February 20, 2015

State Roundup, February 20, 2015

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BUYOUTS OFFERED: Maryland is offering state workers $15,000 to leave their jobs, part of a cost-saving plan to shrink the government workforce and save millions, report Erin Cox and Michael Dresser in the Sun.  More than 30,000 eligible employees received a letter Thursday detailing the offer, which includes the lump sum plus $200 for every year of service.

70 MPH: Maryland speed limits top out at 65 mph, but the state might soon allow drivers to legally drive 70 mph. The Maryland Senate voted 39 to 7 Thursday morning to give state transportation officials the option to increase the maximum speed limit to 70 mph on some interstate highways and expressways, reports Jenna Johnson in the Post.

CITY ED FUNDING PROTESTED: More than 100 Baltimore City students, parents, teachers and community members on Thursday protested Gov. Larry Hogan’s $35 million in proposed budget cuts to city schools, reports Colin Campbell in the Sun.

TAX INCENTIVES & SCHOOL FUNDING: Donald Fry, in a column for Center Maryland, writes that Baltimore City’s public schools are facing double-barreled deficit challenges that are raising a number of key issues related to education funding in the city. But the issue of tax incentives for commercial development isn’t one of them, even though it has generated vociferous critical commentary amid media coverage of education funding deficits and proposed reductions.

Hogan Rutherford Arne Duncan Empowerment Academy1

On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan read and spoke to students at the Empowerment Academy in Baltimore as part of their push for more charter schools.

TRIPLE-A BOND RATING: MarylandReporter.com is reporting that, as expected, Maryland has retained its triple-A bond rating from all three New York rating houses for its bond sale March 2. But all three continue to express concern about the low funding of the state pension system, and the impact of federal budget reductions on the state’s economy.

LGBT PRIORITIES: Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group, has outlined six laws on its radar so far this session on its website, which are worth noting, three of which are its priorities, writes Kevin Rector for the Sun.

SECOND CHANCE ACT: Community leaders are battling retailers and landlords over the proposed Second Chance Act that would permit individuals to seek court orders shielding from public view certain minor crimes they had committed three or five years earlier, including disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, trespassing and theft of less than $1,000, Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports.

RETIREE TAXES: Gov. Larry Hogan has sent legislation to curb income taxes on the pensions of retired military, police, firefighters and first responders to the General Assembly. But some Carroll County legislators have supported legislation that would provide blanket tax relief to those 65 years and older, and the totally disabled, writes Chase Cook in a story that appears in the Carroll County Times.

CHICKEN POOP REGS: An aide to Gov. Hogan said the governor plans to unveil a revised version of the chicken manure regulations Monday — a day before the Senate hearing. Jenna Johnson of the Post writes that the official said the governor’s rules will “balance the needs of the environmental and agriculture communities while also delivering immediate action to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.”

PAROLE DECISIONS: About a dozen activists rallied in the bone-chilling cold outside the State House Thursday to support legislation removing Maryland’s governor from the decision-making process of granting parole to prisoners serving life sentences, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun. The legislation, which was scheduled for a Senate hearing  later Thursday, would leave that call up to the state parole commission.

THE NEXT ROUND: Fraser Smith, in a column for the Daily Record, speculates on what will happen next between Gov. Larry Hogan and the General Assembly. They’ve already had disagreements over his handling of the budget, a few laws as well as his State of the State address.

HOTEL BOOKING TAX: Across the country, it’s estimated that state and local governments are losing $300 million to $400 million each year in uncollected tax revenues, including frm online hotel booking companies like Expedia, Priceline and and Orbitz. State Sen. Richard Madaleno has offered just such a bill, and it could help the state collect an extra $3 million to $4 million annually in tax revenues, money that could help close a $750 million budget gap and restore funding to public education, albeit somewhat modestly. The editorial board for the Sun is backing the idea of collecting these taxes.

DELEGATE NOMINEE: Don Aines of the Hagerstown Herald Mail reports that Washington County Commissioner William Wivell has been nominated to fill the vacant Maryland House of Delegates seat created when former state Del. Andrew Serafini was appointed to the state Senate. Although the Washington County Republican Central Committee has chosen Wivell, in a letter sent previously to central committees, Gov. Larry Hogan’s office had asked for multiple names in case of such a vacancy.

DISABILITIES DEMO: Dave Collins of WBAL TV reports with video on a rally to restore budget cuts to the developmentally disabled.

FACEBOOK FIRING: Jenna Johnson of the Post writes that a high-ranking Maryland corrections official was fired Thursday for making “inappropriate comments” on Facebook about prison security guards.

PETITION REFORM: Howard County citizens are seeking to reform Maryland petition law, frustrated when their time and energy spent collecting 6,000 signatures was tossed aside by a late ruling by the county’s Board of Elections. The bill will affect local petition drives throughout Maryland, reports Rebecca Lessner for MarylandReporter.com.

NIX THE PITHY SLOGAN: The editorial board for the Frederick News Post opines that Frederick County does not need a pithy slogan to be plastered on its welcome signs for motorists. And it’s not because most counties in the country don’t clutter up their welcome signs with politically motivated or stating-the-obvious verbiage.

ON TO NEW HAMPSHIRE: Former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has bumped up his first trip of the year to New Hampshire by about 10 days, writes John Wagner in the Post. O’Malley, who is weighing a 2016 White House bid, will return to the early primary state on March 6 and 7.