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Anne Arundel lawmakers hear priorities from executive, update from Sen. Van Hollen

The Anne Arundel County Delegation of the Maryland General Assembly met Friday morning to hear priorities from County Executive Steuart Pittman and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
The Anne Arundel County Delegation of the Maryland General Assembly met Friday morning to hear priorities from County Executive Steuart Pittman and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman is calling on state lawmakers to support a bill that would make clear that it is legal for local governments to offer hunters a reimbursement for deer donated to county food banks.

House Bill 594 would eliminate questions of legality for one of Pittman’s coronavirus pandemic programs, allowing hunters to receive $50 for each legally harvested deer they donated to the county food bank. Pittman funded the program on Nov. 1 with $128,000 from the federal CARES Act.

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He shared his support for Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill Friday morning during a meeting with Anne Arundel lawmakers. The Venison Food Relief program was criticized by the Department of Natural Resources for paying hunters, saying it constitutes an “exchange,” a prohibited act under state law..

The county Office of Law rejected this, saying the $50 is a reimbursement for their time and efforts in hunting the deer. Pittman allowed the program to run its course.

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In all, he said 250 deer were donated to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank to address what Pittman previously called a protein shortage for families who were struggling economically during the pandemic.

The bill from Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, would eliminate any question of the program’s legality, and pave the way for other local governments to implement similar programs in the future. It will be heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 10.

Pittman also took questions from lawmakers about the Tax Relief for Working Families Act, legislation that would enable counties to implement progressive tax structures. If passed, the bill would allow counties to give tax breaks to individuals who make less than $500,000 and joint-filers who make less than $600,000. It would allow officials to increase the rate for anyone who makes more than that only on the portion of income above the threshold.

It would also push the statewide maximum income tax rate from 3.2% to 3.5%. Eleven counties and Baltimore City are already charging a flat rate of 3.2%, where Anne Arundel currently sits at 2.8%.

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The bill isn’t popular among Republicans — many of whom say that they would not be amenable to a tax increase at any time, but especially during the pandemic. He took questions from Dels. Seth Howard and Brian Chisholm and Sid Saab, who criticized him in a Facebook post about the legislation.

“The blue sharks in our government smell blood in the water again,” Saab wrote. “Pittman claims the progressive tax structure would allow lawmakers to reduce the tax burden on families with lower incomes, calling it ‘common sense,’ but to me, this sounds like anything but common sense.”

Pittman said the increase would only affect about 1.4% of the population of Anne Arundel County, and the structure could be implemented in a revenue-neutral way or a way that creates additional funds for the county budget. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill were heard last week and await a vote to get out of committee.

Other business

The delegation also heard an update on the federal response to COVID-19 from U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who encouraged an open line of communication between the lawmakers.

While Congress is working on a third emergency relief package, he outlined benefits for residents from an extension of the eviction moratorium and unemployment insurance to assistance for small businesses.

“If you hear anything, let us know. We should just be sharing information,” Van Hollen said. “We’re hoping that that additional relief will be on its way soon.”

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