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Retail News & Bills To Watch 2021

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March 30, 2021

One of the nice things about social media sites like Facebook is when they dig up old memories, pictures and posts. As a dad, I love seeing pictures of my family, and how quickly my son has grown. However, as we have crossed the one year mark of COVID, I am not as happy seeing some posts from a year ago when the pandemic, business shut downs and near panic was the order of the day. I'm not ready to relive some of those memories yet even though we are in a far better place today than a year ago.
 
Recently, I said to some colleagues that the light at the end of the tunnel ended up being a train barreling down on us a year ago. Today, I feel like that light at the end of the tunnel is truly a ray of hope to better days ahead.
 
So, in terms of better days ahead, just a reminder that retail customer capacity increases to 50% of capacity this Friday. If you are unsure of your maximum capacity, please check with your local code enforcement officer, or your local fire department. There are some regional differences based on local ordinances.
 
As a rule of thumb, the max capacity calculation for retail is usually around 1 person per 60 square feet - so, a 5,000 square foot store would have a maximum capacity of 83 people; 50% of that would be 41 to 42 people including employees. Under the current model, that size store would be limited to 25 customers. The increase is welcomed and hope that we stay on track for the jump to 75% capacity at the end of May. We have one lingering question that we do not have an answer for yet, and that is whether or not you need to post a sign with your updated capacity or not. We'll share that info as soon as we get an answer.
 
In related news, we hope you saw that Governor Mills is accelerating the vaccine schedule. Starting Tuesday, people 50 and older are now eligible and on Monday, April 19th, all people age 16 and older will be eligible. Maine's pharmacists have been helping lead the way in the mass vaccination effort and we applaud them!
 

2021 BILLS TO WATCH

Each week, we go through the new batch of printed bills and share with you the ones that we have flagged. Thankfully, a more manageable number of bills was released this week. This week, we review LD 1088 to LD 1203. See the complete list of bills here.
 
If a particular LD# catches your eye, please let us know so we will know to pay a little extra attention to that bill.
 
LD 1093 (Alcohol) Senator Miramant of Knox would expand the types of entities eligible to receive licenses from the bureau for the direct shipment of wine to Maine customers to include retailers licensed in this State or another state to sell wine for off-premises consumption as well as wholesalers licensed in this State or another state.
 
LD 1106 (Direct Deposit of Wages) Senator Pouliot of Kennebec would prohibit an employer from charging a fee for the payment of wages to an employee by means of direct deposit of funds.
 
LD 1117 (Prescription Drugs) President Jackson of Aroostook would prohibit excessive price increases for generic and off-patent prescription drugs sold in this State. The bill makes prescription drug manufacturers who violate the provisions subject to enforcement action by the Attorney General.
 
LD 1119 (Credit Card Billing) Senator Miramant of Knox would require the issuer of a credit card to bill once per month a holder of a credit card who has a balance due on that credit card. The bill provides that the issuer of a credit card may not bill more than once per month such a holder. The issuer of a credit card that bills such a holder more than 12 times in a calendar year forfeits the balance on that holder's credit card.
 
LD 1129 (Dark Stores / Retail Valuation) Representative Matlack of St. George provides that, in establishing the just value of retail sales facilities, consideration must be given to 3 recognized approaches to valuation of commercial property and that the assessor must consider the value of reasonably similar properties with regard to age, condition, use, type of construction, location, design, physical features and economic characteristics.
 
LD 1136 (Income Taxes) Representative Harnett of Gardiner would change the individual income tax brackets to provide 4 brackets rather than 3. The bill adds a new bracket of 10.15% on taxable income exceeding $100,000 for single individuals and married persons filing separately, $150,000 for heads of households and $200,000 for individuals filing married joint returns and surviving spouses.
 
LD 1156 (Tax Increment Financing) Representative Arata of New Gloucester improves the employment tax increment financing program for calendar years beginning with 2022 by basing benefits on the gross wages of qualified employees rather than on income tax withholding for those employees.
 
LD 1158 (Pesticides) Representative Collings of Portland would prohibit the use of persistent synthetic pesticides except pesticides that are used in the production of agricultural products.
 
LD 1167 (Ban the Box) Representative Talbot Ross of Portland would prohibit an employer from requesting criminal history record information on an initial employee application form or stating on an initial employee application form or advertisement or specifying prior to determining a person is otherwise qualified for the position that a person with a criminal history may not apply or will not be considered for a position.

ACTION ALERT: OVERTIME AND AT-WILL EMPLOYMENT

Hopefully, you saw our ACTION ALERT on Thursday highlighting two bills up for public hearing this week. The bill on Monday would increase the salary threshold for whether or not a salaried employee qualifies for overtime or not. The current level is just over $36,000.
 
After we sent the ACTION ALERT, we learned that the bill sponsor, Representative Rachel Talbot Ross-D of Portland, intends to amend the bill, LD 607, and potentially make it worse for employers.
 
Proposed amendment

As drafted, the bill would create a salary level of $55,224 in 2024. Her new amendment changes how the calculation is determined and would use a factor of 4,500 x the prevailing minimum wage. If Maine's minimum wage increases by 2% each year, by 2024, it would be $12.89 per hour. That would make the salary level increase to $58,021.54. If Maine's minimum wage increased higher - say a $15 minimum wage, the salary level would be $67,500!
 
The other bill being heard on Wednesday is LD 553 which would eliminate at-will employment. This bill prohibits an employer from terminating the employment of an employee without cause. The bill specifies that an employer may terminate an employee for cause only after applying a 3-step progressive discipline policy and providing notice of termination in accordance with certain requirements.
 
Please help us oppose both bills!
 
To Submit Testimony:
·    Go to: https://www.mainelegislature.org/testimony/
·    Click: Public Hearing
·    Choose a Committee: Labor and Housing
·    Choose a Date: Either March 22, 2021 10:00 AM or March 24, 2021 10:00 AM
·    NOTE: If you are testifying on both bills, just repeat this process for the second bill.
·    Choose: LD 607, An Act to Restore Overtime Protections for Maine Workers or LD 553, An Act to End At-Will Employment
·    If you would like to testify via Zoom, check the box: "I would like to present my testimony live." Once submitted, you will be sent a Zoom registration link.
·    If you just want to submit written comments, either type your comments into the box or upload a Word document or PDF document with your thoughts.
·    Fill out the rest of the contact information on the page, and press Submit.
·    Please Note: Once you press submit, your testimony is sent to the Committee immediately.

MISCELLANEOUS UPDATES

TAX CONFORMITY SETTLED: Although it took longer than expected, the House and Senate finally agreed to full tax conformity for PPP income as part of the Supplemental Budget and Governor Mills signed the measure last week. Accountants everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. In line with that, Maine is following the federal government and delaying state tax filing to May.
 
STRAW BAN BILL HEARD: The Environment and Natural Resources Committee took testimony on Monday on a bill, LD 602, which would not only ban plastic drinking straws, but plastic stir sticks and beverage lid plugs. Additionally, the bill would add a 5 cent fee to non-plastic alternatives. Other states that have addressed this issue have settled on making straws only available upon request. The committee will revisit the issue this Wednesday.
 
WAGE PENALTY BILL HEARD: The Labor and Housing Committee took testimony on a bill from last session that died upon adjournment. LD 616 would increase the penalties on employers who commit wage violations. The fines would increase significantly from current levels. RAM and other business groups testified that the current penalties are sufficient as Maine does not see widespread violations.
 
TAX INCREASE BILLS GET HEATED: The Taxation Committee took testimony on three more tax increase proposals on Tuesday. However, when the committee reconvened on Thursday to discuss the tax bills from last week, they quickly tabled them so that they can all be discussed once the other tax increase bills have been heard. Senator Matt Pouliot-R of Kennebec voiced his frustration at the process and chastised the committee for not discussing the bills. He made it clear that he will not be supporting any tax increases, and he felt the committee was just dragging out the process.
 
VACATION PAY OUT BILL TABLED: The Labor and Housing Committee quickly tabled LD 225, the bill that would require employers to pay out unused vacation pay at the end of employment. Current law lets individual policies dictate that practice. Representative Roeder-D of Bangor alluded to a forthcoming amendment that we have not seen yet.
 
PLASTIC WATER BOTTLE BAN ON MONDAY: The Environment and Natural Resources Committee will take testimony on LD 640, a bill that would ban single-use water bottles. It would only apply to bottled water of 1 liter or less. It would not apply to soda or other carbonated beverages. We have a hard time thinking this bill will advance.
 
PHARMACY BILLS SCHEDULED FOR APRIL 1: For our pharmacy members, at least 3 pharmacy related bills are scheduled for public hearing on Thursday, April 1. LD 603, our bill to classify pharmacists as health care providers; LD 998, a bill to eliminate an unnecessary continuing education requirement; and LD 4, a bill that makes a number of changes to the Maine Pharmacy Act.

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