February 21, 2013

State Roundup, February 21, 2013

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ZIRKIN TO BACK DEATH PENALTY REPEAL: Sen. Bobby Zirkin said yesterday that he plans to vote in favor of repealing Maryland’s death penalty, which means the measure now has the support of a majority of members on a key committee, writes John Wagner of the Post.

Meanwhile, capital punishment proponents are raising questions about the fate of the five inmates currently on Maryland’s death row, specifically three inmates sentenced to death in the early 1980s, when life without parole was not on the books, CNS’s Haley Bull writes in the Salisbury Daily Times.

TRANSPORTATION: The leaders of Maryland’s largest city and two largest counties yesterday urged the state Senate to act on legislation that would raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year for additional transportation projects, reports John Wagner of the Post.

Bethany Rodger of the Frederick News-Post writes that talk of the least painful treatment for Maryland’s transportation funding shortfalls has divided those who point the finger at mass transit from those who think commuters statewide should help pay for public transportation.

The Budget and Taxation Committee heard proposals to increase funding for transportation, including two bills from Senate President Mike Miller that would create a “lockbox” for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and establish a new 3% sales tax on gas at the wholesale level, Alex Jackson writes for the Capital-Gazette.

Miller told committee members that he hoped to raise about $500 million for transportation projects by one means or another, reports the Gazette’s Daniel Leaderman.

Karen Hosler of WYPR-FM reports that Miller is frustrated by Gov. Martin O’Malley. Hosler quotes Miller as saying of O’Malley, “ … he was not here today and the fact that his people were not here today was a huge mistake on the part of the administration. You know he defined the problem and then didn’t come up with a solution.”

The editorial board of the Sun writes that doing nothing about the gas tax essentially puts in moth balls the Red Line, the east-west light rail project that offers Baltimore City one of its best chances ever for economic revitalization, new jobs and self-sufficiency.

OFFSHORE WIND: Gov. O’Malley’s plan to subsidize construction of giant windmills in the Atlantic Ocean advanced largely along party lines in the House of Delegates yesterday, putting the bill one step away from the Senate, where it died last year, reports Aaron Davis in the Post.

After eight proposed amendments and nearly an hour of debate, the House advanced O’Malley’s proposal to subsidize an offshore wind farm without making changes, Holly Nunn reports in the Gazette.

PENSION LIABILITIES: Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill to cut the expected rate of return on Maryland $38 billion pension investment portfolio — a move that would effectively add billions of dollars to the state’s pension liabilities, reports Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com. The move to reduce what the GOP considers an unrealistic 7.75% rate to something like the corporate rate several points below that drew strong opposition from the State Retirement Agency at a hearing Tuesday.

FOR GUN CONTROL: In the wake of a murder-suicide of two University of Maryland students, UM President Wallace Loh, in an editorial in the Diamondback, comes out to back Gov. O’Malley’s bills to strengthen gun control laws.

SPEED CAMERAS IN SCHOOL ZONES: When lawmakers gave the green light for speed cameras three years ago, they intended to put the brakes on speeders and make school zones safe. But the school zones are so large that you rarely can find students walking where the speed cameras are, according to a report at WBFF-TV.

PETITION PROCESS: A bill changing the state’s petition process could make it harder for voters to bring controversial laws to referendum. The Referendum Integrity Act will be among numerous bills debated in Annapolis Thursday that could fundamentally change state election law, writes Glynis Kazanjian for MarylandReporter.com

BUILDINGS FOR HIGHER EDUCATION: O’Malley has made his commitment to higher education clear by proposing to invest more in the state’s universities — and he hopes to do the same for infrastructure projects as well, which university officials said is sorely needed, writes Jim Bach in the Diamondback.

GROWLERS: The Maryland Senate has voted 46-0 to pass Senate Bill 16, which would allow liquor stores in Anne Arundel County to refill customers’ growlers with draft beers. If the House passes a similar bill and Gov. Martin O’Malley signs on, the majority of the county’s liquor stores would be able to participate, Alex Jackson and Elisha Sauers report in the Capital-Gazette.

SPATS: Del. John Donoghue of Washington County is accusing his delegation chair, Andrew Serafini, of interfering in his district, reports Kaustuv Basu of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. Donoghue also says he wasn’t told about or invited to a meeting that Serafini had with House Speaker Michael Busch in early December at which the legislative agenda for the Washington County delegation was discussed.

At the same time, writes Bryan Sears of Patch.com, Del. Eric Bromwell has posted his disappointment over one Baltimore County councilman’s vote on Facebook, prompting another political spat.

GRASMICK JOINS KRIEGER: Former State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick has joined the staff of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, the second high-profile project Grasmick has taken on since retiring in June 2011 after leading Maryland’s school system for 20 years, blogs Erica Green for the Sun.

HATS IN THE ARUNDEL RING: Andrea Siegel of the Sun writes that the opening for Anne Arundel County executive has drawn a number of political insiders and newcomers into the arena. The story includes a photo gallery with short bios.

CONFLICT: The Anne Arundel County Ethics Commission says County Council member Derek Fink should not participate in the selection of a new county executive because of his business relationship in Greene Turtle restaurants with Del. Steve Schuh, who is seeking the position, writes Andrea Siegel in the Sun.

LEOPOLD NEEDS OWN ATTORNEY: In the meantime, Anne Arundel County’s former executive will have to get his own lawyers in a civil case filed against him and the county, Allison Bourg reports for the Capital-Gazette.