Legislative Update from our Lobbyist

joe-miedusiewskiMay, 2017

Joe Miedusiewski
Lobbyist, AIA Maryland

The 2017 Session of the Maryland General Assembly has adjourned and many members of the house and senate have already begun fundraising for next year’s elections. The political grapevine is ripe with gossip about potential democratic candidates for governor as well as republican efforts to gain seats in the house and senate. The Republican Party is presently targeting six democratic senate seats which it hopes to capture to be able to sustain future vetoes by Governor Hogan.

Governor Hogan’s popularity not withstanding there are at least eight democrats presently being mentioned as possible candidates willing to slug it out in the primary election for the chance to oppose the governor in 2018.

Current polling indicates the governor enjoys high popularity ratings among Maryland voters. Hogan managed to balance a $43.5 billion budget in the face of a $400 million deficit without raising taxes. He has demonstrated an ability to identify and act upon issues of which many voters approve and has proven to be a prolific fundraiser.

During the legislative session legislators filed over 2,800 bills, a substantial workload for a 90-day session.  There seemed to be something for everyone.  To name a few, hydraulic fracturing was banned. Harvesting oysters from designated sanctuaries was prohibited until a study for the scientific management of the oyster stock is completed.  Maryland craft beer brewers will be able to sell more beer in their taprooms and Guinness will be able to brew beer in Relay, Maryland. Money to fight the drug addiction epidemic has been approved.  Employers with 15 or more employees will be required to provide at least 5 days of paid sick leave per year. Terminally ill patients will be allowed to try experimental drugs that have not yet received federal approval.  Maryland’s Attorney General was given new powers to take drug makers to court over “price gouging”.

AIA Maryland lobbied successfully to have Immediate Past President, Kathleen Sherrill appointed a member of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission.  This was a 21 person commission initially established to review education specifications for school construction projects and evaluate whether the specifications apply to the needs of 21st century schools.  The commission did not have an architect member as initially established by the Senate President and House Speaker.

AIA Maryland again had a full agenda flagging over 50 bills in which it had an interest.  President Brenden Frederick, as well as past presidents Kathleen Sherrill, Chris Parts, Dan Bailey and long-time board member John Corkill testified at various hearings, workgroups and commissions to advocate for the interests of Maryland licensed architects.

AIA Maryland also successfully amended a bill introduced by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation for license renewal. Notification was proposed by email only. AIA Maryland amended the bill to include postal mail as a backup in the event of an email return. This would insure that an architect is properly notified upon expiration of his/her license.

AIA Maryland supported a bill which permits the Department of General Services (DGS) to engage in specific procurements for the rehabilitation of historically significant buildings built during the twentieth century. Under certain circumstances it permits DGS to restrict its procurements for restoration projects to the limited number of architectural, engineering, and construction firms with expertise in the rehabilitation of historical buildings.

Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor led a Procurement Task Force which generated a series of bills aimed at improving the State’s procurement process.  AIA Maryland weighed in to support small and minority business participation, a general reorganization of state procurement including a Chief Procurement Officer, and suggested amendments to clarify the need for QBS to remain above $200,000 in fees.  This followed a series of public hearings last year in which AIA members and Maryland Board members offered testimony to address needed reforms.

AIA Maryland President, Brenden Frederick was front and center with his testimony opposing a bill promoted by the concrete industry to significantly restrict height and area regulations of light frame construction of buildings over three stories and requiring a multifamily construction project that uses wood frame construction methods from proceeding unless a fire watch warden certified by the Office of the State Fire Marshal within the Department of State Police is present 24 hours a day. It took a concerted effort to defeat the bill. However, the concrete industry measure is certain to be pursued again in the 2018 Session. This issue is evolving into a “brass knuckle” fight as the concrete industry spends thousands of dollars on media, campaign contributions and recruiting the presence of fire fighters as support.  AIA Maryland collaborated with other groups in our testimony, other groups included NAIOP, American Wood Council, Maryland Building Industry Association, Maryland Affordable Housing Coalition, Building Code Consultants and others.  Thanks to all of you who also reached out to your representatives to communicate your concerns about this bill.

As the session wound down AIA Maryland opposed the School Overcrowding Reduction Act of 2017.  The bill title sounds good, but the provisions of the measure would have adversely affected the practice of architecture in school design and construction.  The bill included language intended to cut the costs of school design and construction.  Past Presidents Chris Parts and Dan Bailey opposed the legislation. They presented testimony that demonstrated the need for proper school design and adequate funding of school construction. Chris and Dan testified how the bill would not provide the intended benefits and was a threat to the practice of architecture.

Among other issues, the bill would primarily change the membership and role of the Interagency Committee on School Construction. It would limit public school construction costs to $30,000 per student, expand the use of alternative financing for public school construction projects, and limit the authority of the State and local governments to approve and regulate alternative financing.  It would also rename the Maryland Stadium Authority to be the Maryland Construction Authority, and alter its mission to include public school construction.

The success of AIA Maryland can be attributed in part to its close attention to the issues, persuasive testimony, effective lobbying and its respected reputation among lawmakers.  AIA Maryland continually faces opponents whose interests run counter to the practice of architecture and who also have significant financial resources. These special interest groups are continually organizing and raising money to get their messages out to legislators.

Imagine what AIA Maryland could accomplish if we matched our opponents’ financial resources . . .