Maryland legislators will have to consider the cost to small businesses before approving new laws under a measure enacted by the General Assembly yesterday.
Advocates for small businesses, who argued they are being "choked" by state taxes, fees and regulations, declared victory after the House of Delegates gave the legislation final approval. The measure now goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who is expected to sign it into law.
It will require the General Assembly's budget advisers to analyze every legislative proposal and estimate the cost or benefit to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The analyses are to include the effects on employees, housing costs, prices and consumer choice.
"Excellent! This is a major victory," said Gene L. Burner, executive vice president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, after learning the bill had passed. "This will validate our testimony [in future legislative hearings] when we say this or that bill will really help or really hurt small business in the state."
Advocates representing county chambers, liquor stores and trash haulers testified that their constituents have been hurt over the years by a legislative process that rarely focuses on the "little guy."
"I don't know that there is always an assessment of smaller businesses as opposed to larger businesses," said Pam Metz, DTC executive director of the Maryland-Delaware Solid Waste Association. Larger companies "often can absorb the shock of increased regulations or fees more easily than smaller businesses."
Ms. Metz, whose members are largely family-run hauling companies, cited efforts to regulate private rubble landfills as an example. Typically, she said, lawmakers will consider the impact on landfill owners, overlooking the "ripple effect" of the increased costs to the haulers.
"We believe it will lead lawmakers to be more thoughtful about the economic impacts than they might otherwise be," Ms. Metz said.
Del. John P. Donoghue, a Washington County Democrat and the bill's sponsor, offered another example. He said the Washington County Regional Airport is caught in a whipsaw between state environmental law and Federal Aviation Administration rules.
"The FAA wants trees cut down for aviation purposes and we're forcing the airport to plant trees," Mr. Donoghue said. "Now, we've had to come back this year with separate legislation to resolve that."
Similar legislation passed the General Assembly last year but was vetoed by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who claimed the analyses would be too difficult and expensive to prepare.
Legislative budget analysts have estimated the analyses will cost $250,000 to $300,000 a year.