March 16, 2015

State Roundup, March 16, 2015

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BUDGET ACTION: A Maryland House committee Friday recommended to increase school funding, restore several programs for the poor and disadvantaged, cover a pay raise for state employees and cut the state’s payment to the employee pension plan next year to help pay for much of it, writes Ovetta Wiggins of the Post. The vote, which makes significant changes to Gov. Larry Hogan’s $40.7 billion budget proposal, was unanimous, a sign of bipartisanship within the Democrat-led General Assembly.

RAIDING THE PENSION FUND: The editorial board for the Post writes that when the big bond-rating agencies took Maryland’s financial temperature last month, they found the state in robust health — with the notable exception of Maryland’s undernourished pension fund. The fund needs a sustained infusion of cash if the state is to meet its long-term promises to retired teachers, police, judges and other public employees — a $20 billion infusion, to be precise.

POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY: Before a House of Delegates committee hearing last week, about 70 people gathered by the State House to remember the names of people who died while interacting with law enforcement officers. The men’s family members support bills under consideration that would impose stricter review processes and penalties for officers who abuse their power. But police officials say existing policies are sufficient, and changes would put officers at risk, according to a CNS story in the Daily Record.

SENTENCING REFORM: The Maryland General Assembly is moving ahead on a bill that would let the state explore prison sentencing reform and reduce recidivism among former inmates, writes Kaustuv Basu for the Hagerstown Herald Mail. The measure would create a Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, bringing a data-driven approach to improve public safety while reducing corrections spending.

CHICKEN MANURE DEADLINE: Not content with farm rules proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, a Senate committee approved a bill Friday that would give Eastern Shore farmers a firm deadline to stop over-fertilizing their fields with chicken manure.

VACCINE EXEMPTION: A Prince George’s County delegate whose law practice includes representing clients who claim adverse reaction to vaccines has withdrawn a bill that would have removed a religious exemption to the state’s vaccination law. Del. Benjamin Barnes said he pulled the bill not for any potential ethical concerns but because of the state’s high vaccination rate, Bryan Sears reports for the Daily Record.

ELECTION OF TRIAL JUDGES: A bid to end elections for trial court judges in Maryland is being put on hold until next year, Senate President Mike Miller said Friday. Miller informed fellow senators that he had agreed to a request by Gov. Larry Hogan to table a proposed constitutional amendment on selection and retention of Circuit Court judges, Timothy Wheeler of the Sun writes.

SCHOOL START DATE: The editorial board for the Salisbury Daily Times opines that the school start date should be set by local jurisdictions not by the state, writing that Wicomico County recently approved on first reading a proposed 2015-16 calendar with an Aug. 31 start date — after considering public input on three drafts and discussing the pros and cons with the Board of Education and school administrators. That’s just one county. Each county has different needs, varying reasons to start or end the calendar on particular dates.

REGULATING POWDERED ALCOHOL: Sarah Gantz of the Baltimore Business Journal writes that Palcohol, a powdered alcohol that turns into your cocktail of choice when mixed with liquid, received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and will go on sale this summer. Maryland lawmakers and public health leaders are concerned the new, easily concealed alcohol will appeal to minors and want the state to look at ways to regulate its sale here.

WORKERS INSURANCE: The ongoing health care debate over the right of individual choice versus the benefits of shared risk lies at the heart of a high-stakes tussle now playing out in Annapolis over how small businesses insure their workers, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun. It’s part of the continuing reverberations of the federal Affordable Care Act, with leading lawmakers aiming to hold down rates in the group plans for businesses promoted under the law, and a broad collection of interest groups trying to preserve companies’ option to insure themselves.

3 GOP ASSEMBLY SEATS FILLED: Gov. Larry Hogan appointed three new Republican delegates to the General Assembly Friday, filling House seats vacated by members moving on to a judgeship or to the Senate, Timothy Wheeler reports for the Sun.

FEDERAL ELECTION FINANCING: A Maryland congressman is on a crusade to change how we finance federal elections — even if he knows there isn’t much chance of success. U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes talked at length with the Annapolis Capital editorial board about his legislation, H.R. 20, The Government by the People Act, which would create a public financing pool that empowers small donations from individuals. Chase Cook writes the article.

GEOGRAPHY & THE SENATE RACE: John Fritze of the Sun writes that the first U.S. senator elected directly by voters was a Silver Spring attorney named Blair Lee, who won a special election in 1913, months after the 17th Amendment changed the way candidates were selected for the Senate. Lee, it turns out, was also the last senator in Maryland to come from the Washington suburbs. Baltimore’s metro area has dominated statewide politics in Maryland for more than a century. But the 2016 race to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski comes after decades of demographic forces have shifted the political center away from the state’s largest city and toward Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Terp dancing

Maybe Maryland was not ranked as high as expected in the NCAA’s March Madness, but the Terp was still dancing on the basketball ball team’s Facebook page.

 

BURKE WON’T RUN: Baltimore City attorney Susan L. Burke, who rose to prominence battling the Department of Defense and its contractors in court, said in an email to supporters Saturday that she will not run for Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s seat, Ian Duncan reports in the Sun.

A MARYLAND REPUBLICAN IN THE SENATE? Did Republican Larry Hogan’s surprisingly large victory for governor last year blaze the path for a GOP upset in next year’s open seat for the U.S. Senate, asks political pundit Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com. Probably not. Then again, politics is a mercurial business. Given the right circumstances, a longshot scenario might come true.

6th DISTRICT COMPETITION: U.S. Rep. John Delaney’s seat could become more competitive in the 2016 presidential election should Delaney seek the seat of outgoing U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, writes Glynis Kazanjian for the Examiner.com. A top political analyst that rates congressional races nationwide said Maryland’s 6th District would change from “likely Democrat” to “leans Democrat” should Delaney, a Democrat, vacate his seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

EDWARDS MEETS WITH LAWMAKERS: U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) met with state lawmakers from Prince George’s County on Friday morning to explain her decision to run for U.S. Senate — and to introduce herself, writes Jenna Johnson in the Post.

SEEKING EDWARDS’ SEAT: Ingrid M. Turner, a former chair of the Prince George’s County Council, will announce Tuesday that she is running for the House seat that will be left open by Rep. Donna Edwards, a source close to the Democrat said on Sunday. Turner, 51, served in the council from the end of 2006 through 2014 and was its chair in 2011. The Bowie resident is also a past president of the Maryland Association of Counties, John Fritze reports for the Sun.

SMIGIEL CONSIDERS 1st DISTRICT RUN: Former Del. Michael Smigiel, defeated when seeking re-election to a fourth term in the 2014 primary, confirmed Friday he is considering a run for the Republican nomination for the 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, now held by Andy Harris, Cheryl Mattix reports in the Cecil Whig. “My decision won’t be dictated by whether or not Harris decides to seek the U.S. Senate seat that Democrat Barbara Mikulski currently holds,” Smigiel said.

PG BUDGET ACTION: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker unveiled a bold budget proposal Friday that would raise property tax rates for the first time in 35 years and includes layoffs and furloughs, all to free up more funding for schools, public safety and economic development, Arelis Hernandez reports in the Post.

CONAWAY WILL MISSING: The Conaway name has been synonymous with the Baltimore City register of wills office for three decades: Mary W. Conaway held the elective position from 1982 until retiring in 2012, and her stepdaughter, Belinda K. Conaway, took over in December after winning last year’s election. But when Baltimore Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway Sr. died on Feb. 15, neither could find an important document: his will, Doug Donovan reports in the Sun.

JUDGE YOUNG DIES AT 92: Judge Joseph H. Young, a retired federal judge who presided over the 1974 corruption trial of Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson, died Saturday of complications from a fall he suffered two weeks ago. He was 92 and resided at Roland Park Place, reports Jacques Kelly for the Sun.