March 23, 2011

State Roundup, March 23, 2011

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DEBT COVERAGE: To cover mounting debt, the House of Delegates budget says, Maryland will have to raise property taxes after next year or begin eating into operating funds for schools, social services and public safety, reports Aaron Davis for the Post.

WIND PROPOSAL: The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee offered up the classic Annapolis solution to the politically tricky off-shore wind legislation that Gov. Martin O’Malley is pushing this year: Transform it into a study, writes the Sun’s Annie Linskey.

Writing for the Frederick News Post, Marta Mossburg says that consumers need to consider alternative energy programs but O’Malley’s wind proposal might just be too expensive for the return.

Nick Sohr of the Daily Record writes that the proposal was tripped up by lawmakers’ reservations about the cost of guaranteeing a market in Maryland for offshore wind energy.

CAMPUS MERGER: In pushing for the merger of the state university system’s Baltimore and College Park campuses, Senate President Mike Miller said the state could boast one of the top 10 research universities in the country, simply by establishing a formal bond between programs that already exist. Childs Walker reports the story for the Sun.

BUDGET PROBLEMS: In his Second Opinion column for the Sun, Andy Green writes that the governor’s budget proposal and the House of Delegates alterations to it only go so far in addressing the fiscal problems that the state is facing.

DRUG CONTRACT PULLED: Gov. O’Malley will defer a Board of Public Works vote on a contested $2.3 billion prescription drug contract until an appeals process is finished, Annie Linskey reports for the Sun.

RX POT: The Sun’s Annie Linskey blogs that supporters of legalizing marijuana for medical uses put forward a new approach in the Senate yesterday morning, voting on a proposal that would allow sick people to use their illness as a defense if arrested for smoking pot. Read the amendment here.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, one of the lead sponsors, said the scaled-back approach is “not everything we would have hoped for,” writes Ann Marimow for the Post.

Additionally, writes Meg Tully for the Frederick News Post, the bill proposes a work group to come up with a model program to allow patient access to marijuana by 2013.

INMATE CARE: Counties would no longer have to pay medical costs for jail inmates with pre-existing conditions, under a bill presented yesterday before a state Senate panel, writes Andrew Schotz for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

BOTTLED WATER: A small group of activists urged the governor “to kick the bottle out of the State House,” and use the $300,000 the state spends each year on bottled water to invest in the state’s aging water infrastructure. The figure comes from the state spending accountability website, Len Lazarick blogs for MarylandReporter.com.

NICKEL BAGS: According to Steve Schuster of the Towson Times,  the bill to impose a 5-cent fee on using plastic bags at grocery stores is gaining ground in Annapolis.

FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES: The Baltimore Business Journal reports that the Maryland Senate unanimously passed a bill yesterday to regulate for-profit colleges and require them to reimburse students if they go out of business.

IMMIGRANT BILLS: Two proposals to count illegal immigrants enrolled in public schools have been killed in the state Senate, according to the Frederick News Post.

Meanwhile, reports John Rydell for WBFF-TV, state lawmakers are examining a bill that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from checking the legal status of witnesses or victims of crimes.

WINE SHIPMENTS: Maryland retailers were pushed back in their fight to ship wine directly to customers after a House of Delegates subcommittee said this week only state wineries should be allowed to send wine through the mail, writes Alexander Jackson for the BBJ.

The alcoholic beverage industry, which had long opposed any form of direct-shipping, supported the bill this year on the condition that it be limited to wineries, blogs Julie Bykowicz for the Sun.

STATE BOOZE TAX: Proponents now say an alcohol tax increase would be aimed directly at the purchaser of alcoholic beverages, writes Matthew Bieniek for the Cumberland Times News.

SHORE BOOZE BILLS: Greg Latshaw reports for the Salisbury Daily Times that the state Senate has approved three Lower Shore alcohol bills, separate measures that would promote microbreweries and dissolve the Worcester County Liquor Control Board.

FRACKING AMENDMENTS: In an attempt to start the drilling sooner, Del. Wendell Beitzel of Garrett County offered five amendments to a bill that would require a comprehensive study on the impact and risks of drilling Marcellus shale before permits could be issued, Megan Poinski blogs for MarylandReporter.com. All were rejected.

The study will be conducted over two years, blogs Julie Bykowicz for the Sun.

JUVIE GROUP HOMES: Another fight over state-funded group homes for juveniles hit the Senate floor yesterday with a bill to give private operators more time to meet the requirement that their workers be certified to take care of troubled youth, writes Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com.

CHILD NEGLECT: The Sun’s Annie Linskey writes that O’Malley’s proposal to create a law against child neglect ignited a robust debate within the some in Democratic caucus on the Senate floor yesterday, with a few urban members arguing that the measure would criminalize poor families and disproportionally impact African-Americans. You can read the proposal here.

SLOPPY HANDWRITING: In a ruling sure to be welcomed by Marylanders with sloppy penmanship, the Court of Appeals has decided that petition signatures need not be legible to be valid, write the Sun’s Julie Bykowicz and Larry Carson.

ANGELOS IN THE WAY: In an op-ed piece in the Sun, members of a community group called Midtown Matters write that Peter Angelos has a long history of philanthropy and has amply demonstrated his love for Baltimore over the years. Why, then, is he standing in the way of the desperately needed redevelopment of the State Center project?

AA UNIONS HEAD TO COURT: Saying “Court will be next,” about two dozen public safety workers and their families filed out of the Anne Arundel County Council chambers last night after opponents failed to secure enough votes to override County Executive John Leopold’s vetoes of proposed labor rules, reports Erin Cox for the Annapolis Capital.

FREDERICK CUTS: Cuts in services and staff made by the current Frederick County Board of County Commissioners are just the first step to address a larger fiscal deficit, writes Patti Borda for the Frederick News Post.

MoCo CUTS: Montgomery County’s libraries, health services and employees are the hardest hit in the budget proposed by County Exec Ike Leggett, writes the Gazette’s Erin Cunningham.

BUDGET SHORTFALL: Washington County faces a $7.4 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, Heather Keels reports for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.