March 29, 2013

State Roundup, March 29, 2013

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SENATE PANEL PASSES GAS TAX: A controversial gas tax hike already passed by the House of Delegates was approved by a Senate committee on Thursday, moving it one step closer to becoming law, Ilana Kowarski reports in MarylandReporter.com.

The Maryland Senate appears poised to sign off as early as Friday on a sweeping plan to raise taxes on gas to help replenish a state transportation fund that is rapidly running out of money for highway construction and long-planned mass-transit projects, writes John Wagner for the Post.

The measure would phase in a 3% sales tax on gasoline over three years. The House of Delegates last week voted 76-63 to pass the bill, writes Alex Jackson for the Capital-Gazette.

The tax is also tied to the consumer price index, which would allow for automatic increases without any additional legislative action, writes Bryan Sears of Patch. Those increases are capped at 8% annually and do not go down if the CPI decreases in any given year.

Gas station owner Kevin Yoo says if the gas tax goes up, his business will take a hit and drivers will see prices like never before, reports Meghan McCorkell for WJZ-TV.

WITH A LOCKBOX: The Senate panel also approved a constitutional amendment Thursday that would make it much harder for politicians to use transportation money for anything else, reports Andy Brownfield for the Washington Examiner.

Every business in Maryland wants to guarantee that highway revenues actually are used for highway construction and maintenance, writes Ellen Sauerbrey in an op-ed in the Sun. And most recognize that only an amendment to the state constitution ensures that the governor and legislature cannot divert the Transportation Trust Fund to other purposes. Anything short of a constitutional amendment cannot prevent a future legislature from raiding the fund.

FUND RAIDS: Ninety-six percent of members of the Maryland House of Delegates who voted for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 87% gas tax hike also approved hundreds of millions of dollars in unrepaid Highway User Fund raids over the last several years, writes Mark Newgent of Red Maryland.

GUN CONTROL PUSH: As a key committee is set to vote on his gun bill Friday, Gov. O’Malley on Thursday called for public support for an assault weapons ban and other gun-control reforms, reports Erin Cox in the Sun. In an email sent by his political action committee, O’Malley criticized federal lawmakers for inaction in the wake of Newtown and urged for Maryland to “do something real.”

The House Judiciary Committee has discussed changing the bill’s assault weapons provision, banning semi-automatic rifles not by name but by features common to the guns, Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette reports.

Aaron Davis of the Post writes about the Gov. O’Malley’s proposed gun control legislation, how it seemed like a sure thing early on, then languished only to be revived. He poses and answers five questions about the legislation as two House panels take it up again in the last two weeks of the session.

SURROGACY RIGHTS: The rights of surrogate mothers, the people who contract with them and the children born from such arrangements would for the first time be spelled out in Maryland law under a bill making its way through the General Assembly, writes Michael Dresser of the Sun.

BUSINESS-RELATED BILLS: Dozens of bills impacting Maryland businesses were introduced in the General Assembly this year. The Capital-Gazette takes a look at how a handful are faring entering the homestretch of the 2013 session.

POT DECRIMINALIZATION: Legislation that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana hit friction in a key committee Thursday afternoon, when lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee intensely questioned whether the measure went too far by giving only a fine – and no jail time – to people caught with less than 10 grams of pot, writes Erin Cox for the Sun.

PG SCHOOLS: Gazette columnist Blair Lee writes about the problems in Prince George’s County schools and how County Executive Rushern Baker hopes to deal with them.

Education advocates are criticizing a scaled-down version of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s proposal to take control of the county school system, saying the latest proposal makes matters worse.

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MEDICAID EXPANSION: Medicaid will cover 175,000 more Marylanders after the General Assembly passed legislation to expand eligibility for the health insurance program for low-income citizens, the Capital-Gazette’s Alex Jackson is reporting.

KILLER INHERITANCE: With Del. Kelly Schulz’s legislation, estate law would treat killers as if they had died before their victims. Anything willed to the killer would instead go to the victim’s other beneficiaries. Courts could also act more quickly to protect assets, Bethany Rodgers reports for the Frederick News-Post.

Ag CERTAINTY, PESTICIDE ACT: Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM discusses the Ag Certainty Bill and the Pesticide Information Act, both of which are making their way through the General Assembly in Maryland and both which could have a serious impact on our region either way they go.

HAGERSTOWN CONTROL TOWER: Businesses at Hagerstown Regional Airport have expressed concerns about the potential closure of the airport’s air-traffic control tower as a result of federal budget cuts, reports C.J. Lovelace for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

CRAB HARVEST REPORTING: Maryland’s Blue Crab Industry Design Team says almost 270 commercial crabbers and crab dealers have expressed interest in participating in a program to report their crab harvests electronically for the 2013 crabbing season, which starts on April 1, an AP story reports in the Salisbury Daily Times.

GOP INFIGHTING: Kate Alexander in the Gazette reports on the infighting in the Maryland Republican Party over who will become the next chairman and recent moves by party’s interim chairman and its executive director.

MBRG Annapolis Unwrapped 2013