State Roundup, February 11, 2016

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GUN SAFETY LAWS: Days after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sent Maryland’s assault weapon ban back to a lower court for strict review, top Democrats in the state legislature announced new measures to strengthen gun safety laws, CNS’s Rachel Bluth reports in MarylandReporter.com.

  • Legislative leaders and Attorney General Brian Frosh announced what they called a package of three “common-sense gun safety” measures, writes Tamela Baker in the Hagerstown Herald Mail, but some local legislators were skeptical. The first would ban firearms on public college campuses. “We need to dispel the myth that anyone can turn into James Bond” and stop a shooting spree with a weapon of his own, said Sen. Richard Madeleno.

PROCUREMENT REFORM: Gov. Larry Hogan vowed on Wednesday to reform the procurement processes the state uses to spend billions of dollars, signing an executive order setting up a commission to modernize practices, writes Rick Seltzer in the Baltimore Business Journal. The commission, a bipartisan effort to include members from different parts of state government, will look at the state’s procurement codes and regulations.

Rich Leotta speaks about the loss of his son, Noah. (Capital News Service photo by Connor Glowacki)

Rich Leotta speaks about the loss of his son, Noah. (Capital News Service photo by Connor Glowacki)

DRUNK DRIVING BILL: Rich Leotta sat surrounded by Maryland lawmakers Wednesday, struggling to make it through a news conference before tears began to fall. Ovetta Wiggins and Dan Morse of the Post write that Leotta talked about his son Noah, a 24-year-old police officer who was killed by a driver suspected of being drunk two months ago, and about “Noah’s bill,” a measure that would require more drunk drivers to use an ignition lock on their cars after being convicted of driving under the influence.

SENATE ROLE IN NAMING SUPER: An effort is under way to change the process Maryland uses to select the head of the state school system, a move that would increase the state Senate’s role and dilute the opinion of the state Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor, reports Ovetta Wiggins in the Post. A Senate committee on Wednesday heard testimony on a bill that would require the Senate to confirm the state Superintendent of Schools.

DISMISSING SLAPP SUITS: Civil-rights, media, environmental and victims-rights groups urged lawmakers Wednesday to pass legislation making it easier for the organizations to win the dismissal of frivolous lawsuits brought primarily to silence them, reports Steve Lash for the Daily Record.

CHIPOTLE & PAID SICK LEAVE: At a recent gathering of the Greater Baltimore Committee, Republican state Sen. J.B. Jennings urged business leaders to help him fight legislation pending in Annapolis that would require businesses with 10 employees or more to offer paid sick leave. Perhaps what this particular gathering needed was a representative of Chipotle, the Denver-based Mexican fast-food chain with more than 2,000 locations that has in recent months suffered disastrous outbreaks of tainted food, the editorial board of the Sun writes.

RX POT DISPENSARY APPLICATIONS CUT: The number of applicants to become a medical marijuana dispenser in Maryland has been cut by 60%, reports Greg Larry in the Cumberland Times News. After directing the medical cannabis push in 2014 and 2015, Hannah Byron — executive director of the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission — stepped down from her post effective Jan. 27. Upon her exit, she provided an update that included the number of doctors that applied to prescribe medical cannabis.

UNITY ON REDISTRICTING: The ongoing issue of redistricting in Maryland represents one of the most unique political alignments in state politics in some time. Greg Kline writes in MarylandReporter.com that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has found common cause on this issue with not only his Republican base, but independent voters as well as progressive and “good government” Democrats. Liberal special interest groups have endorsed Hogan’s plan and criticized the state’s Democratic leadership.

NEW STATE SONG LYRICS: Jessica Campisi of Capital News Service reports that the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee room was full of song Wednesday afternoon. Committee members listened to – and participated in – possible new lyrics for the current state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” which was adopted in 1939. “This is not a new topic,” said Del. Karen Young, D-Frederick County. “This is the eighth time we’ve revisited this song.”

  • A Maryland House of Delegates committee burst into verse on Wednesday at a bill hearing about proposed changes to Maryland’s state song, writes Danielle E. Gaines in the Frederick News Post. Sean Tully, a Baltimore resident who created a new version of the song by combining his own lyrics with the original song by James Ryder Randall and a poem by John T. White, was invited to sing his version.

BAKER PUSHES FOR HOSPITAL FUNDS: County Executive Rushern Baker continues to push Gov. Larry Hogan to immediately release $15 million in operational funding from the FY 2016 budget for the Prince George’s County Medical Center even after Hogan announced a plan to provide funding for the facility through fiscal year 2021. On Friday, Hogan submitted a FY17 supplemental budget to the General Assembly, which included $15 million in operating funds for the hospital. the Sentinel is reporting.

FAIR PAY FOR THOSE WITH DISABILITIES: Disabilities rights groups called on lawmakers Wednesday to support a bill that would eventually eliminate a sub-minimum wage law that discriminates against employees with disabilities, writes Alessia Grunberger for MarylandReporter.com.

HO CO ADDRESSES PUBLIC INFO: The Howard County delegation unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would launch a state-level investigation into how county school officials have handled public information requests under Superintendent Renee Foose’s leadership, reports Lisa Philip for the Howard County Times. Del. Warren Miller drafted the legislation last November in response to parent complaints that school officials were hiding public documents, including emails about mold at a middle school  and a report on special education in the county.

CITY OKs STATE MOU ON TEARDOWNS: Baltimore City’s spending panel has approved a legal agreement with the state that will govern the multimillion-dollar plan to tear down 4,000 vacant houses and redevelop blighted sections of the city, report Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger for the Sun.  The approval of the memorandum of understanding on Wednesday was a key step in Gov. Larry Hogan’s pledge to commit about $74 million in state money over four years to demolish vacant buildings in the city.

PRE-SPEECH REACTION: Former political speechwriter Richard Cross writes in Center Maryland about what he sees as the odd reaction from some of the state’s Democratic jurisdictional leaders to Gov. Hogan’s State of the State speech before Hogan had even uttered his first word.

REPLACING ZUCKER: Louis Peck of Bethesda Beat writes that when then-state Sen. Karen Montgomery decided to resign her seat late last year,  the District 14 legislative delegation, in consultation with County Executive Ike Leggett quickly came up with what they hoped would be a plan for a smooth transition. All went reasonably well when Del. Craig Zucker took over her seat. But then replacing him has become an issue.