January 9, 2014

State Roundup, January 9, 2014

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NOT NO. 1: Maryland’s superintendent of schools has no plans to take down dozens of signs in the windows of her agency’s headquarters that proclaim Maryland No. 1 in education. Likewise, Gov. Martin O’Malley is unlikely to stop bragging that Maryland is No. 1 in the nation, a point he made again Wednesday on Twitter. But technically, reports Liz Bowie of the Sun, Maryland cannot claim that distinction anymore.

ON POT LEGALIZATION: Gov. Martin O’Malley voiced strong opposition Wednesday to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, saying that it could be “a gateway to even more harmful behavior.” “I’m not much in favor of it,” O’Malley said during an annual Annapolis Summit radio show broadcast on the first day of Maryland’s legislative session. John Wagner reports for the story for the Post.

You can listen to an excerpt of Marc Steiner’s Annapolis Summit in which legalization is discussed here.

Alex Jackson of the Annapolis Capital quotes O’Malley: “Seeing what drug addiction has done to our state and in our city, this drug, its use and its abuse can be a gateway.”

Sun columnist Dan Rodrick writes that state Senate President for life Mike Miller is on the right side of history with his stand for legalization of marijuana.

GOP AGENDA: Kelcie Pegher of the Carroll County Times reports that Republican lawmakers hope to lower taxes, repeal or make changes to the state-mandated stormwater remediation fees, also known as the “rain tax” and keep Maryland from raising the minimum wage this upcoming legislative session.

ARUNDEL AGENDA: As Anne Arundel lawmakers begin the 2014 General Assembly session Wednesday, they’re prepared to rekindle the debate over stormwater fees, writes Alex Jackson for the Annapolis Capital. While the County Council approved the fee last summer, the controversy over what critics have dubbed “the rain tax” continues.

SHORE AGENDA: The Eastern Shore delegation turned its attention to the economy and agriculture issues Wednesday as much of Annapolis talked about increasing the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times.

Josh Bollinger of the Easton Star Democrat speaks with shore representatives about their priorities.

And Jack Shaum of the Cecil Whig says money issues will top the agenda.

LEADERSHIP AGENDAS: Marc Steiner of WEAA, in his 11th annual Annapolis Summit, speaks with House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller on what they see as priorities for the session.

Gov. Martin O’Malley also spoke with Steiner during the summit. You can hear what he had to say here.

RAISE THE WAGE: As his final legislative session got under way Wednesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley pressed his top priority — raising the minimum wage — and said he would help his preferred successor get a head start on a campaign promise: a major expansion of pre-kindergarten education, report John Wagner and Jenna Johnson for the Post.

Kaustuv Basu of the Hagerstown Herald Mail reports that Gov. O’Malley told state legislators he was looking forward to working with them to raise the state’s minimum wage.

Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News Post writes that Sen. Ron Young, a Frederick County Democrat who is joining the push to raise the minimum wage, is pleased with the General Assembly’s accomplishments during his time in office. But his view is shared by few on the other side of the aisle. Republican Del. Michael Hough said he thinks recent years are notable for “crushing people of middle income and lower income” with tax increases.

Md CAN (Citizen Action network) ad

FRACKING PROTEST: Environmentalists concerned about shale gas drilling in Maryland returned to Annapolis Wednesday to try again for a legislative moratorium on “fracking,” reports Tim Wheeler in the Sun. Waving signs and chanting “Protect us from fracking,” activists huddled in Lawyers Mall in front of the State House just before the opening of the 90-day session of the General Assembly.

PRE-K EXPANSION: Gov. Martin O’Malley said Wednesday his administration will take some first steps in expanding universal, full-day, prekindergarten this year in Maryland, as lawmakers convened for the 90-day legislative session, according to an AP story in the Carroll County Times.

BAIL HEARING COUNSEL: Senate President Mike Miller and Gov. Martin O’Malley suggested that they don’t see a decision by the state’s highest court guaranteeing poor people the right to state-appointed counsel at all bail hearings as being the final word on the matter, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun.

BUSCH, MILLER RE-ELECTED: House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller were reelected on Wednesday as leaders of their chambers, Alex Jackson writes for the Annapolis Capital. Busch has served as House Speaker since 2003. Miller has served as Senate President since 1987.  Busch was reelected after House Minority Nic Kipke was nominated in a rare challenge to Busch’s leadership. Kipke was shot down in a voice vote.

WITH NO CHANGE BELOW: Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com writes that Before Miller and Busch, the presiding officers typically served one or two terms or four to eight years. Their long-term reign has calcified leadership, leading to a senior ceiling in the legislature. With no turnover in the top jobs, which appoint all the other posts, there has been little change below them.

TWEETERS: Jenna Johnson of the Post compiles some of the tweets sent by members of the General Assembly on opening day.

EIGHT TO WATCH: Beginning with Del. Maggie McIntosh, the powerful chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, the Sun lists eight people in Annapolis to pay attention to this session – and they all happen to be legislators, and most chair committees.

JOBLESS BENEFIT EXTENSION: Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offices says the governor spearheaded an effort to gather signatures from fellow governors for a letter sent Wednesday to leaders of Congress urging an extension of emergency unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, reports the Post’s John Wagner.

JAIL CORRUPTION SENTENCE: A federal judge ordered a former corrections officer behind bars for smuggling drugs into the Baltimore jail at the behest of the Black Guerrilla Family — the first sentence in a case that revealed the gang’s takeover of the facility. U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander said she hoped the prison time would send a clear message to other corrections officers who might be tempted to take part in illegal activity. Hollander gave the officer 3½ years, a few months shy of the maximum recommended by sentencing guidelines, reports Ian Duncan for the Sun.

TRANSPARENCY IN CHESTERTOWN: An eight-member Waterfront Task Force acts only in an administrative capacity, according to Chestertown’s attorney. As such, the public is not entitled to attend meetings, he said. The attorney sent a mandatory response to a recent Open Meetings Act complaint to the state Open Meetings Compliance Board, Jan. 6, reports Craig O’Donnell for the Kent County News.

But the Chestertown Spy editorialists are telling the Kent County News to back off and let the task force complete its work, present its recommendations, and then demand transparency.

***Apologies to Del. Kathleen Dumais, whose birthday is July 5, and not yesterday as we mistakenly told you. Anyway, Happy Half Birthday to her and Happy Birthday today to Del. Sam Arora,  If you want to wish all your favorite legislators a happy birthday, get the new State House Birthday Calendar created by MarylandReporter.com. It lists all 188 legislators, including those who don’t put their birthdates in their official bios.***

MO CO LOBBYISTS: Lobbyists — mostly attorneys representing developers — reported collecting nearly $700,000 to promote their clients’ interests with Montgomery County officials in the first half of 2013, the Post’s Bill Turque reports.

NO TO YOUNG ON CONTRACT TALKS: Rachel Karas of the Frederick News Post reports that the Frederick County Board of Education said that County Commissioners President Blaine Young will not be allowed to participate in contract talks with public school employee unions.