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CPAs shatter attendance record as pandemic forces signature MACPA event to go virtual for first time ever

A 2021 legislative session unlike any in the Maryland General Assembly’s history opened with a CPA Day unlike any the MACPA’s legislative team has ever held.

The Jan. 21 event was held virtually for the first time ever, allowing nearly 600 Maryland CPAs to participate. That number easily shattered the CPA Day attendance record and included more than 300 first-time participants.

“The more members who join us for this event, the louder our profession’s legislative voice becomes,” said Avonette Blanding, CPA, chair of the MACPA’s Board of Directors. “Today, I assure you, our voice is louder than it has ever been.”

The COVID-19 pandemic drove the signature MACPA event into a virtual environment this year, and it’s leaving its mark once again on Maryland’s General Assembly.

Last spring, the virus forced Maryland’s legislative session to close three weeks early — the first time the session has ended prematurely since the Civil War.

This year, as the number of cases remains high throughout the state, lawmakers have announced that members of the public, activists, and lobbyists will have no access to the State House, hearing rooms, or legislative offices. The Senate and House of Delegates chambers likewise will be off limits.

Anyone else who wants to watch the legislative sessions, where bills are introduced and final debates and votes are held, will have to tune into a video stream on the General Assembly’s website,” The Baltimore Sun reported. “… Committee hearings — where much of the legislative work is done — and committee voting sessions will be held via video meetings and streamed online.”

“We’ve never seen a legislative session like this before,” Blanding told MACPA members. “Our lawmakers will debate their positions this year behind masks and plexiglass. There will be no lobbyists or constituents roaming the halls of the House or Senate, and no in-person testimony in front of key committees — and obviously, no large, in-person gatherings like the one we CPAs look forward to each January.

“So we’ll roll with the punches,” she added. “We’ll work to protect our profession, our clients, and our state within the confines of these new pandemic-related rules. And we’ll succeed, thanks to all of you. It’s what the MACPA has done for the past 120 years, and it’s what we will continue to do.”

Those efforts will look significantly different this year. Association members will have to deliver the profession’s position on issues of importance without having physical access to their lawmakers.

It sounds constricting, but MACPA President and CEO Tom Hood said the restrictions might actually play to the profession’s advantage.

“Imagine if 1,000 — or I’d love all 8,000 of our members to do this — but imagine if they all sent an e-mail to their legislators telling them which issues we care about, and then said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m a CPA in your district.’ Wow, what that would do,” Hood said. “Then, when we have a big issue come up in a committee or on the House or Senate floor, we could ask our members to reconnect with their legislators on those committees and reinforce our position. That’s how we could be even more formidable than if we did it in person.”

And what are the issues we’re following this year? Hood breaks them down as follows:

  • Sales taxes on professional services: This was one of the MACPA’s biggest victories in 2020, and it remains a huge risk in 2021. The state has spent a huge amount of money on COVID-19 relief. Lawmakers will want to recoup that money. How will they do it? Sales taxes on professional services — like those that CPAs provide — will be attractive options that lawmakers will consider. We will oppose all efforts to tax these services.
  • Stop onerous data privacy legislation: The MACPA will oppose efforts to legislate data privacy that are similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and California’s similar Consumer Privacy Act, which are “onerous and costly for employers to implement,” Hood said. “We love the idea of privacy and security of data. We just think this is the wrong way to go about it.”
  • Professional licenses: The MACPA will aggressively oppose efforts to weaken or eliminate professional licensing boards, a deregulatory risk that has arisen in several other states recently.
  • Tax issues: MACPA volunteers also will be closely monitoring legislation related to Maryland tax policy and offering our insights as needed. In particular, we will support technical corrections related to last year’s Senate Bill 523, “Income Tax – Pass-Through Entities and Corporations.”
  • Stop onerous COVID-19 employer / business regulations: If you, as an organization, follow all state and federal guidelines for keeping your employees healthy, should you be liable if one of your workers becomes ill? We would say, “No.” Virginia passed an aggressive employer / business COVID-19 regulation which includes fines of up to $130,000. This increases the risk of frivolous claims against employers, which should not be allowed if the employers follow Maryland and federal guidance. We would oppose any legislation that could fine employers if their workers fall ill, even if those employers followed all recognized guidelines for employee health and safety. Likewise, we would support legislation that prevents employees from suing organizations that followed all recommended state and federal protocols.

Related to the notion of opposing onerous COVID-19-related regulation, the MACPA is supporting Senate Bill 210, “COVID-19 Claim — Civil Immunity.” The proposal would stipulate that businesses, educational institutions, and health care facilities that act in compliance with all federal, state and local statutes, rules, regulations, and executive and agency orders related to COVID-19 shall be held immune from civil liability for a coronavirus-related claim unless gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing can be proven. If passed, the temporary protections would apply only to claims that arose between March 5, 2020 and 180 days after the expiration or rescission of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Declaration of State of Emergency.

Read more about SB 210 here.

Already, some good news
Good news is already trickling out of Annapolis about at least one of these issues.

Del. Adrienne Jones, speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates and a virtual guest for CPA Day, told MACPA members that sales taxes on professional services — a critical issue for the profession and the topic of the MACPA’s biggest legislative victory of 2020 — is not on the General Assembly’s 2021 radar at this point. Sen. Guy Guzzone, who chairs Maryland’s Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, agreed, telling MACPA members he is “firm in my belief” there will be no effort this year to impose sales taxes on services.

That said, Sen. Brian Feldman — one of three CPAs in the General Assembly and an MACPA member — said we’ll likely see “non-traditional” efforts to raise revenue to take some pressure off the state budget, which took a hit as a result of the pandemic — but not nearly as big a hit as initially predicted.

“Many tax proposals will be introduced this year,” Guzzone added. “The good news is that Maryland is doing better financially than originally projected.”

What can you do to help?
Hood urged MACPA members to take these steps to ensure the profession is ready to respond legislatively when needed.

  • Register to attend an upcoming MACPA town hall meeting: These meetings are where we will educate you about the issues that are impacting you and your clients, so you’ll be able to let your legislators know how the profession feels about these issues. Register for an upcoming town hall meeting at MACPA.org.
  • Respond: When the MACPA sends you an e-mail that says we need you to contact your senator or delegate and pass along a message about a particular issue, do it immediately. Again: The more CPAs who participate in this process, the stronger our voice becomes.

“I need as much of your attention on this as possible,” Hood said. “Make sure your online MACPA account is updated with your home address so we can match you accurately with your legislators. We need the collective power of our profession. There is strength in numbers. Let’s show it now.”

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