April 2, 2014

State Roundup, April 2, 2014

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HEALTH EXCHANGE REPLACEMENT: The board of Maryland’s health-insurance exchange voted Tuesday to hire Deloitte Consulting to replace most of the state’s troubled online marketplace with technology that has successfully worked in Connecticut, write Jenna Johnson and John Wagner in the Post.

RAIN TAX COMPROMISE: House and Senate conferees working on the state budget tentatively approved an alternative to the contentious stormwater remediation fee dubbed the “rain tax” by opponents. The surprise move appears to be an end-run around environmentalists and the House Environmental Matters Committee, which has blocked any changes to the requirement that nine counties and Baltimore City impose a separate tax to clean up stormwater polluting the bay, write Jeremy Bauer-Wolf and Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

POT DECRIMINALIZATION: A measure to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana got its final hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and it’s unclear if that will be the bill’s last stop during the General Assembly’s 90-day session, writes Alex Jackson for the Annapolis Capital.

HOUSE WON’T REJECT PAY RAISE: A Republican attempt to force legislators to vote on their own pay raise was defeated  in the House of Delegates Tuesday, with Democrats overwhelmingly rejecting the move, writes Margaret Sessa-Hawkins for MarylandReporter.com. The motion asked the House to suspend the rules so that a resolution to reject a proposed salary raise for legislators elected this fall could be considered on the House floor. An almost identical resolution has been sitting in the House Rules Committee without a vote since its hearing in late February.

MORE STATE WAGE HIKES: The Senate voted Tuesday to provide a 20% salary increase over the next four years to the attorney general, comptroller, state treasurer and secretary of state, reports Jeremy Bauer-Wolf for MarylandReporter.com. The attorney general, comptroller and treasurer each earn $125,000 annually. The secretary of state makes $87,500 annually.

PREVAILING WAGE: The General Assembly is a vote away from passing a bill that could raise costs for school construction, reports Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. The Senate gave preliminary approval to House Bill 727 on Tuesday, a measure that would require all school construction projects that get at least 25% of their money from the state to pay workers the prevailing wage.

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PAY HIKE FOR FREDERICK SHERIFF: Frederick County’s sheriff is on tap for a $25,000 pay increase despite outspoken resistance from one legislator who said the man now in office “doesn’t deserve a raise,” writes Bethany Rodgers in the Frederick News Post.

RIGHT TO COUNSEL: Criminal defense attorneys Tuesday sharply attacked a proposal to change the state constitution in order to undo the Maryland high court’s finding that the right to counsel attaches at the initial bail determination, writes Steve Lash for the Daily Record.

Demonstrators oppose delay in windpower project on Lower Eastern Shore.

Demonstrators oppose delay in windpower project on Lower Eastern Shore.

CHIMING IN ON WIND FARM DELAY: The effort to place a moratorium on a proposed Eastern Shore wind farm got a major boost Tuesday in the form of testimony from U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Hoyer, the second-highest ranking congressional Democrat and a former president of the Maryland Senate, returned to Annapolis to urge the Senate Finance Committee to approve a bill that imposes a 13-month moratorium on the project.

22,000 ACRES FOR WILDLANDS: Almost 950 acres in Cunningham Falls State Park are poised to enter a state system of preserved wilderness areas, writes Bethany Rodgers in the Frederick News Post. The Maryland House of Delegates on Tuesday passed a bill designating almost 22,000 acres as state wildlands, where commercial activities are restricted.

ON BUSCH’S TURF: The editorial board for the Annapolis Capital writes about a turf war within the Senate over money designated for the repair of fields at two schools in Anne Arundel County and how House Speaker Michael Busch won the battle, if not yet the war.

DRONES: As the Federal Aviation Administration studies ways to regulate drones, Maryland lawmakers gathered some who use them in their business to learn more about the industry, Shantee Woodards reports for the Annapolis Capital.. The University of Maryland is a partner in one of the FAA’s studies testing how to integrate drones in the U.S. airspace. “We hope that Maryland will be a leading presence, as opposed to developing fear-based policies that we have seen pass in other states,” Terry Kilby told members of the state Senate’s Information Technology and Biotechnology Committee. He and his wife recently published “Drone Art: Baltimore.”

IMPROPER PURCHASES: Four Maryland employees made about $255,000 in improper purchases — including guitars, plane tickets and toy soldiers — with state credit cards intended for business spending, a state audit of the program found, Colin Campbell reports. The audit concluded that agencies could prevent workers from abusing the 17-year-old, $260 million credit card program by using more comprehensive data to better monitor the purchases.

DISTRICT 31B: Stan Janor, a Democratic candidate for House of Delegates in District 31B, writes in an op-ed in the Annapolis Capital that since Sen. Phil Jimeno retired there has been a lack of leadership in the District 31, and that is why he is running.

BROWN TOUTS WOMEN’S PROGRAMS: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown pledged Tuesday to spend more than $17 million a year if elected governor on an array of programs intended to promote women’s economic advancement, health and safety, the Post’s John Wagner writes.

MO CO COUNCIL RACE: In a rapidly diversifying county, Eastern Montgomery’s District 5 is Ground Zero, writes Bill Turque in the Post. Sixty-two percent of district residents are African American, Hispanic or Asian. District 5 is also the setting for what is shaping up as 2014’s most hotly contested County Council primary. It got hotter Tuesday with the announcement that a group headed by Valerie Ervin — who held the seat for seven years until January — will formally endorse. Ervin, who is African American, said she considers District 5 a “legacy seat,” meaning that whoever holds it should reflect the area’s diverse electorate.