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PJC Brief Urges Court to Uphold Maryland’s Fair Share Act

On April 19, 2006 the Public Justice Center’s Appellate Advocacy Project filed an amicus brief in the case Retail Industry Leaders Association v. Fielder, pending before Judge Fred Motz in Maryland Federal District Court.
 
In this suit, RILA (an association of retail businesses) challenges the Fair Share Health Care Fund Act (“the Fair Share Act”), enacted on January 12, 2006 when the Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Erlich’s veto.  The Fair Share Act requires large employers to pay a payroll tax to support Medicaid if they do not spend a percentage of their revenue on employee health care or insurance.  The Act is intended to help level the playing field so that responsible businesses that provide good health benefits do not subsidize and become undercut by those, like Wal-Mart, that provide inadequate benefits.  It will also provide a major source of revenue to fund state Medicaid, which often picks up the cost of medical care for employees of companies that do not provide health insurance.
 
The Fair Share Act was drafted and promoted by the Maryland Citizens’ Health Care Initiative (“MCHCI”), a nonprofit advocate of affordable health care for everyone in Maryland. Contrary to RILA’s assertions, the Amicus brief argues that the Fair Share Act does not discriminatorily target one employer in violation of Maryland constitutional guarantees of equal protection and the prohibition against special legislation.  Rather, it applies a payroll tax equally to all employers with 10,000 or more employees in Maryland.  Currently there are four such employers--Giant Food, Northrup-Grumman, Johns Hopkins University, and Wal-Mart.  If the law survives the RILA legal challenge, all four will be subject to it next January, as will any other Maryland employer who grows to be that large.  Employers can obtain a dollar for dollar credit for any expenditures they make on employee health care or health insurance, up to the full amount of the payroll tax; but the law does not require employers to "spend more on health care," they can chose to pay the tax instead.
 
The Fair Share Act represents the best of our democracy in action.  Concerned citizens coalesced to address a pressing social problem: inadequate access to health care for low-income residents. They utilized time-tested democratic mechanisms of government to achieve progress for the common good.  As President John F. Kennedy so aptly noted, “political action is the highest responsibility of a citizen.”  According to MCHCI President Vinny Demarco, “Without the great work done by lawyers like those at PJC, all of our hard work could be wiped away.”
 
The Public Justice Center brief was written by PJC Director of Appellate Advocacy Suzanne Sangree and co-counsel Michael Pretl and Chris Brown. The PJC also worked closely with Nevett Steele of Civil Justice, Inc., which filed an amicus brief on behalf of Medicaid Matters! Maryland, alerting the court to the impact of the case on medical care for low-income residents.  
 
Suzanne Sangree, Director of the Appellate Project of the Public Justice Center, was lead counsel, and she was assisted by co-counsel Michael Pretl and Chris Brown to represent Amicus MCHCI.

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