State Roundup, September 8, 2015

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HOGAN CUTS COULD HIT BALTIMORE COLLEGES: Gov. Larry Hogan is seeking to reduce spending at state agencies by $118 million this year, with cuts that could include layoffs at two University System of Maryland colleges in Baltimore, Doug Donovan reports in the Sun.  “The reality of our financial situation requires us to find ways to work together in order to curb long term spending and protect the interests of taxpayers,” wrote Hogan’s budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, in a letter to General Assembly leaders.

MD GERRYMANDERING BEFORE SUPREME COURT: A little-noticed lawsuit brought by a Maryland man challenging the state’s contorted congressional districts will be heard this fall by the Supreme Court — where it has the potential to open a new line of constitutional attack for opponents of gerrymandering. Stephen M. Shapiro, a former federal worker from Bethesda, argues that the political map drawn by state Democrats after the 2010 census violated the First Amendment rights of Republicans by placing them in districts in which they were in the minority, marginalizing them based solely on their political views, John Fritze reports for the Sun.

HOGAN DISTRICTING PANEL OPPOSED: Gov. Larry Hogan wants an independent, bipartisan process for establishing congressional districts in the state, but elected officials representing Frederick County say he may be going about it the wrong way. Sen. Ron Young and Del. Karen Lewis Young, both Democrats who represent the city of Frederick, say Maryland should not approach the issue alone. When a state acts alone, “All you’re doing is selling your people out,” Sen. Young said. Jen Fifield writes the article for the Frederick News Post.

MORE ON TAX FLIGHT: WJZ’s Pat Warren’s follows up on Thursday’s MarylandReporter.com story about taxpayers leaving the state with some nice video, but the story doesn’t credit MR or consultant Jim Pettit and the congressional campaign of Mark Plaster who massaged the raw IRS data. Here’s the video.

LEAD PAINT LETTERS: An AP story in the Daily Record reports that the Maryland Department of the Environment says it’s sending out 87,000 letters to landlords who haven’t registered their rental units under a law meant to reduce childhood lead poisoning. The agency said Thursday the rule applies to rental units built between 1950 and 1978. The department says more than 50,000 units have been registered under a state law requiring registration by Jan. 1, 2015.

A TALE OF TWO CITY YOUTHS: Michael Fletcher of the Post has a fascinating and long profile of the parallel lives of Freddie Gray and William Porter, one of the Baltimore cops accused in his death.”They were born 11 blocks and less than two months apart in a city notoriously perilous for black males. Freddie Gray Jr. and William G. Porter Jr. did not know each other, but their lives circled and mirrored one another for 25 years. Each was named after his father. Each was raised by a single mother who went to court seeking child support. For about a decade after their births in 1989, they lived in the same struggling West Baltimore community, where both their mothers said they were diagnosed with dangerous levels of lead in their blood. They played sports in the city’s recreation centers and attended public schools, where each found his share of trouble. Over time, their paths diverged.

SCHOOL SUSPENSIONS DROP: The editorial board for the Frederick News Post writes that the deeper causes of why school suspensions disproportionately affect African-American students may never be known, although we can make educated guesses. But one chart accompanying education reporter Jeremy Bauer-Wolf’s detailed story in the News Post‘s Aug. 30 edition was heartening — the number of suspended students in total in Frederick County Public Schools dropped dramatically from 2006 to the midpoint of 2015. In 2006, that number was 2,757; now, it’s 1,139. That’s a roughly 59% decline.

CASINO NUMBERS: Monthly casino revenue in Maryland continues to hover just below $100 million, according to new figures released by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Agency, Bryan Sears writes for the Daily Record. The five casinos combined to generate more than $96.7 million for the month of August. The amount is $3 million less than July and the decline is driven by a $4.8 million decrease in revenue at Maryland Live Casino at the same time Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore posted its best month since opening a year ago.

PART 1: MANDEL THE MAGICIAN: In the first of a two-part series, columnist Barry Rascovar writes in MarylandReporter.com that simply put, Marvin Mandel — who was laid to rest last week at age 95 — ranks as the greatest and most effective Maryland governor of the 20th century. Only Gov. Albert C. Ritchie (1920-35) comes close to matching Mandel as a government reformer. But Mandel was far more ambitious in his efforts to improve society, expand the reach of government and anticipate future trends.

ACA BUSINESS RATES: Maryland officials have set next year’s premium rates for individual and small-group market health insurance plans, but 2016 will also bring rate changes for hundreds of large employers, officials said. Daniel Leaderman reports in the Daily Record that that is because the threshold for small-group coverage will change from having 50 or fewer employees to having 100 or fewer employees due to a provision of the Affordable Care Act.

OVER-TESTING: Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM hosted a discussion on Less Testing, More Learning sponsored by the Maryland State Education Association. It brought together educators to address testing in public schools. Panelists were Matthew Vaughn-Smith, a reading specialist at Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Jessup; Erika Strauss Chavarria, a Spanish teacher at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia; and Cheryl Colbert, IEP Chair at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore.

O’MALLEY FURNITURE CONTROVERSY: Former Gov. Martin O’Malley said Sunday that he was “kind of surprised” by the recent controversy over his purchase of discounted furniture from the governor’s mansion, saying his family “followed the rules as they were laid out to us.” John Wagner of the Post quotes O’Malley as saying: “I know there was no negotiating of the price. We were just told it was some sort of standard depreciation formula they had used for the prior family.”

CARDIN AGAINST IRAN DEAL: Sen. Ben Cardin  said Friday that he will vote against a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, breaking with President Obama and the vast majority of his party over a pact that has been condemned by the Israeli government and key Jewish American leaders., Rachel Weiner writes for the Post.

SARBANES FOR IRAN DEAL: Rep. John Sarbanes said Monday he will support the pending nuclear agreement with Iran, arguing that the plan will be “effective in pulling Iran back from the threshold of becoming a nuclear weapon state.” Sarbanes’ announcement came three days after Sen. Ben Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he will oppose the deal. Sarbanes becomes the fifth Democrat in Maryland to back the agreement, reports John Fritze for the Sun.

Howard County Democratic Labor Day Picnic

The motley crew at a Howard County Democratic Labor Day Picnic included Congressmen John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen, the latter running for U.S. Senate; Attroney General Brian Frosh; State Sen. Guy Guzzone; four members of the House of Delegates; Sheriff Jim Fitzgerald; four members of the County Council; School Board member Janet Siddiqi; lots of members of the Democratic Central Committee and former candidates.

PUGH, STOKES TO RUN FOR MAYOR: Two veteran Baltimore lawmakers — state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh and City Councilman Carl Stokes — say they will challenge Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in next spring’s Democratic primary. The entry of two well-known political leaders with money, proven constituent bases and legislative records marks a significant expansion of the field of Democratic challengers, which has so far included only former Mayor Sheila Dixon and four little-known candidates.

O’MALLEY WANTS U.S. TO ACCEPT SYRIAN REFUGEES: Former Gov. Martin O’Malley is calling for the United States to accept at least 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year. O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for president, made the statements after reports of the deaths of a Syrian woman and her two sons who drowned during a voyage from Turkey to Greece, in attempt to escape the war-ravaged nation.

BUILDING IN PRINCE GEORGE’S: A recent appeals court decision could make it significantly easier for developers to build projects in Prince George’s County by limiting the ability of county lawmakers to intervene, writes Arelis Hernandez for the Post. Maryland’s Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the Prince George’s County Council exceeded its authority to review and revise development decisions made by the county planning board.

MENCKEN HOUSE DETERIORATING: Adam Bednar of the Daily Record writes that the house at 1524 Hollins St. belonged to iconic Baltimore writer H.L. Mencken. It’s been deteriorating for years, opened only on special occasions, a source of frustration to West Baltimore residents and legions of Mencken admirers who believe it deserves a better fate. What is even more infuriating to many of them is that a $3 million gift to convert the home into a museum has been sitting unused in an account now controlled by the city of Baltimore. For nine years.

APT. FIXES, THEN PRICE HIKES: Bill Turque and Pamela Constable of the Post report that the tenants at Hampshire ­Tower Apartments in Takoma Park were pleased when the new owners began making repairs to the 11-story building, once in such bad shape that residents were barred from the balconies because of loose railings and crumbling concrete. Then the bill came due: rent increases of up to 70% to be phased in over several months. That is far beyond what many tenants say they can pay.