February 20, 2013

State Roundup, February 20, 2013

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‘NEANDERTHAL’ GOP & MILLER SPAR: Responding to Republican assertions at a morning news conference yesterday that a gas tax hike he proposed is unnecessary, Senate President Mike Miller said, “These people are Neanderthals,” blogs Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com. Miller suggested that Republicans were towing the party line even though many of their districts would benefit from the passage of the tax bill.

Miller earlier this month proposed a menu of options to help fund state transportation projects. His SB 830 would add a 3% sales tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, equivalent to about 10 cents per gallon on top of the state’s existing 23.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax, reports Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette.

Del. Herb McMillan says that while less than 9% of Marylanders commute via mass transit, those systems account for 57% of state transportation funding, reports Daniel Leaderman of the Gazette.

The GOP delegates summoned the media to complain that bills introduced by Miller would unnecessarily raise taxes and provide an inadequate “lock box” to ensure transportation funds are not spent on other programs, report John Wagner and Kate Havard for the Post.

Brett Lake of the Carroll County Times reports that some Marylanders join the GOP in opposing a gas tax hike.

TRANSIT FUNDING PLAN: As the General Assembly nears the halfway point in its 90-day session, Gov. Martin O’Malley and key legislators have yet to agree on a plan to pay for new roads, bridges and transit lines — a decision many consider critical to Maryland’s economy,

The Presidents Day speech delivered by Gov. O’Malley included the kind of lofty rhetoric one might expect when the topic is George Washington’s legacy. But O’Malley also managed to work in a plug for something more mundane: dealing with traffic congestion, writes John Wagner in the Post.

GUN CONTROL & MENTAL HEALTH: Gov. O’Malley’s administration will bow to mounting pressure from members of his own party and back significantly tougher rules to get guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill by prohibiting anyone involuntarily committed to a public or private mental health facility for any length of time from purchasing a gun, writes Aaron Davis in the Post.

PSYCHIATRIC BED REGISTRY: Del. Sandy Rosenberg plans to introduce legislation that would require all Maryland hospitals to participate in an online psychiatric bed registry meant to expedite care for the mentally ill. A voluntary registry is already in place but some hospitals are reluctant to participate, Kevin Rector of the Sun reports.

POLICE & MENTAL HEALTH: Sen. David Brinkley has filed legislation that would move the state toward establishing a new assistance center to coordinate and support mental health education programs, aimed at addressing statewide inconsistencies in equipping law enforcement with information about mental illness, Bethany Rodgers reports in the Frederick News-Post.

SEX OFFENSE LOOPHOLE: State legislators hope to fix a loophole in the state’s fourth-degree sexual offense law that forced them to drop charges against a teacher and part-time coach accused of having sex with a 16-year-old student on his track-and-field team, the Gazette’s Jen Bondeson reports. The law only allows full-time, permanent employees in schools to be convicted for sexual offenses after the age of consent, 16 years old.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday heard testimony from supporters of a bill that intends to broaden the scope of a protective order so domestic violence victims can be better protected, Kaustuv Basu reports in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

OLDER DRIVERS: While a December Motor Vehicle Administration report found older drivers have fewer crashes, a group of experts and witnesses told a House committee yesterday that older drivers should be required to renew their licenses more frequently and in person, Becca Heller of MarylandReporter.com writes.

In an editorial backing tougher controls over Maryland’s older drivers, Sun opinionators cite one MVA statistic that leaps out: While younger drivers are involved in more crashes — peaking at age 25-34 — the proportion of drivers who are at fault in crashes turns sharply upward after age 55. Indeed, licensed drivers age 80 or over are as likely as teens to be at fault in accidents.

HORSE INDUSTRY: Chris Korman of the Sun reports that Maryland’s aggressive maneuvering to regain horse racing business lost to neighboring states moved forward yesterday with a proposal to restructure purse allocations and divert more money to local horses.

VETERANS WORK BILL: Gov. O’Malley’s plan to make it easier for veterans and their spouses to work in Maryland received warm reviews yesterday from lawmakers and the Defense Department, but nurses suggested one part could leave patients in the hands of unqualified workers, the Sun’s Erin Cox reports. That would grant veterans and some spouses a temporary or provisional license until they met all of Maryland’s licensing rules.

CRAZY SEQUESTER SILENCE: Suburban Maryland officials called a press conference yesterday to urge Congress to act on the federal sequestration and the budget, saying that the lack of certainty about looming federal budget cuts — how much? when? is anything safe? — is driving them crazy, writes Miranda Spivack for the Post.

Steve Contorno and Kate Jacobson of the Washington Examiner write that a George Mason University study estimated Virginia would lose 208,000 jobs if the automatic budget cuts take effect, more than anywhere else except California, which topped the list at 225,000 jobs lost. The District was fourth at 127,000, followed by Maryland with 115,000.

REP. EDWARDS AMONG MOST LIBERAL: John Fritze of the Sun reports that U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, a Prince George’s County Democrat, is again ranked among the most liberal members of the House of Representatives, according to an annual review of roll call votes by National Journal.

COURAGE ICYMI: In a Sun op-ed, Towson Professor Richard Vatz looks for new profiles in courage, a quality sorely missing in the current political climate.