March 11, 2014

State Roundup, March 11, 2014

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FEDERAL EXCHANGE REVIEW: Elected officials from both parties said Monday they welcome a pending federal review of Maryland’s troubled health insurance exchange, even as they used the latest development to take swipes at one another ahead of this year’s gubernatorial election, writes John Fritze of the Sun.

PHOSPHORUS REGS: Key senators have put language in the state budget bill that would stall Maryland’s efforts to limit one of the Chesapeake Bay’s main pollutants, phosphorus. The Sun’s Timothy Wheeler reports that the amendment by the Budget & Taxation Committee would prohibit the state from issuing new regulations on phosphorus, pending the results of an economic impact study.

GUN LAWS: Over solid Republican objections, the Senate voted Monday night to remove the one-year statute of limitation on an existing law against using a handgun in a crime of violence or other felony, Michael Dresser writes in the Sun.

STATE RETIREMENT PLAN: As Maryland lawmakers debate how much to spend on pensions for teachers and state employee, they also are reviewing legislation to create a state-run retirement plan for private employees whose employers do not offer one, Kevin James Shay reports in the Capital.

HOLOCAUST TRAIN: The AP is reporting in the Annapolis Capital that, as a French rail company seeks to work on Maryland transit projects, some lawmakers want to force the company to pay reparations to Holocaust victims who were taken on its trains to Nazi concentration camps — but a state official says the effort could jeopardize federal funds for a key state rail line.

E-CIGARETTES:Maryland became the latest in a series of states struggling with how to regulate electronic cigarettes this past week when a bill aiming to ban them in public places was heard in a House committee, reports Margaret Sessa-Hawkins in MarylandReporter.com.

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MALPRACTICE AWARDS: In an op-ed in the Sun, Sen. Catherine Pugh and Del. Dan Morhaim write that this summer, Gov. Martin O’Malley and public health leaders justly celebrated the fact that infant mortality in our state has been driven to a new record low. But this hard won progress — as well as access for all expectant mothers — is at risk as we confront a looming obstetrics crisis: multi-million dollar medical malpractice judgments that are driving even higher the already high cost of medical liability. The situation has already proved devastating in Pennsylvania.

FRACKING STUDY TIMELINE: State Environment Secretary Robert Summers and state Natural Resources Secretary Joseph Gill write in a opinion piece for the Sun that the state should stick to its timeline to study hydraulic fracturing and possible effects and not be waylaid by recently proposed legislation.

SECRETARY GILL: Natural Resources Secretary Joseph Gill is no longer “acting,” Timothy Wheeler is reporting in the Sun. As expected, the Senate voted Friday to confirm him after an extraordinary hearing at which watermen protested his oversight of the commercial fishing industry and Gill apologized for a “communications gap” with the group. The vote was 40 to 7.

DWYER BILL SHOT DOWN: The House Judiciary Committee unanimously shot down a proposal by Del. Don Dwyer to impose stricter sentences for elected officials convicted of driving under the influence, writes Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. The Judiciary Committee voted 20-0 to give House Bill 733 a unfavorable report.

 ACCUSED SENTENCED: A Pasadena man accused of throwing Del. Don Dwyer off a pier last summer was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest Monday on a drug possession charge, writes Tim Pratt for the Annapolis Capital.

 PRIMARY FOE FOR DUTCH: U.S. Rep. Ruppersberger, who has established himself as an authority on intelligence issues in Congress, will face a Democratic primary in June from an opponent who works in the intel community. Paul Rundquist, a 25-year-old Gaithersburg resident, works as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy, reviewing Cold War-era documents slated for declassification to make sure they don’t contain nuclear secrets. Before that he worked as a contract intelligence analyst for the agency, writes John Fritze in the Sun.

BROWN’S UPBEAT AD: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown released the second television ad of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor Monday, sticking with the positive, issues-free approach of his first, the Sun’s Michael Dresser reports.

SUNSHINE ON HO CO: For Sunshine Week, Mark Newgent of WatchDog Wire assesses the Howard County government website and finds the County Council information good but executive branch data inconsistent.

ANNAPOLIS LAYOFFS PROPOSED:  Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides proposed laying off 13 city employees and furloughing others to save the city more than $2 million, the Annapolis Capital’s Jack Lambert reports. Pantelides outlined the layoffs and furloughs in his state of the city address before the Annapolis City Council Monday. His first budget as mayor also slightly increases city spending year-to-year while also eliminating government positions.

OPEN SPACE RAIDS: The Sun editorial board urges the governor to stop raiding the funds for Program Open Space.