State Roundup, September 22, 2015

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HOGAN CAUTIOUS DESPITE NEW REVENUE PROJECTIONS: Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot sounded cautious notes Monday despite the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates increasing projections by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next two years. The board increased projected state collections by $212.2 million between the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. That included $80.6 million more than originally projected for the current 2016 fiscal year, which started in July, writes Rick Seltzer for the Baltimore Business Journal.

DESCHENAUX TO HEAD DLS: The Department of Legislative Services, the legislature’s nonpartisan staff, will get new leadership and a reorganization next year as Executive Director Karl Aro retires, and Warren Deschenaux, director of policy analysis, takes his place, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.

POSSIBLE FEDERAL SHUT DOWN: Nearly four dozen Democratic state lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia on Monday sent Republican congressional leaders a letter urging them to avert a federal shutdown that “would be catastrophic to our regional economy.” Erin Cox of the Sun reports that lawmakers reminded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner that the 2013 shutdown furloughed thousands of workers in the area and cut income and sales tax revenue to the states.

FIGHTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING: In this 12-minute audio discussion for WYPR-FM, Sheilah Kast talks with Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, who finalized the order to create a fund to provide services to human trafficking victims, and Denene Yates, of Safe House of Hope, a non-profit based in Howard County that provides education, training and support to victims of human trafficking. Howard County Police have tougher state laws to work with, in particular,  a 2013 law that lets the state seize assets of someone convicted of trafficking.

ARUNDEL DEBATES MEDICAL POT: Gail Rand began Anne Arundel’s County Council meeting Monday night in Annapolis with testimony about her young son Logan. Logan has had about 14,000 seizures over his short lifetime. The condition leaves him unable to walk. Rand was testifying in favor of making medical marijuana available to local residents — something County Executive Steve Schuh wants to change. Now, three council members have sponsored an alternative bill that would limit, not prohibit, medical marijuana practices in Anne Arundel.

REDISTRICTING FORUMS: About 40 people attended a meeting of the state’s redistricting reform commission in Hagerstown on Monday, with about a dozen sharing their concerns about the way the state’s congressional and state legislative voting districts are drawn.The commission is holding a total of five regional meetings across the state. Jen Fifield reports the story for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

  • Speakers told the commission that they felt disenfranchised and distressed. They said their voices had been silenced, and their views weren’t represented, Tamela Baker reports for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. “They’re frustrated and apathetic,” former district court judge and commission co-chairman Alexander Williams Jr. concluded after the hearing. “People want something done.” There’s a minute-long compilation video on the left of the article.

MAGLEV HQ OPENS: Business and political heavyweights turned out in droves Monday evening as a group trying to connect Baltimore and Washington, D.C. with a high-speed magnetic levitating train opened its new headquarters in Baltimore, Rick Seltzer reports in the Baltimore Business Journal. The Northeast Maglev opened in 20,000 square feet of  renovated space at 6 S. Gay St. Business leaders and politicians from both parties, including  U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Senate President  Mike Miller, members of  Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and representatives from Japan’s embassy in the U.S., were on hand.

CITY “RAIN TAX:” Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes introduced legislation Monday aimed at cutting the so called “rain tax” charged city residents, and he slammed development incentives in the news release announcing the bill, writes Adam Bednar for the Daily Record.

MARYLAND REFUGEE PROGRAMS: The Syrian refugee crisis has Maryland programs preparing for future newcomers, although few state residents know that such help exists, according to Baltimore City Community College Refugee Youth Project coordinator Kursten Pickup. The project, aimed at providing educational and transitional assistance to youth refugees, says 650 to 750 refugees come to Baltimore each year. About 35% of them are youths, CNS’s Bethany Hooper writes in the Daily Record.

POLITICAL NOTES: Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland starts a long political notes column with speculation and rumblings about the Baltimore City mayor’s race.

CUMMINGS CHALLENGES HUGE DRUG PRICE HIKE: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have drawn Turing Pharmaceuticals into an ongoing congressional investigation into recent drug price increases, sending a letter on Monday asking for information about total gross revenues from sales of Daraprim; prices paid for all sales; the prices in foreign markets; and the identity of company official(s) responsible for setting the price. The company raised the price for the medication from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight.

O’MALLEY ON POPE’S VISIT: In an op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter, presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley of Maryland writes that “this week, our country has the historic honor of welcoming Pope Francis to the United States for the first time. While millions of Americans are expected to welcome Pope Francis with fanfare, his visit also calls for a time of deep reflection on our nation’s obligations and priorities. As an American and a Catholic, I believe, fundamentally, in our individual and shared responsibility to create a better and more just society and world.”

HARRIS BOWS TO OTHERS: When Pope Francis speaks before a joint session of Congress on Thursday, Rep. Andy Harris will let his colleagues grab the premium seats. That’s because the Maryland Republican, a devout Catholic, met with the pope three weeks ago at the Vatican during an international conference of Catholic legislators, Nicole Gaudiano reports for the Salisbury Daily Times.

MARYLAND CASINO GETS GROWTH OK: The Anne Arundel County Council approved on Monday evening a $150 million expansion of Maryland Live Casino. The Cordish Cos., owner and operator of the Arundel Mills casino, plans to add an upscale hotel with 300 suites, additional dining options and a conference center that would hold up to 4,000 people, reports Ryan Sharrow for the Baltimore Business Journal.