June 20, 2012

State Roundup, June 20, 2012

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PENSION PROBLEMS: Like 43 states facing similar problems, Maryland made substantial changes in its pension system last year, increasing contributions from employees, reducing cost-of-living increases and tightening benefits. These changes are supposed to bring the retirement system up to 80% funding in nine years. But a new report by the Pew Center on the States says additional reform will be needed, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

UNLOADING ROCKY GAP: After sinking millions of dollars into the dream of a world-class tourist destination in the mountains of Western Maryland, Michael Dresser writes in the Sun, the Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote today on the final series of agreements to complete the transfer of the $54 million Rocky Gap hotel complex from the quasi-public Maryland Economic Development Corp. to Evitts Resort LLC, which plans to eventually install 1,000 slot machines.

A CASINO FOR FREDERICK: State Del. Kathy Afzali has asked others in the Frederick County delegation to sound off on the idea of building a casino in the City of Frederick, report Patti Borda and Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post.

WHY RUSH ON GAMBLING: In a column for the Sun, Marta Mossburg asks, “What’s the rush?” Delegates and senators will likely be asked to modify — in a few days of a special session next month — what took years of political infighting, bad policy and a constitutional amendment to give us: the crony capitalist disaster that is Maryland gaming law.

LEGAL SECRECY: The secrecy surrounding a work group on expanded gambling in Maryland prompted howls of protest this week from a leading Republican lawmaker. But, blogs John Wagner for the Post, the group’s closed-door deliberations are “clearly” legal, according to a lawyer with the attorney general’s office.

PIT BULL MULLING: Owners of pit bulls told Maryland legislators yesterday that a recent state Court of Appeals’ ruling that the dogs are “inherently dangerous” wrongly branded an entire breed, but the parents of a Towson boy mauled by a pit bull urged lawmakers to let the court ruling stand, C. Benjamin Ford writes in the Gazette.

The General Assembly work group looking into the pit bull ruling wants to rewrite the state’s liability laws to treat all breeds equally and do away with the doctrine that essentially gives each dog one free bite, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun.

Mike Hellgren of WJZ reports that the Maryland State Bar Association calls the court ruling an activist decision and says the high court left little guidance to what actually is a pit bull.

REMAP CHALLENGE DROPPED: The Carroll County Board of Commissioners recently voted by email to withdraw its petition to the Maryland Court of Appeals that challenged the state legislative redistricting, reports Christian Alexandersen for the Carroll County Times.

DREAM CONFUSION: President Obama’s decision to stop deporting young illegal immigrants is causing problems for some Democrats in Maryland, where Gov. O’Malley is trying to build support for a state law that would grant in-state tuition rates to illegals, writes Hayley Peterson in the Washington Examiner.

CHANGE MARYLAND: If Facebook activity is an accurate indication of interest, Change Maryland’s statistics point to a significant number of people who are not pleased with the way the General Assembly is handling the state, writes Chris Knauss for the Easton Star-Democrat.

THE INFLUENCERS PART I: Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland offers the first of a two-parter detailing the Top 50 people and organizations who hold major political sway in the state. And most are not elected.

WBFF ROBOCALLS: Sun media columnist David Zurawik follows up on his earlier story about robocalls voiced by WBFF anchorman Jeff Barnd asking residents a series of questions about Lyme disease, same-sex marriage and the alleged agenda of Gov. O’Malley by confirming that the company doing the work is ccAdvertising, a firm that appears to be heavily engaged in right-wing politics, including push polling in at least one state against same-sex ballot initiatives like the one Maryland is expected to have in the fall.

HIRING: In a time of state job loss, UnitedHealthcare will announce today that it plans to hire 335 people in the Baltimore area as it enhances services to Medicare beneficiaries, writes Andrea Walker in the Sun.

ALSTON SPEAKS: Del. Tiffany Alston spoke with Avis Thomas-Lester of The Afro-American for her first in-depth interview since she was charged last summer with theft and misconduct in office. She was convicted last week on one count of each.

BROADWATER PRAISED: Tommie Broadwater, elected Prince George’s County’s first black senator, was honored in early June in conjunction with his 70th birthday, writes Dana Amihere for the Sentinel newspapers. Friends and colleagues – including Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown — described the former senator as a “pioneer” and a “trailblazer.” No mention in the article of his jail time following a conviction on food stamp fraud, however.

O’MALLEY’S TRAVELS: The summertime political travel plans of Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also head of the Democratic Governors Association, include speeches to fellow Democrats in Ohio and Louisiana, John Wagner blogs in the Post.

HEALTH CARE VS SUPREME COURT: Miriam Brand just graduated from the University of Maryland and does not have a job, but she does have health insurance. The 22-year-old diabetic is among the 2.5 million Americans allowed to stay on their parents’ policies because of the federal health care reform law. She joins the many young adults, children, seniors and others benefiting from the Affordable Care Act who worry that the Supreme Court will strike down all or part of it, Meredith Cohn and Andrea Walker report in the Sun.

BOLTON ON OBAMA: Former U.N. Ambassador and Baltimore native John Bolton’s speech before the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner guests was a biting critique of President Obama, saying that Obama “does not put American national security at the top of his priority list.” Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com blogs the event.

FREDERICK TEACHER PAY: The Frederick County Commissioners didn’t have much to say when presented yesterday with a report that revealed the county school system ranks near or in the bottom half of teacher salaries statewide, reports Blair Ames in the Frederick News-Post.

COUNCILWOMAN IN COURT: Karen Toles, the Prince George’s County councilwoman who police sources said was traveling at more than 100 mph on the Capital Beltway earlier this year, is scheduled to appear in court today to address the reckless driving charge that threatens to strip her of her driver’s license, Matt Zapotosky writes in the Post.

EXAMINER LIVES: The newspaper may be dead, but the sign atop its former Pratt Street headquarters will live on, even after the space has been released, James Briggs reports in the Baltimore Business Journal.

AFRO-AMERICAN TURNS 120: While the Examiner remains in sign only, the Afro-American newspaper is turning 120 and is the second longest running black periodical in the United States. Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM hosts publisher John Oliver and others to discuss the paper and its history. Here’s a link to its online presence.