January 8, 2013

State Roundup, January 8, 2013

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MENTAL HEALTH CARE: The General Assembly is set to consider mental health issues and the lack of enough care, following last month’s murders of 20 children and seven adults in Connecticut, writes Jessica Anderson and Andrea Walker in the Sun.

GAS TAX HARD SELL: Some Howard County delegation members agreed last week that one item in particular — raising the gas tax — will be a hard sell, writes Blair Ames for the Howard County Times. “No one wants to do a gas tax, but we’re at a place where revenue is just maintenance,” said Del. Steven DeBoy, one of 11 county delegation members. “There’s nothing for new projects.”

ASSEMBLY PREVIEW: Steve Contorno of the Washington Examiner compares the top issues expected to come before the Maryland legislature with those of the Virginia legislature, including gun control and gas taxes.

WYPR’s Karen Hosler roamed the halls of the State House for clues as to what battles will be brewing in Annapolis when the session starts tomorrow and filed a report.

FRACKING BILLS: A 15-member panel appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to look into hydraulic fracturing agreed to recommend three bills to address concerns about the drilling method, including a proposed state “severance tax” on any gas extracted to help pay for effects on nearby communities, Timothy Wheeler reports in the Sun.

The panel voted to recommend a Surface Owner Protection Act, which protects landowners who do not own the rights to the minerals under their land from economic, health and environmental damage caused by drilling, Holly Nunn reports in the Gazette. It also recommended a landmen registration to keep track of individuals working for oil and gas companies to obtain leases from landowners.

A group of legislators and their supporters rallied in favor of a legislative moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, which is being sponsored by, among others, Del. Heather Mizeur, a member of the commission, writes Mike Mathews for the Cumberland Times-News.

SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: John Wagner of the Post reports that Gov. O’Malley yesterday proposed spending $336 million next year on the construction and upgrade of public schools as he started rolling out his agenda for the coming legislative session.

O’Malley said the construction spending would yield an estimated 8,199 jobs, Michael Dresser reports in the Sun. The money set aside for air conditioning addresses an issue of particular concern in Baltimore County, which has about 65 of the 180 schools in the state that lack cooling systems.

O’MALLEY’S FUTURE: Before the press conference where Gov. O’Malley announced the proposed fiscal 2014 school construction budget, he was surprised by an off-handed question from a student in the audience, who asked whether O’Malley was going to run for president, writes Nick Gestido for Patch.com.

MORE TRANSPARENCY: The editorial board of the Carroll County Times opines that, now that the state Attorney General’s office has issued an opinion on the county’s policy on redacting email addresses from documents obtained through Maryland Public Information Act requests, the Board of Commissioners should move quickly to direct the county attorney to comply with the law. If it disagrees with the law, it needs to work with the Annapolis delegation to see if there is support there for changing it.

Del. Dan Morhaim, chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee, plans on introducing a bill to beef up the regulatory powers of the Open Meetings Compliance Board, allowing it to fine public bodies for illegally closing meetings, blogs Len Lazarick in MarylandReporter.com.

CASINOS’ DECEMBER TAKE: Maryland’s three casinos generated $45.2 million in revenue in December, with most of that from the state’s largest and newest casino, Maryland Live — and at the expense of the state’s oldest, Eileen Ambrose reports in the Sun.

BGE RATE HIKE HEARINGS: Jamie Smith Hopkins of the Sun reports that state regulators considering Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s request for higher rates will hear this week and next from the people least likely to agree: BGE’s ratepayers. So far, though, the volume is hardly deafening: Only one person spoke last night at the first of five public hearings about the case.

HARRIS AS PARTY BUILDER: A busy U.S. Rep. Andy Harris appears to be embracing a role in helping build the Republican Party in Maryland, blogs Bryan Sears for Patch.com.

NEW COMMON CAUSE CHIEF: Common Cause Maryland has hired a former top official of a leading environmental group as its executive director, taking over as the General Assembly prepares for a debate over campaign finance law in which the government watchdog group will be a leading player, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.