Laws That Don’t Even Qualify As Sausage

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Following up on my just-posted story about Alex and Calvin’s law, the adage about making laws and making sausage has its limits. Some laws are so awful, so nasty, so stupid and ill-conceived from the get-go, that they should be given a category all their own. Let’s call them “rat poison” bills.

Senate Bill 679 is such a bill. And it’s not hard to figure it out. Here’s the bill title and synopsis:

Unemployment Insurance – Exemption From Covered Employment – Nail Technicians

Providing that work is not covered employment when performed by a holder of a limited license to provide nail technician services who leases or otherwise agrees to the use of a chair, booth, or space from a holder of a barbershop permit, a beauty salon permit, or an owner-manager permit who operates a barbershop or beauty salon under specified circumstances.

Who are these “nail technicians”? The New York Times did a report last year and the results were both grim and utterly predictable.

Once an indulgence reserved for special occasions, manicures have become a grooming staple for women across the economic spectrum. There are now more than 17,000 nail salons in the United States, according to census data. The number of salons in New York City alone has more than tripled over a decade and a half to nearly 2,000 in 2012.

But largely overlooked is the rampant exploitation of those who toil in the industry. The New York Times interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage; sometimes they are not even paid. Workers endure all manner of humiliation, including having their tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions, constant video monitoring by owners, even physical abuse. Employers are rarely punished for labor and other violations.

These workers are almost invariably Korean and Vietnamese women, speak little if any English, and are treated as tipped workers, opening them up to even further abuse.

Why would Maryland want to pass a law stripping such workers of what little job protections they have? Good question. It’s not enough to exploit immigrant women, but now we should empower their exploiters to make sure they don’t get unemployment insurance too? What a reprehensible bill. Who would ever vote for this?

And that’s just from reading the title and the synopsis. Wait till you get a load of the fiscal note.

States must be in conformity with certain provisions of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) in order to receive administrative funding for their state UI programs and for the states’ employers to receive federal UI tax credits. The Maryland UI program is 100% federally funded. Employers’ FUTA taxes are 6.0% of each employee’s first $7,000 in wages ($420 annually per employee); however, employers typically receive a credit for most of that amount (5.4%), making the effective tax rate 0.6% (which translates into $42 annually per employee). . . . 

. . . If a certain type of employment is exempt under State UI law but not federal UI law, an employer is subject to the loss of federal UI tax credits. . .

If a certain type of employment is exempt under State UI law but not federal UI law, an employer is subject to the loss of federal UI tax credits. Employers’ FUTA taxes are 6.0% of each employee’s first $7,000 in wages ($420 annually per employee). Employers typically receive a credit for most of that amount (5.4%), making the effective tax rate 0.6% (which translates into $42 annually per employee). If the bill causes any Maryland employer to be in conflict with federal UI law, that employer’s FUTA tax increases due to the loss of the federal credit, which may partially or wholly offset any savings from the exemption. As the bill establishes, but does not require, a process to exempt certain work performed by nail technicians from covered employment, it is assumed that individual nail salon owners choose the most beneficial option for their individual circumstances.

So let’s get this straight. This bill allows salon owners to pick and choose which way of screwing over immigrant women with limited English skills would be more advantageous to the salon owners. And those salon owners have to make a choice or – if they’re not in on the grift – they might face penalties in the form of loss of federal unemployment tax subsidies because Maryland legislators decided to pass this morally repellent law.

So we now have a law that (1) screws immigrant women of color out of unemployment insurance benefits at the whim of employers who already routinely abuse and take advantage of the women, (2) potentially screws over employers who actually don’t abuse their employees by risking their UI subsidies, and (3) puts the entire Maryland unemployment insurance system at risk of being out of compliance with federal law. And for what? Some lobbyist’s client who is angry because he had to pay for several weeks of UI benefits for an employee after he fired her?

Well, one senator voted against it. More encouragingly, 28 delegates did too. So the bill passed.

Some folks flagged the bill as problematic. 28 delegates Delegate Andrew Platt wrote about it on Facebook.

  
As did Kumar Barve 

So did CD8 candidate David Trone on his website.

  
As referenced by several of the above comments, the Attorney General’s office expressed grave concerns about the bill as well.

And yet, here we are. This isn’t sausage, folks. This is a plain old shitty, corrupt inside baseball bill that passed because at least at first, nobody was paying attention. Even when some legislators did notice, the bill proceeded anyway. This kind of sleazy, back room, dark of night bullshit has to stop. We deserve better.

God help me, but Larry Hogan really ought to spare the state the embarrassment of this bill and veto it. Do you know how bad a bill has to be for me to say that?

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