Ehrlich signs 3 business bills

He extends tax credit for historic preservation

Industrial sites cleanup OK'd

Small business, minorities to get more state pacts

April 28, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Declaring that Maryland is "open for business," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed bills yesterday to encourage redevelopment of historic buildings and contaminated former industrial sites and to expand opportunities for small and minority companies.

The "brownfields" legislation, the extension of the historic preservation tax credit and an expansion of state contracts with small businesses were among the 170 bills signed by Ehrlich yesterday. It was the second signing ceremony since the General Assembly ended its 2004 session this month.

Ehrlich said the three administration initiatives strike a common theme of "jobs, growth opportunity and prosperity."

The governor made a point of praising the passage of the extension of the sunset on the historic preservation tax break.

"It's not just important to Baltimore City, it's critical to Baltimore City," Ehrlich said.

The legislation passed only after extensive changes insisted upon by Del. Sheila E. Hixson, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

Among them is a 50 percent cap on the amount of the credits for commercial projects that can go to any one jurisdiction - a provision aimed at limiting Baltimore's share, which had been running at about 90 percent.

Del. Adelaide Eckhardt, a Cambridge Republican who served on a task force that recommended extension of the credit, said the program was already helping jurisdictions such as hers.

Victor L. Hoskins, secretary of housing and community development, said he was pleased to see the bill signed into law - even with the changes.

"It's not perfect, but we're not going to let perfect get in the way of good," he said. Hoskins said the credits usually spur $4.50 to $5 in private investment for every dollar paid in credits. He estimated that the $15 million in commercial credits available this year would leverage about $75 million in private investment in historic structures.

The brownfields bill, which passed with strong support from environmentalists and business, is aimed at streamlining a program launched under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening to reclaim former industrial sites for new projects.

Ehrlich said the administration was able to implement half its reforms of the program through regulation changes but needed legislation to accomplish the rest.

"We were able to get a really good bill done," he said.

Several bills signed yesterday are intended to expand the role of minority businesses in providing goods and services to state government, as recommended by a commission headed by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

One bill recommended by the commission would reserve a percentage of state procurements in Maryland for small businesses. The race- and gender-neutral requirement is believed likely to benefit minority-owned ventures, many of which are small start-up companies.

Another bill would require bidders on state contracts to provide specific information about which minority subcontractors they would use.

Del. Dan K. Morhaim, House floor manager for the legislation, said lawmakers heard testimony that some bidders are listing minority business enterprises as subcontractors in their contract proposals but not giving them work.

Another bill signed yesterday - sponsored by Morhaim separately from the Steele commission's recommendations - requires the state Transportation Department to upgrade its current bare-bones listing of minority-owned subcontractors to provide potential bidders with more useful information.

Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the new listing would resemble a Yellow Pages for minority contractors, allowing them to be listed by line of business. "It allows [minority businesses] to tout their wares," Morhaim said.

Another administration initiative Ehrlich signed into law was a measure eliminating the automatic stay of punishment for lobbyists found by the Maryland State Ethics Commission to have committed violations.

That measure would change a provision of the state ethics law that has allowed lobbyists Gerard E. Evans and Bruce C. Bereano to continue to represent clients after the commission imposed sanctions on them. The bill will make any stay discretionary for the commission and the courts.

Ehrlich also signed bills that would:

Require that state payments to the Baltimore Zoo be included in the Board of Public Works budget. The measure also expresses the legislature's intent that the zoo be renamed the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

Allow motorists between the ages of 21 and 40 to renew their driver's licenses without a vision test providing they've passed such an examination in the past six years.

Increase to $1,000 the maximum penalty for failing to stop for a school bus with lights flashing.

Prohibit attendance at a cockfight or a dogfight.

Establish a grant program to help people, businesses and local governments to install solar energy systems.

Repeal the maximum 50-mph speed limit for school buses, allowing them the same speed limits as other vehicles.

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