February 20, 2014

State Roundup, February 20, 2014

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LAWYERED BAIL REVIEW: Ian Duncan reports in the Sun that state judiciary administrators have asked the state’s top court to throw out a landmark ruling that poor defendants have a constitutional right to public defenders at their first bail hearings. The request came this week as lawmakers attempt to respond to the decision, discussing sweeping changes to the way the state handles defendants before trial.

LOCAL HIGHWAY PROJECTS: The chairman of a task force charged with finding ways to fund local highway projects urged lawmakers Tuesday to vote against restoring severe funding cuts made to local governments, saying doing so would make life even more difficult for the state, reports Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. Matthew Gallagher, chairman of the Local and Regional Transportation Funding Task Force, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that the state’s Transportation Trust Fund was still “in distress” despite a gas tax increase passed last year.

EXCHANGE CONTRACTOR BLASTED: The Post’s Mary Pat Flaherty and Jenna Johnson report that a top Maryland health official sharpened criticism of the lead contractor on the state’s troubled health-exchange project Wednesday, saying Noridian Healthcare Solutions “severely misrepresented the maturity” of the system it could build using off-the-shelf software.

  • Comptroller Peter Franchot tangled with health officials at the Board of Public Works as they sought approval for an emergency contract to help fix the site. According to this report from Rob Lang of WBAL radio, which includes links to the board’s discussion, Franchot insisted that the state would have done better to bring the contracts before the board, rather than skip the usual procurement process.

MARYLANDERS SUPPORT HEALTH REFORM: If President Obama is weary of complaints about his struggling health-care law, he might want to spend even more time in the reliably blue state of Maryland, Jenna Johnson and Peyton Craighill write in the Post. Fifty-five percent of state residents back the federal health-care reform effort, according to a new Washington Post poll, with more than one-third of Marylanders saying they “strongly support” it. Nationally, opinion is much more mixed.

DELAY TEACHER EVALUATIONS: Maryland’s superintendent of schools told lawmakers Wednesday that she supports legislation that would delay evaluating teachers on new Common Core student assessments for two years until the 2016-2017 school year, Glynis Kazanjian writes for MarylandReporter.com.

SLAVERY SUPPORT RESCINDED: Maryland’s Senate unanimously voted Wednesday to rescind support for a constitutional amendment it approved in 1862 to protect the institution of slavery, reports Erin Cox in the Sun. Amid the Civil War, Maryland was one of the few states to ratify the Corwin Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which historians considered a last-ditch effort to save the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln.

FREDERICK CAPITAL PROJECTS: The sum of $18.1 million is large enough to support three education building projects, install an emergency notification system at the Maryland School for the Deaf and bring a new dog park to Middletown. And it’s the amount Frederick County stands to gain from the state’s proposed capital budget for the upcoming year, reports Bethany Rodger for the Frederick News Post.

HENSON RUN MAY VIOLATE PROBATION: Veteran political consultant Julius Henson pledged Wednesday to continue running for a Maryland Senate seat even though the state says that may violate the terms of his probation, reports Luke Broadwater in the Sun. “Whether I’m free or in prison, the contest will go on and I plan to win this race,” Henson, 64, said, vowing to “retire” longtime Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, whom he plans to challenge in the June 24 Democratic primary.

Campaign On banner 2 Polling

COLBURN FILED OPENED: The divorce file for state Sen. Richard Colburn has been unsealed, more than a week before it was scheduled to be made available again to the public, Jennifer Shutt reports in the Salisbury Daily Times. The only document in the file Wednesday afternoon that was not previously reported on by The Daily Times contained a request for information from Colburn’s alleged paramour and former aide, Cassia Bethany Martens.

UNDECIDED VOTERS ABOUND: The single most striking finding from this week’s Baltimore Sun and Washington Post polls, writes Laslo Boyd for Center Maryland, is that Maryland voters are not yet paying much attention to the June primary election. The very high proportion of undecided voters in the Democratic contests for governor and attorney general leaves lots of room for interpretation as well as spin from the candidates. Whether most voters are even aware that there will be a primary on June 24 is questionable.  That date is a new one, replacing the traditional September primary.

GANSLER PLAN WOULD BE PHASED IN: For months, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler has been touting a plan to cut Maryland’s corporate income tax rate from 8.25% to 6% — a level that would match Virginia and, he says, make the state far more competitive in recruiting businesses. John Wagner of the Post reports that on Wednesday, Gansler made clear for the first time he would like to see Maryland’s corporate income tax rate drop by 0.25% a year. At that pace, it would take nine years to get down to Virginia’s level.

BOOST TO MINORITY OWNED BIZ: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown on Wednesday proposed that Maryland seek voluntary agreements with private insurance companies regulated by the state in which the companies would set goals for use of minority-owned businesses for goods and services, John Wagner writes in the Post.

CONTI PULLS OUT OF AA RACE: Joanna Conti is withdrawing from the race for Anne Arundel County executive, leaving former sheriff George Johnson as the only Democrat in the running, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun. Conti said she’s dealing with “fairly serious family issues.”

  • Conti says she does not plan to run for any other public office, writes Rema Rahman for the Annapolis Capital. She will continue as chairwoman of Anne Arundel Cares, a nonprofit she created to raise money for charities in the county. “When you start on a multiyear quest, you don’t know what obstacles life will throw in your way,” Conti said in a statement announcing her withdrawal.

COLUMNIST GREGORY KANE DIES: Former Sun columnist Gregory Kane, who went on to write for the Baltimore and Washington Examiner, died this week at age 62, writes Jacques Kelly in the Sun.

  • Mark Tapscott of the Examiner called Kane “a conservative with a deep appreciation for traditional values … known for rarely pulling his punches in his columns, especially when confronting what he viewed as the destructive consequences in the black community of liberal political policies, coddling of criminals and the hip-hop culture.”
Three open seats draws 10 Democrats. Only one of the state's 47 legislative districts has three open delegate seats, District 12 which stretches from West Columbia northwest to Catonsville and Lansdowne. Ten Democrats vying for the seats appeared at a forum by the Columbia Democratic Club Wednesday night. The forum rescheduled from last week included two surrogates as teacher Eric Ebersole spoke to the audience of about 75.

Three open seats draws 10 Democrats. Only one of the state’s 47 legislative districts has three open delegate seats, District 12 which stretches from West Columbia northwest to Catonsville and Lansdowne. Ten Democrats vying for the seats appeared at a forum by the Columbia Democratic Club Wednesday night. The forum rescheduled from last week included two surrogates as teacher Eric Ebersole spoke to the audience of about 75.