July 29, 2013

State Roundup, July 29, 2013

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BAY BRIDGE DEEMED SAFE: Tim Pratt of the Capital-Gazette reports that despite recent accidents on the Bay Bridge, state transportation officials and engineers say the structure is safe. There have been fewer accidents on the bridge than most other state highways and the barriers placed there meet federal requirements, they say.

QUESTIONS FOR SECTY SMITH: The Sun’s Candy Thomson asks new Secretary of Transportation Jim Smith five questions including about the future of Baltimore City’s Red Line and expanding the Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing.

RISING SEAS: Rising sea levels and sinking land, the same forces that doomed Holland Island, now threaten Crisfield, its seafood industry and its 2,710 residents. And a newly discovered tidal pattern puts them in greater peril than previously known, writes Capital News Service’s Brandon Goldner in Part 1 of a series on the rising waters of the Chesapeake Bay in MarylandReporter.com. There’s a nifty interactive map at the bottom of the article.

AND SOLUTIONS: The Sun editorial board opines that the latest effort to address greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland — an ambitious plan released last week by Gov. Martin O’Malley — ought to be required reading. Here’s the CliffsNotes version: Climate change is real, it’s accelerating, it’s potentially disastrous, and Maryland, with its hundreds of miles of coastline, wetlands and coastal development, is more vulnerable than most. The question is not so much whether the state should take aggressive action but how best to meet some reasonable goals.

HEALTH EXCHANGE: WBAL-AM’s Ashley Michelle Williams and the AP are reporting that newly approved rates for health plans to be sold in the individual market through Maryland’s new health benefit exchange will have some of the lowest costs among the 12 states that have either proposed or approved rates.

The Maryland Insurance Administration approved premiums at levels as much as 33% below what had been requested by insurance carriers. For a 21-year-old non-smoker, for example, options start as low as $93 a month, reports Lena Sun in the Post.

HEALTH ZONE: Maryland officials are announcing funding for a health zone in Baltimore City to help address persistent health disparities, the AP is reporting at WTOP-AM.

DROPPED FROM VOTER ROLLS: About 1,500 people with misdemeanor convictions were mistakenly dropped from Maryland’s voter rolls over the past five years, a mistake discovered in part by former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold. A computer system incorrectly lumped those voters in with felons, who are stripped of their right to vote until their sentence is completed, said a spokeswoman for the Maryland Judiciary. People convicted of misdemeanors retain their right to vote in Maryland.

NEW JAIL CHARGES: Maryland corrections officials announced new drug-smuggling and assault charges Friday related to two cases of misconduct by guards at the state-run Baltimore City jail, as well as the appointment of a new director of a prisons investigations team.

BUY LOCAL COOKOUT: Gov. Martin O’Malley and first lady Katie O’Malley last Thursday welcomed about 300 guests to their Sixth Annual Buy Local Cookout that featured 14 winning recipes prepared by Maryland’s finest chefs, including some of the Eastern Shore’s own visionaries, writes Jennifer Allard for the Easton Star Democrat.

DELANEY VOTES WITH GOP: Something unusual happened when the controversy over the nation’s health care law erupted again on the floor of the House of Representatives this month: A Maryland Democrat voted with Republicans. Rep. John Delaney, the state’s newest member of Congress, was one of 35 Democrats out of 200 to vote for a Republican proposal to delay a requirement that large businesses offer health coverage to workers. John Fritze of the Sun reports on how Delaney charts his own course in Congress.

GOP POLITICS IN HOWARD, ARUNDEL: Starting at minute 40:30, Red Maryland talks with Dave Meyers of the Howard County GOP about the political landscape in Howard County and Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman, which the website spelled Newman, about her plans to run for a full term in 2014.

PRINTS OF DARKNESS: John Wagner of the Post blogs that Joe Steffen, who became known as “the Prince of Darkness” during his days of notoriety as an aide to former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, has resurfaced in a new role: author. Steffen’s new novel, an e-book, “Death, Wish,” lives up to his old nickname.

COMMISSIONER INJURED: Worcester County Commissioner Louise Gulyas is at Peninsula Regional Medical Center after breaking her neck during a fall, reports Susan Canfora for the Salisbury Daily Times. Her son, posting on Facebook Saturday, said Gulyas was able to move her fingers and toes and showed no signs of paralysis.

FREDERICK BLOC HEADS: Opinionaters at the Frederick News Post, calling more attention to a recent article that outlined the voting bloc of four commissioners that voted together 1,155 times out of 1,273 votes, writes that it’s one thing to make decisive decisions and stick to them. It’s another when taxpayers think they are being steamrolled by a board of commissioners who on many occasions have shut down any meaningful debate. If nothing else, this has given voters a preview on how the county government will operate if Blaine Young is elected county executive in 2014.

BULLY CLAIMS: In a passionate address Thursday, Carroll County Commissioner Robin Frazier accused fellow commissioners Doug Howard, Dave Roush, and Haven Shoemaker of firing a county employee for political reasons. Frazier said she has been bullied by commissioners on the all-Republican board and that her primary research assistant was fired to suppress her opinion, reports Blair Ames for the Sun.

CARROLL ETHICS POLICY: The Board of Carroll County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to send another proposed draft of its ethics policy required by state law to the Maryland State Ethics Commission, Blair Ames reports in the Sun. A state law, effective Oct. 1, 2010, requires local governments to enact ethics ordinances that meet or exceed those required for state legislators. Carroll is one of four counties, including Allegany, Anne Arundel, and Montgomery, that have yet to have their ethics policy approved.

ALONSO LEAVE PACKAGE: The Baltimore school system paid nearly $150,000 in accrued leave this month to former CEO Andrés Alonso, a lump sum outlined in his contract that a compensation expert said reflects an overly generous package that should have been scrutinized when it was approved, writes Erica Green in the Sun.