State Roundup, January 20, 2016

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HOUSE PLANS VETO OVERRIDES: Although the Maryland Senate delayed until Thursday a vote on whether to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes, the House of Delegates still plans to push forward today as scheduled, Michael Dresser and Erin Cox of the Sun report.

  • The House will decide whether to reinstate a bill that would require online hotel booking companies to collect sales tax for the entire cost of a hotel room in Howard County and give the full amount to the state, rather than keeping part of it as a service fee. It will also try to resurrect a measure that would provide $2 million for capital improvements to a performing-arts hall in Annapolis, writes Ovetta Wiggins in the Post.

ABANDON THIS OVERRIDE: The editorial board for the Daily Record urges the General Assembly to abandon the override of Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of Senate Bill 340, which would expand voting rights to felons who have not completely served their sentences. It writes that despite what override advocates suggest, the bill does little to expand voting rights for convicted felons and creates confusion for voters and elections boards.

ASSET SEIZURES: Three senators on the Judicial Proceedings Committee — Michael Hough, Jamie Raskin and chairman Bobby Zirkin — are sponsoring a comprehensive new bill (SB161) to fundamentally reform how and when law enforcement can seize money and other assets from people suspected of crimes, Grant Zeigenfuse writes for MarylandReporter.com.

  • The legislation goes further than a bill sponsored by Raskin last year that passed the General Assembly before being vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan at the behest of police chiefs and prosecutors. Instead of just putting the burden of proof on prosecutors to show that assets are tainted, as last year’s bill did, the new measure requires that they convict the person whose cash or other property is seized before they can seek forfeiture, Michael Dresser of the Sun reports.

BRINKLEY TO BRIEF ON HOGAN BUDGET: Gov. Larry Hogan will submit his fiscal 2017 budget to the legislature Wednesday, but he won’t be briefing reporters about it, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com.  Skipping a budget routine that goes back a dozen years or more, Hogan will not unveil his overall budget and the thick five-volume set of budget books that go with it in the governor’s formal reception room. That duty will be handled by Budget Secretary David Brinkley in his offices two blocks from the State House.

RAG MAG BILL DERIDED: Legislation to bar retailers from openly displaying magazines, newspapers and books that contain salacious material “harmful to minors” drew fire Wednesday from retailers and news organizations as unconstitutionally vague, reports Steve Lash of the Daily Record. The bill’s opponents said the lack of clarity regarding what is “harmful to minors” could leave retailers potentially liable for placing on their shelves mainstream magazines featuring celebrities or advising people on how to lead healthy lives.

  • House Bill 30 would prohibit retailers from selling printed materials with covers “harmful to minors” if it is on open display to or within convenient reach of minors, writes Tamela Baker for the Hagerstown Herald Mail. The bill requires such items to be displayed under an opaque covering. Del. William Wivell said his bill was inspired by an experience his wife, Robin, had while shopping with their young daughter at a convenience store.

HO-HUM ON FANTASY SPORTS LAWS: Maryland lawmakers are showing little interest in proposing laws to regulate daily fantasy sports despite a warning from Attorney General Brian  Frosh last week that such activities may not be legal, writes Josh Hicks in the Post. Maryland Senate President  Mike Miller said Monday that “someone needs to take action” to address the evolving business but that he plans to play a passive role.

AIR CONDITIONERS MAY BE FUNDED: Pamela Wood of the Sun reports that Maryland could soon allow state school construction money to be used for portable air conditioners in classrooms. The Board of Public Works — comprising the governor, comptroller and treasurer — is expected to vote next week to lift the ban on using state school construction money for window units and other portable air conditioners. The rule change would then go to a legislative committee for review.

YES, TO ADDRESSING OVERTESTING: Despite what they said last week, Maryland’s legislative leaders on Tuesday promised to take action on whether children were being tested too much. They offered no details, however, on exactly what they would do, reports Erin Cox of the Sun.

ANIMAL WELFARE BILLS: Two Anne Arundel County lawmakers have submitted three bills related to animal welfare, reports Elisha Sauers for the Annapolis Capital. One would change state law to allow bystanders to use force to enter a car without the risk of punishment if a cat or dog is inside and in danger. Another would impose stronger penalties against a person found guilty of cruelty to animals if a child heard or saw the incident. The third  would require a veterinarian or animal control facility to scan a dog or cat for a microchip within two days.

KEEPING TEACHERS IN BALTIMORE: University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert  Caret wants to bring committed teachers to Baltimore City schools and encourage them to stay. Caret, who addressed the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee in Annapolis on Tuesday, described a plan to attract and keep new teachers who are “missionaries at heart, that want to work in an urban environment, that want to do good” to the city and train them in city schools, writes Daniel Leaderman of the Daily Record.

WA CO COMMISSIONER UNDER SCRUTINY: A Washington County official faces scrutiny by the Maryland Senate over a derogatory comment he allegedly made about women and a racist Facebook post that depicts the “Little Rascals” character Buckwheat, Michael Dresser of the Sun reports. The questions swirl around Vincent G. “Woody” Spong, a Republican, who was named to the Washington County Board of Commissioners last year after former Commissioner William J. Wivell was appointed to the House of Delegates.

  • CJ Lovelace of the Hagerstown Herald Mail writes that the “Little Rascals” meme  — which initially was posted by another Facebook user and then shared Monday by Spong — shows a photo of the character Buckwheat from the “Our Gang” films and reads: “It’s becoming a very scary world out there … It was announced today that Buckwheat, of ‘Our Gang’ fame, has converted to the Muslim faith and changed his name to ‘Kareem of Wheat.’ Let’s just hope that he doesn’t become a cereal killer …”

HORSES TO WATCH IN ANNAPOLIS: With lots of smiles, glad-handing and the usual pomp and circumstance, the General Assembly got off to the races on Jan. 13, and in the early going there appear to be several “horses” to keep an eye on. First and foremost is the relationship between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the Democratic controlled leadership of the state Senate and House of Delegates, primarily Senate President  Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, writes Donald Fry in a column for Center Maryland.

TIGHT SENATE RACE: Rachel Weiner of the Post reports that the Democratic primary for Maryland’s open Senate seat is now a dead heat between Reps. Donna F. Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, according to a poll released Tuesday morning. The survey, conducted by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies over the past week, finds Van Hollen winning 38% of likely voters in the April 26 Democratic primary, and Edwards winning 36%, within the poll’s margin of error.

MAYORAL CANDIDATES DEBATE: Candidates vying to become Baltimore’s next mayor clashed Tuesday evening in West Baltimore, offering differing views on how to reduce crime, spur the economy and improve schools. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, City Councilmen Carl Stokes and Nick J. Mosby, lawyer Elizabeth Embry and businessman David L. Warnock were among those debating issues in the forum at the New Metropolitan Baptist Church, writes Luke Broadwater for the Sun.

NO LONGER PONDERING, WALDEN FILES FOR MAYOR: Longtime WBAL news anchor Alan Walden filed Tuesday to run as a Republican for Baltimore mayor. Walden, 79, lives in North Baltimore’s Cross Keys neighborhood. He will face Brian Vaeth, a former city firefighter from East Baltimore, in the April 26 primary. The last time a Republican was elected to office in Baltimore was 1963, when Theodore R. McKeldin became mayor, reports Yvonne Wenger in the Sun.