January 23, 2013

State Roundup, January 23, 2013

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WIDE-RANGING POLL: RESTRICT WEAPONS: A new poll finds that nearly two-thirds of Marylanders surveyed say a sentence of life without parole is an acceptable alternative to the death penalty and 58% support banning assault-type weapons, writes Bryan Sears for Patch.com.

OPPOSITION TO DEATH PENALTY GROWS: Still, writes the Post’s John Wagner, more Marylanders support the death penalty than oppose it. The poll by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies found that 49% of Marylanders support the death penalty while 44% oppose it, with opposition growing by 8 percentage points in the last two years.

GAS TAX HIKE ALSO OPPOSED: The Gonzales poll also show strong opposition to an increase in the gas tax despite a recognition of transportation needs, according to a story in MarylandReporter.com.

OBAMA, O’MALLEY GET THUMBS UP: The poll also shows that Maryland’s predominantly Democratic voters continue to approve of the jobs being done by President Barack Obama and Gov. Martin O’Malley, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

MILLER WANTS GAS TAX HIKE: Senate President Mike Miller is proposing that the state impose a new 3% sales tax on gasoline that would be used for new roads and bridges. The statewide levy would come on top of the 23.5-cent-per-gallon tax that motorists already pay at the pump. Analysts say it would generate more than $300 million a year in new revenue, reports John Wagner for the Post.

PUSH TO HIKE MINIMUM WAGE: Maryland lawmakers and activists yesterday launched “Raise Maryland,” an effort to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour by 2015, reports Kate Havard for the Post.

GUN VIOLENCE BILLS: Del. Pat McDonough is expected to introduce two bills tomorrow that he said are dedicated to preventing gun violence, reports Bryan Sears for Patch.com. One bill will prohibit early release for any criminal convicted of gun violence and eliminate plea bargains for those charges.

FT. MEADE ROADS BUDGET: Sara Blumberg of the Capital Gazette is reporting that road improvements around Fort Meade are getting a $20 million boost from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget.

WIND POWER SUPPORT: Gov. O’Malley is feeling the winds of change blowing in Annapolis this year and sounds optimistic that his bill to promote offshore wind farms will pass the General Assembly, reports Pamela Wood for the Capital-Gazette. Speaking at the State House yesterday – an outdoor rally was moved inside due to the cold and, ironically, the wind – O’Malley said it’s time for Maryland to invest in offshore wind power.

O’Malley told a supportive State House crowd that enough senators had signed onto his bill this time to get it through the chamber that’s thwarted him the past two years, the Sun’s Tim Wheeler reports.

The proposal, which would take years to develop, would potentially increase monthly electricity bills for ratepayers by up to $1.50 a month. Non-residential ratepayers could see increases of up to 1.5%, reports the AP’s Brian Witte in the Salisbury Daily Times. However, ratepayers would not begin paying more until electricity is produced by a project, which likely wouldn’t be until 2017 at the earliest.

DREAM ACT CHANGE: The Maryland Dream Act allows students who are not citizens to pay in-state tuition rates for Maryland universities. They must have graduated from Maryland public high schools, and their families must have filed income tax returns in Maryland for three years. Some say not including current high school students in the law was an oversight, and the law should be changed accordingly, reports Jen Bondeson in the Gazette.

DRIVING WHILE CALLING: Del. Jimmy Malone announced yesterday his proposed legislation that would allow police to pull over cellphone users even if they were committing no other offense, Daniel Leaderman of the Gazette writes. “We do not want anybody to use a cellphone in the roadway,” Malone said.

FRACKING REQUESTS DRY UP: The prognosis for natural gas drilling via fracking in Western Maryland’s Marcellus Shale formations any time soon is looking increasingly problematic, according to a recent presentation by the Maryland Department of the Environment. All gas drilling permit requests for Maryland have been withdrawn and drilling activity shifted from dry gas states like Maryland, which are not as lucrative as drilling in states with wet gas, which contains other saleable compounds, writes Greg Larry for the Cumberland Times-News.

BAY RESTORATION & FREDERICK: Letters are flowing between Gov. O’Malley and the Frederick County Commissioners concerning Chesapeake Bay water quality, reports Patti Borda of the Frederick News-Post. A face-to-face meeting could follow. The commissioners have eagerly accepted O’Malley’s invitation to meet with his Cabinet to discuss ways to restore the bay.

PENSION DISPUTE: Think tanks are asserting that the state pension system pays too much to advisors but state retirement officials disagree, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

HARRIS SEEKS TERM LIMITS: The Dagger runs a press release from U.S. Rep. Andy Harris’ office that says that Harris introduced a joint resolution that would limit to two consecutive terms in the U.S. Senate and six consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives that a person could serve in the U.S. Congress.

CAMPAIGNING ISSUE AT LEOPOLD TRIAL: As the misconduct trial of Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold continues, county employees offer more details on campaign errands and sexual liaisons, writes Allison Bourg for the Capital-Gazette.

An Anne Arundel County police corporal told a judge that Leopold told him to watch a cash box at a political fundraiser, to plant campaign signs for him and to compile a dossier on his 2010 challenger, according to a Sun story on the trial.

KEN ULMAN: Center Maryland interviews Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.