March 20, 2015

State Roundup, March 20, 2015

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HOUSE PASSES HOGAN BUDGET: The Senate Budget & Taxation Committee unanimously approved Gov. Larry Hogan’s $40 billion budget Thursday with only modest changes from the House version. Michael Dresser of the Sun writes.

  • Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports that a budget plan by the Maryland House of Delegates, which includes significant changes to Gov. Larry Hogan’s $40 billion budget, received bipartisan support Thursday night. The 129-to-10 vote came just hours after the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee unanimously approved a similar spending plan that restores full funding for education and pay raises for state workers.
  • Ten Republicans still found reason to reject a budget that was 99% the proposal of a Republican governor. But many Republicans voted for their first state budget in years, Rebecca Lessner writes for MarylandReporter.com. “This budget is not perfect…but I think there was a spirit of cooperation and that’s a good start,” said Del. Pat McDonough, surprising delegates by voting yes.
  • Bryan Sears, reported in the Daily Record that Del. Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel and House minority leader, praised the budget and a companion bill as a ‘breath of fresh air” and said the work done to control spending and eliminate a nagging structural deficit will make it easier to encourage residents to stay in Maryland instead of leaving for states with lower taxes.
  • In a column for the Daily Record, Fraser Smith opines about the budget thrown together by a brand new Republican governor, Larry Hogan. But it was massaged and manipulated and reorganized by the Democrats who reversed major elements of his plan. And then, Appropriations Committee chairman Maggie McIntosh got a thumbs-up from David Brinkley, Gov. Hogan’s budget secretary.
  • WYPR’s State House reporter Chris Connelly tells opinionator Fraser Smith that Assembly Republicans are nearly euphoric as they work on Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget. Though amended and re-arranged by House Democrats, they believe the spending plan would have been much more expensive had a Democrat been in the governor’s office. The document will be approved or amended when it goes to the state Senate.

PUBLIC INFORMATION LAW: Erin Cox reports in the Sun that state lawmakers are weighing the biggest-ever rewrite of Maryland’s public records laws. A compromise proposal pending in a Senate committee would for the first time allow the public to appeal decisions to withhold information — and the fees charged to view it — without having to take the government to court

STORM-WATER FEE: A bill that would effectively repeal the storm-water fee requirement that Gov. Larry Hogan campaigned against advanced in the Senate Thursday. And environmentalists, who’ve succeeded in killing other repeal efforts, are not opposing this one. Timothy Wheeler reports for the Sun.

FRACKING AMENDMENT KILLED: A key amendment offered by Republican Sen. George Edwards to weaken a bill that could restrict the process of drilling for gas in Western Maryland was defeated on the Senate floor Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, seeks to hold energy companies responsible for any damages from hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process that is used in states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Kaustuv Basu writes in the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

PROBE INTO POLICE KILLINGS: The House Judiciary Committee has killed a bill that would have authorized the state prosecutor to investigate any case in which a police officer kills an individual in the line of duty writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

JUSTICE REINVESTMENT: “Power to the criminal,” said the legislator standing on the House floor, shaking his fist in the air.  “This is the year of the criminal, apparently.” Rebecca Lessner of MarylandReporter.com reports that Thursday morning’s display of confusion and upset stemmed from his belief that more and more bills this year are rewarding criminals with earlier releases or softer penalties.

CRIMINAL RECORDS SHIELD: Michael Dresser of the Sun reports Gov. Larry Hogan has thrown his support behind legislation that would help offenders with nonviolent offenses on their criminal records to shield that information from prospective employers if they stay out of trouble for three years after completing their sentences.

LEGALIZING POT STUFF: Michael Dresser of the Sun is reporting that the House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Thursday to legislation that would make possession of marijuana paraphernalia a civil offense, bringing it into line with the state’s treatment of small amounts of the drug itself.

ONLINE TRAVEL TAX BILL: Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com asks: Is a bill targeting online travel companies creating a new tax on services, as opponents claim, or an attempt to close a loophole and collect sales tax on hotel charges the companies are pocketing for themselves? Those are the key issues the state Senate will be debating Friday as it takes up SB190 that passed out of its Budget and Taxation Committee Wednesday.

Kasemeyer first citizen

At the Senate rostrum, in an emotional speech, Sen. Ed Kasemeyer of Howard County thanks his colleagues for the Senate’s First Citizen award, an annual event honoring public service to the people of Maryland. Below, former Sen. David Brinkley, now Gov. Hogan’s budget secretary, receives his First Citizen award from Senate President Mike Miller. Sen. Ulysses Currie also received the award.

Brinkley Miller first citizen

CURRIE ONCE CENSURED NOW HONORED: Jenna Johnson of the Post reports that  Sen. Ulysses Currie stood before his peers three years ago and apologized for not disclosing that he had been the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside consulting fees that prompted a federal investigation and corruption charges. The Senate voted unanimously to censure him. The tone was completely different Thursday morning as Currie, who was acquitted of all charges, received the chamber’s coveted First Citizen Award.

VIETNAM VET DAY: The General Assembly passed a bill Thursday designating March 30, the 42nd anniversary of troop withdrawal from the Southeast Asian conflict, as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day reports Michael Dresser of the Sun.

PELOSI DEFENDS VAN HOLLEN: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi defended Rep. Chris Van Hollen on Thursday from criticism he has received from some liberal groups that he hasn’t taken a strong enough stance against cuts to Social Security. John Fritze writes for the Sun.