April 8, 2014

State Roundup, April 8, 2014

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IT’S A WRAP: By the time confetti fell in Annapolis on Monday night, state lawmakers had loosened marijuana laws, made Maryland the second state in the country to raise its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and whittled their way through more than 2,600 bills considered during the 434th legislative session, Erin Cox, Michael Dresser and Tim Wheeler write in the Sun.

BILL SIGNING STARTS: Gov. Martin O’Malley will kick off a series of bill signings today when he signs legislation that supporters say will offer prekindergarten to nearly 1,600 more Maryland children, reports Alex Jackson for the Annapolis Capital. O’Malley told reporters on Monday night he would sign Senate Bill 332 and several “departmental bills” on Tuesday at a 10:30 a.m. bill signing at the Maryland State House.

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: The House of Delegates gave final passage to legislation raising the Maryland minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018, sending it to the governor for his certain signature, MarylandReporter.com’s Margaret Sessa-Hawkins reports.

MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION: The General Assembly OK’d the measure to decriminalize marijuana on the last day of 90-day session Monday. With no debate, the Senate voted Monday 34-8 to approve the bill, SB 364. The House of Delegates already approved the bill Saturday, Jeremy Bauer-Wolf writes in MarylandReporter.com.

MEDICAL POT: Marylanders with serious medical conditions that could be alleviated by marijuana would gain access to the drug with a physician’s consent under legislation passed by the General Assembly Monday, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

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FILM TAX CREDIT: Erin Cox of the Sun reports that the potential pool of cash available for the film industry shrank by $3.5 million in the final minutes of the General Assembly session, leaving lawmakers asking: Is $15 million enough for “House of Cards” to stay?

DISTRACTED DRIVING: Jenna Johnson of the Post writes that the General Assembly approved legislation Monday that will stiffen penalties for drivers who cause fatal or serious crashes while talking on a cellphone or texting. The legislation now goes to the governor to be signed.

WHISTLEBLOWER BILL DIES: The Senate rejected legislation Monday night that would have expanded the Maryland False Health Claims Act to cover all state contractors, reports Steve Lash for the Daily Record. On a 27-19 vote in the 2014 session’s waning hours, the Senate voted to postpone indefinitely the proposed Maryland False Claims Act. Sen. David Brinkley moved to postpone Senate consideration, saying the bill’s “impact on business is certainly not clear.”

BAIL REFORM: One of the thorniest issues members of the General Assembly have had to deal with this session is fielding a response to a controversial decision handed down by the Maryland Court of Appeals, reports Christopher Connelly for WYPR-FM. With just hours left before the session, lawmakers have responded with a handful of smaller measures they think will satisfy the court. But the ruling has also spurred a debate about what can be done to reform Maryland’s bail system.

GROUND RENT REFORM FAILS: Ground-rent tenants will get no reprieve from the General Assembly this session, reports Steve Lash for the Daily Record.

A WIN FOR POLLUTERS: Last week, the same lawmakers who passed the stormwater fees last year to help protect the Chesapeake Bay caved in, sticking into the state’s $39 billion budget an exemption for two counties, Carroll and Frederick, that allows them to use a portion of county property taxes to pay for stormwater control projects instead. The exemption, opines the editorial board of the Sun, was not vetted in a public hearing, nor even proposed as a piece of legislation, but added as so-called “budget language” out of the blue by a handful of lawmakers during conference committee negotiations.

LOWER SHORE BILLS: Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times quotes Sen. Jim Mathias as saying: “I’m not leaving here happy about everything, but in our country, majority rules.” Mathias was talking specifically about a divide between Southern Maryland and Eastern Shore lawmakers over a bill that delays construction of a multi-million dollar wind farm in Somerset County. The bill was introduced because of concerns about how spinning turbines would interfere with the Pax River Naval base in Southern Maryland.

AA SHERIFF SALARY HIKE: The General Assembly has passed legislation to raise the pay of the Anne Arundel County’s sheriff, reports Alex Jackson in the Annapolis Capital. Lawmakers on Saturday approved House Bill 1381, which will raise the county sheriff’s salary from $128,657 in 2014 to $133,000 in 2015. A sidebar to the left lists county sheriffs salaries from around the state and the population of each county.

CARROLL BILLS: Christian Alexandersen of the Carroll County Times writes that the majority of local bills introduced by the Carroll delegations to the General Assembly passed during the annual legislative session in Annapolis. The bills cover a wide variety of topics, including casino night fundraisers, sheriffs’ and judges’ salary increases and liquor licenses.

BLOODY FIGHT: An altercation on the fourth floor of the House of Delegates office building left an aide to a Harford County delegate in a bloodied suit being taken to the hospital Monday on the last day of session. The altercation was apparently between the aide and his brother, according to a Maryland Capitol Police officer who was on the scene, reports Margaret Sessa Hawkins for MarylandReporter.com.

CITY JOBS: Supporters of a proposed law before the Baltimore City Council to help more ex-convicts land jobs in Baltimore City scored a victory Monday when they fended off efforts by the business community to block the measure indefinitely, Yvonne Wenger reports in the Sun.