April 5, 2011

State Roundup, April 5, 2011

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BUDGET CRAFTING: Senators and delegates on the budget conference committee who had seemed far apart Friday quickly worked out two of the larger points of contention between the House and Senate yesterday morning – changes to the retirement system and retiree prescription benefits, Megan Poinski writes for MarylandReporter.com.

State retirees will pay more for health care, but not as much as the Senate-backed proposal envisioned, Ann Marimow reports for the Post. Under the compromise plan, new state workers will receive a less generous retirement package and will have to work 10 years instead of five to be eligible for retirement benefits.

“That was our primary focus,” said House Speaker Michael Busch, referring to easing some changes for retirees that had been considered initially, according to an AP report in the Daily Record. “I think all in all, it was a very, very good compromise.”

Lawmakers have been looking to scale back benefits to help reduce the unfunded liability in the pension system, reports John Rydell of WBFF-TV.

State workers would see a hybrid plan that melds elements from the House and Senate passed versions of the reform package, the Sun’s Annie Linskey writes. Figures were not immediately available on how much will be saved by the latest version of the overhaul.

OPPOSITION: The Maryland State Education Association has taken the lead role in the fight against cuts in state pension benefits, which is understandable since teachers have more at stake – its members earn more on average than other government workers, which means their pension benefits are higher, reports Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

O’MALLEY’S MARCH IN APRIL: Gov. Martin O’Malley has one week to extract his signature proposals from legislative committees and usher them to approval in the full General Assembly, Julie Bykowicz blogs for the Sun. But even as he labors to save efforts such as offshore wind and an investment fund for small businesses, another agenda item is calling out for O’Malley’s attention: pension reform.

DRIVING WITH CELL PHONES: A Senate panel last week put the brakes on a measure that would have toughened penalties for motorists who talk on their cell phones while driving, voting down a bill that would have made the practice a primary offense, the Sun’s Annie Linskey blogs.

GLOWING RESULTS: Maryland radiation testing lab was ready but surprised when it found positive signs of radioactive iodine 131 following recent tests of air, soil, food and water in the wake of the Japan nuclear disaster, writes Frank Roylance for the Sun.

STEM CELL RESEARCH: The Senate wants to trim O’Malley’s proposed $12.4 million for the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund by $2 million, while House lawmakers want to retain it whole. Representatives from both chambers are expected to meet this week in a conference committee to hammer out their differences, reports Kevin James Shay for the Gazette.

SAVE THE BAY: If the bay is ever to be restored to health, every person and every activity that is polluting it must be part of the solution, writes the editorial board for the Frederick News Post. Pollution from turf grass fertilizers is a big issue, and one that anyone who grows grass can help solve.

GAY MARRIAGE: In Center Maryland, Josh Kurtz writes a very moving – and personal – article on the case for gay marriage.

IN THE DARK: Despite all the public uproar over Pepco’s chronic power outages, and despite all the politicians’ promises to crack down, there’s a substantial risk that the Maryland legislature isn’t going to do enough to force the utility to keep the lights on, writes Robert McCartney in the Post.

Montgomery County lawmakers are making a final push in the waning days of the General Assembly session to enact legislation that would set strict reliability standards for public utilities, Alan Brody of the Gazette reports.

BGE delivered up the perfect prop for a Senate press conference yesterday announcing reliability standards for electricity companies: a real and unintended power outage, blogs Julie Bykowicz for the Sun.

STOP WINING: Anyone thirsting for a Howard County winery tour will have to wait at least one more month to begin planning, reports Larry Carson for the Sun. Legislation to allow wineries in the county was tabled last night by the County Council, the second consecutive year that the Ulman administration legislation has run into trouble.

PG SCHOOLS FINED: The Prince George’s County public school system has been ordered to pay a total of $4 million to more than 1,000 foreign teachers working there after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, according to an AP report in the Daily Record.

LEAD PAINT: Del. Sandy Rosenberg, who helped write Maryland’s 1996 lead paint law, says that Baltimore city’s Housing Authority cannot plead poverty when children suffered brain damage while living in public housing, reports Scott Calvert for the Sun.

CAMPAIGN HQ: Baltimore mayoral candidate Otis Rolley will open his campaign headquarters on The Avenue in Hampden tomorrow night, according to an email from his campaign, reports Julie Scharper for the Sun.