State Roundup, March 21, 2016

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FIGHTING BUT WORKING: The list of partisan slights and political spats in Annapolis has been endless. Suggestions of racism. Sarcastic Twitter hashtags. Public shamings on the floor of the House and Senate. And one inflammatory news conference after another to demand action. Yet with three weeks remaining in the General Assembly’s annual session, the bulk of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s agenda is winning approval from the Democratic-dominated legislature, writes Erin Cox for the Sun.

TRANSIT PROJECT RANKINGS: Defying Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, the Democratic-led House of Delegates approved legislation Saturday that would create a system for ranking transportation projects — a plan the administration vehemently opposes, reports the Sun’s Michael Dresser.

TAX RELIEF BILLS: The House of Delegates passed a bill on Friday that would give a tax refund to more of the working poor. The expansion of the Earned Income Tax credit continues small, planned increase in the amount of money working poor can collect. It also allows some younger people without children to apply for the credit, writes Erin Cox for the Sun.

  • The Maryland Senate will take up votes as early as today on two bills that will help taxpayers but in different ways. The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would modestly reduce the top four personal income tax rates and expand a tax credit for low-wage earners on the same day they voted to gut a bill that would allow the use of drones for property tax assessments and turn it into a ban.
  • The Maryland General Assembly is advancing a set of tax-relief proposals for all income levels and to lure multistate businesses by cutting corporate income taxes, writes Anjali Shastry for the Washington Times. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee approved the bills Thursday to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for poor families, as well as mild tax relief for middle- and high-income earners.

FIXING LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE: Since lawmakers repealed the death penalty in 2013, life in prison without the possibility of parole has become the most severe criminal penalty an individual can face in Maryland. Unlike the death penalty, however, it has no standards prosecutors must meet other than a defendant must be convicted of first-degree murder. A bill before the General Assembly would fix what proponents say is a constitutionally defective portion of Maryland’s criminal sentencing law, although even the bill’s sponsor acknowledges the legislation is unlikely to move out of committee, reports Heather Cobun for the Daily Record.

BEE PROTECTION: The House of Delegates passed legislation Saturday intended to protect the state’s honeybees from a class of pesticides that has been linked to a dramatic decline in their numbers, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun.

NO CIGAR: It appears there won’t be any indoor cigar-smoking in the new MGM casino at National Harbor after all, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun. The House Economic Matters Committee on Friday stripped language from a Prince George’s County liquor license bill that would have permitted a cigar lounge inside the casino-resort complex, expected to open late this year.

REGULATING ‘SOBER HOMES:’ Inspired by concerns about recovery centers in homes in Anne Arundel County, the General Assembly is considering legislation that would require all such residences in Maryland to be certified by a state-approved entity. The bill is one of nearly 50 scheduled to come up for a vote in the House of Delegates this morning, as the assembly rushes to move legislation from one chamber to the other by the crossover deadline at the end of the day, Amanda Yeager reports for the Annapolis Capital.

CITY-RUN LIQUOR BOARD: Baltimore City lawmakers in the House of Delegates approved a bill Friday challenging the governor’s control of the city liquor board, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun. Acting without dissent, city delegates voted to approve the bill one day after it passed the Senate by a wide margin.

OVERPRESCRIBING: Physicians from across Maryland were told in a presentation in Hanover Saturday that adjusting their prescribing practices could help the state cope with its opioid addiction crisis, Lauren Loricchio of the Annapolis Capital reports.

TASER USE & MISUSE: The first-ever data analysis of all Taser incidents in Maryland reveals that police agencies across the state have predominantly used the devices against suspects who posed no immediate threat. In hundreds of cases over a three-year period, police didn’t follow widely accepted safety recommendations. The Sun’s Mark Puente and Doug Donovan report the story.

TESTING KINDERGARTNERS: A bill sponsored by a Carroll County delegate limiting the number of kindergartners subject to state testing moved a step closer to becoming law Friday. Del. Haven Shoemaker’s bill regarding standardized testing on kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students passed unanimously in the Maryland House of Delegates, Heather Norris reports for the Carroll County Times. Under the bill, schools would have the option to test only a sampling of students, rather than testing all kindergartners.

BOAT DAMAGE BILL: The Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee gave an unfavorable report to a bill seeking to compensate boaters who have damaged their boats while navigating through Harris Creek, which has manmade oyster reefs, writes Katie Willis for the Easton Star Democrat.

RED LINE TO FREDERICK: The editorial board for the Frederick News Post takes a long look down the road and urges lawmakers to begin planning for extending the Red Line from Gaithersburg to Frederick.

THE NEXT MAYOR: Writing about the seriousness of the race for mayor for Baltimore City, Sun columnist Dan Rodricks opines that there are four qualities to look for in voting for the next mayor: Someone who can manage the city government. Someone with a vision for the future. Someone who will represent the city well to the rest of the country — indeed, to the rest of the world, post-Freddie Gray and someone with integrity.

SELF-FUNDED CAMPAIGNS: The willingness of candidates such as David Trone, who is running for Congress, to pay their own way raises questions about whether they are undermining a foundational idea in U.S. politics — that those who want to represent the people must first earn enough of their trust to win their donations, writes Bill Turque in the Post. But Trone says that  taking money from others makes politicians vulnerable to pressure from lobbyists, PACs and other special interests.

ON ANTHONY BROWN: In the first in a series of profiles of the six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to represent Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, Arelis Hernandez of the Post writes that Anthony Brown is well-known as a politician in Maryland but the 54-year-old father of three says he is trying to reveal more about himself to voters in the district.

VAN HOLLEN, EDWARDS DEBATE: The leading Democratic candidates to replace Sen. Barbara Mikulski went on the attack Friday during the first debates of the high-profile contest, criticizing each other’s records as they made vastly different pitches to Maryland voters. Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, longtime colleagues from neighboring districts who are now locked in one of the nation’s most competitive Democratic primaries, engaged in a feisty, hourlong exchange, John Fritze writes for the Sun.

UPCOMING DEBATES: Alexander Pyles of the Sun lists local and statewide debates coming up this week. Democrats and Republicans running for Baltimore mayor and U.S. Senate will meet in debates sponsored by the Baltimore Sun, WJZ, the University of Baltimore and the Baltimore City League of Women Voters.

MORE DEAD EAGLES: Four bald eagles died over the weekend in Delaware after being found about 30 miles from where 13 eagles were found dead last month in Maryland, Martin Weil of the Post reports. One of the eagles was found dead Saturday near Dagsboro, Del., wildlife officials said. Three more died after attempts at resuscitation failed, the state’s Natural Resources police said.

TAX FRAUD INDICTMENTS: A Baltimore City grand jury has indicted a former Liberty Tax Service franchise owner and eight of her employees in an alleged return-fraud scheme, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Comptroller Peter Franchot said Friday. Rick Seltzer reports the story for the Baltimore Business Journal.