State Roundup, January 4, 2016

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PAID SICK LEAVE: Josh Hicks of the Post reports that Democrats will try again in 2016 to make Maryland one of the few states in the nation that require employers to provide paid sick leave for workers. State Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh and Del. Luke Clippinger (both Baltimore Democrats) said last week that they will propose bills to require businesses with 10 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.

CLEAN SLATES: Advocates plan to push in the coming General Assembly session to expand Maryland’s laws allowing people with minor criminal records to clear the slate when they seek jobs, housing and education, reports Michael Dresser of the Sun. Latching on to a national trend of questioning “tough-on-crime” policies, the advocates and lawmakers say conditions are favorable to build on the successes they achieved in the 2015 session in giving people who had trouble with the law a second chance.

SPRINKLERS & DAMPENED CONSTRUCTION: Doug Donovan of the Sun writes that a Maryland lawmaker from the Eastern Shore is looking to rekindle debate in Annapolis over a state law requiring fire-suppression sprinklers in new homes. When the state sprinkler mandate was signed in 2012, counties were allowed to opt out for three years, and rural counties with well and septic systems largely decided not to require homebuilders to install sprinklers in newly constructed single-family homes. But since July 1, those counties have had to abide by the mandate, which has led to a slowdown in proposals to build new homes, said Del. Christopher Adams, a Republican representing Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico counties.

AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION: House Speaker Michael Busch says he would push for legislation this year allowing for automatic voter registration for anyone turning 18. In an audio interview with WBAL radio Busch says that the measure wouldn’t necessarily increase voter participation on Election Day, but would make it easier for people, particularly in minority communities to register.

DON’T OVERTURN VETO: In an op-ed for the Sun, Harford County State’s Attorney Joe Cassilly writes that state lawmakers, concerned that street level drug dealers will be unable to replace the heroin, crack cocaine and other poisons that the police seize when they arrest the dealers, will likely vote on the first day of the session on a bill requiring the police to return up to $300 to the dealers. As absurd as that sentence sounds during the current epidemic of heroin deaths and overdoses, that is exactly what a vote to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of Senate Bill 528 changes to the state’s forfeiture laws will do.

TRANSPORTATION ROADMAP: A series of transportation decisions made by Gov. Larry Hogan, in particular his controversial cancellation of the proposed Red Line in Baltimore, is giving rise to a debate in Annapolis over how projects are added or removed from the state’s official transportation list. Bryan Sears of the Daily Record writes that legislators and others are expressing interest in having more oversight on transportation issues. Some transportation advocates say Hogan’s decision to cancel the $2.9 billion Red Line light-rail project put the spotlight on needed changes.

SCHOOL-POT CO. PARTNERSHIPS: Fenit Nirappil of the Post writes about a growing trend: At least two Maryland state universities are jumping at the chance to work with marijuana growers to research the medicinal application and cultivation of cannabis. A tiny Western Maryland town says it would happily accept a 5% share of profits from a company that hopes to operate there.

LIFE FOR A SYRIAN REFUGEE IN ANNAPOLIS: Mostafa Hassoun, a 23-year-old from a Syrian farming hamlet, is trying to build a life in Maryland, in a place where small-town generosity and kindness collide with the political tensions of a growing xenophobia. Hassoun, who arrived in July, has found a modest home and modest opportunities just blocks from the mansion occupied by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), one of many U.S. governors who wants to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees in this country, Abigail Hauslohner of the Post reports.

LIMITED DISTILLERY LICENSES IN AA: Sen. Ed Reilly has pre-filed a bill that would give restaurants with a liquor license in Anne Arundel County the opportunity to apply for a “limited distillery” license, which would allow restaurants to distill and bottle up to 100,000 gallons of liquor on their own property, so long as they only produce their own brand and don’t operate as a wholesaler, reports Elisha Sauers for the Annapolis Capital.

1,200 BILLS ALREADY BEING DRAFTED: This year’s 90-day legislative session is set to get off to a faster start when it begins Jan. 13 with over 1200 bills already being drafted for introduction, writes Len Lazarick in MarylandReporter.com. The opening will also be more contentious as the Maryland Constitution requires the lawmakers to take up bills the governor has vetoed as the first order of business.

TWO NEW CITY COURT JUDGES: Gov. Larry Hogan named a magistrate and a lawyer in private practice to the District Court for Baltimore last week. Acting on the recommendation of the city’s judicial nominating commission, Hogan appointed Magistrate William Dunn and solo practitioner Kent Boles to the bench. Hogan said he made the choices after interviewing 14 candidates, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.

CARROLL MAN’S REDISTRICTING FIGHT: A December decision by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding legislative redistricting has had a direct effect on one Carroll County man, writes Heather Norris in the Carroll County Times.  Because of the court’s Dec. 8 decision in Shapiro v. McManus, which mandated that a “district court of three judges shall be convened … when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts,” Christopher Eric Bouchat could see his own lawsuit, if it is determined to meet the standards described by the court, sent before a panel of U.S. District Court judges.

SRB THANKS KAMENETZ: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s decision in late December to not seek reimbursement from Baltimore City of $257,000 for police and fire assistance during the April and May unrest following the death of Freddie Gray “is just another example of his commitment to a regional partnership and vision,” said city Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in a Daily Record article.

THAT STATE SONG: A state advisory panel is calling for major changes to “Maryland, My Maryland,” a Civil War-era song that urges Maryland to join the Confederacy, bashes “Northern scum” — and has survived as the state anthem despite six previous efforts to eliminate it, writes Ovetta Wiggins for the Post.

Maryland state sealAND THAT STATE MOTTO: The Italian words “Fatti maschii, parole femine” are displayed on a yellow ribbon on Maryland’s state seal. The state has long considered the phrase its motto and has translated it as, “Manly deeds, womanly words.” That translation doesn’t sit well with state Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel). He has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would adopt a more ­gender-neutral translation, “Strong deeds, gentle words,” and codify the motto into law, Ovetta Wiggins reports in the Post.

TARGETING WOMEN VOTERS: Women voters in Maryland are being targeted with television ads about the two candidates running in the state’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, underscoring the battle underway for a demographic that will play a key role in choosing a successor to Barbara A. Mikulski, the pathbreaking dean of the Senate women, John Fritze of the Sun reports.

GOP LINES UP TO UNSEAT DELANEY: Western Maryland’s 6th Congressional District was a tantalizing near-miss for Republicans in 2014, when former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino came within 2,700 votes, out of 190,000 cast, of unseating Democratic Rep. John Delaney. Bongino has since moved to Florida, but eight other Republicans will face off in the April 26 primary for a chance to pick up where he left off, writes Bill Turque in the Post.

SKOLNICK SEEKING GOP HOUSE SEAT: With proposals for a $10-an-hour federal minimum wage and new taxes, Republican Shelly Skolnick can sound like a Democrat when he talks about his 2016 primary campaign in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, for the seat currently held by Chris Van Hollen who is running for Senate, Bill Turque writes in the Post.

CARSON LOSES STAFF: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s campaign announced a shakeup last Thursday as both his campaign manager and chief spokesman abruptly called it quits, writes John Fritze in the Sun. Barry Bennett, a former Rick Perry supporter who has been with the Carson campaign since it launched in May, and Doug Watts, a longtime communications hand who was hired in March, both resigned.

MOSBY HEATS UP CITY MAYOR’S RACE: Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby plans to announce on Tuesday his “15 Point Plan for a Better Baltimore,” his campaign said in a statement. Jessica Anderson of the Sun reports that Mosby’s plans “will serve as a blueprint to addresses Baltimore’s toughest challenges from public safety and economic development to revitalizing our communities and public education,” the statement said.

CHANGES TO CITY COUNCIL: Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger write that the Baltimore City Council — a body some hope will help bring change to a beleaguered city — is likely to experience significant turnover in this year’s election. Already, four of the council’s 15 members have said they will not seek re-election, while several others are considering stepping down or face formidable challengers. The result could be a younger council that analysts say might feel an urgency to address the persistent problems.

BLACK GIRLS VOTE: A volunteer group called Black Girls Vote is aiming to get Baltimore City residents registered. The organization isn’t only signing up  those people with two X chromosomes. It’s eager to enlist anyone and everyone eligible to cast a ballot — males and females, teenagers and senior citizens, African-Americans and Caucasians, write Yvonne Wenger and Mary Carole McCauley for the Sun.

THREE ISSUES IN MONTGOMERY: In an article for Bethesda Beat, Aaron Kraut addresses the “Big Three” questions facing Montgomery County in the next year: Could a Purple Line groundbreaking, a referendum on liquor control and a new county school superintendent be in its future?

HOSPITAL CLOSING UPROAR: The decision to close a suburban Maryland hospital has triggered a series of heated hearings in the state capital, demonstrations by union members, and allegations of betrayal from residents and politicians, Arelis Hernandez reports in the Post. Dimensions Healthcare System stands by its decision to convert the formerly full-service Laurel Regional Hospital into an ­ambulatory-care facility, with company officials saying the change is vital to curbing millions of dollars in operating losses­ and improving the delivery of health care in Prince George’s County.

SCHOOL CHALLENGES IN CARROLL: The debate over closures and redistricting in Carroll County Public Schools was the biggest challenge the Board of County Commissioners faced in 2015 and will continue to be at the forefront in the coming year, according to commissioners, reports Heather Norris for the Carroll County Times.