May 5, 2014

State Roundup, May 5, 2014

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HEALTH CARE REBUILD: Jenna Johnson and Mary Pat Flaherty of the Post report that Maryland is sprinting to rebuild its malfunctioning online health insurance system on a time schedule that leaves no room for error, without the endorsement of the federal government or a clear plan for funding the project.

LAWYERS FOR INDIGENT DEFENDANTS: Maryland appears on the verge of providing lawyers to all indigent criminal defendants during initial bail hearings, a potentially expensive response to rulings by the Court of Appeals that follows the collapse of bail-reform legislation in the General Assembly this year, writes Frederick Kunkle in the Post.

TRANSGENDER ISSUES: The editorial board for the Sun writes that the arguments advanced by Del. Neil Parrott and others who are organizing the petition drive would seem juvenile in a 3rd grade classroom. Rather than addressing the very real need to protect transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing and other matters, they are trying to convince the public that this bill will lead to a rash of men putting on dresses and going into public bathrooms to ogle women.

WIND MORATORIUM: In the final days of the recent General Assembly session, lawmakers voted to delay all wind projects of a certain height within 46 miles of the base until June 2015 — effectively killing plans for the Great Bay Wind Center. Now Gov. Martin O’Malley must decide whether to veto the legislation, as environmental groups are demanding, or allow it to become law, writes Jenna Johnson for the Post. Activists warn that the measure could scare away wind developers and taint O’Malley’s reputation as a dedicated environmentalist as he contemplates a run for the White House.

CARDIN ON CONOWINGO DAM: Cheryl Mattix of the Cecil Whig reports that U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, chairman of the subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, will be at the Conowingo Dam Visitor Center this morning to conduct a field hearing to collect information about environmental challenges caused by Conowingo Dam and to build better partnerships between agencies and stakeholders.

THE GARRETT DISCUSSION: Barry Rascovar of MarylandReporter.com has received what he calls a tsunami of responses to his April column on the isolation faced by Garrett County. He runs a number of the letters, which run the gamut from addressing fracking and higher education.

WAGE HIKE: Gov. Martin O’Malley touted Maryland’s move to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and knocked Republicans for blocking a similar measure this week in the U.S. Senate during a speech to Nevada Democrats on Friday night, writes John Wagner in the Post.

BILL SIGNING: Kaustuv Basu of the Hagerstown Herald Mail compiles a political notebook of upcoming events, including a bill signing by Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is expected to sign the minimum wage hike today.

LESSON FROM SAYLOR: The editorial board for the Frederick News Post writes that Ethan Saylor, the young man with Down syndrome who died during his 2013 arrest by three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies, has become a national symbol for how law enforcement can mishandle developmentally disabled people. But the Post board is urging Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins to get out in front of reforms instead of acting as though reforms are an acknowledgement of failure.

PENSION AGENCY LEASE: The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System has signed a long-term expansion of its lease at 120 E. Baltimore St. in Charles Center in Baltimore City, writes Adam Bednar for the Daily Record. The agency, which administers death, disability and retirement benefits for state workers, renewed its lease of 60,851 square feet of space and extended its space in the building by 11,522 square feet, according to a news release.

AA CASINO FUNDS SHIFTED: Zoe Read of the Annapolis Capital writes that Anne Arundel County shifted millions of dollars earmarked for communities closest to Maryland Live! to other priorities. County Auditor Teresa Sutherland reviewed county records for two fiscal years and found that a portion of the $20.8 million promised for items such as road improvements and police services either wasn’t spent or was used for other purposes, such as paying interest on school construction bonds or aiding Anne Arundel Community College.

KEEP CAPITAL’S VOICE: Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com writes that with the Sun buying the Annapolis Capital and its sister papers, there is a chance that readers could lose an important and independent voice – and another set of eyes – at the State House.

DWYER CHALLENGERS LINE UP: Del. Don Dwyer was spending his final day in jail Sunday, completing a 60-day sentence for his 2013 drunken-driving and drunken-boating convictions. While that debt to society will be paid, six challengers are vying to oust him. District 31B has two seats, and both Dwyer and fellow GOP incumbent Del. Nic Kipke are seeking to hold on to them. Some of the challengers in the June 24 GOP primary make clear they are not aiming for Kipke, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun.

THE BROCHIN RACE: WYPR’s Fraser Smith and Alison Knezevich of the Baltimore Sun talk about the race for state Senate in Baltimore County’s 42nd district, and why incumbent Jim Brochin is being opposed by some powerful state Democrats.

GOP CANDIDATES URGE TAX CUTS: During a radio debate Saturday morning, the four Republicans running to become Maryland’s next governor promised an array of tax cuts as each sought to make the case that they could work effectively with a legislature in Annapolis dominated by Democrats, writes John Wagner in the Post.

MIZEUR PUSHES AFFORDABLE COLLEGE: Citing a report that Marylanders are carrying the highest level of student debt in the country, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur will propose a plan Monday to make college more affordable and increase need-based financial aid, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

POST BACKS LEGGETT: The editorial board for the Post makes its endorsement for Montgomery County executive, writing that any one of the three Democratic candidates would make an able county executive in Montgomery, where one in six Marylanders live. Its choice is Isiah Leggett — with a caveat.

NEUMAN BUDGET: When Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman unveiled her proposed $1.35 billion county budget on Thursday, she described it as a package that reduced the county’s property tax rate “without cutting essential services or depleting our savings.” But in a political year that has already seen sharp barbs between Neuman and her opponent for the Republican nomination for county executive, Del. Steve Schuh, the tax rate issue immediately drew a rebuke from Schuh, who called the cut “inadequate and misleading,” writes Pamela Wood for the Sun.

COUNCIL CANDIDATES ON NEUMAN BUDGET: Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman’s campaign has criticized Steve Schuh for voting on bills that increased fees during his two terms in the House of Delegates. Hours after Neuman released her budget Thursday, Schuh countered. Rema Rahman of the Annapolis Capital spoke with candidates running for Anne Arundel County Council — the legislative body that approves the executive’s budget each year. They provided their takes on whether the county should voluntarily increase the cap or consider voluntary cuts.