March 15, 2013

State Roundup, March 15, 2013

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BLOODSWORTH: John Wagner of the Post profiles Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person to have his sentence overturned on DNA evidence. He’s a Marylander who has been a national advocate for repealing the death penalty and he’s spending a lot of time in Annapolis working to do that in his home state.

DEATH PENALTY REPEAL: Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner writes that a repeal of Maryland’s death penalty is poised to pass the legislature today, giving Gov. Martin O’Malley a key piece of the liberal agenda he has pursued in this year’s legislative session.

DNA COLLECTION LAW: As the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether to strike down Maryland’s controversial DNA collection law, the House of Delegates on Thursday voted to extend it, reports Erin Cox of the Sun. The 2009 law allows police to collect DNA samples from people arrested for certain violent crimes. It is set to sunset at the end of the year, but by a 135-1 vote, the House decided to make it permanent. The measure now moves to the Senate.

MISDEMEANOR OFFENSES: Members of the public and most employers would be unable to look up the records of some people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses under a proposal before the state legislature, report Carrie Wells and Alison Matas for the Sun.

PENSION CUT: The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted Thursday to cut $100 million in contributions to the State Retirement and Pension System for fiscal 2014, Len Lazarick reports in MarylandReporter.com. The committee tied the unexpected move to passage of legislation that will eventually ensure the state puts aside enough money for employee and teachers pensions. But the cut also adds a year to achieving long-term funding goals for those pensions.

411 CALLS: A Democratic committee chairman in House debate Thursday said that he felt like he was in the “twilight zone” because he was arguing on behalf of business, and his Republican opponent was voicing concern for state consumers, Maryland Reporter’s Ilana Kowarski. Del. Dereck Davis was stunned by the resistance he faced from Anne Arundel County Republican Herbert McMillan during the debate over a bill which halves the number of free 411 calls that Verizon’s customers can make from their residential land-line phones.

NO TO MORE GAS TAXES: In an op-ed for the Sun, Pete Horrigan of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association writes that Maryland can no longer meet the needs of two costly major mass transit systems and adequately maintain and improve our highway system on the backs of motorists through higher gas taxes.

STORMWATER FEES: Walter Townshend of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber writes in Center Maryland that the stormwater fee that property owners will see on their July 1 tax bill needs rethinking. While it will be manageable for residential property owners, it could be higher than the tax bills of others and could be as high as $300,000 for some major employers.

SMART METER COMPLAINTS: Legislators heard an outpouring of complaints Thursday about smart meters from Maryland utility customers who want to be allowed to opt out without charge, reports Jamie Smith Hopkins in the Sun. BGE and other Maryland utilities are installing the meters — which send wireless data about energy use and allow the companies to pinpoint outages — as part of a nationwide push to jettison analog meters that require in-person reading.

But foes said that smart meters are costly, dangerous and pose too much of a risk to be mandatory, writes Alex Jackson for the Capital-Gazette.

DOG BITE FIGHT: Taking a hard line on the owner’s responsibility for a pet’s behavior, the state Senate on Thursday unanimously passed its version of a bill intended to reverse a court decision declaring pit bulls an inherently dangerous breed, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun. Senate passage sets up a likely conflict with the House, which has taken a significantly different approach to the issue of a dog owner’s liability for bites.

Concerns have been raised over the differences between the Senate’s bill and House Bill 78, both emergency bills that would take effect immediately after passage. Differences between the bills will have to be worked out in a Senate-House conference before the General Assembly’s 90-day session comes to a close, Alex Jackson writes in the Capital-Gazette.

TUITION BILLS: Students who previously could not afford college or would have struggled to earn a diploma may find relief in bills that would make higher education more affordable for certain groups, reports Jim Bach for the Diamondback. One bill would allow members of the armed forces to pay in-state rates for graduate school regardless of the state they are from, while another would shave $1,000 off tuition for state educators or their family members.

CASH FOR GAMBLING: Maryland’s casinos could give table game players free promotional cash to get them to keep playing under a bill approved by the House on Thursday, blogs Andy Brownfield for the Washington Examiner.

BEASTLY BILL NUMBER: In her Political Notes column, Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post writes that Del. Patrick Hogan’s legislation to add school supplies to items included in August’s tax-free week so parents catch a break on back-to-school shopping for their children was marked with an unfortunate number: HB 666.

WA CO SHERIFF’S APPOINTMENTS: Top law enforcement officials from Washington County testified Thursday in support of a bill that would give authority to the sheriff to appoint municipal law enforcement officers as special sheriff’s deputies, reports Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

DISPARITY GRANT: The Washington County delegation’s efforts to secure a share of a wealth-based grant – the Disparity Grant – were rewarded Thursday when a key Senate committee voted to approve a measure that could bring about $1.55 million to the county’s general fund for fiscal year 2014, Kaustuv Basu writes in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

MOONEY MOVES TO W.VA.: Alex Mooney, former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, has confirmed that he has moved from Urbana to West Virginia, but says “no final decisions have been made” about running for office in that state, writes Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News-Post.

BANK DEPOSIT BILL: U.S. Rep. Andy Harris introduced a bill into the U.S. House Thursday to lower the penalties for those who consistently make deposits less than $10,000 into their banks accounts, which is currently illegal, writes Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star-Democrat. One Eastern Shore small business found discovered it was illegal the hard way.

LURE FBI HQ TO GREENBELT: Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, in an op-ed in the Sun, writes that Maryland should do everything in its power to bring the FBI headquarters to the state, and with its its 11,000 good-paying jobs and thousands of subcontractors. And Greenbelt, in Prince George’s County, he adds, is the best place for it.

SWIPE APOLOGY: Taylor Holland of the Washington Examiner writes that Fairfax County, VA, officials are apologizing to Prince George’s County for a swipe taken as the two vie for the FBI HQ. “There is some logic for the FBI going to Prince George’s because that’s where they’ll find the people they have to pick up,” the official is reported to have said.

LEOPOLD GETS JAIL: Former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold was led out of a courtroom Thursday with his wrists handcuffed behind his back and his head lowered, bound for the county jail after being sentenced for his misconduct in office conviction and behavior a judge condemned as “outrageous,” Andrea Siegel reports in the Sun. There is a short video at the top of the article of a former county employee saying it “was a pleasure” to watch Leopold being led away in handcuffs.

Leopold began a 30-day stint in jail as part of his sentence on two counts of misconduct in office. Prosecutors recommended only fines and public service. But retired Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney sentenced Leopold to two years in jail and suspended all but 60 days, with the time split between county jail and house arrest, Allison Bourg reports in the Capital-Gazette.

Leopold, who did not testify at his trial and resigned from office after his conviction, took responsibility Thursday for having his security detail and staff perform personal and political errands, including collecting campaign contribution checks and emptying his catheter bag, James Arkin writes in the Post.

LONGTIME BAY ADVOCATE DIES: Carrie Wells of the Sun reports that Larry Simns, who founded and led the Maryland Watermen’s Association for four decades and was a key influence on efforts to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, died Thursday. He was 75.

MoCoTAXES: A bill that would exempt Lockheed Martin from paying $450,000 in annual hotel taxes to Montgomery County advanced in the Maryland Senate on Wednesday, following an outcry from county officials and other groups, Holly Nunn reports in the Gazette. The bill follows a 2010 law that exempts corporations from paying hotel taxes on training centers and other lodgings that are only used by employees of the corporation, and applies that law to county taxes as well.

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette’s Reporters Notebook has items on Rockville Pike; Sen. Frosh on storage containers; dead bald eagles; Sens. Benson and Jacobs on basketball; and Sen. Kelley’s dog bite.

O’MALLEY POLL NUMBERS: Gazette columnist Blair Lee analyzes why Gov. O’Malley’s approval is drooping in public opinion polls, assigning it to his national ambitions.

FREDERICK DEVELOPMENT: In a Gazette op-ed, Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young takes after ‘anti-growth whiners’ about Frederick County development.

PAID SICK LEAVE: In another opinion piece, Del. Heather Mizeur explains why her bill to require employers to offer paid sick leave would be a shot in the arm for the state economy.