However, there were some problems with the language in the drafting process, and the bill never received a hearing. However, the concept of a compromise bill was favorably received by other legislators and regulators, and MHC will seek to move the concept of a compromise bill forward in the next session.
Funding Program Open Space & Preservation
MHC is actively supporting SB 383 and HB 462, which would restore funding for Program Open Space. The House approved its version and the bill is now scheduled for a hearing in Senate Budget & Taxation.
Tax Credits for Preservation and Conservation
House Bill 276 alters the existing preservation and conservation easement income tax credit by allowing (1) a member of pass-through entities to claim the credit and (2) easements conveyed to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to qualify for the credit. The bill specifies that the sum of all credits claimed by members of a pass-through entity in a taxable year may not exceed $5,000. The Comptroller must adopt regulations to specify the procedures for a member of a pass-through entity to claim the credit. The Maryland Farm Bureau is actively supporting this bill, and MHC is monitoring. The bill was approved by the House, has crossed over to the Senate, and will be heard in Budget & Taxation on March 29.
Perpetual Conservation Easements
Senate Bill 371 and its cross-filed cousin House Bill 1643 would provide a subtraction modification under the Maryland income tax for the first $500,000 in proceeds from the sale of a perpetual conservation easement on real property in the State. Under current law when a farm family decides to preserve their farm by selling the development rights, the proceeds from that sale have to be claimed as personal income tax. Typically, this moves them into a much higher tax bracket, which in turn has them pay a higher percentage of their income. This tax increase is not only on the proceeds from the sale of the easement, but also on the entire yearly income. This tax increase is in addition to what the family has to pay in Federal Capital Gains tax. This bill would encourage farm families to preserve the farm for future generations. MFB supports this bill. Both bills stalled out in this session.
Increasing Penalties for Animal Crimes
Senate Bill 722 would increase the penalties for those convicted of crimes related to animals; penalties may include prohibition against owning animals in the future. However, the Maryland Horse Council has found it troubling that this bill would likewise criminalize vets who fair to notify authorities if they suspect abuse or neglect. This bill was given an unfavorable report by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and is officially dead. The bill was cross-filed in the House (HB 1586) and stalled out in committee.