February 27, 2014

State Roundup, February 27, 2014

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CONFLICT OR EXPERTISE? Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports that in 2011, Del. Benjamin Barnes became a partner in one of the state’s busiest workers’ compensation firms. The lawmaker wrote a three-word disclosure in blue ink on his state ethics forms, and began working on legislation that made it easier for injured workers to win awards. As he sponsored or co-sponsored workers’ compensation bills, his firm’s founding partner brought in millions in workers’ compensation claims over an 18-month period — raising questions about whether Barnes should be advocating for laws that could help his business.

DWYER ON DRUNK BILL: Del. Don Dwyer, convicted twice of alcohol-related offenses over the past two years, urged fellow lawmakers at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday to approve his bill requiring mandatory minimum sentences for officials convicted of drunken driving. He argued that elected officials who violate the law should be punished more severely than ordinary citizens, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun.

DOG BITE BILL: If the third try’s the charm, the Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill aimed at untangling for the third time an emotional controversy over dog owners’ liability if their pets bite someone, Tim Wheeler of the Sun writes. The bill would reverse a Court of Appeals opinion declaring that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous,” a decision that has prompted many landlords in the state to evict the dogs – or threaten to kick out their owners – to avoid potential liability if someone is bitten on the premises.

LIONS, TIGERS & BEARS: A proposal dubbed the “lions, tigers and bears bill” brought zookeepers and a 6-year-old animal lover to the state capital Wednesday to defend the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve & Zoo. Del. Eric Luedtke said his proposal was an attempt to promote safety of both animals and humans. But representatives of the Catoctin Zoo told lawmakers that the bill in its current form would bar people from important, hands-on experiences with the natural world, Bethany Rodgers reports for the Frederick News Post.

KOPP, FRANCHOT SEEK PENSION RESTORATION: In unusual joint testimony, Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, chair and vice-chair of the state pension board, pleaded with Senate budgeters not to permanently cut $100 million in state payments to the retirement system, Len Lazarick reports for MarylandReporter.com. They said the cut proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley had high long-term repercussions and undermined the state’s credibility with bond rating agencies by reneging on promises made in 2011 pension reforms.

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FIREARMS BILLS: The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard several gun-related bills on Wednesday, including one that would prohibit good-time credits for criminals who were convicted of using a firearm during a felony or a crime of violence, writes Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail. Another bill sponsored by Sen. Nancy Jacobs, would allow firearm dealers to conditionally release weapons to buyers still waiting for the results of a state background check seven days after submitting an application.

PHOSPHORUS CONTROL: Members of the Eastern Shore delegation believe a Tuesday evening meeting with Gov. Martin O’Malley about the Phosphorus Management Tool and rural economies was productive, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times.

DEMOCRACY IS: The General Assembly, to its credit, opines the Annapolis Capital editorial board, has made it easier for the public to follow its activities, reorganizing its website and offering streamed and recorded committee hearings. It needs to do more in this area. But no matter how good the online resources, the system will need people who care enough to come in person.

LEGAL MARIJUANA: A day after more than a 100 people packed a Maryland State House committee room to share their views on legalizing marijuana, advocates for easing prohibitions on the drug said they feel momentum building in their favor, Frederick Kunkle reports for the Post.

DISTRACTED DRIVING: Drivers suspected of causing serious accidents in Maryland while distracted by a cellphone would be required to give police certain information from that phone under a pair of bills currently filed in Annapolis. The bills also would make distracted driving resulting in a death or serious injury a misdemeanor in Maryland, punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, Kevin Rector writes in the Sun.

TOBACCO TAX HIKE: Health care advocates are stoking the tax fires again with legislation that would make Maryland’s tobacco taxes some of the highest in the country, reports Jeremy Bauer-Wolf for MarylandReporter.com. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee heard testimony Wednesday on SB 589, which would increase the tobacco tax rate from $2 for a pack of cigarettes to $3.

GROUND RENT LAW STRUCK: Maryland’s highest court tossed out Wednesday the heart of an ambitious legislative effort to stop homeowners from losing their property over unpaid rent on the ground beneath their houses, report Tim Wheeler and Jamie Smith Hopkins for the Sun. The Court of Appeals ruled that the law violated the rights of “ground-rent” owners by taking away their ability to seize and sell the homes of tenants who don’t pay, then keep the proceeds. Allowing owners to bring foreclosure proceedings instead was not a reasonable substitute, the court said.

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OODLES OF CANDIDATES: The editorial board of the Annapolis Capital writes that it isn’t sure that Anne Arundel County and the rest of the state will shake off voter apathy this year, but there’s no hint of apathy among this county’s officeholders and would-be officeholders. By Tuesday’s deadline, almost 200 people had filed for the county, state and congressional races that will be on Anne Arundel County ballots. There are more than 40 new candidates for four House of Delegates seats due to be vacated when members’ terms end.

DEL. LOVE TO RETIRE: There won’t be any “Love in the House” next year. House Speaker Michael Busch said Del. Mary Ann Love always gave the opening prayer on the first day of General Assembly session to start the year on a good note. Love also gives the opening prayer on Valentine’s Day. After months of deliberation, the first woman to chair the Anne Arundel County delegation, and its longest serving leader, will not seek reelection in District 32, Kate Yoon reports in the Annapolis Capital.

FULL 37B RACES: Seven candidates are filed to run in the District 37B House of Delegates race — the most candidates in that district before a primary election in 20 years, Josh Bollinger writes for the Easton Star Democrat.

WASHINGTON COUNTY RACES: Don Aines of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail wraps up who has filed for what elections in Washington County local, state and national races. The incumbents on the Washington County Board of Commissioners will be facing a lot of competition in the June 24 primary election, but some countywide officeholders will be unopposed in both the primary and the general elections, he writes.

NO HIGHER ED CANDIDATES: As Martin O’Malley nears the end of his two terms, his record as a “Higher Education Governor” has to be seen as one of his most important accomplishments. Despite a catastrophic national economic downturn five years ago, O’Malley continued to invest in higher education.  Public colleges and universities, students and the state have all benefited. That reality, writes Laslo Boyd for Center Maryland, makes the almost total absence of any reference to higher education by the three Democratic candidates for governor puzzling.

GANSLER LAWSUIT DROPPED: Supporters of Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Doug Gansler dropped a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to keep Democratic rival Anthony Brown’s running mate from raising money during the legislative session, saying the issue is now “moot,” John Wagner reports in the Post.

MANDEL DOCUMENTARY: If you missed Monday’s premiere of MPT’s documentary “Marvin Mandel: A Complicated Life,” it will also be broadcast at 10:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28 on MPT-HD; at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 2 and at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 14 on MPT2, which is MPT’s secondary channel; and at 11:30 p.m. Monday, March 24on MPT-HD. But you can also view it by clicking here.

RUDY CANE: Wicomico Delegate Rudy Cane is absent from the House as he recovers from surgery to repair a nerve problem in his hand and elbow, Jennifer Shutt reports in the Salisbury Daily Times.

COLBURN DIVORCE: The Salisbury Daily Times has another story on Sen. Rich Colburn’s now settled divorce, elaborating on the fact that a former aide to the senator that divorce papers allege was involved in an affair with him left the employ of a state delegate three days after a newspaper report of the allegations.