July 29, 2015

State Roundup, July 29, 2015

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HIGHWAY PLANS FREE ONLINE: Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that the state has stopped charging contractors to obtain engineering plans for highway-construction projects and that it instead will make the documents available free online. Hogan said the move helps fulfill his pledge to make the Maryland government more business-friendly, one of his rallying cries during the 2014 election, Josh Hicks of the Post reports.

SMALL BIZ TALKS STATE INSURANCE REGS: Tamela Baker of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reports that changes to health insurance resulting from the federal Affordable Care Act and new state regulations are proving a challenge for small businesses, which are having trouble paying to insure their employees, local brokers told a state official Tuesday. About 40 people attended a “town hall meeting” at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, many of whom were brokers who complained to Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer about difficulties the new regulations have caused.

SMOG REDUCTION PLAN DRAWS CRITICISM: State regulators unveiled a plan Tuesday for reducing smog-forming pollution from coal-burning power plants, but it drew criticism from both the industry and environmentalists, Timothy Wheeler of the Sun reports. Tad Aburn Jr., air-quality chief for the Maryland Department of the Environment, told power plant representatives and environmentalists at the agency’s headquarters that the Hogan administration is trying to strike a “delicate balance” between giving the plants more leeway in curbing their emissions while still reducing harmful ozone pollution, or smog.

AG SECTY SAYS STATE FAIR TOO COMMERCIAL: Jane Bellmyer of the Cecil Whig writes that Maryland’s new secretary of the Department of Agriculture was liking what he saw Tuesday at the Cecil County Fair during his first visit to the county. “The agriculture accent at this fair is what fairs are all about,” said Joe Bartenfelder, observing other fairs should take note. “The Maryland State Fair has gotten too commercial. We need to educate our urban neighbors what agriculture is all about, our legacy and our heritage.”

ONLINE TESTING SAVES MONEY: A new Maryland commission to study over-testing of children in public schools has yet to begin work, but new standardized tests based on the Common Core curriculum standards are already saving the state money, and four out of five Maryland students who took the tests did them online, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com. The Maryland State Department of Education “was able to save over $2.5 million compared to state assessments in the past,” state Superintendent Lillian Lowery told the state school board Tuesday.

CUT PRICE OF NAXOLONE: The editorial board for the Frederick New Post is urging Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, the makers of naloxone, to reduce the price of the life-saving drug, writing that Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has written a letter to Amphastar Pharmaceuticals asking that company to reduce the price of the drug for government agencies in the state. Naloxone has become an important tool in treating heroin overdoses and is used by many police departments and first responder units. The manufacturer has marked up nearly 400% so far this year.

GUN TRAINING NEEDED: A new study by faculty and students at Mount St. Mary’s University came out strongly in favor of stricter requirements for owners of handguns and firearms. Seeking to test the argument that allowing people to carry firearms can help them defend themselves or deter crime, the study concluded that training should be mandatory for anyone wishing to own a firearm, Jeremy Arias reports in the Frederick News Post.

FRANCHOT CALLS FOR TAX STABILITY: The state’s top tax collector called on Gov. Larry Hogan and the General Assembly to refrain from major changes to state taxes or regulations for at least the next three years, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Comptroller Peter Franchot Tuesday said businesses in Maryland needs stability rather than “tinkering” every year during the legislative session. “I’m not a big fan of cutting taxes right now,” said Franchot. “Let’s stay where we are and let’s manage our way forward.”

Hogan baldHOGAN KOJAK-ED: “It looks like there is another white dome in the Annapolis State House!” said Gov. Larry Hogan in a typically upbeat Facebook post Tuesday morning along with a hairless photo, according to MarylandReporter.com.

RUTHERFORD IN SPOTLIGHT: As Maryland’s little-known lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford is not accustomed to dramatic entrances. Yet there he was at an Eastern Shore clambake on a July afternoon, tilting his head back in laughter as lobbyist Bruce Bereano bellowed, “This is a great lieutenant governor!” and “This is a true leader!” A month after Gov. Larry Hogan disclosed that he had been diagnosed with advanced non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Rutherford, 58, has found himself thrust into an unfamiliar and somewhat awkward role, Paul Schwartzman reports in the Post.

Tawes Boyd Rutherford Mautz Schwartzman

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford greets Del. Johnny Mautz at the July 15 Tawes crab feast, as Post reporter Paul Schwartzman looks on. In a front page feature Wednesday, Schwartzman reports Rutherford asked him at one point: “Why do you have to get so close? You know, I’m not used to this.”

METRORAIL LEADERSHIP: Frustrated by safety problems that have persisted for years, U.S. senators from Maryland and Virginia are pushing to shake up the leadership of the Metrorail system and set new standards for emergency procedures, Rachel Weiner reports for the Post.

FEDERAL HIGHWAY FUNDING: WYPR-FM’s Joel McCord and Karen Hosler discuss Maryland Congressman John Delaney’s efforts to put federal highway funds on a more secure footing. Delaney, who represents Maryland’s 6th District, has been working on this for more than two years.

IVEY GETS HISPANIC LEADERS’ BACKING: A group of prominent Hispanic elected leaders, including state Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, announced Tuesday they are backing former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey’s run Congress, representing one of the first efforts by any candidate in Maryland to publicly court the constituency, writes the Sun’s John Fritze.

EDWARDS AND OUTSIDE CASH: Rachel Weiner of the Post reports that U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards has decried the rise of fundraising by outside groups on behalf of candidates from both sides of the aisle, saying that the ability to raise unlimited amounts is “equal-opportunity corrosion.” But the Maryland Democrat has rejected a pledge to keep such campaign cash out of her primary race for a U.S. Senate seat. For Edwards, what might seem a tough decision ideologically is also a necessity for political survival.

EDWARDS BLASTS VAN HOLLEN ON IRAN: Rep. Donna Edwards on Tuesday reissued her criticism of Rep. Chris Van Hollen over the pending nuclear agreement with Iran, arguing in a statement released by her campaign that he is “hiding on the sidelines” on the issue, John Fritze is reporting for the Sun. The two are running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s seat. “Congressman Van Hollen continues to hold his finger to the wind and flirt with the same position as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,” Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement.

MO CO BUDGET CUT: The Montgomery County Council voted Tuesday to cut $54.2 million from the 2016 budget it approved just over two months ago and warned that more reductions may be on the horizon because of declining tax revenue, reports Bill Turque in the Post.

NO STAFF AT NEW PG COP SHOP: Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is delaying the opening of a Fort Washington-area police station that has been in the works for more than a decade, report Arelis Hernandez and Lynh Bui for the Post. Construction of the District VII station is nearly complete, and a commander for the south county station has been selected. But officials said that because of constraints in the budget passed by the County Council this spring, no officers will be available to staff the station this fiscal year.