February 21, 2014

State Roundup, February 21, 2014

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70 MPH: The House unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would allow the State Highway Administration or the Maryland Transportation Authority to raise the maximum speed on expressways and interstate highways to 70 mph, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun. The legislation now goes to the Senate.

  • But that doesn’t mean the bill is set to fly through the General Assembly, reports Alex Jackson for the Annapolis Capital. Last year, a bill unanimously passed the House last year that would have allowed a 70 mph speed limit on Maryland interstates. However, the bill never got a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings. That’s where it’s headed next.

CONTRACT TRANSPARENCY: Jeremy Bauer-Wolf of MarylandReporter.com reports that greater transparency in Maryland government contracting is the goal of legislation that would provide more information about each contract on a state website. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is considering a bill that would pour $1.4 million into the growth of the website that allows the public to view payments made to state contractors.

GRANTS TO MARYLANDREPORTER.COM: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded a $50,000 grant to MarylandReporter.com over the next two years to help grow and diversify its revenue and audience. In addition, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation has given its second grant to MarylandReporter.com, providing $25,000 over the next year to “support expanded accountability journalism on Maryland government.”

RETIREMENT BOOST: Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday said he supports a bill that would give workers whose employers don’t provide pension plans or 401ks easy access to retirement accounts, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.

RAIN TAX REPEAL SHOT DOWN: The push against Maryland’s stormwater mandate got a little weaker Thursday as a Senate committee reported it shot down a proposed repeal of the mandate, Alex Jackson reports in the Annapolis Capital. The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted 7-4 to give an unfavorable report to Senate Bill 5.

SEX ABUSE LOOPHOLE: Two groups of Maryland legislators want to close a statutory loophole regarding which adults can and should be punished for engaging in sexual conduct with a student, report Kate Alexander and Lindsay Powers for the Gazette. One bill would apply to adults who work with children in either a school system or a county recreation program. A second bill adds volunteers at schools and employees and volunteers at private recreation facilities. Both bills agree that coaches should be written into the law.

CUTTING TAXES, HELPING THE POOR: The Sun editorial board writes that a consensus is emerging among Maryland Republicans that a priority for the state’s economic development is to reduce the state’s income tax rates or even to eliminate the tax entirely. They argue that Maryland’s taxes have gone up far too much during the O’Malley administration and that the income tax in particular is driving people, businesses and jobs to other states. Unspoken in this line of reasoning is that the individual income tax is the most progressive levy we have and that eliminating it would disproportionately benefit the wealthy while diminishing the availability of services that the public broadly depends on.

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PRODUCT BANS: From e-cigarettes to grain alcohol to energy drinks, state legislators are hoping to limit the public’s access to products they consider dangerous to some segments of the population, writes Kate Alexander in the Gazette.

SEAFOOD HONESTY BILL: Josh Bollinger of the Easton Star Democrat reports in the Cecil Whig that a bill in the General Assembly submitted by a Montgomery County delegate aims to stop seafood bait-and-switch in Maryland. “To protect the public health, to protect the consumer and to protect our watermen from unfair competition, Marylanders deserve to know that they are being served the seafood they ordered,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Del. Eric Luedtke.

RECOUPING EXCHANGE MONEY: Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler said Wednesday that his office would look into clawing back money from the contractors responsible for problems with Maryland’s botched health exchange, writes Andrea Walker in the Sun. “We as the attorney general’s office will undoubtedly be looking into trying to recoup some of the money from the contractors in the months to come,” Gansler said, in answer to a question at a newsmakers forum sponsored by The Baltimore Sun. A Sun video tops the article.

***MarylandReporter.com analyst Charlie Hayward, a retired auditor of government and IT programs, will be on WYPR at around 12:20 p.m. today for the Midday Review of the News with Dan Rodricks. Hayward will be discussing his article about how the problems with the health care exchange are more serious and more expensive to fix than previously reported.***

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LONG WAIT FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The chairman of a commission set up to oversee the implementation of a medical marijuana program told lawmakers Thursday that the initiative is at least 18 months away from offering pain relief to the first patients, Michael Dresser writes in the Sun. Even with that much time, it is by no means certain that the program will get off the ground, said Dr. Paul Davies.

TWO SIDES OF WAGE COIN: The effect of a proposed minimum wage hike in Maryland has policy wonks headed in two directions, writes Donald Fry for Center Maryland. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that boosting the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by July 2016 would ultimately raise the wages of 455,000 workers. It would generate $721 million in additional wages to those workers and $456 million in economic activity that would create 1,600 new jobs in the state. George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller forecasts that it would result in the loss of 11,502 jobs and precipitate slower economic growth that would cost the state at least $686 million in lost gross state product.

HOTEL STIPEND: Some state lawmakers are pushing back against a proposal to stop lawmakers living close to Annapolis from staying in city hotels on the state’s dime, writes Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital.

DUMPING PENALTIES: The Sun’s Michael Dresser reports that a bill supported by Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake that would increase the penalties for illegal dumping passed the House Thursday and moved to the Senate. The House voted 125-8 to increase the maximum jail term for dumping loads of 100 to 500 pounds to three years when it is not done for commercial gain. The current maximum penalty is one year and a $12,500 fine.

BILITERACY PROGRAM: Melanie Balakit of CNS, in an article in the Cecil Whig, writes that Maryland could become the fourth state in the nation to establish a Seal of Biliteracy Program, which would recognize public high school graduates who demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English. Students would have to demonstrate proficiency in not only speaking, but also reading and writing in one or more languages other than English.

SHOW THREATENS TO LEAVE: Jenna Johnson of the Post reports that a few weeks before Season 2 of “House of Cards” debuted online, the show’s production company sent Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley a letter with this warning: Give us millions more dollars in tax credits, or we will “break down our stage, sets and offices and set up in another state.”

PERILS OF EARLY POLLING: Predicting the outcome of Maryland’s primary races for governor based on polls four months in advance of the election is a little like wagering today on the outcome of April’s Kentucky Derby. The odds are strong you’ll get it wrong, writes columnist Barry Rascovar in his politicalmaryland.com blog. Early political polls are highly inaccurate. That’s clear from past Maryland gubernatorial elections for open seats. Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III easily outdistanced his rivals early in 1978, according to the polls. Lee lost.

HOUGH TO CHALLENGE BRINKLEY: Del. Michael Hough has announced plans to stage a primary election challenge to Sen. David Brinkley, a veteran legislator and Republican leader in the state capital. On Wednesday, Hough said his campaign against the 11-year incumbent will focus on Brinkley’s left-leaning voting record, Bethany Rodgers reports in the Frederick News-Post.

DWYER FILES FOR RE-ELECTION: Del. Don Dwyer on Wednesday filed for re-election as state delegate in 2014, reports Alex Jackson for the Annapolis Capital. Despite serving weekends in jail as part of a 60-day sentence for an incident of drunken boating and a separate incident of drunken driving, Dwyer has maintained he would let the voters decide if he should serve a fourth term.

YOUNG TO RUN FOR DELEGATE: Karen Lewis Young, a former city of Frederick alderwoman, announced Thursday at the Bernard W. Brown Community Center her plans to run for the House of Delegates in District 3A, according to the Frederick News Post.

CARDIN LEADS FOR AG: Del. Jon Cardin has opened a clear lead over three rivals in the Democratic primary race for state attorney general, according to a new Washington Post poll, boosted at least in part by strong name recognition as the nephew of one of the state’s U.S. senators. Frederick Kunkle and Scott Clement report in the Post that the poll shows that state Sen. Brian Frosh has so far failed to gain widespread support, despite having the backing of the party’s leadership and more money in his campaign treasury than his competitors.

ON ANTHONY BROWN: Gazette columnist Blair Lee pulls no punches as he lays out Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, saying that with an imperious manner he intends to duck controversial issues and run out the clock until he is anointed the lone Democratic contender for governor.

ON THE REDSKINS: Just about everyone has been talking about whether to change the name of the Washington Redskins. Now, the issue has surfaced in the Maryland governor’s race, writes John Wagner for the Post. Some candidates are pretty sure about the issue, others not so much.

CRAIG’S SEARCH FOR AN ISSUE: WYPR’s Fraser Smith and former Capitol Hill press secretary and communications director Richard Cross talk about Harford County Executive David Craig’s proposal to cut income taxes and his search for traction in the Republican primary for governor.

O’MALLEY ON TOUR: Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to chat up Democrats in California and Wisconsin in the coming months in what his advisers call a tour to elect more Democrats. The trips will bring O’Malley, who is considering a bid for president, to activists in both states this spring, Erin Cox reports in the Sun.

SCHUH BLASTS NEUMAN: Del. Steve Schuh’s campaign is accusing County Executive Laura Neuman’s campaign of using county resources for political purposes, reports Rema Rahman for the Annapolis Capital. Also on Thursday, as Neuman officially kicked off her re-election, Schuh’s campaign manager Diane Croghan called on Neuman to “immediately stop using county government resources for her campaign.”

LARGE CYBER BREACH AT UM: A massive cyberattack struck university networks Tuesday morning, putting personal student, faculty and staff information at risk, writes Diamondback reporters Laura Blasey and Mike King. Officials estimate 309,079 student, faculty and staff records were compromised, including names, birth dates, university ID numbers and Social Security numbers. No financial, medical or academic information was accessed, university officials said.