December 13, 2013

State Roundup, December 13, 2013

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O’MALLEY ADDRESSES EXCHANGE PROBLEMS: Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged for the first time Thursday that he briefly considered delaying the Oct. 1 launch of the state’s health insurance exchange when staff members raised concerns about potential problems, reports Meredith Cohn for the Sun. The anticipated glitches turned out to be major problems as the Maryland exchange, designed to provide one-stop shopping for the 800,000 uninsured Marylanders, experienced one of the nation’s most troubled launches.

John Wagner of the Post writes that O’Malley said he thinks the state is still on track to meet a goal he set two weeks ago to fix most technological problems with the Web site by the middle of this month. Of the nine major glitches that were identified, three remain to be addressed, he said. Two of those involve computer screens freezing at points in the application process.

The state’s health care exchange is still on track to enroll 260,000 people by the end of March,  O’Malley said. Since open enrollment began on the state website Oct. 1, frustrated consumers have complained of multiple problems, reports Alex Jackson in the Capital-Gazette.

Sarah Gantz of the Baltimore Business Journal writes that it had been difficult to get anyone in the administration to talk about the problems with the exchange, but that has all changed.

FIXING CORRECTIONS: The report this week by a legislative panel on the troubled Baltimore City Detention Center paints a picture of an institution in deep crisis, and it offers a list of common-sense suggestions for how to clean up the mess that need to be taken seriously, opines the editorial board for the Sun. The recommendation that the state prioritize its long-range plan to replace the antiquated facility at a cost of $533 million has gotten much of the attention, but fortunately, most of the items in the report are easier to implement — and possibly more consequential.

ROUGH YEAR FOR O’MALLEY: Columnist Dan Rodricks, writing for the Sun, says that while Maryland was burning in controversies – the Baltimore Jail scandal, the health-care exchange rollout problems among them – Gov. Martin O’Malley was fiddling around in other countries.

VYING FOR PURPLE LINE: Six teams of private companies have begun to compete for a long-term contract to design, build, operate and help pay for a light-rail Purple Line in the Maryland suburbs, reports Katherine Shaver in the Post.

VYING FOR CASINO: Members of a state casino site selection commission reviewed final details Thursday of three competing proposals for a casino in Prince George’s County — including one that sweetened its offer since the commission met last week, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun. Greenwood Racing, which wants to build Parx casino on Route 210 in Fort Washington, said this week it will pay an additional $100 million, on top of $100 million already pledged, toward highway improvements near its casino site.

DELANEY PUSHES WAGE HIKE: With momentum building for higher hourly pay in Maryland, Rep. John Delaney, a co-sponsor of a federal minimum wage bill and a former CEO, urged Baltimore-area business leaders Thursday to have a voice in a measure he said is long overdue, reports Lorraine Mirabella in the Sun.

Donald Fry, in Center Maryland, writes that Delaney takes a thoughtful, careful approach to raising the minimum wage.

NOT THE TIME: The editorial board for the Frederick News Post argues that now is not the time to raise the minimum wage in Maryland.

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OYSTER RESTORATION: The first of several shipments containing more than 100,000 tons of fossilized oyster shells was scheduled to be unveiled today as part of a public-private partnership to help rebuild habitat in oyster sanctuaries on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, according to an AP story in the Carroll County Times.

2nd VICE CHAIR AT MACo: Washington County Commissioner John Barr, who has been named second vice president of the Maryland Association of Counties, was to be welcomed to this new duties by the governor Thursday night, reports CJ Lovelace in the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

OPEN MANSION: There are two annual holiday open houses at Government House, the governor’s residence at State Circle in Annapolis, writes Wendi Winters for the Capital-Gazette. The first, for state employees only, was held yesterday. The second, open to the public, is 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

POLITICAL NOTES: Rema Rahman of the Capital-Gazette, among other items, reports that state Sen. Bryan Simonaire and House Minority Leader Nic Kipke announced they filed for re-election together as a show of unity in 2014. Simonaire and Kipke, both Republicans from Pasadena, were elected in November 2006 in District 31.

GANSLER WON’T ISSUE OPINION: Attorney General Doug Gansler has agreed to allow state election officials to seek outside legal counsel rather than rely on his office for advice on a fundraising issue that could have a significant impact on the ticket of his leading Democratic rival for governor, writes John Wagner for the Post. The State Board of Elections is preparing to issue guidance that is likely to determine whether the running mate of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown continues raising money during the 90-day legislative session that starts next month. This has become an issue because the Democratic primary is being held in June, several months earlier than in past election cycles.

2014 Calendar AD PHOTOBROWN OFFERS SCHOOL PROGRAMS: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown today released his plan to spend dramatically more on building schools and vocational programs that help high school students go directly into the workforce. Brown, a Democrat running for governor, unveiled several proposals about making Maryland students “ready to work” that together would cost $185 million over the next four years if he were elected, writes Erin Cox for the Sun.

GAS EXPORTS & GOVERNOR’S RACE: The controversy over exporting liquefied natural gas via the Chesapeake Bay has become an issue in the race for Maryland’s State House, at least among the Democratic candidates for governor, Tim Wheeler is reporting in the Sun.

GOV FORUM CONTROVERSY:Sparks are already starting to fly in advance of a Maryland gubernatorial forum scheduled for Monday — over who plans to attend. A widely distributed e-mail on Thursday suggested that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown had just backed out — and that organizers weren’t happy, reports John Wagner in the Post.

TENSION: CNS’s Lauren Loricchio writes in the Salisbury Daily Times that political observers are saying that tension is building between Democratic rivals Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler, both vying to become Maryland’s next governor — and it’s likely to escalate as the candidates get closer to the June primary.

MoCo GOP CANDIDATES: Montgomery County’s new Republican Party chairman plans to focus on finding conservative candidates and promoting conservative principles as the county prepares for November’s elections, Ryan Marshall reports in the Gazette. Michael Higgs, an Potomac attorney, was elected Montgomery County Republican Central Committee chairman on Nov. 26, replacing Mark Uncapher.

MoCo EMPLOYMENT: Montgomery County economic development director Steven Silverman says the state’s Department of Business and Economic Development is under-counting the number of jobs at the county’s major employers, Kevin James Shay reports in the Gazette.

DISTRICT 16: Bethesda activist Karen Kuker-Kihl is joining the race for delegate in District 16, with two open delegate seats, Agnes Blum reports in the Gazette.