REVENUE ESTIMATES CUT BY $51M: CNS’s Connor Glowacki writes in MarylandReporter.com that the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates on Wednesday decided to write down state revenue estimates for fiscal 2016 and 2017 by approximately $51 million from those made last December. State Comptroller Peter Franchot said the new estimates reflected weak sales throughout Maryland during the recent holiday season. Economic growth has continued to be stagnant in the last few months.
- The news comes as state lawmakers prepare to vote on changes to Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed budget. Hogan’s budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, said the downward adjustment is a reason why state lawmakers should pull back on some of the mandated spending that is required in future years, Pamela Wood reports for the Sun.
- The difference is relatively small in the context of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed $17 billion general-fund budget for fiscal 2017. But Franchot, one of three members of the board, cautioned against drastic spending increases in light of the new figures, Josh Hicks writes for the Post.
- On the whole, the panel projects the state will exceed current year revenue projections by $9.2 million, driven mostly by $35 million in additional corporate tax revenue and $25 million in additional lottery revenue, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record. But it was the reduced sales tax revenue that received the focus of state officials.
- Amanda Yeager of the Annapolis Capital quotes Franchot as saying that the numbers reflect weak holiday sales and consumer uncertainty “the slowest, most tepid economic recovery in our lifetime. … The mere fact that we’re still using the term ‘recovery’ seven years later demonstrates how extraordinary these challenges that remain are.”
BEE SMART BILL: The state Senate approved a bill Wednesday that will remove some pesticides from retail store shelves, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun. The Senate voted 32-14 to pass the Pollinator Protection Act, which bans consumers from using a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are believed to harm bees and other pollinators.
- The Pollinator Protection Act of 2016 would restrict retail sale of neonicotinoid pesticides unless the seller is a certified applicator, farmer or veterinarian, reports Anamika Roy for the Daily Record. But the Senate bill doesn’t contain a major part of its original version — a requirement for retailers to apply labels or put signage near products containing the pesticide. The provision was added to this year’s bill to give more flexibility to retailers.
GUN CONTROL DEBATE CONTINUES: Hundreds of people arrived in Annapolis on Wednesday to debate whether Maryland’s already strict gun laws should go further in restricting access to firearms — or if they go too far already. Erin Cox and Pamela Wood of the Sun are reporting that the legislature is weighing more than a dozen gun control proposals that advocates say would close deadly loopholes and opponents contend would further infringe on their Second Amendment rights without making the public any safer.
- Republicans from Anne Arundel County’s delegation joined a GOP effort Wednesday to weaken legislation that seeks to ban guns on public college campuses in the state. House Bill 1002 would make carrying firearms on those campuses a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and/or a $1,000 fine, Amanda Yeager writes for the Annapolis Capital.
- A man from Maryland’s Eastern Shore said that he opposes a bill that would require anyone purchasing a rifle or shotgun to undergo a criminal background check even if they were buying the weapon from a friend or relative. But a spokeswoman for the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America says background checks for those selling long guns are necessary, John Rydell of WBFF-TV is reporting.
AIDING SEX ABUSE SURVIVORS: Sexual abuse survivors and advocates urged lawmakers Wednesday to increase the statute of limitations to file civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse to 20 years after the victim’s 18th birthday, writes Lauren Kirkwood for the Daily Record. Victims of child sexual abuse now have seven years, or until they turn 25, to file civil litigation. But many do not come forward to report the abuse until decades have passed.
INTERLOCK LAW WEAKENED: Advocates who have been pushing for seven years to expand the use of interlock ignitions for drunk drivers in Maryland were elated last week when the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the measure. This week, they are not as happy with the bill, reports Ovetta Wiggins in the Post.
UM PARTNERSHIP ACT VOTE DELAYED: Darcy Costello and Grace Toohey of the Diamondback report that the Maryland Senate delayed a vote yesterday morning on the amended version of the Strategic Partnership Act of 2016, which would combine this university with the University of Maryland, Baltimore to create one University of Maryland with two campuses.
- A Center Maryland editorial urges the passage of the Strategic Partnership Act, writing that together, the University of Maryland’s premier campuses in College Park and Baltimore are poised for greatness. But for this to happen, it will take minds open to new ideas and a willingness to bring the state’s two great public research institutions together in a synergy that will make them leaders in the 21st century’s “knowledge economy.”
HEALTHIER VENDING MACHINES: Vending machines are stocked with many guilty pleasure snacks and beverages. But people might see less of these traditional snacks and drinks in certain areas if the legislature passes HB 1498. Alessia Grunberger of MarylandReporter.com reports that the bill would require that at least 75% of packaged food and beverage options on state owned or managed grounds meet a healthy standard, said bill sponsor Del. Antonio Hayes, D-Baltimore City, when he introduced it to the House Economic Matters Committee on Wednesday.
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS SUE EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency may have broken federal law by removing dozens of Maryland waterways from its impaired water list, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. Christine Jedra of the Annapolis Capital reports that six area waterkeeping organizations allege the EPA violated the Clean Water Act when officials excused 53 river segments — some in Anne Arundel County — from “total maximum daily load” requirements in 2012, according to the lawsuit filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C.
VAN HOLLEN BACK ON AIR: Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s campaign for Senate is back on the air Wednesday with a new advertisement that comes after a series of polls show the race for Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s seat is a tossup, writes John Fritze for the Sun.
- The ad recycles a message from his fall ad campaign, introducing the congressman as the “son of a Baltimore native” who fought in both the Maryland state legislature and U.S. Congress for environmental protections, education, gun control, women’s rights and Social Security and adds the Post endorsement, writes Rachel Weiner in the Post.
PUGH, DIXON TIE IN POLL FOR MAYOR: Sen. Catherine Pugh and former Mayor Sheila Dixon are locked in a virtual tie in the Democratic race to become Baltimore’s next mayor, a new poll for the Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore shows.The Sun’s Luke Broadwater writes that Pugh, whose support has surged in recent weeks, is now favored by 26% of likely voters in the Democratic primary. That’s two points higher than the 24% who back Dixon, who has led the field for months. Businessman David L. Warnock, who has spent more than $650,000 on television ads, is in third place with 10%.