March 7, 2014

State Roundup, March 7, 2014

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INFLATION PROVISION: Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday that he is disappointed that the House of Delegates dropped a provision from his minimum-wage bill that called for automatic increases based on inflation and said he will lobby the Senate to restore it, reports John Wagner in the Post.

RAISING THE WAGE: A day after House Republicans unsuccessfully pushed to amend Gov. Martin O’Malley’s minimum wage bill to provide greater protections for businesses, O’Malley touted the plan Thursday before a group of business owners who support an increase of the state’s minimum wage, reports CNS’s Megan Brockett in the Cecil Whig

PENSION TENSION: Much or all of an annual $300 million extra payment into Maryland’s pension system is on the chopping block as Senate budgeters seek to balance Gov. Martin O’Malley’s $39 billion budget at a voting session Friday, reports Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

REVENUE WRITE-DOWN: The state Board of Revenue Estimates voted Thursday afternoon to write down revenues by $238 million over the fiscal 2014 and 2015 budget years, reports Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. The board attributed the projected decrease to online sales, a sluggish economy and a colder, snowier than usual winter in Maryland.

RAIN TAX TWEAK: WYPR’s Fraser Smith and Karen Hosler talk about Senate President Mike Miller’s desire to adjust the stormwater law through language in the budget bill, and why this is a good example of how lawmaking works in Annapolis.

PESTICIDE STUDY: House and Senate agreed separately Thursday to raise fees on pesticides sold in Maryland to help pay for further study of their use, Timothy Wheeler reports for the Sun.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROTECTIONS: Victims of domestic violence would enjoy stronger legal protections under legislation passed Thursday by the House of Delegates, reports Timothy Wheeler for the Sun. House members voted overwhelmingly for a trio of bills that would make it easier for a domestic violence victim to get a protective order from a court, expand the circumstances under which such orders could be issued and impose an extra penalty of up to five years for domestic violence in the presence of children.

Molly Mitchell, president of the Maryland Coalition to Reduce College Drinking, holds a bottle of grain alcohol. The House of Delegates voted Thursday to ban the sale of 190-proof drink, as the Senate had done on similar legislation. Differences between the two bills must be resolved to enact the ban.

Molly Mitchell of the Maryland Coalition to Reduce College Drinking holds a bottle of grain alcohol. The House of Delegates voted Thursday to ban the sale of 190-proof drink, as the Senate had done on similar legislation. Differences between the two bills must be resolved to enact the ban.

POLICE TRACKING: Civil libertarians battled law enforcement agents Thursday over a bipartisan bill to limit when police can use cellphone tracking devices, automatic license-plate readers, email scanners and surveillance drones, reports Steve Lash for the Daily Record.

  • State privacy laws need to catch up with rapid changes in surveillance technology, two lawmakers told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday. Sens. Christopher Shank and Jamie Raskin are sponsoring four bills that would curb how local and state police use technology to monitor the activities of residents, reports Kaustuv Basu in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

FARMLAND ENERGY FARMS: Hundreds of acres of Maryland farmland that are protected from development at taxpayer expense could be turned into commercial wind or solar energy farms under legislation before the General Assembly, Timothy Wheeler reports in the Sun.

INVESTING IN WELLNESS: The editorial board for the Sun writes that Maryland’s health care system faces its greatest transformation in a generation — not because of the state’s troubled health insurance exchange or even directly because of the Affordable Care Act but because of a change in the state’s decades-old system for compensating hospitals. Under the terms of Maryland’s newly updated waiver to Medicare rules, hospitals will make profits by keeping people well and out of their wards rather than by admitting them and treating them when they get sick.

COLLEGE PROGRAMS IN DUPLICATE: The prospects for SB 169 are not entirely clear.  Nevertheless, the reasons that this bill should not be passed by the General Assembly are worth reviewing, writes Laslo Boyd for Center Maryland. Variations of a bill to rewrite the rules for determining if there is “unnecessary” duplication of academic programs at universities in Maryland have been introduced going back as far as 2006.  SB 169 contains all the flaws of the earlier efforts and is actually worse because it runs the risk of getting entangled in an ongoing lawsuit.

OLD METERS VS. SMART METERS: Maryland lawmakers on Thursday discussed whether opting out of smart meter installations should continue to be free, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. During a hearing in front of the Economic Matters Committee, Del. Glen Class argued utility companies should not be able to charge a one-time $75 fee and assess between $11 and$17 monthly afterward for customers who want to keep the old meters.

TOW DRIVER SAFETY: A bill that cleared the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday could make life as a tow truck driver a little safer, Frederick Kunkle reports in the Post. The legislation would require motorists to move into an open lane away from tow trucks attending to roadside emergencies, just as motorists must now do when approaching police and other emergency vehicles. Violators would face a fine of up to $500.

CABS VS. RIDE-SHARE: Operators of smartphone-based ride-sharing companies want legislators to prevent the Maryland Public Service Commission from regulating their drivers as a cab company, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. The legislation is the latest step in an ongoing battle between new, technology-driven companies and area car and sedan services. The latter group is backed by the Public Service Commission, which regulates existing services and is reviewing whether it should oversee the other companies.

March 13-2014 MR fundraiser medium web adUPGRADING MD 75: Making improvements to Md. 75 will be Frederick County’s top priority in its request for state funding, writes Kelsi Loos for the Frederick News Post. County commissioners voted to approve a transportation priority letter Thursday, which will be sent to the Maryland Department of Transportation. The agency will consider the priorities, along with those of other counties, before allocating funding for transportation projects.

BUCKS FOR LOCAL ROADS: Mid-Shore Sen. Richard Colburn on Wednesday asked a Senate committee to increase the annual allotment of money local towns and counties receive for road improvements by $410 million, writes Jennifer Shutt in the Salisbury Daily Times. “I represent about 23 municipalities that have struggled in recent years to make up the difference,” said Colburn. “The counties I represent are having the same struggle, particularly Wicomico County.”

BOBO PREPARES TO RETIRE: Amanda Yeager of the Sun writes about Liz Bobo’s upcoming retirement after 40 years in politics, saying that when the crowd of about 125 people gathered for Liz Bobo’s final town hall meeting last week, they probably expected to hear the delegate talk (as she has for the past 19 years) about hot-button issues before the General Assembly, about her own legislative priorities — maybe, too, about the issues back home that concern her. But the evening closed on an unexpectedly emotional note as Bobo, a Columbia Democrat, bid farewell to her audience of friends and constituents Feb. 27.

GANSLER BLASTS EXCHANGE MANAGEMENT: John Wagner reports in the Post that Attorney General Doug Gansler offered fresh criticism Thursday of the way that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration has handled Maryland’s online health insurance exchange, saying in a letter to a Republican senator that “the taxpayers … have been poorly served by the Executive Branch’s mismanagement.”

RAIN TAX BLUDGEON: The rain tax has become a political club in Anne Arundel County that County Executive Laura Neuman is using to bludgeon her opponents in the county executive race, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com in reprint of this month’s Business Monthly column.

PUBLIC FINANCING IN MO CO: Montgomery County might have spent as much as $9.6 million in the 2010 Democratic primary if the public campaign financing system proposed by Council member Phil Andrews was in place that year, according to an estimate by finance director Joseph Beach, Bill Turque of the Post reports.

MoCo ENDORSEMENTS: Two Montgomery County residents are among the major contenders in the Maryland governor’s race, but some County Council members are backing a third major candidate — Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown from Prince George’s County, reports Ryan Marshall in the Gazette. Other council members are waiting to see how things shake out.

SILVER SPRING TRANSIT CENTER: Calling it an “eyesore” in the midst of downtown Silver Spring, former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan is calling on the county government to provide answers on the stalled construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center project, The Gazette’s Ryan Marshall reports. Current County Executive Ike Leggett, whom Duncan is trying to unseat, said that he would open the center when he’s satisfied that it’s safe, and wouldn’t make a “politically expedient” decision on the issue.

MoCo SPECIAL INTERESTS: Montgomery County residents show little interest in state or local politics, leaving special interest groups to elect the politicians, Blair Lee writes in his Gazette column. Returning to a long time theme, Lee says this allows elected officials to focus on other issues, rather than bringing home the bacon, such as school construction money.

CORRECTION ON FREE RIDES: Here’s the corrected version of yesterday’s posting on free rides to reelection for SEVEN state state senators, three Republicans and FOUR DEMOCRATS who have no opponents in the primary or general election.