March 25, 2015

State Roundup, March 25, 2015

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FRACKING LIMITS: Legislation that limits when and how fracking could take place in Maryland passed Tuesday in both chambers of the state Legislature, the AP reports in the Frederick News-Post. Senators voted 29-17 for a bill that holds drilling companies strictly liable for injuries to residents or their property, and in the case of legal action companies would have to disclose what chemicals they use for drilling. In a 93-45 House vote, delegates supported a three-year moratorium on the drilling practice and called for establishing a scientific review panel to look at impacts on public health and the environment.

Hogan with umbrella cropped

To honor his work against the “rain tax,” Gov. Larry Hogan gets an umbrella from Duane Carey, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, after his speech to the group. (From the Hogan Facebook page.)

BUSINESS FRIENDLY GOVERNOR: Gov. Larry Hogan told a sold-out crowd at the Hotel at Arundel Preserve that Maryland is more business friendly now than it was two months ago when he took the governor’s seat, Sarah Meehan reports in the Baltimore Business Journal. In a speech to a Maryland Business for Responsive Government luncheon, he said he listened to the concerns of Marylanders as he toured the state last year, and his administration has already begun to enact change to address those issues.

FERTILIZATION FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES: Legislators debated the meaning of “equality” as they considered a bill that will guarantee insurance benefits for same-sex couples seeking artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, Rebecca Lessner reports in MarylandReporter.com.

PROTECTIONS FOR REPORTING FRAUD: The state will have an easier time prosecuting government contractors for fraud under a whistle-blower protection act passed by the Senate on Tuesday, writes MarylandReporter.com . The Maryland False Claims Act of 2015 would widen Maryland’s current false claims protections to state and local government contractors.

ONLINE TRAVEL SITES: The Senate in a 32-15 vote Tuesday passed a bill its sponsors claim closes a tax loophole for online travel sites, but those companies as well as brick-and-motor travel agents are protesting it as a new tax on services, Len Lazarick reports in MarylandReporter.com.

UBER V. TAXIS: With standing room only, the battle over the ridesharing “Uber bill” began in the state Senate Finance committee Tuesday, Katelyn Newman of Capital News Service reports in MarylandReporter.com. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, the bill would keep power in the hands of ridesharing companies to conduct their own drivers’ background checks and vehicle safety inspections rather than require state oversight..

JUDGES RETIREMENT: The Maryland Senate has voted to raise the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 75, the Associated Press reports in the Cumberland Times-News and the Daily Record. [Actually the bill, SB847, had been amended to make the retirement age 73 instead of 75 as introduced, and applies only to future appointees.] The Senate passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday. It now goes to the House of Delegates.

BUDGET VOTES: Stu Basu of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reports on how the Washington County delegates voted on the state budget, including why Del. Neil Parrott voted no.

GUN CONTROL ON APPEAL: The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments Wednesday on key provisions of Maryland’s sweeping gun-control law, the Associated Press reports in the Daily Record. U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake last year upheld Maryland’s ban on 45 assault weapons and a limit on gun magazines to 10 rounds.

HONORING THE FALLEN: The state Legislature is forging ahead with Delegate Bill Folden’s proposal to create a process for dedicating bridges and other structures to fallen service members, Bethany Rodgers reports in the Frederick News-Post. The ”Hero’s Highway Act” passed unanimously in the House of Delegates on Monday. The bill is likely to get a favorable reception in the Maryland Senate, which on Tuesday unanimously passed a similar proposal.

MONTGOMERY SCHOOL FUNDING: Lawmakers are poised to pass a budget that restores about $25.5 million of what Montgomery County Public Schools was expecting, most of it through the Geographic Cost of Education Index, Kate Alexander reports in the Gazette. As proposed, Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget cut the index — a supplemental funding system for counties where education costs are higher — in half. Lawmakers have restored it to full funding. For Montgomery County, that means about $17 million more for education.

TRAFFIC DEATHS DECLINE: A total of 442 people died in traffic-related incidents in Maryland in 2014, the lowest number since 1948 and about half the 872 deaths on Maryland roadways in 1968, the deadliest year on record, Kevin Rector reports in the Sun. The decline continues a steady, decades-long trend in Maryland despite motorists driving billions more miles a year and new distractions such as mobile phones becoming ubiquitous. There were 643 deaths in 2004 and 466 deaths in 2013.

CHANGING BIRTH CERTIFICATES: Transgender people could apply to change the gender on their birth certificates to reflect their identity under identical bills passed by each chamber of the General Assembly Tuesday, the Sun reports. The legislation would require the state to issue new birth certificates reflecting the name and gender of a transgender person if a medical practitioner certifies it is warranted. Those new birth certificates would not be allowed to be marked “amended.”

CHARTER SCHOOLS: The sweeping changes proposed in Gov. Hogan’s reform of the charter school law have hit a roadblock in the Democratic-controlled legislature, writes a Sun editorial. And while they have reservations about some aspects of the governor’s bill, the revisions being contemplated by the General Assembly could end up defeating the bill’s purpose altogether.

NEW BEER PAYS HOMAGE TO BAY: Mixing beer with the Chesapeake Bay may seem counterintuitive to cleaning it up, but Full Tilt Brewing created a new beer to help do just that. The Bay IPA, new to the collection of craft beers from Baltimore’s Full Tilt, will donate about 10 percent of its profits to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, writes Katelyn Newman for Capital News Service.

BLAZING UP IN PUBLIC? Marijuana legalization should be discussed, but not while the economy and safety of the world are in jeopardy, opines Maggie Cassidy, a junior English major, for the Diamondback student newspaper. Cassidy sides with Obama, stating, “my peers should focus on other issues before making it A-OK to blaze up in public.”

SCOURGE OF OPIOIDS: For too long, talking about addiction has been seen as taboo, opines the Cecil Whig in an editorial. Struck by the number of people who are speaking up and out about our problems, such as law enforcement officials who are putting pride aside and asking for more resources to combat the scourge of heroin before it can affect more people in Maryland.

HAPPY MARYLAND DAY: Do you know your Maryland history? Take this ten-question pop quiz compiled by Greg Kline of Red Maryland. For example, What was Maryland’s first capital? (Hint: It wasn’t Annapolis.