July 1, 2015

State Roundup, July 1, 2015

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NEW LAWS TAKE EFFECT: Maryland motorists will pay lower tolls, local governments no longer have to collect stormwater fees dubbed the “rain tax,” and military retirees are getting a larger tax break. Those are among dozens of state actions taking effect July 1 — fiscal New Year’s Day for the state’s $40 billion budget, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun. Most of the actions come from laws adopted by the General Assembly during the session that ended in April.

TAX CHIEF NAMED: Gov. Larry Hogan has tapped Sean Powell to be the new head of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Since 2003 Powell has served as the supervisor of assessments for St. Mary’s County, where he administered real property assessments.

NO TRAMS REGISTERED: Tim Prudente of the Annapolis Capital updates on the Jock Menzies Act, which was led by then-Del. Steve Schuh and required owners to register their trams with the state and to have a safety inspection every two years. It passed the General Assembly last year, but no one has registered, said Maureen O’Connor, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. “It’s certainly disappointing,” said Schuh, now Anne Arundel County executive. “My hope was to avoid another tragedy.”

ACTION AGAINST BIRD FLU: Agriculture officials and poultry farmers in Maryland are taking extra precautions against bird flu after outbreaks have devastated flocks in other states, Alison Knezevich writes in the Sun. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has banned the entry of waterfowl in fairs and shows in the state, stepped up testing requirements for poultry and met with emergency-management officials to prepare in case of an outbreak here. Some farms are taking part in additional training. No cases of the avian flu have been reported in Maryland.

RED LINE LET DOWN: A robust public transit system is increasingly important to developers. With the death of the Red Line, many see a lost opportunity for Baltimore, writes Emily Bregel for the Baltimore Business Journal.  Jay Brodie, the former longtime head of the Baltimore Development Corp., does consulting work for two Washington developers who he says were watching closely to see what would happen with the proposed 14.1-mile Light Rail extension. “If there was a Red Line, they would be here looking for development sites,” he said.

POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY: The editorial board for the Frederick News Post writes that the Maryland Court of Appeals decision handed down last week will do little to inspire public confidence that when police misconduct occurs it will be properly addressed. As reported in a recent Baltimore Sun story, Maryland’s highest court ruled that “the law exempts personnel information from disclosure and does not differentiate between ‘sustained’ and ‘unsustained’ complaints.”

THE WELLNESS EXPERIMENT: The editorial board for the Sun writes that any conversation about Maryland’s new waiver to Medicare’s reimbursement rules can quickly devolve into mind-numbing complexity. But Gary Attman, the CEO of FutureCare, can sum up its effect quite simply. He arrived late for a meeting with a hospital president because he couldn’t find a parking space. The hospital chief made the wry observation that he used to be happy when the parking lot was full, but now prefers to find it empty. It has been a year since Maryland embarked on the first statewide experiment in a new way to finance hospital care that, effectively, pays hospitals to keep people well.

STANDARDIZED TESTING: Maryland public school systems will weigh this summer whether to add more standardized testing for 11th grade students in an effort to conform to a new state law that kicks in during the 2015-2016 academic year, writes Glynis Kazanjian for MarylandReporter.com. They face a choice of whether to add two Common Core-aligned tests to assess college and career readiness or use scores from one of several already established college entrance exams like the SAT.

HOGAN FEELING GREAT: Gov. Larry Hogan  said on social media Tuesday that he is “feeling great” as he continues his initial rounds of chemotherapy treatment at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, writes Ovetta Wiggins for the Post. “Starting day 4 of 24 hour chemo treatment,” Hogan wrote on Facebook. “Still feeling really strong. I think cancer picked the wrong fight!”

SUPREMES WILL REVIEW PUBLIC UNION FEES: Maryland labor leaders expressed concern Tuesday after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the right of government worker unions to collect fees from nonmembers — a move that could undermine the unions’ financial footing, Doug Donovan reports in the Sun.

McMILLAN ON GEORGE, JUMPING THE GUN: A battle for Republican political primacy in the legislative district that includes Annapolis Tuesday as Del. Herb McMillan accused a rival of “jumping the gun . . . and the shark” with his early entry into the 2018 state Senate race. The Sun’s Michael Dresser reports that McMillan, who currently represents District 30 in Annapolis, criticized former House colleague Ron George for “announcing a Senate candidacy in a district [he doesn’t] even live in” 3 1/2 years before the election. George was drawn out of the 30th in the last redistricting but he has said he would move back.

Valerie Ervin highres

Valerie Ervin

WALDSTREICHER OUT, ERVIN IN FOR CONGRESS: Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D), a three-term Montgomery County lawmaker, is telling supporters today that he will not run for Congress in 2016, Josh Kurtz writes for Center Maryland. Waldstreicher was one of several legislators who considered seeking the 8th District congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who is running for Senate. But in an email to supporters being delivered later today, Waldstreicher, a 35-year-old attorney, suggested that he is more enamored with the prospect of trying to solve local problems, rather than some of the more global issues facing Congress.

  • Former Montgomery County Council president Valerie Ervin announced Wednesday she is running for the open seat in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, adding her name to one of the state’s most compelling political contests, John Fritze reports in the Sun. Ervin, a Silver Spring resident who has long been considered a potential candidate for the seat, announced her campaign in a video that highlighted her work raising the county’s minimum wage and saving a Bethesda elementary school that was slated to close in 2006.

MIKULSKI JOBS TOUR OF EASTERN SHORE: Josh Bollinger of the Easton Star Democrat writes that U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski was on the Eastern Shore on Tuesday, June 30, to talk about issues related to jobs and federal funding in the Shore’s communities. Mikulski’s first stop was in Talbot County, where she announced $6.8 million in grants and loans for water and sewer infrastructure improvements in Eastern Shore counties and towns, awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

CARSON, WEBB AT BALTIMORE CONFERENCE: A pair of long-shot presidential hopefuls fielded questions Tuesday on immigration, mental health and drug policy at a meeting of law enforcement officials in Baltimore, the Sun reports. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat, and retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a Republican, told an annual conference of the National Sheriffs’ Association that, if elected, they would seek ways to reduce prison populations and address the high share of nonviolent drug offenders caught up in the criminal justice system.

MO CO PRIVATIZES ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: The Montgomery County Council, seeking a new strategy for attracting and retaining business, voted Tuesday to privatize most of the county’s Department of Economic Development, making it a nonprofit corporation. The plan, proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett, is intended to foster private-sector involvement in efforts to grow the county’s economy, writes Bill Turque in the Post.