SCALING BACK HOGAN PROPOSALS: A Senate committee voted on four of Gov. Larry Hogan’s tax relief proposals Friday, significantly scaling back three of them and outright killing a fourth. Average taxpayers will see little to no immediate effect of any of the measures as passed by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Len Lazarick writes in MarylandReporter.com.
- The amended proposal would lower the cap on how much the tax can rise in any year due to inflation from 8% to 3%. With current and projected inflation running well below 3%, the change is unlikely to save drivers money in the near term. Nevertheless, the committee’s three Republicans joined the Democratic majority in passing the bill unanimously. Michael Dresser of the Sun writes.
- The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee killed a bill that would have exempted police, firefighters and other first responders from paying income taxes on a chunk of their pensions. It significantly watered down bills that would have halted automatic increases in the state gas tax, eliminated personal property taxes for some small businesses and exempted all military retirement income from being taxed, Jenna Johnson and Robert McCartney report in the Post. Hogan aides said the governor could withhold some funding for schools or employee raises unless the legislature approves tax relief.
BUDGET CONFERENCE: The Maryland Senate and House of Delegates are expected to conference this week on the one thing they are required to do by the Maryland Constitution — pass a balanced budget. Budget conferences are sometimes dramatic, sometimes not. It depends on the issues at stake, the personalities of the chief negotiators and sometimes seemingly unrelated matters that are in fact crucial. Reports Michael Dresser for the Sun.
NURSE PRACTITIONERS: Nurse practitioners would get full practice authority if legislation passes to repeal the requirement that they have to have an agreement with a doctor in order to practice. Patti Borda Mullins reports in the Frederick News Post that a coalition of groups are supporting legislation to repeal the attestation requirement, which is proof of an official collaboration agreement with a medical doctor to treat patients.
PRETRIAL REFORM BILL: Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports that the pretrial-reform legislation gaining the most traction in the General Assembly this session could render moot the right to counsel at initial bail hearings by eliminating the discretion of district court commissioners in deciding who is released or remanded to custody before trial.
RAIN TAX VS. STORMWATER FEE: As the General Assembly debates repealing a hotly contested fee meant to pay for efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, it turns out the name you give that fee can make it less controversial. Proponents call it the stormwater fee. Critics, including Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, call it the rain tax. Timothy Wheeler of the Sun reports.
SCHOOL BUILDING FUNDS: Baltimore County and other high-growth suburban jurisdictions would receive extra state money to alleviate school overcrowding under an initiative announced Friday in Annapolis. Flanked by delegates and senators from the five counties that would benefit, House Speaker Michael Busch said budget leaders have come up with $20 million to help build, expand or renovate schools. Counties would have to match the new funding. Erica Green and Michael Dresser are reporting in the Sun.
- Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports that “This is our best stab to come up with the right legislation and the right formula” to help school districts experiencing increasing enrollment, said state Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery County).
FRACKING FAIRYTALES: Environmentalists and do-gooder legislators are panicked that fracking will mean earthquakes, tainted drinking water, dirty air, despoliation of pristine farmland and other biblical plagues. They want to bar this drilling procedure forever in Maryland, opines columnist Barry Rascovar for MarylandReporter.com. Never mind that wide-spread fracking has been going on since 1950. In those 65 years, more than 1 million wells have been fracked, in which a combination of water, sand and chemicals is pumped under high pressure deep into shale formations.
ELECTION BILL ROADBLOCKS: With a little more than two weeks left in the 2015 session of the General Assembly, a couple of election-related bills—intended to give voters the opportunity to participate in special elections when mid-term vacancies unexpectedly occur in state legislative and school board seats—have hit roadblocks, reports Louis Peck for Bethesda Magazine.
BOOK ‘EM, TAX ‘EM: Tim Wheeler is reporting in the Sun that, legislation aimed at changing how online travel companies pay taxes on Maryland hotel bookings is roiling the business community, pitting big chains like Bethesda-based Marriott International against Internet giants such as Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline. It’s also upsetting small travel agencies, who fear they’re going to be hurt in the tug of war.
REPLACE COURT COMMISSIONERS: Former Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, in an op-ed for the Sun, urges the state to replace court commissioners with judges for a myriad of reasons, including that the commissioners are not judges or even lawyers and have the power to send defendants into the abyss of a legal system.
OVERBILLING THE FEDS: John Fritze and Meredith Cohn of the Sun write that the long-awaited audit of Maryland’s health insurance exchange has found that the state improperly billed the federal government $28.4 million as former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration struggled to launch what would become one of the most troubled websites in the nation.
- The inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended Friday that Maryland repay that money and properly apply for reimbursement, which could be 50% to 90% of the original amount. The exchange’s executive director, Carolyn Quattrocki, said doing so would simply be an accounting exercise, although one that could result in the state owing the government about $5 million, Jenna Johnson reports in the Post.
WHAT’S UP IN ANNAPOLIS: There are just more than two weeks until the end of the legislative session in Annapolis. WYPR-FM’s news director Joel McCord talked to WYPR’s Christopher Connelly about some of the big items in the State House this week.
DELEGATE REVEALS ABUSE: Del. C.T. Wilson stepped to the podium of a state Senate committee during a routine hearing, about to confess a secret. He took a deep breath. “I don’t really, really want to be here,” he said. He had weighed what might come of revealing his darkest truth to fellow lawmakers. Erin Cox of the Sun reports.
- Del. Wilson actually published a book last year about his troubled upbringing, and Margaret Sessa-Hawkins wrote about it for MarylandReporter.com.
GROWTH STUDY: Maryland boasts a “strong economic foundation” but it needs to address a “triple bottom line” — economic, social and environmental challenges — to enjoy long-term economic prosperity, according to a report released Thursday by the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth reports Lauren Sagal of CNS in the Salisbury Daily Times
PALCHOHOL BAN: Sarah Gantz of the Baltimore Business Journal writes that Comptroller Peter Franchot is confident his ban on powdered alcohol is “airtight” and that the new fad alcohol, which has public health experts up in arms, will never hit store shelves in Maryland.
HE’S NOT EHRLICH: Bryan Sears of the Daily Record takes a long view look at the short history of new Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, how he’s used his personality to benefit his agenda and how he’s moderated his tone from his first State of the State.
A CUT ABOVE: Some delegates shave their heads because they don’t have much hair left. Dels. Sid Saab and Eric Luedtke shaved away their thick locks this session to raise over $4,000 in support of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which is dedicated to childhood cancer research, writes Rebecca Lessner for MarylandReporter.com.
O’MALLEY SAYS DON’T CROWN HILLARY: Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who is considering a presidential campaign, said Sunday that voters shouldn’t coronate Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee — arguing in a national television appearance that the nation needs new leadership. In some of his strongest criticism of the presumed front runner for the nomination, O’Malley said that Clinton was the best candidate “for those times” when he endorsed her campaign in 2008 against then-Sen. Barack Obama. John Fritze writes for the Sun.
- Even when former Gov. Martin O’Malley wows the crowds in Iowa and other early-voting states, they say the likely presidential hopeful would make a good vice president. That’s a powerful blow to a candidate who is trying to make his way to the top of the ticket and beat back naysaying political analysts who give him no chance of winning, writes S.A. Miller in the Washington Times. “Let’s be honest here, the presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust that [has] to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people,” he said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
HOGAN CALLS FOR LOCAL RECIPES: Gov. Larry Hogan is inviting Maryland chefs using local ingredients to submit original recipes for the Governor’s Buy Local Cookout, according to a news release. Kaustuv Basu writes in the Hagerstown Herald Mail that recipes have to be submitted by May 8 and include at least one product from a Maryland farmer, waterman or producer.
CONFEDERATE PLATES IN MARYLAND: Arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court last week over whether Texas can refuse to issue license plates bearing the Confederate battle flag to the group Sons of Confederate Veterans should sound familiar. In the late 1990s, the same group prevailed in a similar lawsuit against Maryland, Kevin Rector of the Sun reports. Since then, 409 vehicles and 61 motorcycles have been issued the group’s Confederate plates in Maryland, and 151 vehicles and 27 motorcycles still bear them today, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration said.
FOLLOW THE MONEY – ONLINE: Baltimore City’s finance department has created a new page on its website for residents to track the progress of the 13 agency-level audits the city must undergo by next year, Luke Broadwater reports in the Sun. Finance director Henry Raymond said he expects the first four agency audits to be completed by June 30.