March 18, 2013

State Roundup, March 18, 2013

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DEATH PENALTY REPEAL GOES TO GOV: Erin Cox and Michael Dresser are reporting in the Sun that the General Assembly voted to repeal the death penalty Friday, calling for an end to Maryland’s 375-year history of capital punishment and joining a growing number of states outlawing the practice.

Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette writes that by making Maryland the 18th state to repeal the death penalty, state lawmakers hope to avoid a story like Cameron Todd Willingham’s. Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004, in Texas, found guilty with the murders by arson of his three children. Serious doubts were raised about the scientific proof the house had been burned down deliberately.

Josh Bollinger of the Easton Star-Democrat quotes Del. Mike Smiegel, who voted to keep the penalty on Friday, as saying: “This is one of the hardest votes I’ll ever cast. I have some grave concerns with the state ever having the power to put people to death.”

Here’s the votes, posted by the Post.

And David Moon at Maryland Juice adds his own twist on the votes by comparing how the Democratic delegates who voted against the repeal also voted on marriage equality and the Dream Act.

REASON OVER REVENGE: Sun columnist Dan Rodricks writes that with the repeal of the death penalty, Maryland has finally overcome conservative rhetoric and the willingness for revenge and looked to reason instead.

Here’s KAL’s editorial toon for the Sun on the death penalty repeal.

BUDGET HEADS TO SENATE: The House of Delegates passed Gov. Martin O’Malley’s budget virtually unchanged Friday, sending the $37 billion plan to the Senate, the Sun’s Erin Cox reports.

The House passed the spending plan mostly along party lines, with Republicans and Democrats sparring over whether the plan had set aside enough money to cushion the blow from looming federal cuts known as sequestration, Aaron Davis writes for the Post.

Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio argued that too much money has been taken “out of the pockets” of taxpayers, and there is still a looming structural deficit of $132 million that has not been closed, writes Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star-Democrat.

GUN CONTROL BILL: As Maryland’s gun control bill heads toward a vote in the House of Delegates in Annapolis later this week, supporters of the bill gathered in Northwest Baltimore on Sunday, going door-to-door asking voters to contact their lawmakers, reports WBFF-TV.

MENTAL ILLNESS & GUNS: In an op-ed for the Sun on gun violence and mental health issues, Dr. Steven Sharfstein writes that of 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. every year, nearly 20,000 are suicides. If you try to kill yourself with a gun, you will be successful 80% of the time, as compared to suicide attempts by overdose, in which the success rate is less than 2%.

GAS TAX HEARING, PROTEST: With three weeks left in the General Assembly session, Gov. O’Malley and legislative leaders have begun the painstaking process of rounding up the votes to raise taxes on gasoline — a move so unpopular it hasn’t been done here since 1992, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun. The measure is what lawmakers call a “heavy lift,” a vote that could come back to haunt them at the polls.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s controversial proposal to increase gas taxes drew hundreds to a hearing at the House of Delegates Friday, and the hearing room became so crowded that citizens were advised to watch the proceedings remotely while they waited for their turn to testify, writes Ilana Kowarski for MarylandReporter.com.

Becca Heller of MarylandReporter.com writes that dozens of people gathered outside the State House Friday to protest a proposed hike on the gas tax. Wielding paper stop signs that said “Stop the Gas Tax,” the group rallied around their spokesman, Nick Loffer, a grassroots director for Americans for Prosperity.

It’s not just anti-tax Republicans who are opposed to O’Malley’s gas tax plan, writes CNS’s Amber Larkin in the Cumberland Times-News. The governor also faces opposition from some rural Democrats who say their constituents would pay more and not get many benefits.

But the Greater Baltimore Committee gathered CEOs in support of the gas tax hike. While they didn’t talk much about the higher price at the pump, their argument focused on improving the congested commutes millions of Marylanders must endure every day, according to a story at WBAL-TV.

DECRIMINALIZE POT: The Maryland Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on legislation that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and reduce the fine to a maximum of $100, Kate Havard and Paul Schwartzman of the Post report.

FARM POLLUTION: A bill being considered in the state Senate would have farmers voluntarily agree to meet relatively high standards for pollution runoff and hire third-party inspectors to verify the results. In return, they would be spared from new regulations for 10 years. But it has raised a great many concerns, writes the editorial board for the Sun. Far better for it to be done correctly than hastily, particularly when so much is at stake.

EXPAND TAX HOLIDAY: The editorial board for the Carroll County Times writes that the state should adopt Del. Patrick Hogan’s bill to include school supplies in the state’s annual tax holiday, which currently offers parents the sales tax break on school clothes and footwear.

DELEGATE TARGETED: Mark Newgent of Red Maryland blogs that a national voter rights group is targeting Montgomery County Del. Eric Leudtke’s assault on the right to petition, with a mailer. Citizens in Charge, a national voters rights group is sending a targeted mailer to Leudtke’s district to educate his constituents about the assault on their rights.

BAY BRIDGE GROWTH STUDY: Every year, 38 million vehicles drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge: They are tractor trailer drivers ensuring food gets to the grocery store, minivans packed with brightly colored towels and antsy kids who want to know if they are there yet, writes Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times. Within the next few years, transportation officials in Maryland will begin determining how much longer the bridge can wait until a third span is built.

KEEPING POLLS OPEN: Ben Pershing of the Post reports that, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s pre-Election Day strike, a task force of election officials, including officials from the District, Maryland and Virginia, will pool their knowledge to prepare for the worst and keep the polls open. It is expected to release guidelines early next year on how best to respond to emergencies.

CONWAY UNSPUN: Kate Havard of the Post conducts a rather entertaining interview with Del. Norm Conway, head of the House Appropriations Committee, including the difficulty of running such an important panel and “the stuff” on his desk.

O’MALLEY ISRAEL TRIP BACK ON: Gov. O’Malley will travel to Israel in April for an economic development mission that was canceled during last fall’s violence in the Gaza Strip, Erin Cox reports in the Sun.

MIKULSKI PART IN SPENDING PLAN: She’s an outspoken feminist and former social worker. He’s a cigar-smoking Kentucky lawyer. But Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Republican Rep. Harold Rogers have big things in common as they steer the House and Senate Appropriations committees toward a spending plan for the rest of the year that eases the bite of $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, writes the AP’s Laurie Kellman in the Cumberland Times-News.

CARSON SAYS MESSAGE IS BI-PARTISAN: A day after firing up conservatives and hinting at his own political aspirations at a conference in Prince George’s County, Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson kept his distance from the Republican Party during a national television appearance Sunday, arguing his message should appeal to Democrats as well, the Sun’s John Fritze reports.

LOX & DAVIS: Lou Davis, the dean of State House reporters, cracked the Annapolis equivalent of the glass ceiling Friday as he became the only journalist honored with a meal in his name at Chick & Ruth’s deli of Main Street, blogs Michael Dresser of the Sun. That meal is a lox, eggs and onion platter.

Maryland Reporter’s Len Lazarick has a photo of the ceremony, along with other details of the ides of March in Annapolis.

PEREZ NOMINATION EXPECTED: President Barack Obama will nominate Thomas Perez to lead the U.S. Department of Labor today, the first step in what is shaping up to be a contentious confirmation battle, writes John Fritze for the Sun. Perez, an assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, was the first Latino to win a seat on the Montgomery County Council, briefly ran for Maryland Attorney General in 2006 and was appointed by Gov. O’Malley to serve as the state’s labor secretary from 2007 until 2009.