November 22, 2011

State Roundup, November 22, 2011

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REDISTRICTING CHALLENGE: The federal judge overseeing the first round of legal arguments on the lawsuit challenging Maryland’s congressional redistricting quickly ruled yesterday against the state’s motion to dismiss and assigned the case to a three-judge panel, Glynis Kazanjian writes for MarylandReporter.com.

U.S. District Judge Roger Titus rebuffed Attorney General Doug Gansler’s argument to dismiss the case and said he would immediately notify the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Aaron Davis blogs for the Post. The chief judge could still decide not to grant a three-judge panel, but the development suggested the state may have to fully justify its map before the court.

BOOKKEEPING AT DDA: The editorial board for the Annapolis Capital opines that we can blame bookkeeping bungling at the Developmental Disabilities Administration for the 3% hike in the alcohol tax.

ENERGY SAVINGS: Maryland spent $2.3 million last fiscal year on a renewable energy grant program that brought in only $637,000 in savings, according to a report by the Maryland Energy Administration. But, writes Hayley Peterson of the Washington Examiner, ongoing savings from the grants will add up to roughly $3.2 million over five years.

FERTILIZER REGS: State officials are plowing ahead with new rules on how and when farmers can fertilize their fields, Tim Wheeler of the Sun reports, despite last-minute objections from environmentalists that the proposed limits have been weakened in an apparent bid to mollify agricultural interests.

RESURRECTED ISSUES: Sarah Breitenbach of the Gazette reports that Maryland’s League of Conservation Voters intends to ask the General Assembly to sign off on programs to bring offshore wind energy to Maryland, to impose regulations on the treatment of wastewater, and to create a tax on plastic and paper bags distributed by retailers, all initiatives that failed in the 2011 session.

ELECTRIC CHOICE: The Gazette’s Steve Kelly writes that consumers seeking to buy electrical power — or to change their electricity providers — now can take advantage of expanded consumer information on the website of the Maryland Public Service Commission. Click here to access that portion of the website.

CAPITAL GAIN: The Sun editorial board writes that Maryland should increase its level of borrowing in the short term to take advantage of low construction costs and put people to work during this tough economic time.

SUPERCOMMITTEE FAIL: Marylanders from nearly every walk of life could be affected by across-the-board budget cuts starting in 2013 as a result of the congressional supercommittee’s failure to reach an agreement to trim the nation’s spiraling budget deficits, report John Fritze and Matthew Hay Brown for the Sun.

MINORITY CONTRACTS: Maryland’s two slots parlors fell short of their minority business contracting requirements, even after accounting for the state’s under-reporting of the actual numbers, Lindsey Robbins writes for the Gazette.

RACING DAYS: Leaders of the Maryland Racing Commission said Monday they have not reached a deal with the Maryland Jockey Club on the number of racing days in next year’s schedule, even as a Dec. 1 deadline to do so looms, Jack Lambert reports for the Baltimore Business Journal.

GAY MARRIAGE: The editorial board for the Diamondback applauds Gov. Martin O’Malley for taking his support of gay marriage to the next level. Instead of sitting comfortably on the sidelines, it says, he has firmly planted himself in the pro-gay marriage camp.

HEALTH EXCHANGE: The state’s Health Benefit Exchange Board has five weeks to deliver recommendations to the legislature outlining how a federally mandated health insurance exchange program will be implemented and paid for, reports Glynis Kazanjian for MarylandReporter.com. The late December due date will give the General Assembly time to pass legislation affecting the exchange, which is supposed to be up and running by January 2014.

COMPLAINT BACKLOG: The state Board of Physicians has a serious backlog of complaints and a growing timeline for resolving it, according to a newly released legislative audit of the agency charged with protecting the public from bad doctors. The Sun’s Meredith Cohn reports that the board also isn’t keeping complete records and its actions lack transparency, sometimes in violation of open meetings laws.

CURRIE ETHICS PROBE: Maryland Senate President Mike Miller yesterday formally asked a legislative ethics committee to take a look at the relationship between Sen. Ulysses Currie and a grocery chain that paid him $245,000 over five years, John Wagner blogs for the Post.

EHRLICH WRITES: John Wagner of the Post gives us a quick look into former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s new book.

CHILD ABUSE: The Post’s Ben Pershing blogs that with the aftershocks of the alleged molestation scandal at Penn State still reverberating, Sen. Barbara Mikulski plans to convene a Senate hearing on “how well our nation is protecting children from child abuse and neglect.”

HOYER BACKS EDWARDS: They squabbled this summer over possible cuts to Medicare, and they aren’t the best of friends in Congress. But U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, said he is backing fellow Democrat and incumbent Donna Edwards in the race to represent Maryland’s Fourth Congressional District, writes Miranda Spivack for the Post.

STATE ASKS REVIEW: Pete McCarthy of the Frederick News Post reports that the Maryland Department of Planning is recommending Frederick County take a closer look at its 2011 comprehensive plan and zoning review to better assess proposed changes to its land-use laws.

MO CO POLICE: Maryland Juice is reporting that Montgomery County police have succeeded in putting the fate of their bargaining rights in front of voters in 2012. A government employee says that the Montgomery County Board of Elections has certified 34,828 signatures submitted by the police employee’s union.

The County Council passed a bill in July that restricts the Fraternal Order of Police’s ability to engage in bargaining over any action taken by management that could have any effect on employees, an ability that was not shared by the other county government employee unions, Rachel Baye writes for the Washington Examiner.

TRANSGENDERED IN HOWARD: The bill to make gender identity a protected classification under Howard County law is poised for approval, as the four County Council Democrats sponsoring the bill confirmed their support after a public hearing yesterday that was filled with personal stories and national data about transgender discrimination, Lindsey McPherson reports for the Howard County Times.

“We don’t want to be special,” said Howard resident Sharon Brackett, the co-chair of Gender Rights Maryland. “We want to be just like everyone else.” The Sun’s Jessica Anderson writes that Brackett and others shared personal stories while testifying before the five-member council at a public hearing in Ellicott City.

CONAWAY VS BLOGGER: Justin Fenton of the Sun writes that one of Baltimore’s most bizarre political sideshows took an ugly twist yesterday, with police acknowledging that they were investigating a morning altercation between Clerk of Circuit Court Frank Conaway and blogger Adam Meister.

SOMERSET DISTRICTS: Somerset County Commissioners expect to hear proposed changes to the county’s election district boundaries during a meeting this afternoon, Liz Holland of the Salisbury Daily Times reports.