March 31, 2014

State Roundup, March 31, 2014

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HEALTH EXCHANGE: Mary Pat Flaherty and Jenna Johnson report in the Post that Maryland officials are set to replace the state’s online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut’s insurance marketplace, according to two people familiar with the decision, an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125 million is broken beyond repair.

UNRESOLVED ISSUES: As the General Assembly issue enters the final week of its 90-day session, lawmakers have fewer issues coming down to the wire than in a typical year — but some that remain are very thorny indeed, write Michael Dresser and Tim Wheeler in the Sun. A proposal to raise the minimum wage, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s top priority in his last year as governor, is stalled by a key senator’s demand that the state also increase the pay of workers who care for the developmentally disabled.

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: Jenna Johnson and John Wagner of the Post interview employees and business owners at a shopping center in Middle River concerning the proposed minimum wage hike to $10.10 an hour. Low wage employees would be happy to see the hike, as would some business owners. (Editor’s Note: It is one of the best anecdotal descriptions of the multiple sides of the minimum wage debate.)

MEDICAL POT BILLS: Legislation expanding the state’s medical marijuana appears inevitable, lawmakers say, even as the House of Delegates and Senate have passed substantially different measures. Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports that members of a legislative work group continue to meet to discuss the competing proposals. Lawmakers say they hope a consensus bill passed before the General Assembly completes its work on April 7 will ease access to patients who need the drug.

HEMP FARMING STUDY: Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times writes that legislation that would allow the Maryland Department of Agriculture to study the feasibility of industrial hemp farming, passed the House of Delegates on Friday. The legislation still needs a Senate committee hearing and a Senate vote before April 7 to become law.

TRANSGENDER LAW PETITION: The day after the state legislature extended civil rights protections to transgender people, the group that successfully petitioned same-sex marriage to the ballot in 2012 threatened to petition the transgender protections, too, reports Erin Cox in the Sun. MdPetitions.org sent a letter to supporters Friday soliciting interest in putting the transgender law to referendum this year.

FARM LAND RENEWABLES: The Senate approved legislation Thursday that will allow some renewable energy generation equipment to be placed on land that farmers have put under agricultural easements, sending its version to the House, Michael Dresser reports in the Sun.

PAX RIVER WIND PROJECT: U.S. Sen. Mikulski shares the concerns of political, business and civic leaders in Southern Maryland that a wind turbine project could compromise Patuxent River Naval Station’s critical mission, and the economic benefit it brings the entire region. CORRECTION: She has NOT taken the stand to support a bill to delay the project for 15 months, which could effectively kill the proposal, writes Josh Kurtz for Center Maryland, but the situation is a bit confusing.

WITHHOLDING REFUNDS: The Senate unanimously passed bills Thursday allowing Baltimore City and Washington County to adopt a program launched in Anne Arundel County under which people with open warrants can have their state income tax refunds withheld, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.


GRAIN ALCOHOL BAN: The Maryland General Assembly has passed a bill that would ban the sale of grain alcohol, reports Frederick Kunkle in the Post. The House of Delegates voted 99 to 35 Friday to ban the retail sale of any alcoholic product above 190 proof, or about 95 percent pure ethyl alcohol. The Senate passed the measure Feb. 5 by a vote of 37 to 10. Violators would be subject to a misdemeanor on conviction and a fine of up to $1,000.

RIGHT TO FISH BILL: A bill that insulates commercial fisheries and seafood operations passed the Senate overwhelmingly this week and now moves to the House of Delegates for approval. Sponsored by Upper Shore Sen. Steve Hershey, Senate Bill 929 would extend similar types of protections against noise or smell complaints that farmers in the state have under a previously passed right to farm bill, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times.

ARUNDEL SCHOOL FUNDS: After the Senate passed a capital budget without two $700,000 grants for athletic facility improvements at Annapolis and South River high schools, a House committee Friday proposed restoring the money — and then some, reports Alex Jackson for the Annapolis Capital. The Senate’s move to strip the grants miffed some Anne Arundel County lawmakers, including House Speaker Michael Busch and Sen. John Astle.

COLLEGE POLICE: The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday gave a favorable report to a House bill that would allow Anne Arundel Community College to have its own police force. The move puts the legislation one step closer to passage. The Senate voted unanimously in February to pass Senate Bill 246, legislation sponsored by the Anne Arundel County Senate delegation, reports Alex Jackson for the Annapolis Capital.

VOTER REGISTRATION AUDIT: Mark Newgent of Red Maryland writes about a legislative audit of Maryland’s online voter registration system, dated March 24, 2014 looking at the time between July 1, 2009 and Aug. 22, 2012. State auditors found that the state Board of Elections had not removed the names of some felons from voter rolls and that the board had recently made progress in the addressing security concerns.

CANE BIDS FAREWELL: Del. Rudy Cane bid farewell Friday to the House of Delegates, saying goodbye to the chamber where he’s represented the Eastern Shore as its first African-American representative for nearly 16 years, an advocate for diversity and the interests of his region, reports Tim Wheeler in the Sun.

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FROSH VS. CARDIN NAME: At a meet-and-greet for Sen. Brian Frosh in Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood, Delegate Maggie McIntosh wasted no time addressing the major hurdle facing Frosh’s bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, reports Lou Peck in his Bethesda Magazine blog. “First and foremost, Brian has an uphill battle for no good reason – he’s running against a name.” McIntosh declared. “It’s an important office, and we have to overcome a familiar name. We really do.”

NO PUBLIC FINANCING FOR LOLLAR: The State Board of Elections ruled Thursday that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar is ineligible for public financing because he missed the legal deadline to apply, Michael Dresser is reporting in the Sun.

CAMPAIGN AIDE ARRESTED: An Annapolis man who is a campaign volunteer for a Maryland gubernatorial candidate was arrested Thursday on child sex abuse charges, Anne Arundel County police said. Grabau had worked as a volunteer southern regional director for the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar and running mate Ken Timmerman, organizing grass-roots efforts for the campaign in Southern Maryland, reports Tim Prudente for the Annapolis Capital.

CRAIG TOURS EASTON: Gubernatorial candidate David Craig, who is also Harford County executive, laid out his plan to phase out the state’s personal income tax if elected governor to folks in Easton last Friday, writes Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star Democrat. In the first year, the budget Craig would present would be flat from the prior year’s. Then, after appointing department secretaries, he would tell them they have to reduce their budgets by 3%, “which means $1.2 billion a year.”

BROWN’S FACT-CHECKING WEBSITE: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and his running mate have launched a website dedicated to fact-checking candidates in the governor’s race, writes Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. As one of three Democratic candidates vying for the opening, Brown’s news release did not make clear if he would fact check his own campaign statements.

REAL POLITICKING: Despite their television-driven campaigns, enhanced by social media and digital advertising sophisticated enough to target voters by IP address, the politicians vying to become Maryland’s next governor still rely heavily on old-fashioned retail politicking, writes Erin Cox in the Sun.

PRACTICE DIVERSITY: Last week’s federal court ruling barring the Carroll County Board of Commissioners from opening its meetings with sectarian prayers provides yet another opportunity for the commissioners to end a practice that ignores the rich religious diversity of our community, opines the editorial board for the Carroll County Times. Federal Judge William D. Quarles Jr. agreed with the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that the commissioners should stop opening their meetings with sectarian prayers.

ARUNDEL DENIED SNOW WAIVER: Maryland Superintendent Lillian Lowery informed Anne Arundel County on Friday that she will not waive five days of school for the district because of snow this year, reports Liz Bowie in the Sun. As a result, Anne Arundel spokesman Bob Mosier said, the school district has decided to ask Lowery to allow the county to open schools on Easter Monday, making up one of the five days it needs to meet the requirement that students be in session for 180 days a year.

FIREWORKS FUNDING PROBE: The Maryland Secretary of State is investigating the Rock Hall Fireworks Committee, which for 20 years has raised money for the Rock Hall Volunteer Fire Company by soliciting donations to put on the July 4 fireworks show, reports Daniel Menefee for the Chestertown Spy. The investigation began earlier this year in response to complaints and inquiries to the Secretary of State’s office from past donors and citizens who’ve unsuccessfully asked the committee’s chair, Art Willis, to open the books on the revenue and expenses to put on the fireworks.