May 10, 2011

State Roundup, May 10, 2011

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TUITION BILL SIGNING: Gov. Martin O’Malley today will sign a bill allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition, if they meet certain conditions, according to an AP report in the Salisbury Daily Times.

OTHER BILLS: O’Malley also will be signing a bill to create a prescription drug monitoring program in Maryland, according to an AP report at WBFF-TV’s website.

Sarah Breitenbach of the Gazette writes that the governor also will sign legislation that closes a loophole in gun laws, requiring those convicted of committing a crime with a long gun such as a rifle to serve at least five years without parole.

SOME CURRIE CHARGES DROPPED: The Sun’s Annie Linskey reports that federal prosecutors have dropped nearly half of the bribery charges against state Sen. Ulysses Currie, chopping seven counts that were connected to an outdated legal theory.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: O’Malley traveled to three Maryland counties yesterday, stopping at each one to highlight a different aspect of his administration’s commitment to affordable housing, writes John Wagner of the Post.

VETO TIER 1 CLASSIFICATION: The Sun’s editorial board is urging Gov. O’Malley to trash his waste-to-energy bill, saying that while the pros and cons of incineration are complicated, environmental activists are right to ask the governor to veto incineration as a Tier 1 renewable resource.

FLORIDA’S LOSS IS: Florida’s decision to turn down more than $2 billion in federal high-speed rail funds is helping Amtrak passengers in Maryland and other Eastern states, as the Obama administration redirected nearly $800 million of that money into Northeast Corridor infrastructure, reports the Sun’s Michael Dresser.

George Lettis of WBAL-TV reports that the funds will help replace a train bridge over the Susquehanna. The video report quotes U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski: “We were not in danger by any means, but it was getting old, and just like you need a knee replacement, we needed a bridge replacement.”

PENSION PANEL TO MEET: The group formed to evaluate and recommend changes to the state’s imperiled pension and retiree health systems will convene later this month to learn more about the reforms adopted this year and to consider several additional options for the future, reports Alan Brody for the Gazette.

FIGHT POACHING: The state must find ways to fight oyster and fish poaching, opines the editorial board for the Annapolis Capital, especially in light of the recent discovery that up to 80% of state-funded oyster beds have been stolen.

PENSION INVESTING: A new national study found that many state pension systems over-invest in their own states and lose money. But Maryland is not one of them, blogs Megan Poinski for MarylandReporter.com.

CAR AGREEMENT IN COURT: The state’s highest court today will take up the question of whether an agreement between Maryland Transportation Authority police officers and the MTA was valid. The 2006 agreement was that if the union would ask state lawmakers to withdraw bills granting them collective bargaining rights, the agency would give take-home cars to officers, writes Andrea Siegel for the Sun. The bills were withdrawn and the authority approved a take-home car program. But in 2007, with a new administration, officers say the agency reneged on the deal.

PAINTING THE DOME: The Maryland State House dome will be getting a paint job and some window work, according to an AP report in the Carroll County Times.

PAC ANIMALS: Maryland Votes for Animals, a Maryland PAC formed two years ago, hasn’t donated money to candidates yet, but according to its founder, it has helped influence the outcome of several bills in the 2011 General Assembly session, writes Greg Latshaw in the Salisbury Daily Times.

MD. MORTGAGE FRAUD: Maryland again had one of the highest rates of mortgage fraud in the nation last year, rising from eighth place in 2009 to fifth in 2010, according to a report released by the LexisNexis Mortgage Asset Research Institute, Kevin James Shay reports for the Gazette.

TV NEWS BLUES: Michael Olesker, in Patch.com, bemoans the loss of another in the very small number of hard TV news reporters, as Suzanne Collins leaves WJZ-TV to become chief of staff for state Sen. Nancy Jacobs.

MERGER LAWSUITS: Constellation Energy Group shareholders have filed six lawsuits in Baltimore City Circuit Court since the power company announced in late April that it had agreed to sell itself to Chicago-based Exelon Corp. for $7.9 billion in an all-stock deal, writes Hanah Cho for the Sun.

Scott Dance of the Baltimore Business Journal writes that the lawsuits argue that Constellation executives did not maximize shareholder value in taking the deal. Constellation disclosed the lawsuits yesterday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

MERGER’S MAX FACTOR: Max Curran, brother-in-law to Gov. O’Malley, is doubly qualified to lead the legal fight to get the sale of Constellation Energy and BGE through the Maryland Public Service Commission, writes the Sun’s Jay Hancock. First, he once was a commissioner himself. Second, a few months ago he succeeded in shepherding a similar deal though the same body.

PG HIRING DELAYS PROPOSED: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has proposed delaying the hiring of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers after a gloomy housing market led to a deeper-than-expected drop in tax collections, reports Miranda Spivack for the Post.

CHARTER PETITION IN: Voters should know in about a week if a petition is successful to hold a special election to choose members of a charter writing board to craft a document outlining the structure of Frederick County government, reports Meg Tully for the Frederick News Post.

Petitioners turned in 2,864 signatures to the Frederick Board of County Commissioners hours ahead of the deadline and 864 signatures more than the 2,000 required by state law to make the petition valid, the Gazette’s Katherine Heerbrandt writes.

BUILDING CURBS LIFTED: The state Department of the Environment has lifted a consent agreement restricting Middletown building projects after recognizing that the municipality has improved its water capacity, writes Bethany Rodgers in the Frederick News Post.