February 3, 2014

State Roundup, February 3, 2014

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ANGER OVER PROBE DELAY: For nearly two months, top Maryland leaders have promised to investigate what went wrong with the launch of the state’s online health insurance marketplace. But they have been vague on when or how that would happen. Last week, legislative leaders said they are likely to defer to a previously scheduled state audit of the exchange, reports Jenna Johnson and Mary Pat Flaherty for the Post. That angered many Republicans and some Democrats who want a full accounting now. They said that a delay could also spare Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is running for governor, from having to publicly address more questions about the exchange before the Democratic primary on June 24 or the general election in November.

TAX CUT FOR RICHEST: At a time when income inequality is one of the nation’s most-discussed issues, the tax that appears to have the best chance of being cut in heavily Democratic Maryland this year is one that is only paid by millionaires, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun.

RAISING THE WAGE: Alex Jackson of the Annapolis Capital speaks with a couple of small business owners to find out their view on raising the minimum wage. A majority of members of the Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce are against it, according to a recent survey.

THE DIVIDE: Don Fry of Center Maryland writes that while legislative leaders on both sides of the political spectrum in Annapolis agree on one tax issue – reducing Maryland’s estate tax – at a recent forum, they talked past each other on other key issues, including local storm water fees, taxes in general and the minimum wage.

PAID SICK LEAVE: The Maryland Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act, expected to be introduced this week in Annapolis, could mean more than 700,000 workers in the state, who currently have no earned paid sick days, may not have to choose between staying home if they or a child is sick and a paycheck, according to a Capital News Service story in the Chestertown Spy. A coalition of 108 organizations are working to make earned paid sick leave a reality for Marylanders and plan to support the bill sponsored by Del. John Olszewski and Sen. Catherine Pugh.

PENSION ACTION: State Treasurer Nancy Kopp told lawmakers Thursday that she opposed Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed $100 million cut in the pension contribution, and said it would undermine trust by the state’s bond rating agencies, reports Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com. “I think this is a very difficult thing to defend with the rating agencies,” Kopp told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Administration.

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THIS WEEK: From penalties for smuggling cellphones into prisons to dog bite legislation and the future of Maryland’s health care exchange and transgender rights, the Washington Post’s Annapolis reporters offer up five things to look out for this week.

BILLS: Here’s a list from the Washington Post of significant bills in the Maryland General Assembly and what their status is as of Jan. 29.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Washington County officials concerned about those affected by domestic violence said a series of measures proposed in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly by the state administration would significantly increase protection for victims, reports Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

CHICKEN TAX: A 5-cent tax on chickens will be proposed today in the Maryland General Assembly, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. The Poultry Fair Share Act would require poultry companies, such as Perdue Farms Inc., to pay a tax into the Bay Restoration Fund for each chicken it supplies to a farmer. If passed, Michele Merkel of Food & Water Watch, which focuses on corporate and government accountability relating to food, water and fishing, expects about $15 million to be raised annually.

TAX TAX TAX ON YOUTUBE: Two Baltimore County Republicans took to YouTube to criticize a variety of Maryland taxes, writes Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. In a zippy one-minute video titled “Disappearing Dollar Act,” House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga and Del. Susan Aumann, both R-Baltimore County, hand dollar bills over before drinking wine and after using the bathroom.

PRE-K SUSPENSIONS: State lawmakers want to form a task force of educators and advocates to look into the issue of pre-kindergarten suspensions, a little-known practice that came to light recently amid a surge in 3- and 4-year-olds being temporarily kicked out of Baltimore City public schools, Erica Green reports in the Sun.

***MarylandReporter.com is offering four paid three-month reporting fellowships this year. The fellowships are supported by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. One fellowship starts immediately, covering the General Assembly session. For more details, click here.***

SUSTAINING PRE-K: Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget includes $4.3 million to add 1,600 prekindergarten spots statewide for next school year, writes Julie Greene for the Hagerstown Herald Mail. The proposal calls for a grant program, so school systems could apply for funding to expand pre-K. Washington County Public Schools officials have not yet decided whether they want to apply for such a grant, said schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. Once the school system expands pre-K opportunities, families probably will expect that service to continue, raising the question of whether the school system could financially sustain an expanded program.

OFF-SHORE WIND: WYPR’s Joel McCord and Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times talk about the state’s step-by-step exploration of off-shore wind power almost a year after incentives for construction of wind turbines passed the General Assembly.

O’MALLEY’S MOMENT OF ZEN: Last Monday’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart closed with a clip from Gov. Martin O’Malley State of the State address. At around minute 21:05, O’Malley becomes the featured “Moment of Zen” when he winds up delivering the subhead “Conclusion.” (You have to put up with five commercials to see the last minutes.)

MAN ON THE RUN: Gov. Martin O’Malley is moving ahead with preparations for a possible presidential bid and said in an interview that if he’s going to lay the groundwork for a national campaign, he can’t wait for Hillary Rodham Clinton to decide whether she is running, John Wagner reports for the Post.

SMITH’S WAR CHEST IS LOCKED: It looks like there will be no winners this election year when it comes to Jim Smith’s sizable campaign war chest. The former Baltimore County Executive  was confirmed as secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation after agreeing to freeze the more than $531,000 he has left over in his state campaign account, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record.

DISTRICT 4: The first Democrat to file for delegate for District 4, Gene Stanton told George Wenschhof in his Frederick Politics blog that he wants to reduce the gridlock on Interstate 270, build on the state’s excellent educational system and is concerned with the runaway growth policies of the current Frederick board of County Commissioners.

NORML BACKS MIZEUR: Maryland Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Heather Mizeur on Friday picked up the endorsement of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – NORML – one of the nation’s leading groups that advocate for the reform of marijuana laws. Mizeur has proposed a system of legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana in Maryland, writes John Wagner for the Post.

MIZEUR BACKS MORRELL PARK: Speaking in Morrell Park to residents fighting the proposal to put a CSX intermodal rail facility in the southwest Baltimore City community, gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur Saturday night assured them “you have a friend in me,” writes Fern Shen for Baltimore Brew.

GANSLER VOWS TO AID BALTIMORE: Attorney General Doug Gansler pledged Saturday that if elected governor of Maryland, he would make it a priority to help Baltimore, a city that he said has high taxes, too few jobs, too many low-performing schools and a crime rate that is “out of control.” John Wagner reports the story for the Post.

ARUNDEL EXEC RACE: George F. Johnson IV is bringing some competition to the Democratic primary race for Anne Arundel county executive. There are now two Republicans and two Democrats vying for the jurisdiction’s top job in the June 24 primary election, Rema Rahman writes in the Annapolis Capital.

LEOPOLD SEEKS TO CLEAR NAME: Lawyers for John Leopold, the disgraced former Anne Arundel county executive, acknowledge his behavior was inappropriate. But they insist that’s not a crime. His attorneys are scheduled to appear at the Court of Special Appeals on Wednesday to argue that the conviction of the veteran Republican politician last January for criminal misconduct in office was based on a flawed reading of an unclear law and should be overturned, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun.