September 23, 2014

State Roundup, September 23, 2014

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STATE APPEALS BALLOT RULING: The state attorney general’s office is appealing a federal judge’s ruling ordering Maryland to use an absentee ballot-marking technology for the disabled that the Board of Elections had refused to certify as secure, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun. The state will ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., to throw out District Judge Richard Bennett’s decision this month. Bennett found that the election board’s refusal to implement the program violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The state is already using the ballot marking as ordered by the judge.

SCHOOLS’ ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Maryland top officials frequently cite the state having the “best schools in America” five years in a row, based on a report card in Education Week magazine. But, writes Alexis Webb for MarylandReporter.com, recent ratings from two other sources, the “Kids Count Index” and Wallethub, indicate that the state’s school system still has room for improvement.

HOYER BACKS NATIONWIDE DISTRICTING REFORM: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer didn’t run the “Gerrymander Meander,” but on Friday called the issue an important problem and said he would support changes to redistricting rules if the entire country played the same game, writes Chase Cook for the Annapolis Capital.

  • Creative foot races have become a fad worldwide. Over the weekend, Maryland’s third congressional district served as the course for yet another: the Gerrymander Meander. About 20 people ran, biked, kayaked and motor-boated a relay that traced the district, for a combined 225 miles, reports Bret Jaspers for WYPR-FM.
  • “Democracy is not served well by a method of redistricting that supports distorted districts that were drawn in 2012, seemingly to keep people in power,” said Susan Cochran, president of the League of Women Voters in a story by Alexis Webb of MarylandReporter.com. “We need a fair and open process…with communities kept together. This will result in congressional representatives and their constituents better able to form a constructive relationship.”

REGISTERS OF WILLS TO GET PAY HIKE: Maryland’s 24 registers of wills can soon expect a little extra in their pay, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. That’s because an across-the-board 16% raise — ranging from $14,000 to $16,000 depending on jurisdiction — will go into effect in the next term. Twenty-two of the clerks who are running unopposed in the General Election can already start thinking of ways to spend the money while those in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties will have to wait until after the final results are tabulated.

MEDIA CONSOLIDATION: Brian Griffiths of Red Maryland writes that there are fewer independent news outlets covering state government, thanks to media consolidation and the changing of the business practices of some publications: The Baltimore Examiner and Patch.com both went out of business; The Gazette newspapers stopped providing as much political coverage in Annapolis; The Baltimore Sun gobbled up the Annapolis Capital, Carroll County Times, and the City Paper. It is hard to argue that these machinations have not impacted political coverage in the area.

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GA CANDIDATES ADDRESS MENTAL ILLNESS: Howard County’s General Assembly candidates met Saturday to focus on a topic seldom discussed on the campaign trail: mental illness. The issue came to the forefront in Howard early this year, when a man who police say showed signs of severe mental illness shot and killed two people and himself at the Mall in Columbia. Since then, County Executive Ken Ulman has introduced several initiatives to expand mental health training for county employees, hire a mental health professional for the county’s police department and create a behavioral health task force to identify other programs the county might implement, Amanda Yeager writes in the Sun.

WORCESTER HOPEFULS CRITICIZE ANNAPOLIS: Criticism of legislators at the state level and their lack of support for the Eastern Shore highlighted a Worcester County Commissioners candidate forum in Ocean Pines. Charlene Sharpe reports for the Salisbury Daily Times that candidates attributed the absence of progress on Route 589 to a lack of state funding and agreed that legislators in Annapolis needed to do more for the shore.

NOW BACKS BROWN: The political action committee of Maryland’s branch of the National Organization for Women gave Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown its unqualified endorsement Monday, bolstering Brown’s efforts to make women’s health a top issue in his race against Republican rival Larry Hogan. The Sun’s Michael Dresser reports that the decision came as no surprise, but Hogan made the call easy for the group by declining to answer its questions on abortion rights and contraception, the group said.

ATTACK ADS CONTINUE: Erin Cox is reporting in the Sun that candidates for Maryland governor unleashed dueling attack ads Monday, heightening a negative contest that has been marked by name-calling and hostility.

3rd GUBERNATORIAL DEBATE PLANNED: A third televised debate is in the works between Maryland’s two major-party candidates for governor, John Wagner writes in the Post. Democrat Anthony Brown and Republican Larry Hogan are expected to face off in Baltimore on the night of Saturday, Oct. 18, according to several people familiar with the planned encounter, which is being hosted by WBAL-TV and several other stations around the state.

FAITH IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Americans continue to trust their local government over state government, although trust in both levels of government remains high, according to a new poll from Gallup. Mark Newgent of Watchdog Wire writes that Gallup found that those surveyed trust their local government 72% versus their state government 62%, a result that remained unchanged from the same poll taken last year, and continues to reflect more than a decade long trend.

LATINO BIZ VS. PURPLE LINE: Latino entrepreneurs on University Boulevard worry that construction of the proposed light-rail Purple Line will block access to their businesses, increase property values and push out the lower-income families that make up the bulk of their customer base.That’s the message U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin received when he met with a group of them Monday, Arelis Hernández writes in the Post.

ARUNDEL EXPANDS DRUG COURT: Anne Arundel County Drug Court is an intensive supervision program that aims to reduce drug abuse and criminal behavior in nonviolent drug offenders, reports Tim Pratt in the Annapolis Capital. The program used to be strictly for offenders who violated their probation. This summer the program expanded. All nonviolent drug offenders are now eligible, whether they violated probation or not.  The expansion was part of an effort within the court system to combat the growing heroin problem in Anne Arundel County.

ASSAULT CHARGE AGAINST COMMISSIONER: Police say a Princess Anne town commissioner sprayed mace at another man and hit him with his van. Lionel Demese Frederick, 23, faces one count of first-degree assault and two counts of second-degree assault this weekend, court records show. The town of Princess Anne released a statement Monday about the incident via email. The statement Monday did not make clear Frederick’s status on the commission, writes Vanessa Junkin  for the Salisbury Daily Times.