February 16, 2015

State Roundup, February 16, 2015

Print More

DEATH WITH DIGNITY: It’s been more than 15 years since Dick Israel’s body started to revolt, writes the Sun’s Erin Cox. Back then, in the early days of his Parkinson’s disease, Israel still wrote legal opinions in flowery script from an old-fashioned fountain pen, churning out advice for the General Assembly. He charmed political giants with a wry wit, delivered in a baritone that seemed several octaves too deep for his short stature. Now he never leaves his hospice room. And he plans to spend his final months alive lobbying the General Assembly from afar, advocating for the right to die when he chooses, a final act of control over a disease that robbed him of it.

OPPOSITION TO GAMBLING GROWS: Maryland has gone all in on gambling. But with its sixth casino set to open next year, more voters are voicing opposition to the bet, reports Joe Heim for the Washington Post. In one of the country’s most concentrated casino markets, 38% of Free State voters said the expansion of casino gambling has been a “bad thing” in a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. That’s up 11 points from a 2012 poll, when 27% of respondents felt negatively toward the state’s addition of slots casinos.

POT LEGALIZATION: Del. Curt Anderson and Sen. Jamie Raskin introduced companion bills in the House and Senate aimed at taxing and regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol. The Maryland Control and Revenue Act of 2015 would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes, Sarah Meehan reports for the Baltimore Business Journal.

REDISTRICTING REFORM: Some state lawmakers are hopeful the stars are aligned for Maryland to change the way it draws its political districts — a process that has resulted in some of the most convoluted maps in America, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun. Their hopes were bolstered recently when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan devoted part of his first State of the State address to a call for redistricting reform.

BRIDGE PROBLEMS: While transportation officials ordered the immediate inspection of 27 bridges last week after concrete fell from a Prince George’s County overpass, Maryland has dozens of other spans similarly designated as structurally deficient, reports Jean Marbella for the Sun.

TRANSIT CONCERNS: Gov. Larry Hogan’s bill to cancel upcoming gas-tax increases would sap nearly $3 billion from planned road and transit projects over the coming six years, according to a draft document from the state Department of Transportation, John Wagner and Ovetta Wiggins report in the Post.

TAKING TOLLS: The General Assembly’s policy analysts warned lawmakers Friday that Gov. Larry Hogan’s suggested decreases in tolls could have a harmful effect on the maintenance and operations of the Maryland Transportation Authority’s highways, bridges and tunnels. Michael Dresser reports in the Sun.

TRANSPORTATION & THE PUBLIC: Maryland officials prepare to cut $4.5 billion in transportation revenue for Maryland’s six-year transportation capital budget without so much as detailing a single project that would be cut, changed, or delayed. Pollster Steve Raabe of OpinionWorks visits Center Maryland to discuss what Maryland voters are feeling about a variety of issues.

FRACKING RESTRICTIONS: Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, introduced legislation last year to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Western Maryland but that bill died in committee. This year, Zirkin introduced a different bill that will go through the committee he chairs that would set extremely tough liability standards on gas drillers. The rules, fracking advocates say, would be so onerous that they would prevent drilling from ever coming to the state. The Daily Record’s Bryan Sears tells WYPR’s Fraser Smith about the senator’s response.

TARGETING MEDICAID SPENDING: Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to exclude approximately 1,400 pregnant women from the program next year is just one way the new Republican governor wants to rein in Medicaid spending. Medicaid is the single biggest driver of growth in the state budget — outpacing education and public safety. It’s also the target of some of Hogan’s biggest cuts, writes Erin Cox of the Sun.

VALENTINES IN THE SENATE: Jenna Johnson of the Post shines a light on a Valentine’s Day tradition in the state Senate — Senate President Mike Miller giving gifts to the female senators and the female senators giving chocolate to their male counterparts.

A BETTER ENDING: Despite a rough start and pushback from Democrats in both chambers of the State House, Gov. Larry Hogan did finish his third week in office on an upbeat note, Len Lazarick writes in an analysis for MarylandReporter.com. First, 12 of his cabinet appointments were approved in the Senate.

RETALIATION SETTLEMENT: The state of Maryland has tentatively agreed to pay $250,000 to a former Queen Anne’s County detective who claimed she was fired from the sheriff’s department in retaliation for having complained of being sexually assaulted by the sheriff’s brother, her supervising officer. The settlement still must be approved by the Board of Public Works.

WA CO SCHOOL FINANCING: A bill proposed by the Washington County Board of Education that would give the board the option of private financing or bond money up to $10 million is generating controversy and creating division within the all-Republican Washington County delegation in Annapolis, writes Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

ECONOMIC AGREEMENT: The legislature’s Augustine Commission made 32 recommendations on economic development and jobs growth, all sensible and none of them particularly novel. In a column for MarylandReporter.com, Barry Rascovar writes that it won’t take much for the Republican governor and Democratic legislators to find agreement on most of those suggestions.

HOGAN MEETS AREA OFFICIALS: The Hagerstown Herald Mail’s Political Notebook column notes that Gov. Larry Hogan and his senior administration officials are meeting today with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser for an intergovernmental meeting.

BIDEN TOUTS RAPE KIT FUNDING: Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Baltimore on Tuesday to promote funding that will help police address a backlog of untested rape kits. Jean Marbella of the Sun is reporting that  Biden is to be joined by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee argued for funding to begin clearing the hundreds of thousands of rape kits that were collecting dust in police storage areas across the country.

Frank Conaway

Frank Conaway Sr.

ARUNDEL STORMWATER FEE: An effort to repeal Anne Arundel’s stormwater fee may be on the County Council’s agenda next month. County Executive Steve Schuh said he would sign such a measure, if it passed, reports Rema Rahman for the Annapolis Capital.

FRANK CONAWAY SR. DIES: Frank M. Conaway Sr., a resilient and colorful politician who was the longtime clerk of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, has died in his sleep at his Northwest Baltimore home at age 81, writes Jacques Kelly in an obituary for the Sun.

PUSHING WARREN TO RUN: With the midterm elections of November long gone, some local Democrats are looking to the 2016 presidential race in hopes that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren will step up and run, reports Paige Jones for the Frederick News Post. About 20 people braved the cold Saturday afternoon for the “Run Warren Run” event at Urbana Regional Library, where attendees were asked to submit a Valentine’s Day card to Warren and pledge an action to spread the word.