March 23, 2015

State Roundup, March 23, 2015

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RAIN TAX: The Maryland Senate voted unanimously Friday to no longer require that the state’s largest jurisdictions charge a storm water remediation fee, which Republicans dubbed the “rain tax” on the campaign trail last year, Jenna Johnson reports in the Post.

CROSSOVER DAY: Monday is the crossover deadline in the General Assembly, the point on the calendar when legislation has to make from one chamber to the other in order to have the best of chances at becoming law this year. Chase Cook reports in the Annapolis Capital that several bills, most notably a drunk driving bill, are stranded.

VALLARIO & DRUNK DRIVERS:  The editorial board of the Post writes that for years, Maryland law has coddled drunk drivers, a perversion of the public interest and a direct threat to public safety. For that, Marylanders may blame one man: Joe Vallario, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in Annapolis and, not coincidentally, a trial lawyer who defends drunk drivers in court when he’s not defending them in the legislature,

PUBLIC INFORMATION FEES: Legislation to provide government oversight on public information requests and limit fees passed unanimously out of a Maryland Senate committee Friday, Phil Davis reports for the Salisbury Daily Times. SB Bill 695, advocated by press associations and nonprofit groups, would limit fees to reflect “actual fees” instead of “reasonable fees” associated with fulfilling a public information request, according to Maryland-Delaware-Washington D.C. Press Association Executive Director Rebecca Snyder.

CHICKEN POOP: Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic lawmakers have reached a deal on the highly debated Phosphorus Management Tool, writes Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star Democrat. The PMT aims to reduce the amount of phosphorus-rich fertilizer a farm can spread on a particular field. Farmers, especially on the Eastern Shore, use chicken manure as fertilizer for their crops, but too much nutrients like phosphorus in the soil can run off into the Bay and adversely affect water quality.

CHARTER SCHOOL BILL: Ovetta Wiggins writes in the Post that Maryland senators are planning to strike key provisions of a bill proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan to increase the number of charter schools in the state, dealing a major blow to the governor’s plan to provide parents with more education options. Senate leaders said Friday that the measure that could make it to the floor this week will be vastly different from the one Hogan proposed.

EASING OYSTER POACHING PENALTIES: A bill to reduce the penalty for first time oyster poachers is making its way through the Maryland General Assembly, Josh Bollinger writes in the Easton Star Democrat. A waterman with an oyster license could lose it for life if convicted of violating oyster poaching regulations, under current law. Since the law was enacted in 2011, the Department of Natural Resources has revoked 14 commercial oyster licenses.

ANTI-FRACKING BILL: Two bills that would restrict drilling for natural gas in Maryland advanced in both chambers of the General Assembly Friday, reports Erin Cox in the Sun, setting the stage for another round of debate on how far the state should go to allow a lucrative industry that concerns environmentalists. One bill would impose strict legal responsibilities on drillers and the other sets a three-year ban on the practice.

INITIAL APPROVAL FOR HOME MIDWIVES: Michael Dresser reports in the Sun that the House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill permitting midwives to assist at home births — legislation that had stalled in committee for the past several years. The House Health and Government Operations Committee voted unanimously to approve the measure after proponents and opponents negotiated a deal.

MINIMUM SENTENCING: Proposing to remove the mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for those convicted of drug crimes, one delegate came under fire on the House floor for putting his faith in the court system. Under HB 121, judges will no longer impose minimum sentences, but be given a maximum cap on the amount of years dished out: 20 years for first-time offenders, writes Rebecca Lessner fot MarylandReporter.com.

COURT FILING FEE HIKE VOTED DOWN:  An unusual alliance of Republicans and urban liberals defeated a bill in the House Friday night that have raised filing fees for civil cases to help pay for a new computerized court records system now being installed, reports Michael Dresser of the Sun. The legislation, which had been sought by the state’s judiciary, was turned down 77-59 after opponents argued that the higher fees in eviction cases would ultimately be paid by low-income tenants who eventually raise the back rent to keep their homes. They noted that tenants in those cases are generally required to pay their landlords’ court costs.

SCHOOL IMPROVEMENTS FUNDING: Sen. Andrew Serafini is pursuing a bill that would let local school boards use private financing to borrow money for capital projects. Kaustuv Basu writes in the Hagerstown Herald Mail that the measure in the Senate that would authorize county boards of education to seek such funding.

PROMOTING STATE DISTILLERIES: If microbreweries and wineries in Maryland can experience a surge of popularity and capture the public’s fancy and its dollars, why not spirit distilleries? Tom Baden writes in the Daily Record that that’s what a new group, the Maryland Distillers Guild, is counting on. The fledgling organization and its 11 members believe consumers are ready for craft whiskeys, rums, vodkas and other spirits created by Maryland artisanal distillers.

COST OF LIGHT RAIL: With hundreds of millions of dollars already invested in the Red and Purple rail line transit projects, and strong support for them displayed not only by local governments but from business leaders, there is a growing suspicion that Gov. Larry Hogan may ultimately keep Maryland’s two light rail projects on track. The question — according to the Sun’s editorial board — is at what cost?

STATE WORKERS BETRAYED: Once again, the House of Delegates took the easy way out of its budget bind — and in the process stuck it to future state workers, teachers and taxpayers, opines political columnist Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com. The Senate is on a glide path that follows that same flawed approach. Instead of facing up to its fiduciary pension obligations, Annapolis delegates opted to play games, placing at risk the safety of state retirement programs.

HOGAN TOP STAFF PAY: Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget came with a plan: reduce government spending and tackle the state’s structural deficit. His spokesman says the numbers show he is leading by example. Even though the top positions in the governor’s office will pay about the same as under former Gov. Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s overall Executive Department budget proposal for fiscal 2016 was about 3.5% lower than the current budget set by his predecessor reports Chase Cook in the Capital Gazette.

RAVING FOR RAVIOLI: Donald Castronova stood up from a plate of ravioli and meatballs Sunday to cheer as Gov. Larry Hogan walked into the old school hall at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church writes Yvonne Wenger in the Sun. Hogan made his way to a table at the church’s annual Ravioli & Spaghetti Dinner as a steady stream of well-wishers clamored to say hello amid warnings that sounded from the loudspeaker: “The governor’s here to eat. Please let him do that,” and, “This is St. Leo’s: We’re known for being polite.”

Hogan legislative black caucus

Gov. Larry Hogan had the Legislative Black Caucus to Government House for breakfast Thursday morning. Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh addresses the group.

VAN HOLLEN & THE BUDGET: Just two weeks after Rep. Chris Van Hollen announced his candidacy for the Senate, writes John Fritze in the Sun,  the legislative calendar has thrust him into a high-profile fight over the federal budget on Capitol Hill that will almost certainly have implications for his campaign in Maryland.

O’MALLEY SPAM:  Nearly 550,000 emails were on a hard drive recently delivered to the Maryland State Archives from the office of former Gov. Martin O’Malley reports Doug Donovan in the Sun. The emails were sent to the official email address for the governor – an account he did not use – and contained “a fair amount of spam.”

O’MALLEY’S RUN: Again and again, the activists jumped to their feet, cheering on such promises as breaking up big banks, reining in Wall Street’s “reckless gambling” and addressing the country’s “gross concentrated wealth.” They might have been listening to Sen. Elizabeth Warren writes John Wagner of the Post, but the speaker was Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who spent the weekend stumping across Iowa.

  • Martin O’Malley, who is positioning himself as a forward-looking alternative to presumptive Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, took to Meerkat on Thursday to broadcast a concert by his Celtic rock band. Meerkat is a new app that is generating all sorts of buzz among the hip and mobile set. It allows users to share live streaming video from their cell phones explains the Post’s John Wagner and Perry Stein.
  • Over the past two years, as Martin O’Malley has mulled a run for president, he has poured hefty resources into Iowa, appearing at 24 campaign events and fundraisers, lending 14 staffers to Democratic candidates and the state party, and donating more than $40,000. On Friday, the former Maryland governor returns to the home of the nation’s first presidential caucuses for the first time since last fall’s election, hoping to start reaping the reward of that investment writes John Wagner of the Post.
  • Martin O’Malley, who is stumping through Iowa as he considers a bid for the White House, told Democrats on Friday night that Congress should reinstate tough Wall Street regulations that were repealed during the Clinton administration writes John Fritze of the Sun.

SCHUH’S FIRST 100 DAYS: Steve Schuh spent four years campaigning for Anne Arundel County’s top political post. Now, the Republican county executive is dealing with life on the job. He reached the 100-day mark on March 12 reports Rema Rahman in the Capital Gazette.

WASHINGTON CO. LEADS STATE IN SOLAR: The installation of a large solar-panel array that will produce about 2 megawatts of electricity on roughly 10 acres at Washington County’s Forty West Landfill has been completed, according to a county official reports C.J. Lovelace of the Hagerstown Herald Mail. Julie Pippel, director of the county Division of Environmental Management, said the solar array is the first of several scheduled for construction through 2016 on county-owned sites that could produce up to 25 megawatts of “green” power.

CAPITAL BUILDING: Annapolis city wants the state to buy The Capital’s former building and then lease its space to house Annapolis’ public works operations. But Jimmy DeButts writes in the Capital Gazette that House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Annapolis, said City Administrator Bob Agee’s pitch was a bit premature.

  • InGodWeTrust

    God help the nation if voters fail to vet O’Malley, like they failed shamefully and miserably – even dangerously – to vet Obama. When (or if) voters find out about O’Malley’s ‘gift’ of 40 tax hikes on Marylanders – they will quickly say ‘NO’, to the little guy from Maryland who plays in a band.

    • SgtStorm

      Obama just happens to be the most admired man in the US. Hillary the most admired woman. I think the “vetting” went pretty well. 🙂