State Roundup, February 3, 2012

February 03, 2012 at 7:59 am

FUND LOCKBOXES: After Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed a 6% sales tax on gas to pay for infrastructure projects, Sen. Rob Garagiola and 21 other senators moved to make the tax more salable with a proposed constitutional amendment to safeguard the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund, which governors have repeatedly raided to balance the general fund budget, Daniel Menefee of MarylandReporter.com writes.

State Sen. John Astle also wants to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to protect two funds that pay for Chesapeake Bay cleanup – the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund and the Bay Restoration Fund, according to the Annapolis Capital.

PRIVATE DOLLARS: As lawmakers prepare to consider tax hikes to pay for transportation projects, Maryland’s lieutenant governor is directing an effort to pump private dollars directly into state roads, bridges and rail lines and the port and airport, Nick Sohr reports for the Daily Record.

STATE OF THE SPEECH: The Frederick News-Post editorial board criticizes Gov. O’Malley’s State of the State address as dull and lifeless, adding that “It was when the governor talked about ‘strengthening the middle class’ that he began to sound just plain disingenuous, especially in light of the tax burden he wants them to shoulder.”

GOP RESPONSE: State Dels. Susan Aumann and Kathy Szeliga have posted their video response to O’Malley’s tax proposals on YouTube.

READY FOR WIND: Lighting Maryland homes with power from giant turbines off Ocean City moved closer to reality yesterday, writes Tim Wheeler in the Sun, as federal officials announced they are ready to go forward with leasing vast areas along the Mid-Atlantic coast for wind farms.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, appearing with O’Malley in Baltimore, said the federal government has concluded that wind energy projects off the coast would cause no significant environmental damage, Greg Masters of the Post reports.

Brian Shane of the Salisbury Daily Times quotes Salazar as saying, “No developer should have to wait nine or 10 years to basically get a lease for offshore wind development.”

State lawmakers still have concerns about its cost and whether there is corporate demand and congressional support for the technology, David Hill reports for the Washington Times.

John Rydell of WBFF-TV reports on Salazar’s visit and the wind energy proposal. And Dave Collins of WBAL-TV was also there.

FILLING PENSION LOOPHOLE: Anne Arundel County Del. Ron George introduced a bill that would stop elected officials who commit crimes while in office from getting their pensions and benefits, Myranda Stephens reports for WBFF-TV.

CHILD PORN PROSECUTION: Nineteen Maryland House members are sponsoring a bill that would give law enforcement more time in preparing to prosecute misdemeanor child pornography cases. Maryland law now requires that charges must be filed in such cases no more than 12 months after the offense is committed, according to the editorial board of the Salisbury Daily Times.

DRIVER TESTING: Earl Kelly of the Annapolis Capital reports that the mother of a college student killed by an elderly driver asked the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to amend a bill that would increase the noncommercial drivers’ license renewal period from five years to eight years, by requiring drivers to undergo in-depth screening once every 16 years.

HONEY DEFINED: Del. Kathy Afzali is sponsoring legislation that defines honey as a substance produced by bees from plant nectar. Ranging in color from almost clear to dark brown, true honey cannot contain food additives and derives its flavor from the plants bees visit, according to the proposal, Bethany Rodgers writes for the Frederick News-Post.

UM SUPPORT FOR BAG TAX: Although it may mean paying slightly more for groceries, student activists at the University of Maryland College Park have rallied behind legislation that would place a 5-cent surcharge on plastic bags, Jim Bach writes for the Diamondback.

AWKWARD WELCOME: Senate President Mike Miller received a rare and quite public rebuke yesterday morning from two of the chamber’s African-American women after he asked a visiting international delegation to come down from the gallery and assemble on the Senate floor where senators could see them, Michael Dresser writes for the Sun.

Bryan Sears of Patch.com quotes Miller as saying, “Bring everybody down here and let’s see what we got.”

DONATIONS TO DGA: Companies seeking lucrative state contracts and business deals in Maryland made five- and six-figure contributions in recent months to a Democratic governors group led by Gov. O’Malley, the Sun’s Annie Linskey reports.

CONSTELLATION HQ: Harbor Point in Baltimore City is slated to be Constellation Energy Group Inc.’s new home, Scott Dance reports in the Baltimore Business Journal.

HOUSE FUND-RAISING: John Fritze of the Sun is updating the latest campaign fund-raising figures for incumbents and challengers to Maryland’s U.S. House delegation.

FILMMAKER OUSTED AT HARRIS HEARING: Oscar-nominated director Josh Fox, whose 2010 documentary “Gasland” raised environmental concerns about the natural gas mining process known as fracking, was arrested Wednesday at a public hearing chaired by Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, John Fritze writes for the Sun.

6th DISTRICT: Robert Coblentz has never sought public office before. Now he is running for Congress, seeking the Republican nomination to the 6th District seat held by Roscoe Bartlett that is being sought by seven others, Ed Waters writes for the Frederick News Post.

FED FUNDS IN JEOPARDY: Hagerstown Regional Airport would need to boost its Cape Air passenger counts to keep a federal subsidy under a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill under consideration in Congress, reports Heather Keels for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

SCHOOL CHOICE: The Allegany County Board of Education is objecting to a bill introduced in the General Assembly that would allow more Allegany County students to attend school in Hancock. State Sen. George Edwards is working on a compromise that would let current Allegany students in Hancock schools remain, while allowing their siblings to attend school in Hancock, but end the practice after that, Julie Greene and Andrew Schotz report in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

TRANSPARENCY IN GOV’T: It was supposed to be a mundane meeting, an update on how the Montgomery County government audits itself. But by the time it ended yesterday, writes Victor Zapana for the Post, County Council members butted heads with the executive branch over how transparent it is.

STATE OF HOWARD: In delivering his annual state of the county address, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman touted the usual accomplishments — Howard’s AAA bond rating, good schools, safe neighborhoods, etc. But this year, he said, it’s not enough to say that Howard County is strong, Lindsey McPherson reports for the Howard County Times.

O’MALLEY PLANS: The governor’s agenda suggests he has eyes on a national audience to some in Annapolis, Daniel Leaderman writes in the Gazette.

STATE POLICE HELICOPTERS: The arrival of the first two multipurpose Medevac helicopters in the Maryland State Police’s new fleet will be delayed indefinitely while the state and manufacturer negotiate changes related to medical equipment, reports Benjamin Ford in the Gazette.

MIDDLE CLASS TAXES: Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to raise income taxes on 20% of Marylanders is triggering a debate about what constitutes “middle class,” as well as a likely flood of counter tax measures, writes Danielle Gaines in the Gazette. Sen. Ed Kasemeyer suggests $250,000 or $300,000 might be the higher incomes to target.

FILM SUBSIDIES: More film and TV productions are coming to Maryland with the incentives the legislature passed last year, helping other businesses here, Kevin James Shay reports in the Gazette.

PG SLOTS: Prince George’s legislators say a Washington Post poll suggesting most state and county residents favor bringing slots to the county is unlikely to affect the debate about allowing the gambling machines, Daniel Leaderman reports in the Gazette.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE VOTES: Proponents of legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Maryland say it has more support in the House than last year, thanks to additional exemptions for religious groups and more visible backing from Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Gazette columnist Laslo Boyd says there was a lack of courage by some legislators who did not support the marriage equality bill last year.

TAX HIKES: Gazette columnist Barry Rascovar writes that O’Malley’s tax proposals will look very different after the legislature works on them.

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