April 2, 2010

State Roundup April 2, 2010

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BUDGET: In a preview of election year themes, Republicans in the House of Delegates offered and Democrats rejected $830 million in additional budget cuts the GOP said were necessary to avoid massive tax increases next year, Len Lazarick and Andy Rosen report for MarylandReporter.com. The House also rejected a Senate plan to begin shifting teacher pension costs to local governments, Julie Bykowicz writes in The Baltimore Sun. David Collins has a video report for WBAL-TV.

TEACHER PENSIONS: In his Gazette column, Barry Rascovar says Gov. Martin O’Malley and the House of Delegates took the easy road on the big problem of teacher pensions.  Shifting the costs of those pensions to the counties will probably be among the most contentious issues in next week’s conference committees on the budget, writes Marcus Moore in the Gazette.

LEGISLATIVE SCHOLARSHIPS: A majority of delegates voted Thursday to eliminate $11 million in scholarships they hand out to constituents each year, as the measure moved toward final approval in the House, Len Lazarick writes for MarylandReporter.com. Meg Tully has the story for the Frederick News Post.

SLOTS: The Anne Arundel County Board of Elections certified that nearly 23,000 signatures gathered by opponents of a casino at Arundel Mills mall are valid, the Associated Press reports. 18,790 signatures were needed to put the issue to referendum. John Wagner writes in The Washington Post that Anne Arundel County is halting consideration of plans for the slots casino pending the referendum’s outcome in November. Steve Fermier and Robert Lang have an audio report for WBAL.

DAMAGE LIMITS: The state Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, will hear arguments today about whether a state cap on awards for pain and suffering is constitutional, Andrea Siegel writes for The Sun. The court could overturn a 25-year-old practice of restricting the size of non-economic damages. Steve Fermier points out for WBAL that the court’s proceedings will be webcast live, beginning at 10 a.m.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE: The state has only borrowed $86 million of the $300 initially stated to pay jobless benefits, and may stop at that, Scott Dance writes in the Baltimore Business Journal. Projected higher tax revenue from businesses, a slowdown in job losses and $127 million in federal stimulus money could allow the state to avoid borrowing again.

GANSLER: Will the move to impeach Attorney General Doug Gansler lead to election challenges for the AG? Sean Sedam raises the question in the Gazette. Nick Sohr has a post for his Eye on Annapolis blog that examines the lack of action by Del. Don Dwyer as the unfavorable report on his impeachment resolution rolled by on the House floor.

EHRLICH: Doug Tallman at the Gazette ruminates on the numbers Bob Ehrlich will need to win in November.

Blair Lee’s Gazette column says the media is out to bury Ehrlich again. Ron Smith’s Sun column says the ex-governor is trying to “ice skate uphill.” And William Thompson in the Sun compares the Ehrlich-O’Malley rematch with the 1950 contest in which a Republican unseated a Democratic governor who had raised the sales tax.

LAWMAKER RANKINGS: The Gazette lists the most influential senators and delegates, and the least influential, based on what it calls “a highly unscientific poll.”  It doesn’t even say how many people responded.

APRIL FOOLS: Mike Miller got one of the strongest challenges to his 24-year reign as Senate president Thursday morning, but it wasn’t what you might think, Erich Wagner writes for MarylandReporter.com.

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette leads Friday’s notebook with its version of the April Fool’s joke on Mike Miller and a less pointed joke in the House.  And there’s more inside baseball in two other notebook briefs.

PROGRESSIVE GROUPS: Environmentalists and others are trying to salvage some victories from this legislative session, Alan Brody reports in the Gazette.

DRIVING: Michael Dresser has an update on the cell phone and drunk driving bills for his Getting There blog in The Sun. The ban on cell phone driving will come out of committee next week in two forms: the unamended Senate version, as well as the House version, which will have an amendment exempting truck drivers using push-to-talk radios.

MILITARY AUDIT: Erin Cunningham reports on the audit of the state’s military department that said it needs more oversight.

HEALTH REFORM: Sean Sedam in the Gazette examines the impact on the state of the federal health care reform.

SHIFT BREAKS: Retailers continue to oppose legislation requiring shift breaks, but they expect it to pass, according to Kevin James Shay in the Gazette.

SCALLOP REGS: State fishermen say new federal sea scallop regulations help large fishing companies in New England, while putting small boats out of business, Jennifer Hlad writes for Capital News Service.

KISSING COUSINS: Del. Henry Heller said he would drop his bill banning marriage between first cousins except for people over 65 and infertile, the Associated Press writes. Some lawmakers were concerned his bill would lead to debate over gay marriage.

ATVS: Del. LeRoy Myers has withdrawn his support for a bill that would require the registration and titling of all-terrain vehicles, Erin Julius writes for The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail. Myers said his constituents are passionately against the bill.