February 26, 2013

State Roundup, February 26, 2013

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SEQUESTER CUTS: Most Marylanders sense that the state’s economy will be hard hit — and their own finances squeezed — should the series of deep federal spending cuts known as the sequester start as planned on Friday, report Ben Pershing and Jon Cohen in the Post. In a new Washington Post Maryland poll, fully 78% of state residents see the planned cuts to defense and domestic spending as having a negative effect on the state’s still sluggish economy.

Some small business leaders in Maryland want U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin to carry back a message to Washington: It may cause pain, but don’t kick the sequester can down the road. Miranda Spivack writes the story for the Post.

Lindsey Robbins of the Gazette writes that the business leaders said that the longer Congress forestalls such cuts into fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30, the less time their companies will have to make up for the resulting contract losses, which many believe are inevitable.

The federal budget sequester is likely to occur, U.S. Rep. John Delaney told a group of primarily black business executives yesterday, and it will hit Maryland businesses harder than similar companies in most other states. Kevin James Shay reports the story for the Gazette.

DEATH PENALTY, GUN DEBATES: Floor debate will begin today on two of the most controversial proposals in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s legislative package, Erin Cox of the Sun is reporting. Senators will face early mornings and late nights as the chamber tackles gun-control and repealing the death penalty. A memo to sent to senators last night said that they will be called in at 8 a.m. Wednesday through Friday and that they can expect to stay late on Wednesday and Thursday nights to get all of the work done.

Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette writes that the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, Senate Bill 281, is set to be discussed first. The comprehensive gun-control package was introduced with 20 amendments.

O’Malley’s death penalty repeal bill, Senate Bill 276, was special ordered to Wednesday.

TRANSPORTATION FUNDING: President Obama’s deputy secretary of transportation is scheduled to appear in Annapolis today to help make the case that Maryland lawmakers should boost funding for roads and mass transit, John Wagner of the Post writes.

Wagner also writes that the passage last weekend of a plan to infuse about $880 million a year into Virginia’s roads and mass transit is likely to energize the debate across the Potomac, Maryland leaders said, citing the competition for jobs and the shared traffic congestion

Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner writes that the Maryland legislature’s top fiscal analyst, Warren Deschenaux, said Virginia’s passage of a transportation package will increase interest in getting a package passed in Maryland.

Jane Bellmyer of the Cecil Whig writes that a federally funded program has been revamped, which will change what Maryland towns and organizations can do with some transportation funds.

$70M FROM STATE TO RELIGIOUS CHARITIES: Religious-affiliated charities in Maryland drew in more than $70 million in funding from the state last year — which may come as a surprise since stark lines are often drawn between church and state, Becca Heller writes for MarylandReporter.com.

ANTIBIOTICS LABELS: Proposed legislation in the General Assembly could mean meat and poultry in Maryland would soon carry an unexpected ingredient label: antibiotics, Tina Reed reports in the Capital-Gazette. A sister bill would seek to restrict use of antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals.

LEGALIZING POT: Even though state lawmakers proposing a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use don’t have much confidence in such a measure’s success, it has become increasingly clear this session’s marijuana legislation — ranging from loosening the legal implications of possession to authorizing the drug for medical use — has opened up the discussion, writes Jim Bach in the Diamondback.

CURBING DETAINMENT LAW: The Maryland Liberty Preservation Act of 2013, which prohibits state officers from detaining an American indefinitely and without due process, got the support of Marylanders opposed to action recently legalized in the National Defense Authorization Act, writes Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com.

MILLER NIXES STREAMING: Senate President Mike Miller said last night that committees in his chamber should no longer stream voting sessions on the Internet, writes Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette. Miller’s comments came after Sen. Brian Frosh decided to stream a seven-hour Senate committee voting session on Feb. 21 as it took up Gov. Martin O’Malley’s death penalty repeal and gun control bills.

In an earlier article, Jackson writes that Frosh had said streaming audio of voting sessions enhances transparency and has its place for controversial issues like gun control and the death penalty. He thinks the bills his Senate panel sent to the floor after Thursday’s session were “good product.”

MTA AUDIO-TAPING: The Senate rejected a bill last night that would have prevented the Maryland Transit Administration from audio-taping passengers’ conversations after a vigorous debate over the competing values of safety and privacy, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun. The 23-22 vote to kill the measure was a victory for Baltimore senators, who were annoyed that they were not consulted in the development of a bill that disproportionately affects their constituents.

COLLECTING TOLLS: Maryland officials have renewed their push to revise the state’s toll-collection policy, a move they say is necessary to pursue millions of dollars in unpaid tolls, writes the Gazette’s Daniel Leaderman.

FRACKING STUDIES: As state lawmakers begin to consider whether to ban a controversial form of gas drilling called fracking, environmentalists rolled out poll numbers yesterday that show most Marylanders want more health and safety studies on the practice, writes Pamela Wood for the Capital-Gazette.

A new Opinionworks poll shows strong support for continuing studies before allowing drilling for natural gas by the hydraulic fracturing process in Maryland, writes Matthew Bieniek for the Cumberland Times News. And that strong support includes voters in the state’s three westernmost counties: Washington, Garrett and Allegany.

PAUL WHO? Michael Dresser of the Sun blogs that former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes was carded as he tried to enter the State House in Annapolis yesterday.

GANSLER ON DEATH PENALTY: David Moon over at Maryland Juice pulls out some of Attorney General Doug Gansler’s recent quotes about the death penalty from Kojo Nnambi’s NPR show to give readers a picture of what the 2014 gubernatorial candidate is thinking on the subject.

CLARIFICATION: Monday’s MarylandReporter.com story on a proposed reduction in Medicaid funding for pregnancy care has been updated to clarify remarks by Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery.

OBAMA TAPS O’MALLEY: John Wagner of the Post reports that Gov. O’Malley has been appointed by President Obama as co-chairman of the Council of Governors, a group charged with strengthening collaboration between federal and state governments on national security issues.

NEUMAN FIRES THREE: Only days after she was appointed and vowed to make key personnel changes at the top, new Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman ousted three members of her predecessor’s administration, Andrea Siegel of the Sun reports.

On Friday, Neuman asked the county’s 33 at-will employees in the executive office and all department heads to tender their resignations, which she will accept or decline after she reviews their positions, writes Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette.

HUFF GIVES UP COUNTY CAR: Baltimore County Councilman Todd Huff has relinquished the use of his county-owned vehicle after he was charged early Saturday with drunken driving-related offenses while driving the county car, reports Bryan Sears of Patch.com.

In a statement, Huff called relinquishing the vehicle “a first step toward accepting the consequences of my behavior,” writes Alison Knezevich for the Sun.

DNA CASE: Today, for the first time in more than a century, a case that originated in Wicomico County will be heard before the Supreme Court of the United States, writes Vanessa Junkin for the Salisbury Daily Times. Each side will have a half-hour for an oral argument in the case of Maryland v. Alonzo Jay King Jr. DNA was taken from King after a 2009 arrest and used to indict him in an unsolved 2003 rape, for which he was found guilty in Wicomico County Circuit Court and sentenced to life in prison.