February 7, 2014

State Roundup, Friday, February 7, 2014

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JAIL CELLPHONES BLOCKED: State officials say they have blocked service at the Baltimore City Detention Center for the contraband cellphones that have long fueled gang activity there, Michael Dresser and Ian Duncan report for the Sun.

HEALTH EXCHANGE PANEL: State lawmakers announced Thursday a new, bi-partisan panel of lawmakers to oversee fixes to the glitch-ridden health exchange, Erin Cox reports for the Sun. The 10-member committee will meet for the first time Monday and will discuss how to help people stuck without insurance get through the exchange.

ON THE MINIMUM WAGE: Benjamin Orr of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, in an opinion piece in MarylandReporter.com, says that some in our state propose we could help Marylanders climb the economic ladder by raising the minimum wage or the Earned Income Credit when it really takes raising both. The EIC and minimum wage complement each other, with one reaching workers that the other cannot.

TRANSGENDER PROTECTIONS: Prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity is considered the last major piece of the legislative puzzle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Marylanders, but a split state Senate committee threatens to stymie the effort, reports Kate Alexander for the Gazette.

DOG BITE LEGISLATION: Opponents of a bill meant to set a standard of liability in dog bite cases say the so-called compromise bill would codify the common-law standard and will increase the number of cases that end up in court, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Those same opponents say they favor a competing bill nipping on the heels of the favored legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Brian Frosh. Frosh defended his proposal, saying, “It’s an attempt to go up the middle, to strike a balance.”

CHICK TAX WOULD BE VETOED: Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday if the legislature passes a 5-cent tax on chickens grown in the state he’ll veto it, writes Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. His remarks came during the annual Taste of Maryland dinner and were reported by the Maryland Department of Agriculture on Twitter. Upper Shore state Sen. Steve Hershey also tweeted about the remarks.

REPEALING COMMON CORE: Scores of parents from across Maryland told legislators this week that they want to junk the new Common Core curriculum standards altogether. Their reasons ranged from the political to the pedagogic, write Len Lazarick and Duane Keenan in MarylandReporter.com. They objected to the new computerized tests being imposed and to the untested teaching methods. They invoked the Constitution, copyright law, corporate conspiracies and common sense. There’s also a five-minute podcast summarizing the two-hour hearing.

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HOLOCAUST REPARATIONS: Companies that profited from the Holocaust would have to pay reparations to surviving victims and their families to be eligible for a public-private partnership in Maryland, under a bill filed in Annapolis, reports Kate Alexander for the Gazette. The bill comes after reports that an affiliate of a French company that profited from the Holocaust is bidding on the Purple Line public-private partnership contract.

SEPTIC BURDEN BILL: Sen. Steve Hershey has urged members of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee to approve Senate Bill 1, which is designed to ease the financial burden for residents required by law to use the best available technology septic systems and entering into a five-year operation and maintenance contract, according to an article in the Easton Star Democrat. Hershey’s bill exempts these residents from paying the $5 monthly fee to the Bay Restoration Fund.

VEHICLE SURCHARGE: A Montgomery County state senator has filed a bill that would allow a county or municipal corporation to impose an annual vehicle registration surcharge of up to $20 to go toward transportation improvements, reports Kevin James Shay for the Gazette.. The legislation filed by Sen. Richard Madaleno comes on the heels of a task force’s report to find more revenue for transportation, even after the gasoline tax and tolls were raised last year.

BALCONY SAFETY BILL: Even before state Sen. Ron Young opened his mouth Thursday to testify on his annual balcony inspection bill, it was clear the room has warmed to his proposal since last year, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post. “Tremendous improvement, senator. I applaud you,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway. This is the third year running that Young has introduced the legislation, which would require periodic balcony inspections on apartments, hotels and other multi-family dwellings.

KEEPING SCORE: Bryan Sears of the Daily Record blogs that it looks like Senate President Mike Miller is keeping score. That’s right. On Thursday Miller told members of the Senate that they have passed 92 Senate bills since the session opened on Jan. 8. To date, Miller said, “The House has passed one bill. And that was the Senate bill.”

HOMES FOR FOSTER KIDS: Pointing to his own experience as an adoptive parent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown vows if elected governor this fall to work to reduce the number of Maryland children in foster care, writes Tim Wheeler in the Sun. The plan aims to trim 1,000 youths from nearly 6,000 in foster care now, continuing what they say has been a 43% decrease in the population in recent years.

AA SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION: The Anne Arundel schools superintendent and County Executive Laura Neuman pleaded for more construction dollars from the Board of Public works, writes Allison Bourg of the Annapolis Capital. But it was the letters that came across state Comptroller Peter Franchot’s desk that were alarming. They came mostly from parents of Severna Park High School students, and told of classrooms that alternated between freezing and steamy. They mentioned mold and cockroaches in the halls.

CANDIDATE SWITCHES RACE: A week and a half after signing up for the Eastern Shore congressional race, one of the Democratic candidates has withdrawn, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. Harford County resident Joe Werner said he plans to run for county executive instead of congressman. “The Democratic Party in Harford County asked me to run for county executive,” he said. “I feel I can make more of a direct impact on the lives of Harford County people.”

RISING & FALLING STARS: Gazette columnist Blair Lee outlines his lists of rising and falling stars in Maryland. Among the rising? Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera; Arundel County Exec Laura Neuman and superstar neurosurgeon Ben Carson who is now a conservative media darling. Falling? Among them are pro-sports, the Terps and coal. And then there are the scams and scandals …

VOTE INTEGRITY: Sun columnist Dan Rodricks writes that a new voter process slated to be part of Maryland’s primary election in June has some civic-minded computer security experts sounding alarms about the potential for fraud. A small group of them, including three researchers based in other states, has also warned Maryland’s Board of Elections about vulnerability in the state’s online voter registration process. In fact, more than two years ago, they found the Maryland system to be susceptible to “large-scale, automated fraud” and said so in a letter to the board.

PUBLIC FINANCING: Conservative pro-business Republican Larry Hogan and Del. Heather Mizeur wouldn’t seem to have much in common politically, aside from the fact both are running for governor. But as of this week, they share an important common denominator— both have chosen to accept public financing of their primary campaigns. That’s good news because it demonstrates the viability of public campaign financing in Maryland after a 20-year dry spell, opines the editorial board for the Sun.

AA CONCUSSION POLICY: Allison Bourg of the Annapolis Capital reports that the Anne Arundel school board has approved a new policy covering concussions sustained by student athletes.

I-81 LANE EXPANSION: The Washington County legislative delegation is sending a letter to three Maryland lawmakers in the U.S. Congress asking for federal money to expand the number of lanes in the Interstate 81 corridorin Maryland, reports Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

EPA ASKS MORE CHANGES AT HARBOR POINT: Harbor Point’s developer has more work to do to satisfy environmental regulators, who are asking for more modifications to the project’s safety plan before they will permit groundbreaking at the chromium-contaminated site, reports Mark Reutter for the Baltimore Brew. Russell Fish, of the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote that a “satisfactory response” to dozens of technical questions is required before the Beatty Development Group can start construction on the grounds of a former Allied Chemical factory. The Maryland Department of the Environment concurs with the EPA’s decision.

LAZARICK INTERVIEWED: Mark Smith, editor of The Business Monthly, interviews Len Lazarick, editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com in a Q&A that covers General Assembly topics. The interview was done in mid-January and just published Tuesday, so it’s a bit out of date on some issues. It’s also a bit incestuous since Lazarick was its news editor for eight years and writes exclusive columns for The Business Monthly, which Smith edits.