August 19, 2013

State Roundup, August 19, 2013

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ABORTION REGS: Botched abortion procedures spurred the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to begin to craft and then propose a new set of health and safety regulations for surgical abortion facilities to make abortions safer for women, reports Rachel Roubein for the Carroll County Times. But around the country, the move is to ban abortions after 20 weeks. Abortion opponents hope that is where Maryland is heading as well.

SIGN LANGUAGE: In a story for the Sun, Candy Thomson writes about a highly visible but obscure department in state government. It tells Maryland motorists where to get off. And on. And lots of other things.

PENSION FUND PROBLEMS: Del. Andy Serafini of Hagerstown replies to Barry Rascovar’s politicalmaryland.com blog on the Maryland pension fund, in which he referenced ‘conservatives warning of doom and gloom,’ – or something along those lines. Serafini writes that it was Moody’s that has stated that the [state’s unfunded pension liability] is much higher and municipal analysts are also saying [Maryland’s] investment assumptions need to be further reduced – lower than what the retirement board recently did [in lowering expectations for investment growth] from 7.75% to 7.55%.

AT FOREFRONT OF CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHT: Former EPA administrator Carol Browner, in an op-ed for the Sun, writes that Maryland is leading the way to reverse the harmful impacts of climate change with a bold plan to reduce carbon pollution by 25%. Climate change is having a significant economic impact on the state. The cumulative cost to Maryland taxpayers of severe weather events in 2011 and 2012, including Hurricane Sandy, was more than $70 million.

RAISE MINIMUM WAGE: The Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute is supporting legislation to increase Maryland’s minimum wage gradually to $10 per hour. It is currently just $7.25 per hour, or roughly $15,000 per year for a full-time worker. For tipped workers, like restaurant servers, the minimum wage is $3.63 per hour. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years, it would be more than $10.60 per hour today.

BEACH REPLENISHMENT: Gov. Martin O’Malley joined Ocean City officials to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the beach replenishment program on the resort’s new boardwalk on Saturday, reports Charlene Sharpe of the Salisbury Daily Times.

SHORE TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS: Gov. O’Malley enjoyed a rare occasion of bipartisan goodwill Friday as he ventured to the Eastern Shore to announce almost $160 million in long-awaited transportation projects to a region that has not given him much love in his statewide campaigns, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun.

TRANSPORTATION TASK FORCE: Gov. O’Malley on Saturday named his former chief of staff, Matthew Gallagher, as chairman of a new task force that will examine the possibility of creating regional authorities to finance transportation projects, writes the Post’s John Wagner.

MANDATORY SENTENCING: The editorial board for the Capital-Gazette writes that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder isn’t the only official queasy about the effect of long mandatory sentences for drug offenses on prisons, the criminal justice system and America as a whole. Some judges in Anne Arundel County are obviously straining to minimize some sentences, or at least keep young offenders in the county jail rather than sending them to state prisons.

Fraser Smith, in a commentary for WYPR-FM, says that the war on drugs and harsh sentencing guidelines have distorted the criminal justice system in ways that produced what has been called “an epidemic of incarceration.”

And Smith and David Gray of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law talk about the U. S. Attorney General’s announced changes to the way federal prosecutors may charge non-violent drug offenders and what it means for Maryland.

O’MALLEY UPBEAT ON STATE: In an annual speech at the Maryland Association of Counties convention, sometimes used to outline future goals, Gov. O’Malley on Saturday revealed few plans for his remaining year and a half in office. Instead, he offered a positive assessment of the state of Maryland. “Anyone can govern when times are easy, but all of you have governed through the most difficult of times,” O’Malley told the gathering of county executives, commissioners and other officials.

OPEN GOVERNMENT: The editorialists for the Sun write that a group of do-gooders has picked Maryland as its test case for trying to make state and local government more transparent and participatory using technology, and they’ve already made some inroads in improving the way state and local laws are published on the web. They wanted to concentrate their efforts in one state to start. They picked Maryland for its proximity to Washington and because it is neither at the forefront of open government technology nor hopelessly behind.

FRANCHOT TOURS STATE: Out and about enjoying the fine weather and the roads winding their way through the state he calls home, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot made some personal stops, with plenty of handshakes, praises for jobs well done and locally embellished and treasured stories, Jennifer Allard writes in the Easton Star-Democrat.

U.S. REPS. RESPOND TO NSA SPYING: David Moon at Maryland Juice compiles a nice roundup of stories about how individuals within Maryland’s U.S. House delegation have responded to the NSA spying scandal and to the reaction of their constituencies. Included are Dutch Ruppersberger, Chris Van Hollen, John Delaney and Andy Harris.

HOGAN MAY RUN: Larry Hogan, a Cabinet secretary under former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, said Friday night that he is looking closely at launching a 2014 gubernatorial bid and will share his decision in the fall, the Post’s John Wagner is reporting.

RUPPERSBERGER MAY RUN: John Wagner of the Post reports that U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger is still considering running for governor of Maryland and decried the “negativity” that has emerged between the two leading candidates. “Whatever I do, I’m going to make my decision in the fall,” he said.

GEORGE ON FUND-RAISING: Del. Ron George, an Anne Arundel County Republican seeking the party’s nomination for governor, thought about resigning from the House of Delegates so he could spend the 90-day General Assembly session raising money for his campaign, since Maryland law prohibits legislators and statewide elected officials from fundraising during the session, reports Alexander Pyles in the Daily Record. George said Friday that puts him at a disadvantage compared to Republican competitors Harford County Exec David Craig and Charles Lollar, a businessman, neither of whom is covered by the prohibition.

BROWN, GANSLER’S DIVERGENT STYLES: While the two leading Democrats – Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler – are similar in many ways — both are progressive, Ivy League-educated lawyers who have spent the bulk of their careers in public service — they have taken widely divergent paths in the early stages of the 2014 race to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley, writes John Wagner of the Post.

GANSLER’S REMARKS: Marc Steiner on WEAA-FM hosts a news roundtable with Dr. Lawrence Brown, assistant professor of Public Health at Morgan State University; and Marta Mossburg, former political columnist for the Sun and the Frederick News-Post. They discuss the Baltimore City Police Department’s response to crime and Attorney General Doug Gansler’s comments on Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

SUPPORTING MINORITY COMMUNITIES: Erin Cox of the Sun writes that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown told a room of fellow African-American elected officials Friday that they have a “responsibility borne of expectations” to advocate for minority communities. Brown said farmers in public office are expected to work on behalf of fellow farmers and military heroes are expected to champion veterans’ causes. “So too are we, as candidates and public servants of color, when we are elected to office … we will … fight for the interests of the entire district that we represent,” he said, adding, “But there will be an expectation that we will promote and champion the interests of the diverse communities from which we come.”

MORE ENDORSEMENTS FOR BROWN: Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Brown picked up the support of 23 county elected officials from around Maryland Friday, adding to the summertime parade of endorsements of his candidacy for governor next year.

REPLACEMENT PROCESS: Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com writes about the process of replacing Pipkin – and other early departing members of the General Assembly. It’s a process that isn’t dependent directly on the voters.

DISTRICT 36 FIELD FILLS UP: Three-term Del. Mike Smigiel will now have to compete against a close colleague in District 36 to fill the seat vacated by Senate Republican Leader E.J. Pipkin, who is moving to Texas. Freshman Del. Steve Hershey said he will enter his name for consideration with the Republican central committees of Caroline, Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne’s counties — saying there is currently “no clear cut favorite.” Former Del. Richard Sossi, defeated by Hershey in a close 2010 race, said he will also file, as will U.S. Senate nominee Eric Wargotz. Dan Menefee writes MarylandReporter.com.

GARAGIOLA REPLACEMENT: David Moon at Maryland Juice has published a leaked letter from soon-to-be-gone District 15 state Sen. Rob Garagiola to the Maryland Democratic Central Committee, which will decide his replacement. In it, he addresses the issue of minority representation and why he is supporting Brian Feldman to replace him.

Meanwhile, scroll down the page to Juice #2, where Moon talks about Bilal Ayyub, who is beginning to campaign for Garagiola’s seat. Ayyub has a website up that lists more than 150 supporters, and he has confirmed on Twitter that he is campaigning for the vacancy.

DISTRICT 32: Red Maryland Radio interviews Josh Kiracofe, a candidate for the House of Delegates from District 32. Around minute 15, it replays an interview with Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso, who discusses the issues facing the voters of Anne Arundel County in 2014 and his campaign to become the county’s next executive.

PUSH FOR CHARTER RULE IN WA CO: Del. LeRoy Myers’ push for charter home-rule government stalled last month when the Washington County Board of Commissioners took no action on his request to appoint a board to draft a charter that would then be voted on by county residents next year. Now Myers intends to keep the issue alive by endorsing candidates for county commissioner seats in the 2014 elections who would back a move to charter home rule, Kaustuv Basu reports in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

AP GRADES, EXAMS SPLIT: A Baltimore Sun analysis of test scores showed a troubling discrepancy between grades for Advanced Placement course work and scores on the exams. In at least 19 high schools throughout the Baltimore region, more than half of the students who earned an A or B in an AP class failed the exam.

Failure rates of 75% on the exam were common at Woodlawn and other Maryland schools with large numbers of minority and low-income students, reports Liz Bowie for the Sun.

OPEN MEETINGS VIOLATION: A state board has found three Frederick County commissioners violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when they discussed the sale of two county-owned facilities on a local radio program in June. The five-page opinion dated Friday explains that Commissioners Paul Smith, Billy Shreve and Kirby Delauter were at fault because the county had not provided notice of the show, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News-Post.

PRE-DAWN ROBO-CALL: Several thousand Baltimore City residents got an early wake-up call Friday from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake when a robocall for a back-to-school rally went out by mistake before 6 a.m. “Just awoken by my own voice,” Rawlings-Blake tweeted at 5:57 a.m. Friday. “Robocall for my back to school rally. VERY SORRY in advance to anyone this glitch has inconvenienced/worried.”