February 18, 2014

State Roundup, February 18, 2014

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PUBLIC INFORMATION PANEL: Government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland and other transparency advocates say they’re enthusiastic about proposed legislation in the General Assembly that would create a panel to oversee public information, reports Luke Broadwater in the Sun. Del. Jill Carter’s bill would create an oversight board to which citizens and members of the media could appeal heavily redacted or denied public information requests. Currently, citizens must sue the government in Circuit Court for the documents if state or local officials withhold information.

ANALYZING HEALTH EXCHANGE PROBLEMS: In an analysis for MarylandReporter.com, audit hawk Charlie Hayward gets into the weeds of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and finds a few snakes, financial sinkholes and some future traps. The problems at the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange (MHBE) are likely more serious and more expensive to fix than has already been reported.Cost overruns and higher costs in future years could easily run to over $100 million, and big decisions loom regarding who will pay and what will happen to the glitch-ridden website. In addition, the exchange will continue to need regular bailouts to break even until at least 2018, despite collecting a new tax on insurance firms that was supposed to pay for operations.

PARENTS BLOG-BLAST SENATORS: A blog post on the site of a Montgomery County parents’ group this weekend assailed — in often personal terms — three local state senators for their sponsorship of legislation that would make it a misdemeanor for part-time and volunteer school and recreational coaches to have sex with a 16-year-old under their charge, but only if the perpetrator is at least seven years older than the victim, Steve Lash of the Daily Record blogs.

KIPKE CALLED COWARD: The leader of a Maryland conservative group in an email Monday called House Minority Leader Nic Kipke a coward after Kipke withdrew his support from a bill that could cut off the National Security Agency’s water and electricity, reports Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. Patrick McGrady, of the Maryland Liberty Political Action Committee, used underlines and capital letters to get his point across to supporters Monday, asking them to “call and email Kipke IMMEDIATELY” to “let him know that we oppose his cowardice and are disgusted with his non-leadership on this bill.” Kipke was actually one of five Republican delegates who decided last week to remove their names from HB 1074.

MORE FOR WAGE HIKE: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings urged state lawmakers Monday to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10, arguing that lower wages will continue to strain government programs that help the poor, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.

  • The governor, lieutenant governor and Congressman Cummings testified in support of the legislation, saying that paying employees $2.85 more per hour would increase the money low-wage workers spend, boosting the economy; reduce the number of people living below the poverty level, lowering government assistance; and make Maryland a better place to live and work, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times.
  • By a wide margin, Maryland voters want to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 a hour, a poll conducted for The Baltimore Sun shows. A majority of voters in every region of the state supports that wage increase, and the proposal has near-unanimous support from African-Americans, report Erin Cox and Timothy Wheeler in the Sun. “People, they say we’re coming out of the depression, but we ain’t,” said Arthur Brown Jr., a former welder from East Baltimore who supports the increase and took part in the survey.

TWO-TIER SYSTEM: Maryland is already moving toward a “two-tier” minimum wage system, where counties will set their own minimums, Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday. But he wants to make $10.10 the statewide floor and let counties raise it from there, according to an AP report in the Carroll County Times.

PAID SICK LEAVE: Delegates are considering a mandate for businesses to give their employees paid sick days — about eight or nine annually for full-time workers. The House Economic Matters Committee is set to review the bill this afternoon, according to an AP report at WBFF-TV.

Campaign On banner 2 Polling

RAW MILK SALES: Raw milk advocates are pushing for HB 3, which would make selling raw, unpasteurized milk — albeit in a limited fashion — legal in the state, writes Timothy Sandoval for the Carroll County Times. The bill also would end the state’s restriction on “cow share” programs, in which customers purchase shares in a cow herd that is cared for by a farmer. The customers receive raw milk from the herd based on the number of shares they buy.

LEGALIZING POT: Brian Kuebler of WMAR-TV talks with Del. Curt Anderson about his efforts to legalize marijuana in Maryland and turn the underground economy into an out-in-the-open, revenue generating industry. He also speaks with other advocates and opponents.

CIGARETTE TAX HIKE SUPPORT: Supporters of a $1 cigarette tax increase say they have more support on the Lower Shore than people might expect, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative sponsored a poll in January that showed 61% of District 38 voters support the proposed tax, while 32% oppose it and 7% are undecided.

TAX BREAKS FOR PETS: Two Maryland lawmakers think you – and your future pet – deserve a tax break, according to a report at WTOP-AM. Under HB 1358, you could get a one-time tax break of $100 for adopting a pet from a shelter or a rescue organization. Del. Glenn Glass came up with the idea. “I think that this bill would incentivize people to adopt,” he says.

UNDOCUMENTED DEPORTATIONS: WYPR’s Fraser Smith and John Fritze of the Baltimore Sun talk about the higher number of Maryland-based undocumented immigrants deported under the federal program Secure Communities, and Gov. O’Malley’s letter to the Obama administration requesting an explanation.

DISTRICT 18: She came to the United States at 16 with her mother from Venezuela for better economic opportunities and now Natali Fani-Gonzalez wants to create an atmosphere of opportunity for everyone, reports Peggy McEwan for the Gazette. Fani-Gonzalez, 33 of Kensington, has filed as a Democratic candidate for the District 18 Maryland House of Delegates.

HENSON CHALLENGES McFADDEN: Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports that longtime political consultant Julius Henson, convicted of conspiring to violate elections law, is challenging incumbent state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden of the 45th District and criticizing him for “a more than 20-year career void of economic development and moral leadership.”

BROWN HASN’T WON YET: The Sun editorial board writes that the race for the Democratic nomination for governor has settled into an odd pattern. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the leader in fundraising and endorsements, has become increasingly aggressive in his attacks on Attorney General Doug Gansler, and increasingly complimentary toward Del. Heather Mizeur. The Sun poll, showing Brown with a lead but hardly an insurmountable one, helps explain why that is.

CRAIG OFFERS TAX CUT: Bryan Sears of the Daily Record blogs that Harford County Executive David Craig is expected to make an announcement this morning regarding a “major tax cut that will be part of his campaign for the Republican nomination for Maryland governor. It is a massive re-thinking of the Maryland tax code and budget,” said Jim Pettit, a spokesman for the campaign.

SIDEWALKS IMPERIL FREDERICK HIGHWAY FUNDS: Frederick County must take steps to improve sidewalk access for people with disabilities or risk losing federal highway funding, reports Kelsi Loos for the Frederick News Post. The State Highway Administration and county administrators signed a directive Jan. 28, ordering the county to identify areas that do not comply with standards set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act and create a plan to rectify those deficiencies within 90 days of its evaluation or lose federal highway funding.