April 9, 2015

State Roundup, April 9, 2015

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REWARDING WHISTLE-BLOWERS: The General Assembly gave final approval Wednesday to legislation that would reward whistle-blowers who help the state recover money from those who have cheated it — Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s top priority of the legislative session, Michael Dresser is reporting in the Sun. The bill now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature or veto, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

NEW PIA RULES: Major changes to the Public Information Act reported on earlier have now passed both the House and Senate in essentially the same form. MarylandReporter.com reports that the bill replaces inconsistent enforcement of current law with more standardized procedures for obtaining public records and documents. This includes a new ombudsman in the Office of the Attorney General to give guidance and mediate requests from all levels of government. There is also a new Public Information Compliance Board that will rule on fees that can be charged.

EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE: In an op-ed piece in the Sun, Mark J. Rozell of George Mason University writes that in claiming the existence of a state-level doctrine of executive privilege to shield access to internal communications, Gov. Larry Hogan stepped into a complicated legal minefield usually reserved for presidents and may have raised suspicions of whether his administration has something to hide.

WORKING PEOPLE’S BILLS: WYPR-FM’s Fraser Smith and Christopher Connelly discuss where the paid sick leave bill is in the 2015 General Assembly and why it won’t pass this year as well as bills related to equitable pay and scheduling.

ELDER EXPLOITATION BILL: A bill authorizing a state’s attorney to file a petition to freeze cash assets of a person charged with exploitation of a vulnerable or elderly adult under some conditions cleared a crucial Senate committee on Wednesday, writes Kaustav Basu in the Hagerstown Herald Mail. The bill is sponsored by Del. Brett Wilson, a Washington County.

WHAT ABOUT PENSION SHORTFALL? Annapolis is seized by bickering between Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan over relatively minor tweaks to the state’s budget, says the editorial board of the Post. Mr. Hogan wants small and mainly symbolic tax cuts; the Democrats prefer to direct the cash to state workers and public school teachers. The squabbling involves roughly $200 million, a sum that amounts to little more than 1% of general fund spending. Meanwhile, both the governor and the legislature’s grandees seem to have struck a tacit agreement to remain closed-mouthed about a much bigger problem: a $20 billion shortfall in the pension fund for retired state workers.

MSEA presser

Groups opposed to Gov. Hogan’s proposal to give matching grants to companies making donations to private schools held a press conference Wednesday. From left, they were Ray Leone, president of the Maryland PTA; Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association; and Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland. The ACLU was also represented.

 

HOW MUCH POT? The Maryland Senate will consider a bill that doubles the amount of marijuana that is subject to a civil fine rather than criminal prosecution while at the same time making it illegal to smoke marijuana in public, Bryan Sears is reporting in the Daily Record.

RADON-INDUCED FRACKING: A new study by Johns Hopkins researchers links elevated levels of radioactive radon in Pennsylvania homes to the flurry of natural gas wells drilled across the state using the controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The study comes as lawmakers in Annapolis appear set to impose a 2 1/2-year moratorium on fracking in western Maryland, which sits atop a deposit of potentially gas-rich Marcellus shale, according to the Sun.

TRANSGENDER BIRTH CERTIFICATES: Erin Cox is reporting in the Sun that transgender people will be able to permanently change the name and gender on their birth certificates under a bill given final approval by the Maryland General Assembly. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has not take a public position on the bill, but the bill passed by  veto-proof margins in both chambers. The law will let transgender people obtain a completely new birth certificate that reflects their names and genders with relative ease. And in a departure from current practices, the new document will not be identified as  amended.

ONLINE TRAVEL TAX: Online travel companies lost their battle to prevent paying more Maryland sales tax on the House floor Wednesday, a fight they had already lost in the Senate. Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com writes that having been unable to persuade the lawmakers on the first floor of the State House that this is a new tax on their hotel booking services, they are now taking their case to Gov. Larry Hogan on the second floor.

REWIND ON FILM TAX CREDIT: As popular shows like “VEEP” and “House of Cards” continue to receive tax-credit aid from Maryland, legislators debate whether the return is really worth the $25 million output. Currently, SB 905 sets up the House and Senate for a debate on the continuance of the film tax credit scheduled to end in July 2016. “House of Cards” has threatened to pull out of the state if this credit is not continued, writes Rebecca Lessner for MarylandReporter.com.

EX-FELON VOTING RIGHTS: A bill that would allow most felons to vote immediately upon release from prison appeared to be on the verge of final passage Wednesday after it was approved by the House on an 83-56 vote. The bill passed the Senate last month. The legislation can’t be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan until the two chambers agree on an amendment added in the House, the Sun’s Michael Dresser is reporting.

HOGAN, FRANCHOT SLAM PROCUREMENT:  Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, on April 1 again railed in frustration against the procurement processes used by state agencies in requesting contract approval from the Board of Public Works. The University System of Maryland, which has received some heat from the board in recent meetings, once again was questioned about its construction budgeting process reports Brian Marron of CNS in the Charles Independent.

POWERED ALCOHOL
TO BAN: In an op-ed for the Sun, Drs. Leana Wen and Richard Bruno are urging Maryland and every other state to ban powdered alcohol as a public health hazard that could especially impact children.

OR NOT TO BAN: It would be irresponsible for Maryland not to allow the sale of Palcohol — powdered alcohol. People who want to ban powdered alcohol are not facing reality, writes its creator Mark Phillips in an op-ed in the Sun. Let’s get one thing clear from the start: Banning powdered alcohol is not about public safety; It’s about the liquor companies protecting their market share and profits.

IF YOU BUILD IT…  A bill to construct artificial turf fields at all PG county high schools has received the support of the Prince George’s County Board of Education and continues to move through the legislature, reports Erin Serpico in the Prince George’s Sentinel. The bill would require the installation of a turf field at all 21 Prince George’s County high schools throughout the next four years, ending fiscal 2020 and completing no more than five fields each year.

LIMITING CITY TAX SALES: A bill that would make it harder for Baltimore City to put owner-occupied homes up for tax sales because of unpaid taxes or water and sewer liens received final approval Wednesday from the General Assembly, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

ON KOPP IN HER 40th YEAR: In a paean to state Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Laslo Boyd of Center Maryland writes that almost without notice, and certainly with much less fanfare than U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s retirement announcement, Nancy Kopp is now in her 40th year serving the State of Maryland.  Kopp was first elected as a delegate from Montgomery County in 1974. She held that position until 2002, when she was selected by the General Assembly to be the state Treasurer. He says you would be hard pressed to find anyone in Annapolis who is smarter, more thoughtful, and more dedicated than Kopp.

IVEY RAISES $117,000: Glenn Ivey, a Democrat running in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, will report having raised nearly $117,000 in the first quarter of this year, writes John Fritze in the Sun. The former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney is the first to disclose his fundraising figures in the 4th District, which is in play because incumbent Rep. Donna Edwards is running for Senate.

UNPLEASANT UNDER PRESIDENT O’MALLEY: Maryland has been called “the Land of Pleasant Living,” but after eight years of the policies of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a lot of Marylanders found it not so pleasant. In a Gallup poll taken in 2014, shortly before the conclusion of Mr. O’Malley’s second term, 47% of voters stated that they would move out of Maryland if they could — the third-highest state in the nation from which people wanted to flee, writes former Del. Ellen Sauerbrey in an op-ed in the Washington Times. Now, she writes, many Marylanders are wondering what he would do to the nation should he become president.

MIZEUR WILL NOT RUN: Former Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur will not run for Senate in 2016, she announced Wednesday, writes Rachel Weiner in the Post. Mizeur, who made a stronger-than-expected showing in last year’s gubernatorial primary, wrote on her Facebook page that she was “not ready to embark so soon on another grueling statewide campaign for public office.”

BAKER BACKS VAN HOLLEN: Rushern L. Baker III, the African American county executive of majority-black Prince George’s, was pelted with questions Wednesday about why he is supporting the Senate bid of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen over that of U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards, who is vying to become Maryland’s first black U.S. senator. A news conference organized so Baker could endorse Van Hollen, a white Democrat from neighboring Montgomery County, turned into a conversation about whether politics — and politician’s endorsements — are becoming post-racial. Arelis R. Hernandez reports for the Post.

10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TRIM: Prince George’s County’s enduring prohibition on raising property taxes, or TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders), has survived for more than three decades — despite many efforts by politicians to nullify it, writes Arelis R. Hernandez in the Post. A 2012 state law seems to have given County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and the County Council power to raise taxes above the limit for the sake of education  — something he plans to exercise with his FY 2016 budget. Is TRIM dead?

***MarylandReporter.com’s Len Lazarick will be on Larry Young’s radio talk show (WOLB, 1010 AM and live streamed) at 7:15 a.m. Friday morning, and on MPT’s State Circle with Charles Robinson and Jeff Salkin at 7:30 p.m. Friday.***