March 10, 2014

State Roundup, March 10, 2014

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FEDERAL HEALTH EXCHANGE PROBE: John Fritze writes in the Sun that a federal inspector general is launching a review into what went wrong with Maryland’s health insurance exchange, the first examination focused specifically on how millions of dollars in federal money was spent by the state, according to U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, the lawmaker who requested the probe.

Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck Davis defends minimum wage hike on the House floor Friday. (MarylandReporter.com photo)

Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck Davis defends minimum wage hike on the House floor Friday. (MarylandReporter.com photo)

HOUSE OKs WAGE HIKE: The House of Delegates voted Friday to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years, setting up a potential fight over whether to guarantee future increases by tying the rate to inflation, Timothy Wheeler reports in the Sun. Delegates voted 89-46 for the increase after an hourlong debate — the first time the House has approved raising the base pay since 2006.

  • Here’s a breakdown of the votes from the Post.    
  • In a letter to the state legislators who represent him, the owner of My Favorite Muffin in downtown Annapolis said a bill to raise the minimum wage would shutter his business and put 10 people out of work, writes Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. Mark Maglin, who opened the eatery in 2012, said he had to withdraw from his retirement account to make payroll in recent months, due in part to bad weather.

FILLING BUDGET HOLE: The Senate Budget Committee voted Friday to take $500 million over the next five years from extra payments into the state pension system to balance the budget this year and for the next four, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

ESTATE TAX: Del. Herb McMillan may get one of the tax breaks he’s looking for — but it may not come soon enough for his liking. The House of Delegates on Friday voted 120-13 to pass House Bill 739, proposed by Speaker Michael Busch, that would hike the state’s estate tax exemption incrementally before setting it at the federal level in 2019, Alex Jackson reports in the Annapolis Capital.

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HOLOCAUST & THE RAIL LINE: Katherine Shaver of the Post writes about one man’s work to force accountability on a French rail company that is seeking to do business in Maryland. That company transported him and hundreds of other Jews during World War II. If he hadn’t escaped the cattle car, he would likely have been killed at a concentration camp. The Pikesville resident died on Saturday, at the age of 93. The House Ways and Means Committee of the Maryland General Assembly is scheduled today to consider legislation that would ban the Purple Line bidder that is majority-owned by the rail company from winning the contract until SNCF pays reparations.

BY THE NUMBERS: The 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly reached its two month mark on Saturday, writes Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. With four weeks until sine die, lawmakers only constitutional requirement is to pass the state budget. Still, many legislators have bills they would like to see pass floor votes in the House and Senate. She offers a by-the-numbers look where local senators and delegates stand as well as progress on some of the bills we’ve been following.

RIGHT TO COUNSEL: Leaders of the General Assembly’s judiciary committees will press ahead with legislation to revamp Maryland’s pre-trial system, with the state’s top court apparently poised to hold fast to its landmark decision that suspects have a constitutional right to counsel at initial bail hearings, Steve Lash reports in the Daily Record.

DISTRACTED DRIVERS: Five-year-old Jake Owen played a video game in the back seat of the car as his family sat in Baltimore traffic, writes Jenna Johnson in the Post. He excitedly announced, “Mom, I have 42 lives!” Then an SUV slammed into the sedan. The 23-year-old driver was using a cellphone when he rear-ended the car. He didn’t hit the brakes. The impact killed Jake. The driver was fined $1,000. A proposed law would increase penalties for drivers who cause crashes while talking or texting on a handheld phone. The bill also would require “distracted drivers” involved in serious crashes to give police basic information about their cellphones, so detectives can more quickly check what they were doing at the moment of impact.

PIT BULL BILL: A House committee voted to approve a bill that would upend a court ruling that pit bulls are inherently more dangerous than other dogs, indicating that a long impasse with the Senate has been broken, Michael Dresser reports in the Sun.

POT DECRIMINALIZATION: A Senate committee voted 8-3 Friday to approve a measure decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, sending it to the full chamber next week, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.

BREW NEWS: A Senate panel voted down a bill that would have increased the amount of beer the holder of a brewpub license could produce, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

NEEDLE EXCHANGE: The House voted Friday to expand Baltimore City’s needle exchange program, but not before members debated whether giving addicts access to more clean syringes could aggravate growing heroin use in the state, Timothy Wheeler is reporting in the Sun.

HEALTH EXCHANGE EXPERIMENT: Peter Beilenson dreamed of bright, affordable health-care centers in working-class neighborhoods, staffed with doctors paid a flat salary and lifestyle coaches encouraging healthier living. Tiny waiting rooms would reinforce the message that all patients would be seen quickly. Specialists could immediately be consulted by video-conference. And there would be free yoga. Buried in President Obama’s newly enacted Affordable Care Act, he found a way to test that theory. But because of hard-to-resolve problems with Maryland’s new online health exchange, his experiment may be in jeopardy, Jenna Johnson reports in the Post.


MEDICAL APOLOGIES: Alex Jackson of the Annapolis Capital writes that the General Assembly is considering legislation that would extend more protection to health care professionals when they talk with patients and family members after a case has ended badly. Under the law, health care professionals are allowed to apologize and such apologies can’t be used against them in court. But if they elaborate on their thoughts and provide any indication of liability or fault along with their apology — that can be used as evidence.

COMMON SENSE AMID HYSTERIA: Finally, writes columnist Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com, a dose of common sense in the swirl of hysterical hype and fear-mongering by environmental groups over the proposed liquid natural gas export project at Cove Point in Southern Maryland. If you listen to the protesting greenies, this $3.8 billion project by the large energy company Dominion will send natural gas prices higher, promote the use of dirty energy sources like oil and coal, pollute the Chesapeake Bay, pollute Maryland’s air, worsen global warming and encourage more shale-oil fracking.

PUBLIC ACCESS: It’s a crazy-quilt inconsistency that The Salisbury Daily Times discovered in a three-state investigation of the cost of obtaining public records on the Delmarva Peninsula. Send a request for documents in one town, and you may well receive everything you asked for without paying one penny. In other places, sometimes just up the road, local governments charge many hundreds of dollars for the same records. In most cases, these governments are making you pay not simply for copies, but for employees’ time spent processing the records request. Wicomico County billed The Daily Times $99.15 per hour for attorneys’ time spent handling one recent request for documents.

AA ORPHANS COURT RAISES: Anne Arundel County’s sheriff and its Orphans’ Court judges will get raises under two bills approved by the county House delegation Friday, reports Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. The delegation voted 10-3-1 at its meeting to raise the annual salaries for Orphans’ Court associate judges from $29,000 to $33,000 and chief judges from $29,500 to $35,000.

EDUCATION DEBATE: During a Democratic gubernatorial debate on education last week, Anthony Brown was intense but workmanlike, Doug Gansler was conversational and a bit rambling and Heather Mizeur was passionate and big-picture, writes Fern Shen for Baltimore Brew. Tackling the facilities question, she offered a stark and pertinent example – the City Springs building itself that was hosting the event is so overcrowded that, earlier in the day, some students taking the Maryland School Assessment tests had to sit in the gymnasium.

O’MALLEY TOUTS SUCCESSES: During an address Saturday to a convention of California Democrats, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley vowed his state will raise the minimum wage this year and recounted a series of other liberal policy victories, writes John Wagner for the Post.

MO CO DEBATES: Glynis Kazanjian of MarylandReporter.com writes that three Democrats vying for Montgomery County’s top political post tried to define their differences at the first debate before the June 24 primary, two of them with a total of 20 years of experience in the job and the other portraying himself as the independent voice in the race.