July 1 marks not only the start of the two draggiest summer months and a new fiscal year, but it is also the date a bunch of laws take effect. A few of the more important measures concern the environment, in particular the health of the Chesapeake Bay; others affect the business community.
Perhaps the most significant new environmental law requires the 10 largest jurisdictions in the state to collect stormwater remediation fees. Stormwater runoff is a major source of Bay pollution. The fee, the amount of which was left to the discretion of the nine largest counties and Baltimore city, would be based on how much pavement a property contains. Under the legislation, counties and municipalities would plant trees and take other measures to reduce pollution from runoff.
A second new law doubles the so-called “flush” tax from $2.50 to $5 a month for any household whose wastewater is discharged into the Chesapeake or coastal bays. The flush tax increase is projected to help pay for upgrades to 67 major wastewater treatment plants and decrease the amount of nitrogen pollution flowing into the Bay by 3.7 million pounds a year.
Another major environmental bill requires counties to adopt a “tiered” system of rules to restrict new housing served by septic systems. The measure was designed to curb the waste that flows from new housing developments into the Bay. The legislature watered down Gov. Martin O’Malley’s stronger, initial proposal. A separate Department of the Environment regulation issued in early May bans the future use of septics unless builders install modern technology systems for nitrogen removal.
Environmentalists and Chesapeake Bay advocates applauded the new laws, even as critics decried the cost. Still, it’s hard to argue against a cleaner Bay, which stands as the state’s signature, beloved waterway.
On the business side of the new legislation ledger, lawmakers wisely continued the state's commitment to fostering its high-tech economy. One July 1 law establishes the Maryland Innovation Initiative and its related fund within the Maryland Technology Development Corp. The program is designed to promote the transfer of technology from Maryland’s prominent public and private nonprofit research institutions to the private sector for commercialization in the marketplace. The state has been rightly criticized for its less-than-stellar performance in tech transfer.
Despite budgetary constraints, legislators during last month's special session continued $8 million in funding for the state's popular biotechnology investment tax credit. Small biotechs can apply online Monday for the program, which makes them attractive targets for the venture capitalists that are the industry's lifeblood. Lawmakers also continued $12.4 million in funding for stem-cell research projects.
Critics may call such appropriations handouts, but they are smart investments: A report released last week by Battelle, a nonprofit research institute, shows that Maryland's bioscience industry generated 33,257 jobs in 2010. While that was down 1.2 percent from 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession, it was a far smaller job slide than the 5.6 percent loss in the state's overall private sector during those years. Furthermore, the state's bioscience jobs are relatively high paying, according to the report, averaging $90,336, versus $49,495 in the private sector.