State Roundup, December 9, 2015

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REDISTRICTING CHALLENGE: The U.S. Supreme Court has revived a challenge by some Maryland residents to their state’s 2011 redrawing of its congressional districts, ruling unanimously Tuesday that the case was thrown out prematurely, according to an AP story by Brian Witte  at WTOP-AM. The court said federal law requires that the Maryland case be heard by a panel of three judges, not the lone judge who dismissed the challenge.

POOR PARCC SCORES: Following the release Tuesday of new, statewide exam scores showing that fewer than half of elementary and middle school-aged students passed, Maryland Board of Education members appeared to be split over the practicality of continuing to use the exam in coming years, Marissa Horn of CNS reports in MarylandReporter.com.

CLEAN ENERGY GOALS: Supporters of raising Maryland’s clean energy use to 25% by 2020 said Tuesday that they will introduce legislation aimed at creating more clean energy jobs,  writes the AP’s Brian Witte at WTOP-AM.

STATE KILLS UPGRADE PROJECT, EYES LAWSUIT: Maryland has terminated a stalled $171 million project to upgrade its Medicaid computer system after several disputes with the contractor, Daniel Leaderman of the Daily Record reports. Now, state Attorney General Brian E. Frosh is looking for a special counsel to assess potential claims and, if necessary, spearhead litigation against the Virginia-based company.

LOWER SENTENCING GUIDES: The Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy voted Tuesday night for sentencing guidelines on some non-violent drug cases that are even lower on the low end than changes the panel had already given tentative approval, reports the AP’s Brian Witte in the Daily Record. Richard Finci, a commission member, says he pushed to go further in his alternative guideline proposal to make them more fitting with trends in sentencing throughout the state. The changes generally are a matter of several months less than the current guidelines in various categories.

END OF LIFE ISSUES: As a nurse for 50 years state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore) has watched many terminally ill patients suffer excruciating pain at the end stage of their lives. “I’ve witnessed firsthand the pain and suffering,” Nathan-Pulliam told a legislative panel that has been working on provisions for a bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives. Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports that she and other members of the panel offered a glimpse of the emotional and thought-provoking debate expected next year in the Maryland General Assembly as it considers assisted-suicide legislation.

SEAT BELTS ON SCHOOL BUSES: A push to require seat belts on school buses is gaining momentum nationally and in the Maryland legislature — but the pushback from school systems likely will be over how to fund such a mandate, reports Larry Perl in the Towson Times. State Sen. Jim Brochin said he plans to introduce a bill to make seat belts mandatory on school buses statewide to safeguard children, because, “Without seat belts, these kids become projectiles — literally crash test dummies.”

STATE SHORTCHANGES MO CO: Comptroller Peter Franchot is investigating evidence that the state shortchanged Montgomery County of millions of dollars in local income tax revenue when it mistakenly sent the money to county municipalities instead, Bill Turque reports in the Post. Andrew Friedson, a spokesman for Franchot (D), declined Tuesday to specify an amount or how the county might receive payments that are due. County officials estimate a loss of $12 million to $15 million as a result of the misdirected money.

MD, VA RAINY-DAY FUNDS LAUDED: Fiscal-policy analysts commended Maryland and Virginia on Tuesday for clearly defining the purposes of their rainy day funds, saying their guidelines help avoid debates about how much reserve cash the states should save and when to spend it, reports Josh Hicks in the Post. Experts from Pew Charitable Trusts examined the rainy day funds for all 50 states and found that Maryland and Virginia are among 19 that provide “explicit and narrow” objectives that provide “the clearest guidance to policymakers for determining an evidence-based savings target,” according to a new report from the group.

MD-DC-VA TRADE TRIP? Robert McCartney of the Post reports that the top leaders of the District, Virginia and Maryland said Tuesday they’d like to go abroad together on a joint trade mission to drum up business for the Washington region as a whole rather than just for their individual jurisdictions.

HOGANS HOST STATE WORKERS: Government House is ready for the holidays. Fragrant boughs of fir gift wrap the wrought iron fencing surrounding the brick, 54-room Governor’s residence. Gov. Larry Hogan and his wife, first lady Yumi Hogan, are hosting a Holiday Open House exclusively for state employees from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Wendi Winters reports in the Annapolis Capital.

SANDERS TOURS W. BALTIMORE: Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s drawn attention for sticking to a heavily focused economic message in the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino shootings, took a pass Tuesday on talking about terrorism. John Wagner of the Post writes.  The Democratic presidential hopeful brought his message of economic injustice to the impoverished West Baltimore neighborhood that was home to Freddie Gray, the African American man whose death in police custody sparked rioting in this city in the spring.

MO CO BOOZE PROBLEM: Center Maryland columnist Josh Kurtz writes that only in Montgomery County would the sale and distribution of alcohol become the hottest political fight of the season. But only in Montgomery County does the local government possess a monopoly stranglehold on the wholesale market for booze – and on retail sales of hard liquor.

TOWN TO KEEP CONTROVERSIAL WWI PLAQUE: Emmitsburg town commissioners announced Tuesday their decision to keep the controversial plaque at the base of the “doughboy” statue, reports Sylvia Carignan for the Frederick News Post. The plaque on Emmitsburg’s “doughboy” statue recognizes local veterans of World War I. “Doughboy” was a colloquial name for an infantryman during World War I. The statue’s plaque includes over 100 veterans’ names, and has three names under the heading “Colored Soldiers.” (Photo below)

Emmitsburg doughboy