March 1, 2012

State Roundup, March 1, 2012

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MISDEMEANORS AND JAIL: Under legislation scheduled for votes in Annapolis today, people would be less likely to be hauled directly to jail for smoking marijuana, shoplifting, destroying property or committing one of a series of other misdemeanors, write Aaron Davis and Dan Morse in the Post. The matters would be handled with citations, with an expectation that the suspect would later show up for court.

GAY MARRIAGE REFERENDUM: As Gov. Martin O’Malley prepares to sign legislation legalizing gay marriage, opponents of the bill have cleared one of the first hurdles to asking voters to overturn the law: The State Board of Elections has approved the language opponents will use when collecting signatures to bring the law to referendum, according to an AP story in the Sun.

Del. Michael Hough of Frederick County appeared at a news conference yesterday announcing a partnership of lawmakers and religious leaders who aim to gather enough signatures to take the issue of legalizing gay marriage to a Nov. 6 referendum, Bethany Rodgers reports for the Frederick News-Post.

Daniel Leaderman of the Gazette reports that signature collection is expected to begin within the next few days, once the alliance gets final approval from the state Board of Elections, said Del. Neil Parrott of Hagerstown.

The coalition will begin campaigning with members of MDPetitions.com to garner the 55,736 signatures needed to place the bill on the November ballot, Jim Bach reports for the Diamondback. Duane Keenan of MarylandReporter.com filed this podcast on the issue as well as on the transgender bias bill.

TRANSGENDER BIAS: Greg Masters of the Post writes about the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, which heard testimony this week on a bill that would prohibit discrimination in public accommodations, housing and employment based on “gender identity.”

REALTORS RALLY: Hundreds of Maryland Realtors rallied yesterday in a driving rain in Annapolis to protest Gov. O’Malley’s proposal to phase out the mortgage interest deduction — along with other tax breaks — as part of his budget plan, Michael Dresser reports in the Sun.

Lindsey Robbins of the Gazette reports that Prince George’s real estate agents fear O’Malley’s proposal would hobble the industry’s nascent recovery.

‘DOOMSDAY’ AVOIDANCE: A bill to roll back a 15-year-old income tax cut and raise all tax rates by a quarter of a percent (.25%) may be part of Senate strategy to avoid a “doomsday” budget of drastic cuts by generating $600 million in new revenue, write Len Lazarick and Daniel Menefee of MarylandReporter.com.

TAX HIKES: WBFF-TV reports that with gas prices going up, the possibility of a gas tax hike looks less likely.

John Rydell of WBFF-TV also reports on the various tax hike proposals to balance the state budget.

NULLIFYING VOTER WISHES: The editorial board for the Sun opines that while a proposal in Annapolis would make sure Maryland’s public schools receive adequate local funding, the effort to nullify property tax caps goes too far.

The Salisbury Daily Times editorial board also weighs in on the issue, saying that the Senate bill singling out Wicomico County’s 2% tax hike cap is a cheap shot.

PENSION SHIFT: Megan Poinski of MarylandReporter.com writes that county officials told members of the Senate Budget Committee yesterday that splitting the local contribution of teacher pension and Social Security costs between state and county governments would devastate county budgets. “I appreciate the situation you are in, but this process and what we are looking at today is unacceptable,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.

TOUGH TIMES IN TALBOT: Talbot County Council members discussed Tuesday night a pollution diet for the Chesapeake Bay and a proposal to shift teacher pension costs from the state to local jurisdictions, unanimously agreeing the two issues could be disastrous to county finances, Daniel Divilio reports for the Easton Star-Democrat.

SAVE THE BAY FEES: Pamela Wood writes for the Annapolis Capital that activists pitched lawmakers yesterday on two new fees to help the Chesapeake Bay: a 5-cent bag fee and a local stormwater fee.

HOUSING DEPT. MOVE: Del. Mary-Dulany James wants Attorney General Doug Gansler’s opinion on whether the feasibility study that justified a controversial plan to move the Housing Department headquarters from Crownsville to New Carrollton can be release. It has been a well-guarded secret since 2010, writes Daniel Menefee for MarylandReporter.com.

REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITIES: A bill that would create a task force to study the creation of regional transit financing authorities met with little opposition in the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday, writes Justin Snow of MarylandReporter.com.

6th DISTRICT DEMS DEBATE: All five Democratic candidates in the 6th Congressional District race gathered before a standing-room-only crowd in Frederick last night to discuss hot-button issues. Cara Anthony writes about the forum for the Frederick News-Post.

POORAN PICKS UP SUPPORT: While state Sen. Rob Garagiola and financier John Delaney have sucked up much of the political oxygen in the 6th Congressional District race for Roscoe Bartlett’s seat, candidate Milad Pooran, a doctor in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps, has been a favorite of some activists, earning more attention in the blogosphere.

STACHES IN THE 6TH: David Moon at Maryland Juice is reporting that the Stache Act, which would grant a $250 tax deduction to those with mustaches, has become a campaign issue in the 6th Congressional District race, with several of incumbent Roscoe Bartlett’s opponents not seeing the humor in his support of mustaches but not of a tax credit.

Here’s Ben Pershing’s report on the hairy situation for the Post.

And Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post also reports on the issue.

TUBMAN PARKS: U.S. Rep. Andy Harris has introduced legislation in the House to create two national parks honoring Underground Railroad activist Harriet Tubman: the Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties in Maryland and the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, N.Y., Chris Knauss reports for the Cecil Whig.