State Roundup, February 16, 2016

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TEACHER PENSIONS: The local share of teacher pension costs is projected to increase beyond what was envisioned by a 2012 law shifting some of the costs to local governments. The state has been making up the difference between the amounts shifted in 2012 and the actual normal costs of the teachers’ pensions. This year, the difference between the 2012 estimate is $30.5 million, Robin Clark Eilenberg writes in Conduit Street, the MACo blog.

COURSE SHUFFLING FOR HOGAN PROGRAM: Gov. Larry Hogan’s early graduation scholarship program — unveiled last month to encourage high-school students to finish within three years — could create some local course reshuffling, according to Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox. Julie Greene of the Hagerstown Herald Mail reports that, based on how many students could graduate early and whether they want to take Advanced Placement courses, which might give them college credit, the courses that the school system offers could be affected along with their sequence, Wilcox said.

UPHILL BATTLE FOR BIRTH FUND: A state-created task force has again called for the creation of a fund that would provide lifetime care needs to babies suffering from birth-related neurological injuries. This is the third time in three years that the task force has pushed for the passage of HB 377. The controversial no-fault birth injury fund would compensate families of babies with these injuries and allow them to forego the need for litigation. This bill’s approach has pitted hospitals and malpractice trial lawyers against each other, Alessia Grunberger reports for MarylandReporter.com.

STREAMING FLOOR SESSIONS: The conservative Republican and liberal Democrat pushing together for video streaming of General Assembly floor sessions also agree that the estimated costs are far too high, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com. In the fiscal note to House Bill 316, legislative staff estimates it would cost $1.2 million to install and operate next year, and then over $400,000 per year to staff and maintain the system.

FRANCHOT SEEKS MORE AUTHORITY: A growing number of fraud cases in Maryland has the state’s top tax collector calling for an expansion of his powers of investigation and prosecution, reports Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. In recent weeks, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has announced that his office will stop processing claims made by more than three-dozen tax businesses and individuals who perform tax preparation. But the number of cases is growing exponentially, and the comptroller said Friday his office is struggling to keep up under a current law that limits his powers.

HALF-WAY DONE: Fenit Nirappil of the Post writes that Maryland lawmakers are approaching the halfway point of the 90-day legislative session. This week, some of the most significant bills will receive their first public airing. A few things to watch the latest iteration of right to die legislation and what fresh hell will break out between the governor and the Democrat leadership.

RECORD EXPUNGEMENT: Proposed legislation before the General Assembly would allow people with multiple criminal charges from one incident to expunge the ones that qualify for removal from their record, but prosecutors say the law is cost-prohibitive and comes hard on the heels of last year’s broadening of expungement laws, Heather Cobun of the Daily Record reports.

SUPREMES TO HEAR MD UTILITY CASE: The Supreme Court is expected to hear an electric utility case from Maryland this month that could resolve a national dispute over how far states may go to encourage power generation for their residents, reports John Fritze for the Sun. The case centers on a 2012 decision by the Maryland Public Service Commission to order the construction of a 725-megawatt natural gas power plant in Charles County. State regulators said the plant, the first built in Maryland in more than a decade, was needed to meet demand and prevent the possibility of brownouts during peak use.

NOT SO BIPARTISAN: In a take-the-gloves-off column, Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland pleads, “Can we please, please discard the notion, symbolic culinary preferences notwithstanding, that Hogan is a bipartisan governor?” He is referring to the most recent situation where Hogan condemned the latest veto override by the Senate “and suggested that there could be political consequences for the senators who went against his wishes. Some, he predicted, “won’t survive the vote.’” He then goes after the personal attacks committed by Hogan minions against the Democrats who voted for the override.

MOUNT ST. MARY’S MESS: Laslo Boyd, in an opinion piece for MarylandReporter, jumps into the Mount St. Mary University mess, condemning the school’s new president for the terms he used in “enrollment management” and urging him to find a field in which he can do no harm to others.

FROSH TO FIGHT VA POWER CO: Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office said Monday that it plans to fight a plan by the Dominion Virginia Power company to release about 215 million gallons of treated coal-ash water into a creek that connects to the Potomac River, Antonio Olivo of the Post reports.

SENIORS A TOUGH CROWD FOR CANDIDATES: Democrats running for office in Montgomery County know they have to bring their A-game to Leisure World. The Silver Spring senior community of 8,000 is packed with active, knowledgeable voters who faithfully turn out for elections. It is a tough crowd, even for a seasoned politician, Bill Turque writes in the Post.