March 8, 2013

State Roundup, March 8, 2013

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OFFSHORE WIND: The state Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a measure that would allow the creation of a wind farm off Ocean City, indicating its probable passage by shooting down a number of hostile amendments, writes Andy Brownfield in the Washington Examiner.

Holly Nunn has more details in the Gazette.

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE:A bill to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $10 an hour drew 46 witnesses Thursday to a Senate hearing on the divisive issue, reports Becca Heller for MarylandReporter.com.

Raising the minimum wage isn’t just a proposal floating around Maryland’s General Assembly. President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour, reports Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette.

CYBER-BULLYING: The family of a Howard County girl who killed herself after months of harassment on social media sites asked Maryland lawmakers Thursday to pass a bill that would allow a jail term for a variety of acts known as “cyber-bullying,” writes Michael Dresser of the Sun. A CNS video report tops the story.

BUSINESS ACCOUNTABILITY: Emilie Eastman of the Capital-Gazette reports that Del. Herb McMillan wants to hold businesses accountable. He introduced a bill that would require Maryland companies benefiting from tax credits of at least $25,000 to disclose specific data on how the money was spent. House Bill 1231, the Business Transparency and Financial Disclosure Act, would require the government agency issuing the credit to compile data and publish it online.

OFFSHORE WIND: The state Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a measure that would allow the creation of a wind farm off Ocean City, indicating its probable passage by shooting down a number of hostile amendments, writes Andy Brownfield in the Washington Examiner.

GOP ALTERNATIVE BUDGET: In an annual exercise in fiscal futility, House Republicans unveiled their alternative to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2014 budget yesterday, this time calling for zero growth that would require the governor to cut 2% from his request, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com. The 2% cut in general fund spending corresponds to the 2% increase in federal payroll taxes Congress allowed in January, returning rates to their 2010 level.

STATEWIDE BAG FEE: Maryland could become the first state to impose a charge for disposable bags this year if a coalition of environmental, religious and business groups persuades lawmakers that a proposed 5-cent fee would help the environment and not burden low-income residents, reports Miranda Spivack in the Post.

DEPOSIT BOTTLES: Dan Rodricks of WYPR-FM devotes an hour to the bottle deposit controvery. Should Maryland have a nickel deposit on glass, aluminum and plastic beverage containers? Some lawmakers in Annapolis believe a refundable deposit program eventually could help the state triple the number of containers that are recycled or reclaimed here. Leaders of the beverage industry and some government officials oppose the measure, claiming it will hurt local single-stream recycling efforts.

OLD VOTING MACHINES: Sen. Richard Madaleno said Thursday on the floor of the Senate that he was shocked by the news that Maryland will not be replacing old touchscreen voting machines with more advanced technology before the 2014 election, Ilana Kowarski writes in MarylandReporter.com.

EARLY VOTING: A Maryland resident could register and vote on the same day during the early voting period of a general election under a bill given preliminary approval by the state Senate on Thursday, Andy Brownfield writes in the Washington Examiner.

1-CENT REBELLION: A rebellion against state taxes sounded to three Frederick County Commissioners like a better idea than collecting another $100 a year from every property to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. The three voted Thursday in favor of drafting an ordinance to set a stormwater mitigation fee of 1 cent for each property, backing the proposal as a procedural placeholder and not with any enthusiasm, writes Patti Borda for the Frederick News-Post.

STORMWATER PLANS: The editorial board of the Frederick News-Post, also not a fan of the state’s stormwater mitigation plans, urges the state to head back to the drawing board to come up with less costly plans that the counties can live with.

CAMPUS MENTAL HEALTH: Across the state and nation, college students — an age group particularly prone to mental illness — report frustration with obtaining adequate, or any, mental health care on campus, Kevin Rector reports in the Sun. Campus counseling centers often have insufficient staff and long waiting lists, mental health professionals say. In Maryland, counseling center directors say they are nearly overwhelmed with the ballooning numbers of students requesting services.

MEDICARE CUTS: Maryland’s Health Services Cost Review Commission will be taking up an important topic at its next monthly meeting: How to brace the state’s hospital system for a blow to Medicare payments from federal sequester cuts, Sarah Gantz reports for the Baltimore Business Journal.

O’MALLEY HEADS SOUTH: John Wagner of the Post reports that Gov. O’Malley plans to head to South Carolina later this month to deliver the keynote address at an annual Democratic Party issues conference being held in Charleston, a trip that, amid Maryland’s busy 90-day legislative session, is certain to stoke more talk about O’Malley’s ambitions for higher office in 2016. South Carolina is an early presidential primary state.

SELLING BLAINE YOUNG: In a colorful piece in Frederick Magazine, Katherine Heerbrandt profiles Frederick County Commission President Blaine Young as he fights to gain respect and name recognition to try to wrestle the Republican nomination for governor out of the experienced hands of Harford County Executive David Craig and keep it away from a slew of other potential contenders.

TRANSPORTATION FUNDING: Gov. O’Malley’s gas tax proposal has continued the debate between urban and rural legislators over how much of the money should go to transit, Holly Nunn writes in the Gazette.

GUN STRATEGY: Some gun rights advocates are switching party registration from Republican to Democrat in order to knock off legislators who support gun control in the Democratic primary, reports the Gazette’s Holly Nunn.

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette’s Reporters Notebook has items on Mike Miller as weather forecaster; Senate floor sniping; business lists; and the start of table games.

ALCOHOL CONTROL: In an amusing parody, Gazette columnist Blair Lee details the provisions of O’Malley’s “Alcohol Safety Act of 2013.” For instance, “High-capacity beverages of more than 10 percent alcoholic content serve no positive public or social purpose. Their chief aim is to induce rapid and long-lasting intoxication with all of its associated negative consequences.

“O’Malley’s Alcohol Safety Act prohibits the sale, use or possession of any alcoholic beverage with more than a 10 percent alcohol content. Limiting alcoholic beverages to beer and light wines is a proper balance between public access to alcohol and public safety.”

(Columns by Barry Rascovar and Laslo Boyd will no longer appear in the reconfigured Business Gazette.)