March 6, 2013

State Roundup, March 6, 2013

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SEQUESTER CUTS IN BALTIMORE: Mark Ruetter of Baltimore Brew analyzes the sequester cuts in Baltimore City and determines that they won’t be as severe as predicted but that the poor will be the most vulnerable.

MORE GUN BILLS: After more than 45 hours of hearings and debate on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control plan in recent weeks, the legislature turned its attention yesterday to scores of other bills – 78 and counting – that lawmakers have piled on in hopes of passing them alongside the governor’s, reports Aaron Davis in the Post. One would require all gun owners in Maryland to get liability insurance. Another would force them to lock up firearms at home.

MORE GUN HEARINGS: Sixteen hours, writes Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette. That’s 32 “Seinfeld” episodes or the first two “Downton Abbey” seasons on Blu-Ray. Or one House of Delegates joint committee hearing on gun control, which began on Friday and went into the wee hours of Saturday. House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch said it was the longest hearing he has ever seen in his 27 years in the legislature.

MORE GUN RALLIES: Erin Cox of the Sun reports that hundreds of pro-gun activists again swarmed Annapolis yesterday in hopes of turning the tide against gun control. Polls show that banning assault weapons and requiring a license to buy a handgun have broad support among Marylanders, but gun rights supporters have three times flocked to the state capital to urge defeat of those proposals and others. There is video of the rally above the story.

GAS TAX PROPOSAL: The governor’s broad transportation funding plan that applies the sales tax to gasoline is barely out of the gate at the Maryland State House, but most Frederick County legislators have already decided they don’t like what they see, reports Bethany Rodgers in the Frederick News-Post.

The consensus plan — which would generate about $800 million in revenue each year, and $3.4 billion over five years — adds a 2% tax at the wholesale level on motor fuels this July, and increases that tax to 4% in July 2014. The plan also takes 5 cents off the state’s 23.5 cent-per-gallon gasoline tax in July, and indexes future increases to inflation. The tax on diesel fuel would remain 24.25 cents per gallon, reports Holly Nunn in the Gazette.

Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner writes that the plan also relies on Congress passing a bill requiring Internet retailers to collect state sales taxes and deliver them to states. If Congress fails to pass that legislation by 2015, Maryland would apply the full 6% sales tax to gasoline, meaning Marylanders would pay about 22 cents more per gallon than today’s prices.

RAISE THE GAS TAX: Opinionators at the Sun say that the gas tax plan unveiled this week by Gov. O’Malley and the General Assembly’s top leaders is a complicated proposal that wouldn’t represent our first choice in how best to pay for Maryland’s transportation needs. But, on balance, it’s a better-than-expected solution to a problem that has been nagging the State House for two decades.

DEATH PENALTY REPEAL: The Maryland Senate yesterday moved toward a final vote on Gov. O’Malley’s bill to repeal the death penalty after narrowly rejecting an amendment that would have allowed executions of people who kill in schools and child-care centers, writes John Wagner in the Post.

Senators had set the stage for a final Senate vote as soon as the weather permits. Senate President Mike Miller said today’s session could be canceled if an expected snowstorm is severe enough, but expressed doubt that that would happen, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

HEALTH WORKER SAFETY: Kevin Rector of the Sun reports that, in recent weeks, nurses and other health care workers have shared their stories of being assaulted by patients with lawmakers in Annapolis with one goal in mind — reducing assaults in Maryland health care facilities.

CHILD SUPPORT FIXES: Within the past few months, the Department of Human Resources has made significant progress in resolving issues raised by the Office of Legislative Audits concerning its Child Support Enforcement Administration, correcting seven of the 11 mistakes discovered by auditors during their evaluation of the child support system. Ilana Kowarski of MarylandReporter.com writes that it is expected to remedy the final four problems by the end of April.

DEPOSIT BOTTLES: A new environmental measure is taking some of the older senators back to their childhood days, writes Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com. In an effort to further boost recycling in Maryland, Sen. Brian Frosh has introduced a bill to establish a bottle deposit program.

DUMP THE SEPTICS LAW: Columnist Marta Mossburg, writing in the Frederick News-Post, says of O’Malley’s septic law, it will be a drag on the economy this year and every year to come. It also violates the will of the people, will create more urban pollution, restricts property rights, undermines local government and will make living in Maryland more expensive.

TECH BUSINESS BILL: A bill that would enable Washington County to enter into agreements with technology-related businesses to let them make payments in lieu of personal property taxes was heard yesterday at a Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing, reports Janet Heim for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

FUTURE OF POT: Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM speaks with Dels. Curt Anderson and Cheryl Glenn to get an overview of what is happening in the Maryland legislature related to medical marijuana and recreational use of the drug.

NO FRACKING BAN: Hydraulic fracturing, the controversial natural gas drilling technique colloquially called fracking, will not face a ban in Maryland, writes Alexander Pyles of the Daily Record. SB Bill 514 was voted down by the the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday afternoon.

REGENTS VIOLATED OPEN MEETINGS LAW: Craig O’Donnell of the Kent County News follows up on his late February piece on the University of Maryland’s Board of Regents’ claim that it did not need to inform the public of its meetings over the move to the Big 10 because Internet rumors already informed them. O’Donnell had called it the “Twitter defense.” Looks like the Open Meetings Compliance Board agrees with O’Donnell and slams the Regents on multiple fronts. But what penalties will it face?

Chris Korman of the Sun reports that the regents agreed to change their policies after the violation, though — as the open meetings board pointed out — the shift doesn’t amount to much more than a promise not to violate the law again.

OPEN MEETINGS: The House of Delegates has approved two bills intended to beef up compliance with the Open Meetings Act, writes MarylandReporter.com.

REGENT RESIGNS AFTER LICENSE SUSPENSION: In mid-February, the state Board of Physicians suspended John Young’s license to practice medicine in the state for using a controversial treatment for autistic patients, Carrie Wells reports in the Sun. On Feb. 21, Young resigned from his post on the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, citing a desire to “devote more time to other activities.”

HEALING AFTER WATERKEEPERS SUIT: The Talbot Spy runs an analysis by the Chesapeake Bay Journal of the failed case brought by Waterkeeper Alliance against an Eastern Shore chicken farm, chronicling what went wrong with the case from the very beginning.

STATE TRAILS & OFF-ROAD DRIVING: Off-road vehicle users, hoping to use trails on Maryland’s public lands, dominated the discussion yesterday at a Department of Natural Resources public meeting aimed at determining public desires for outdoor recreation, reports Michael Sawyers for the Cumberland Times-News.

NEUMAN IN CHARGE: The editorial board of the Sun gives new Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman a vote of confidence, writing that, given the circumstances of her predecessor’s departure, Neuman can’t act fast enough to convince county workers and residents that a new leader has taken charge at the Arundel Center. Her swift reaction to the security cameras and her openness about the matter suggest she means business.