February 25, 2014

State Roundup, February 25, 2014

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Maryland Health Connection illustrationNORIDIAN FIRED, REPLACED: Maryland has terminated its contracts with the company hired to build and operate the state’s online health exchange, which has been riddled with problems since its launch in October. The board overseeing the exchange voted Sunday night to sever ties with Noridian Healthcare Solutions, and the state reserves the right to take the company to court for damages, Erin Cox and Scott Dance report in the Sun.

WHERE’S ANTHONY? Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is under fire from political rivals for his role in the state’s defective health benefit exchange website, blogs Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Del. Jolene Ivey, running mate of gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler, issued a statement just hours after it was announced that Noridian had been fired. In an email statement, Ivey asked: “ ‘Where is Anthony Brown?’ He missed today’s oversight committee hearing — for the second straight time — and he hasn’t said why Maryland hired an out-of-state contractor, or why Maryland gave this vendor a second contract at a closed-door meeting, or why it’s taken nearly five months to fire them.”

CONTRACT ROLLBACK URGED: State employees last Wednesday ratified a new one-year contract that provided 2% raises, regular step increases, health premium holidays and other financial benefits they had been denied in the lean years of the Great Recession. Two days later, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com, the legislature’s budget staff recommended rolling back about half the negotiated increases, moves that took the largest state union by surprise, calling them “alarming” and “disturbing.”

LEGAL POT: Maryland chiefs of police and sheriffs associations will gather today in Annapolis to oppose proposed legislation that would legalize or decriminalize marijuana, writes Ben Weathers for the Annapolis Capital.

  • Megan Brockett of CNS, writing in the Cecil Whig, reports that lawmakers are set to get their first real whiff of marijuana legislation this session with hearings scheduled today. One bill would make it legal for residents 21 years of age and older to possess, use and grow marijuana, which would be taxed and regulated like alcohol. Another bill would mean that those caught with fewer than 10 grams of marijuana could be issued a citation and ordered to pay a fine, but would no longer have to appear in court.

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FRACKING IMPACTS: In an op-ed in the Sun, Ann Bristow, Paul Roberts and Nick Weber, commissioners on the Maryland Safe-Drilling Advisory Commission, are urging the state legislature to allow for more time to study all the research on the impacts of fracking on the environment and human health before making the next move.

BANNING GRAIN ALCOHOL: In supporting the ban on grain alcohol sales, the editorial board for the Frederick News-Post writes that at 190 proof, or 95% alcohol, grain alcohol delivers a hard, fast belt to college students looking to get smashed cheaply and in a hurry.

SO FEW WOMEN: As political watchers hit the refresh button to find out who has filed for which office by tonight’s 9 p.m. filing deadline, Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland takes a look at a liberal enclave in Montgomery County and wonders why so few women are running there.

GOP ATTY GEN CANDIDATE EMERGES: Jeffrey Pritzker, a corporate lawyer based in Towson, filed Monday as a Republican candidate for Maryland attorney general, writes John Wagner in the Post.

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HENSON BLAMES MILLER: Luke Broadwater and Erin Cox report in the Sun that Senate President Mike Miller is denying claims from veteran political consultant Julius Henson that Miller was influencing a violation of probation case against Henson as he runs for state Senate.  “It’s not true,” Miller said after learning of Henson’s statements. “I don’t know Julius Henson. I don’t think he and I have ever talked. Absolutely not. We’ve never talked. I wouldn’t know a thing about his district, or him. I don’t know who his probation agent is — I don’t even know who his judge is. I’m not involved in the case at all.”

  • HENSON’S CHUTZPAH: Sun columnist Dan Rodricks addresses Julius Henson’s chutzpah to run for office after he was convicted in the Ehrlich campaign robocall scandal and ordered “not work in any political campaign paid/volunteer during probation,” which is for three years. Henson believes that doesn’t apply to him running for office, which he is doing in his usual in-your-face style, against state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden.

LOLLAR NAMES RUNNING MATE: Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charles Lollar has chosen Kenneth Timmerman, a longtime investigative reporter and conservative political activist, to be his running mate, John Wagner of the Post reports.

MILITARY DOWNSIZING & MARYLAND: The Army would shrink to its lowest troop levels since just before World War II under a budget proposed Monday by the Obama administration that seeks to downsize the Pentagon in ways that could have a significant impact on service members and contractors in Maryland, David Cloud and John Fritze report for the Sun. The proposed cuts reflect changing fortunes in the once-sacrosanct defense budget.