February 13, 2014

State Roundup, February 13, 2014

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State House in snow (Photo by Matt Proud)

House and Senate are scheduled to meet Thursday morning, but most hearings have been cancelled. State government is closed. (State House in snow photo by Matt Proud)

PRE-K EXPANSION: Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to expand access to pre-kindergarten classes to more 4-year-olds in the coming year and has set aside $4.3 million to cover the cost, John Wagner reports in the Post. But when lawmakers gathered Wednesday to discuss the legislative proposal, they largely focused on this question: When could the state afford to do even more?

NSA BILL SUPPORT WITHDRAWN: Five Republican Maryland delegates have withdrawn their support of a bill that could cut off the National Security Agency’s water and electricity, reports Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said in an email Wednesday he and Dels. Andrew Serafini and Neil Parrott were removing their names and withdrawing all support of House Bill 1074. Dels. Susan McComas and Glen Glass said later they were doing the same. The bill is similar to one being pushed through state legislatures throughout the country in states that host a NSA complex.

HEALTH EXCHANGE: Two Republican congressman – one of them Andy Harris of Maryland – called Wednesday for an investigation into federal money spent on Maryland’s troubled health insurance exchange, raising questions that could shed light on whether the Obama administration foresaw problems with the site before its launch, report Erin Cox and John Fritze for the Sun.

MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE: In what could be one of the most significant measures debated during the current session of the Maryland General Assembly, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown testified in favor of a bill Tuesday that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016. Also testifying Tuesday was Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, in support of his bill that would allow counties to set their own minimum-wage rates, reports Kaustuv Basu in the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

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FRACKING STUDY: An assessment by an environmental group concluded natural gas drilling in Western Maryland comes with a high risk of contaminating groundwater and surface water, causing air pollution and consuming land, reports Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post. The study, commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Citizen Shale, examined 10 potential impacts of fracking. For critics of the drilling process, the findings provide backing for Sen. Ron Young’s proposal to place a temporary stay on fracking until lawmakers understand the potential hazards.

COMBINED REPORTING: As many as three dozen unnamed corporations doing business in Maryland could pay less in corporate tax filing fees but more in overall taxes under a bill proposed by Sen. Paul Pinsky, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Pinsky is the sponsor of Senate Bill 395, which would require affiliated companies doing business in Maryland to pay taxes using a combined reporting method. The senator said his bill would essentially close a loophole that allows companies to avoid paying taxes in the state. Similar bills have been introduced every year since 2010, without success.

PUBLIC INFORMATION BOARD: There could soon be a board to oversee and enforce the Maryland Public Information Act, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. A bill heard by the House Health and Government Operations Committee on Wednesday would provide a place outside courthouses for residents to challenge how state and local government handle public information act requests

CONWAY HBCU BILL WILL BE BACK: When Sen. Joan Carter Conway recommitted her controversial college program bill back to her committee Tuesday she did so with a warning: It will be back. The bill would require the Maryland Higher Education Commission to review objections by historically black colleges and universities to proposals for new academic programs or substantial modifications to existing so-called traditionally white institutions, blogs Bryan Sears for the Daily Record.

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MSA SCHOOL TESTS: Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office said Tuesday he stands by a state education department decision to move forward with administering the final Maryland School Assessment (MSA) test in a few weeks, despite efforts by legislators, teachers, unions and school boards to stop it. Hearings were held Tuesday in a Senate committee and last week in the House on emergency bills that would require the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to ask federal education officials to waive the testing requirement, because the testing material is based on an outdated curriculum.

DIEHARD OVER CHICKEN TAX: Even though the “Poultry Fair Share Act” stands no chance of becoming law, the sponsor of the controversial bill to tax Maryland’s chickens refuses to give up, saying he wants to have a public discussion on who should pay to control polluted farm runoff fouling the Cheapeake Bay, Tim Wheeler is reporting in the Sun.

DWYER’S BILLS: In a guest column for the Annapolis Capital, Del. Don Dwyer responds to a negative editorial on two pieces of legislation introduced by Dwyer to hold elected officials to a higher standard.

LOWER SHORE BOND BILLS: More than a dozen bond bills to bolster construction on the Lower Shore are being reviewed by the Maryland General Assembly, writes Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. They range from school projects to community center upgrades to artifact acquisition and, if all are approved, would mean about $1.8 million in improvements.

QUEEN ANNE’S BILLS: The Queen Anne’s County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly has introduced two bills having to do with the school board and school buses in the county, reports Jack Shaum for the Easton Star Democrat. HB 1033 addresses the method of filling a vacancy on the county’s board of education and HB 1034 it alters the length of time a school bus can be operated in Queen Anne’s County.

MALONE CHOKES UP: It didn’t take long for Del. Jim Malone to get emotional after learning he was one of two recipients of the House of Delegates’ Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias award. Malone, vice chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, received the award on Wednesday for his work with both Democrats and Republicans, blogs Bryan Sears for the Daily Record.

LEGISLATORS ON POT USE: Frederick Kunkle of the Post reports that while Maryland legislators are now willing to talk about marijuana, whether making it legal for medical use or for taxation purposes or just to decriminalize it, many refuse to say whether they have ever smoked it.

GUB HOPEFULS ON POT: Every candidate for Maryland governor was given a short questionnaire asking for his/her views about decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, how those views have changed over the years and whether each had tried the drug. The Washington Post compiled those replies.

BROWN COMPILES PG EATERY LIKES: A dispute over Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler’s recent comments on Prince George’s County restaurants has spilled onto Facebook. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is vying with Gansler in the state’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, posted a provocative invitation on the social media site, writes John Wagner in the Post.