April 24, 2015

State Roundup, April 24, 2015

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HOGAN TO SIGN BODY CAM BILL: Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that he plans to sign a bill to establish policies for jurisdictions where police officers wear body cameras and another measure to study the number of standardized tests that students are required to take. But, reports Ovetta Wiggins in the Post, he was noncommittal on whether he would move forward with the long-planned Purple Line transit project or sign a bill giving voting rights to ex-felons on parole.

WHAT NOW ON ED SPENDING? Although the legislative session has wrapped up, budget battles linger across the state and in Frederick County, writes Jeremy Bauer-Wolf for the Frederick News-Post. A contingent of Frederick lawmakers and education advocates gathered for a news conference Thursday in the bright foyer of Gov. Thomas Johnson High School to plead for Hogan, a Republican, to release $68 million in funding the legislature devoted to education during session.

FIRST 100 DAYS: Gov. Larry Hogan reflected on his first legislative session Thursday, meeting with a roomful of media representatives at the Governor Calvert House in the state capital. The event allowed time for reporters to have an “on-the-record” discussion with Hogan and several of his Cabinet members about the events that have transpired since the governor took office in late January, C.J.Lovelace reports in Hagerstown Herald Mail. There’s a short video to the left of the article.

HOGAN OKs $2M ON HEROIN PROBLEM: Gov. Larry Hogan committed Thursday to spending $2 million to fight heroin addiction, the first time he has agreed to spend any of a $200 million pot of cash that has stirred discord in Annapolis. Erin Cox reports in the Sun that the governor campaigned on addressing Maryland’s growing crisis of heroin deaths. In a wide-ranging interview with a regional press association Thursday, he said he would spend the sum set aside by lawmakers for heroin treatment.

VOTING RIGHTS FOR EX-CONS: Ben Jealous and Janet Vestal Kelly come from opposite sides of the political spectrum. But they team up to write an op-ed in the Sun urging Gov. Hogan to sign a voting bill, saying that “With a bill to restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals on his desk awaiting a signature, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has a chance to do the right thing … Last week the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would grant most formerly incarcerated individuals the right to vote after their release from prison. Under current law, everyone who has been to prison must wait until they have completed the final terms of their sentences, including probation and parole, to vote. The new law would make it easier for roughly 40,000 people to exercise their democratic rights.”

BILL TO HONOR CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER AWAITS SIGNING: Calvert County is one step closer to properly commemorating its own little-known civil rights pioneer, an African-American educator who, in the 1930s, petitioned the Supreme Court for equal pay for teachers, regardless of race — and won. A bill to form a task force to study ways to celebrate Harriet Elizabeth Brown passed unanimously in the House of Delegates last month and, more recently, in the Senate, writes Andrea Frazier in the Calvert Recorder.  “This bill is a wonderful idea honoring a truly great woman,” said Senate President Mike Miller.

ON-LINE HOTEL TAX: Gov. Larry Hogan is now wrestling with the issue many legislators debated this session: are online travel agents paying the full sales-tax owed to Maryland?  Rebecca Lessner of MarylandReporter.com quotes Hogan as saying, “The online companies are charging a fee, a tax if you will, and then not remitting that to the state. Consumers are already paying the money and they (online travel companies) are skimming it off the top.” SB 190, passed by both House and Senate this session, would apparently collect sales tax that online companies had been pocketing. Hogan has yet to commit to signing the bill.

TOURISM GROWS: The major tourism events that graced Maryland in the second half of 2014 paid off in terms of the tax revenue they generated for the state during the first part of the fiscal year, Sarah Meehan reports in the Baltimore Business Journal. Hotel room sales, tourism-related tax revenue and employment in the hospitality field all grew in Maryland during the first eight months of fiscal 2015, according to a new report from the Maryland Office of Tourism Development.

MARIJUANA LAW REFORM: Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM discusses laws and policies pertaining to the use of marijuana in Maryland and D.C.  Maryland decriminalized marijuana use in the 2014 legislative session. He speaks with Robert Capecchi, deputy director of State Policies Marijuana Policy Project,  and Jenna Johnson, reporter for the Post.

POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY, DRUG CRIMES ADDRESSED: The Maryland General Assembly responded in this year’s legislative session to public concern about police misconduct, drug crime, domestic violence and more, CNS’s Nate Rabner reports in MarylandReporter.com. House Judiciary Committee vice chair Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, said more than 400 witnesses came to Annapolis to testify on more than a dozen law enforcement bills.

TURNOVER AT MTA, SHA: Gov. Larry Hogan will name Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Paul W. Comfort the new administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration on Friday, reports Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. Staff within the Maryland Department of Transportation was informed of the impending hire in an email Thursday from Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn that was obtained by the Daily Record.

  • Melinda B. Peters, the first woman to head the State Highway Administration, has resigned her post, writes Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. Peters, a long-time employee at the agency, was appointed administrator in November 2011 at the age of 38. She replaced Neil J. Pederson. Erin Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan confirmed the resignation and said Peters “resigned voluntarily.”

ADS SUPPORTING MERGER END, WHY? The Pepco/Exelon merger is still on hold, but a move to pull advertising supporting the merger is prompting speculation from some the merger is a done deal, reports Rebecca Guterman in the Montgomery Sentinel. But Exelon doesn’t see it that way – though Exelon paid for the ads. “The decision to discontinue ads in Maryland and D.C. is completely unrelated to any anticipated action the Maryland PSC may or may not take in coming weeks with regard to the merger. The ads have run for several weeks, and we believe they have been effective in educating people about the benefits of the merger,” Exelon spokesman Paul Adams said.

HOGAN SENDS TROOPERS: Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday he will send Maryland State Police troopers to Baltimore City as protests intensify over Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody, reports Erin Cox in the Sun. “There’s raw emotions. People legitimately have concerns, and the community is out in force protesting,” Hogan said. “I want to thank the folks involved in that. So far it has been peaceful. We want to try to keep things under control. The last thing we need is more violence in Baltimore City.”

RAWLINGS-BLAKE CANCELS FUNDRAISER: With tensions running high in Baltimore about Freddie Gray’s death, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s re-election campaign sent out an email Thursday inviting donors to a high-priced fundraiser next week. But hours later, the Rawlings-Blake campaign abruptly canceled the fundraiser, after The Sun asked about the timing of the email, write Luke Broadwater and Doug Donovan in the Sun.

KKT WANTS TO RUN FOR SENATE: Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend wants to run for the Senate seat being vacated by longtime lawmaker Barbara Mikulski — but says that she has not yet decided to launch a campaign, writes Rachel Weiner in the Post.

VAN HOLLEN HIRES CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Rep. Chris Van Hollen has hired a veteran operative with experience in Maryland to manage his bid for Senate, his campaign said Thursday. John Fritze of the Sun reports that Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, has hired Sheila O’Connell to run his campaign. O’Connell worked as the Maryland state director for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and as strategic adviser to the 2012 marriage equality effort.

O’MALLEY CALLS FOR DRONE DISCUSSION: Former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is considering a run for president, called Thursday for a national discussion over the use of drones following the death of two al Qaeda hostages in a U.S. strike earlier this year, report Ian Duncan and John Fritze in the Sun.

GARY HART TO BACK O’MALLEY: John Wagner of the Post is reporting that Gary Hart, the presidential hopeful for whom Martin O’Malley toiled more than 30 years ago, plans to support the former Maryland governor if he moves forward with a 2016 White House bid, Hart said Wednesday.