March 24, 2014

State Roundup, March 24, 2014

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BUDGET DEBATE: The House of Delegates plans to take up debate on the budget Wednesday with a final vote on Thursday or Friday, chairman of Appropriations Norm Conway said on Friday. Afterward, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times, the House and Senate will have about a week to work out their differences in conference committee, which Conway said shouldn’t be a problem.

DOCTORS DECIDE: Despite efforts by some Maryland health insurers to insert themselves into the middle of the physician-patient relationship, lawmakers are poised to make this simple idea — that doctors are the correct people to decide treatment for their patients — a reality for Maryland patients, opines Gene Ransom of MedChi for the Sun. Important patient protection legislation is working its way through the Maryland General Assembly after clearing key hurdles in both chambers and should soon end up on the governor’s desk.

DOC-DISPENSED DRUGS: Legislation that would curb the practice of physicians directly dispensing prescription drugs to workers’ compensation patients — often at sky-high prices — remains stuck in a House committee as time is running out in Annapolis, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun. The proposal would limit the amount of medication a physician can sell directly to a patient to a 30-day supply. Proponents say the limit could help curb excessive workers’ compensation costs.

TOW DRIVER SAFETY: Alison Knezevich of the Sun writes that after a tow truck operator from Green’s Garage stopped on the shoulder of a highway in January to help a motorist, she ended up needing a wrecker herself. A distracted driver veered off the road and hit her truck, causing nearly $10,000 in damage. That’s why she supports legislation before the General Assembly that would require motorists to move over when possible when driving past tow trucks that are stopped on the side of the road with their lights on.

SLOWING DOWN COMMON CORE: State legislatures will double their efforts this year to change, slow down or outright repeal Common Core, the new standards-based education curriculum that 45 states and the District of Columbia began adopting in 2010, Glynis Kazanjian writes for MarylandReporter.com. Several bills working their way through the Maryland General Assembly this session are part of this trend.

ECONOMIC GROWTH: In an opinion piece on economic development for the Sun, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller write that, “We must give the business community the confidence to continue to invest and expand in our state’s economy. We need to build on the assets and anchor institutions that we have in our borders to create new job opportunities for Marylanders. We need to attract new talent and businesses to Maryland that want to take advantage of the highest median income and the highest number of workers with college and post graduate degrees, per capita, in the United States.”

BAIL HEARINGS: Maryland state legislators are trying to hammer out a solution to a court directive that requires indigent defendants to have legal representation at initial bail hearings before District Court commissioners, reports Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail. The Maryland Court of Appeals earlier this month said it would revisit the issue June 5, giving legislators time to come up with a solution before the end of the 2014 General Assembly session on April 7.

DOG BITE BILLS: Sponsors say bills before the General Assembly are intended to rebalance the rights of dog-bite victims, pet owners and landlords. Critics see the measures as a step backward for victims and accuse lawmakers of bowing in an election year to well-financed groups of animal lovers, writes Frederick Kunkle in the Post.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs with actor Kevin Spacey.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs with actor Kevin Spacey.

SPACEY & THE LEGISLATORS: What could guarantee better media coverage than a reception with a major celebrity closed to reporters, who gathered outside the Red Red Wine Bar in Annapolis as actor Kevin Spacey was ushered in the back door? Len Lazarick of Marylandreporter.com scours the media to come up with a compilation of sources for all things Spacey & the legislators. Maryland legislators and friends couldn’t resist posting pictures of themselves with Spacey on Facebook.

UP THE CIGARETTE TAX: There’s one massive tax increase that’s easy to support — it’s to the price per box of cigarettes, opines the editorial board for the Frederick News Post. Historically, every time the tax has been hiked, the number of adult smokers has dropped. They believe firmly that adults who smoke should be allowed to. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean smokers shouldn’t be discouraged from a habit that is addictive, harmful, a proven killer and adds thousands to the cost of health care for all of us. To be frank, they’d cry no tears if cigarettes were taxed out of reach of all but the richest Marylanders.

A WEEK IN BUSCH’S LIFE: Tim Prudente of the Annapolis Capital follows around House Speaker Michael Busch of Anne Arundel County for a week and writes about what he experienced.

LEGISLATORS’ PAY RAISE: Maryland legislators are in line for a 15.7% bump in pay over the next four years, and they don’t have to ask to get it. WBAL-TV 11 News reporter David Collins has learned lawmakers are quietly giving themselves a hefty pay raise as the fight continues to raise the state minimum wage. The issue first came to light in a story by MarylandReporter.com.

RAISING THE WAGE: Since it’s an election year, Democratic politicians in Annapolis are eager to pass an increase in the minimum wage. Gov. Martin O’Malley is poised to promote a higher minimum wage law in Maryland as part of his incipient campaign for national office. But, asks opinionator Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com, is it a good idea? Will there be unintended consequences in the form of job reductions?

PROFESSORS UNION: Part-time professors at the historic Maryland Institute College of Art are joining a growing movement of academic workers around the country who want a union to help them with fundamental issues of fair pay and decent job conditions, reports Bruce Vail for In These Times. Although MICA is a private institution, labor allies in Maryland hope that its faculty’s efforts will work in conjunction with another campaign focused on community colleges throughout the state.

BROWN WINS STRAW POLL: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown emerged Saturday as the winner of a gubernatorial straw poll conducted by the Young Democrats of Maryland at the group’s annual statewide convention, writes John Wagner for the Post. Brown received 62 votes, followed closely by Del. Heather Mizeur with 57. Attorney General Doug Gansler lagged with 12 votes.

  • Maryland’s Democratic candidates for governor made their cases to the party’s youths Saturday, but for some, like Baltimore City high school student Eric Brown, the race is still a tossup, write Scott Dance and Carrie Wells for the Sun. Eric Brown criticized all three candidates. Of Attorney General Doug Gansler, the Reginald F. Lewis High School senior said he liked hearing straightforward albeit long answers to questions. Del. Heather Mizeur? “She’s an idealist,” Brown said. And Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, he said, “had a hard time telling us what he’s done.”

BROWN’S SECOND CHANCE PLAN: Gubernatorial hopeful Anthony Brown on Friday released a plan that incorporates proposals to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and to “shield” nonviolent criminal offenses from potential employers, writes John Wagner in the Post.

EXTENDED JOBLESS BENEFITS: Nearly three months after Congress allowed the benefits to lapse, tens of thousands of out-of-work Marylanders are hoping that a bipartisan deal to extend the program through May will win approval. But the plan could be doomed by opposition from some conservatives, who say the benefits create a disincentive for seeking a job, as well as a national group representing state unemployment officials, John Fritze reports in the Sun.

TAX RANKING: With tax return deadline less than a month away, personal finance site Wallet Hub has ranked all 50 states and the District for tax burdens, and Maryland ranks 10th highest in the nation, writes Jeff Clabaugh for the Baltimore Business Journal. Taxpayers in Maryland pay an average $8,571 in state and local taxes, 23% higher than the national average.

ELECTION LAW VIOLATION:Montgomery County officials violated Maryland election law by using public funds and employees on county time to campaign in support of the 2012 ballot proposition that eliminated certain collective bargaining rights for police, a state circuit court judge has ruled, Bill Turque and Dan Morse report in the Post.

OPEN MEETINGS VIOLATIONS: The Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board has ruled for a second time that the now defunct Chestertown Waterfront Task Force, a public body established by the town last year, violated the Open Meetings Act when it met in private with a majority of the Town Council members on March 22, 2013 – and without providing adequate public notice. Daniel Menefee writes the article for the Chestertown Spy.

EX-CONS IN BALTIMORE CITY: An influential business group is waging a last-minute effort to derail Baltimore City legislation aimed at helping ex-offenders find work in Baltimore City, arguing that the measure would drive jobs from the city, writes Yvonne Wenger for the Sun. The Greater Baltimore Committee has asked the City Council to delay action on the bill, due for a final vote as early as Monday, until its impact on job creation can be fully evaluated. The legislation would bar most businesses from performing a criminal background check on a potential employee until the applicant has completed the interview process and a conditional job offer has been made.

FREDERICK CHARTER: WYPR’s Fraser Smith and Cliff Cumber of the Frederick News-Post talk about why Frederick County is set to move from a commissioner system to a charter government, with a county executive and seven-member county council, in December.

DOVER BRIDGE DESIGN: Design plans for the new Dover Bridge are complete, bringing construction of a safer passage between Caroline and Talbot counties closer than ever before, reports Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star Democrat.