State Roundup, March 27, 2012

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RAFT OF INITIATIVES: The Maryland General Assembly, in one of its busiest days of the session, advanced legislation yesterday to privatize state facilities, spur offshore wind power and implement President Obama’s health-care overhaul — all key priorities of Gov. Martin O’Malley, write Aaron Davis, John Wagner and Greg Masters at the Post.

HEALTH EXCHANGES: The House of Delegates has passed a measure to create a framework for a health insurance market place to provide coverage to uninsured 700,000 residents, according to an AP report in the Daily Record. The House voted 94-44 for the bill yesterday, and a similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Ben Giles of the Washington Examiner reports that the health-care exchange would be set up by Jan. 1, 2014, and would market and sell health care plans to uninsured Marylanders and small businesses that don’t offer or provide insurance to employees.

PRIVATIZATION: Maryland delegates also approved legislation that will encourage private partners to invest in public infrastructure, a move Republican lawmakers in the House say will turn the state’s bidding process into a shadow government operation, Ben Giles reports in the Examiner.

Justin Snow of reports that the legislation could threaten the pending lawsuit over the State Center development, a massive Baltimore public-private partnership on hold while the litigation goes through the courts.

FRACK TAX: House lawmakers passed a 7.5% state severance tax on natural gas in a 82-51 vote, after fending off on Saturday an amendment from Del. Wendell Beitzel that would cap state and local taxes on natural gas extraction at 7.5% combined, Daniel Menefee writes in

John Rydell of WBFF-TV reports that lawmakers had changed the bill to cut the initially proposed tax in half from 15%.

FANTASY GAMES SCORE: The House of Delegates passed a bill yesterday that would exempt fantasy games like Fantasy Football from prohibitions against betting, wagering and gambling in state law, according to an AP report in the Carroll County Times. The vote was 114-16. The measure now goes to the state Senate.

HUNTING FEE HIKE: Legislation that would have nearly doubled the price of hunting licenses faced a rare defeat in the House of Delegates last night after a lively debate, writes Justin Snow for The bill would have increased the cost of a hunting license from $24.50 to $40.

GAMBLING EXPANSION: State Senators gave preliminary approval last night to legislation that would expand gambling across the state of Maryland and allow a sixth casino site in Prince George’s County, Ben Giles reports in the Washington Examiner.

E-Z PASSES: The Maryland Transportation Authority is asking the state’s spending board to approve a $19.5 million contract to buy new E-ZPass transponders for Maryland drivers, Jack Lambert reports in the Baltimore Business Journal.

READING THE BOSS: The Post John Wagner blogs that, besides budget books and briefing papers, required reading this week at the Maryland State House includes an interview conducted by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart with Bruce Springsteen published in Rolling Stone magazine. O’Malley, a musician himself and a big fan of “The Boss,” distributed the article via e-mail.

EARLY VOTING: Cheryl Mattix of the Cecil Whig writes that early voting seems to be attracting more Republicans than Democrats.

Dan Divilio of the Easton Star Democrat writes that rainy weather didn’t keep people from voting early over the weekend, and more turned out on Monday.

6th DISTRICT DEM FORUM: Democrats running in the 6th Congressional District tried to separate themselves from the field during a candidates’ forum last night, using views on health care, war, immigration and the economy to frame a race with intense Republican opposition, Pete McCarthy reports in the Frederick News Post.

6th DISTRICT REPUBLICANS: Duane Keenan has a podcast of the Republican candidates for the 6th Congressional District from the AARP/ debate on Sunday.

GARAGIOLA PROFILED: As a candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 6th District, state Sen. Rob Garagiola does not shy from his nine years in the State House, even as his opponents label him an “insider” and “career politician,” writes John Fritze for the Sun. Instead, the 39-year-old former Army Airborne reservist says his ability to broker compromise is exactly what a bitterly divided Washington needs.

ETHICS COMPLAINT: A former Bush administration official with political ties in Maryland has filed a formal ethics complaint against Garagiola for failing to disclose income he received as a lobbyist on state disclosure forms, John Fritze reports in the Sun.

Meanwhile, David Moon of Maryland Juice reprints an endorsement of Garagiola as well as comments from Garagiola’s campaign manager saying that the ethics complaint is politically motivated.

GINGRICH IN MD: Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is scheduled to speak at Salisbury University at 3 p.m. this afternoon, according to a brief in the Salisbury Daily Times.

TEARE APPEARS: In a surprising turn of events, Anne Arundel County’s police chief appeared before the County Council last night, but declined to answer any questions relating directly to the grand jury investigation of County Executive John Leopold, Allison Bourg reports in the Annapolis Capital.

Teare was placed under oath and answered general questions from council members about himself and Police Department rules but told the council he had testified twice before the grand jury investigating Leopold and could not publicly repeat that testimony, Nicole Fuller writes in the Sun.

Meghan McCorkell of WJZ-TV The ACLU – which also wants answers — disagrees with Teare’s reasoning. “It doesn’t mean that the chief of police should be thumbing his nose at the county council and the citizens of Anne Arundel County and telling them all to take a hike,” said ACLU staff attorney David Rocah.

Council members said they will discuss if they should get a court order to bring Teare before them again with a full disclosure of his testimony, Nadia Ramdass of WBAL-TV reports.