State Roundup, March 28, 2016

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CLOSING PAY GAP: Maryland lawmakers are weighing legislation to address gender pay inequities in a state that has one of the nation’s smallest pay gaps between male and female full-time workers.  According to a Washington Post review of pay data, the gap is even smaller for full-time employees of the state legislature. But it grows wider for employees of Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, where men tend to hold the more senior positions, Fenit Nirappil reports for the Post.

  • A measure to expand Maryland’s equal pay law has passed the state Senate. Senators voted 32-13 for the bill Friday. The bill would prohibit businesses from retaliating against employees for discussing or disclosing salaries, the AP is reporting in the Daily Record. It strengthens state law that already prohibits pay discrimination based on gender. The measure would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity

PSC NOMINEE FACES QUESTIONING: Michael Richard, an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan to the independent agency that regulates Maryland utilities faces tough questioning before a Senate committee today over allegations he improperly communicated with administration officials, Michael Dresser reports for the Sun.

DEM CAUCUS MEETS IN PRIVATE, OFF SCHEDULE:  State delegates from Prince George’s County gathered Friday morning as they do every week — only this time, the doors were closed, reports Arelis Hernandez for the Post. An aide stationed outside made sure that only lawmakers entered, while others — journalists, lobbyists and officials from the Maryland Hospital Association and the University of Maryland Medical System, and staffers for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and the Maryland Health Care Commission — cooled their heels in the hall. The topic of discussion, lawmakers said later, was the county’s transitioning hospital system.

JUSTICE REFORM: A sweeping criminal justice bill that cleared the Maryland Senate last week is supposed to right some of the wrongs of the decades-long war on drugs, reports Ovetta Wiggins for the Post. The legislation aims to reduce Maryland’s prison population and save hundreds of millions of dollars on prison costs by easing sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders and pushing people who are arrested with drugs into treatment instead of behind bars.

MAXIMUM SENTENCE: Tamela Baker of the Hagerstown Herald Mail writes an in-depth piece about one family’s struggle to get legislation passed in memory of an infant who died from blunt force trauma from severe shaking. The family has been working to raise the 30 years maximum sentence for conviction in such cases to life in prison. It’s been a learning experience, both in coping with tragedy and in the fine points of getting state law changed.

RAPISTS’ PARENTAL RIGHTS: Rape victims who do not want to raise a child conceived during a sexual assault have two options in Maryland: abortion or persuading their attackers to sign off on an adoption. For nearly 10 years, advocates tried unsuccessfully to change state law so that rape victims could sever ties with their assailants by terminating rapists’ parental rights. A bill that would do that has advanced further in the General Assembly this year than it ever has before, Erin Cox writes in the Sun.

RETURN OF STATE CENTER: In a column for MarylandReporter.com, Barry Rascovar writes that the State Center boondoggle is back on the table after being shelved in the previous administration by Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp. This controversial deal, involving state buildings on 28 acres of land in midtown Baltimore, was tailored for developer-allies of former Gov. Martin O’Malley.  Since then, Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr. has kept the project on the shelf – where it belongs. Until last week.

COMPROMISE: Passing a $42 billion state operating budget, as the Maryland General Assembly did last week, is far from a ride in the park. Previous budgets have been fraught with tension at the best of times, even when the House, Senate and governor’s mansion were all in Democratic hands. That’s why it’s worth a moment to take pause and breathe in the momentary, graceful collegiality that can happen when the stars align, the gears line up and lawmakers —  compromise, opines the editorial board the Frederick News Post.

TUITION HIKES EXPECTED: Students at Maryland’s public colleges and universities – and their parents – can expect to see a 2% increase in the cost of undergraduate tuition for the coming year, writes Daniel Leaderman in the Daily Record. Lawmakers are expected to give final approval to Maryland’s fiscal 2017 budget as early as Tuesday, but the House and Senate versions of the spending plan are largely aligned on higher education funding.

TOO MUCH TESTING: How many hours should a student spend each year taking standardized tests? The editorial board for the Sun addresses that thorny issue, opining that might be a tougher question than any posed on the most challenging of those exams. The likely best answer is that students should spend as much time on tests as necessary for them to learn and mark progress in schools — no more, no less.Yet, lawmakers in Annapolis are plunging into this difficult area with a level of certainty that is breathtaking to behold.

RETIRING SENATE READING CLERK HONORED: The Maryland Senate paid tribute Friday to longtime reading clerk Lynne B. Porter, who is retiring after 29 years as its voice, Michael Dresser reports for the Sun. Porter, who was installed shortly after Mike Miller was elected Senate president in 1987, said it’s time for her to spend more time with her new grandchild. She will work through the end of the General Assembly session April 11 at midnight.

ARUNDEL ASSURES ON SCHOOL FUNDS: As the General Assembly works to finish a budget, Anne Arundel County and state leaders have pledged additional state funds will go to schools at the top of a 2015 construction priority list. In an exchange of letters last week, Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh assured House Speaker Michael Busch that he will include money in his next county budget to study the replacement of three elementary, reports Amanda Yeager for the Annapolis Capital.

OPEN DISCUSSION: The chairman of the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission wants to deliberate about school board applicants in public, breaking from a tradition to hold those discussions in closed sessions. Jamie Falcon said open discussions would increase transparency in the nominating process. The group meets today to interview candidates for the county Board of Education and plans to make recommendations to Gov. Larry Hogan, who will then make the appointment, Cindy Huang of the Annapolis Capital reports.

EDWARDS-VAN HOLLEN DEBATE: The two leading Democratic candidates for Maryland’s open Senate seat battled Friday over Social Security and trade deals in their first televised debate, offering widely different approaches for how they would continue Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s legacy. John Fritze of the Sun writes that Reps. Donna F. Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, locked in one of the nation’s most competitive primary contests, broadly agreed on the issues.

MCDONOUGH ATTACKS RUPPERSBERGER: Since the Pentagon’s $2.7 billion system of radar-equipped blimps, meant to protect Washington, D.C., against airborne attacks, first came under fire for its unreliability, a number of legislators and pundits have taken to task the project’s early supporters like Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Baltimore County. Phil Davis of the Annapolis Capital reports that with the long-time incumbent’s seat up for grabs in the 2016 election, a radio ad from potential Republican challenger Del. Pat McDonough calls to “Dump Dutch” over what the spot calls “an unholy alliance” between the representative and the creators of the blimps, Raytheon Co.

ON STRAIT: In the last in a series profiling candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to represent Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, Arelis Hernandez writes in the Post. Terence Strait understands that he probably won’t win the race. He is virtually unknown, fairly new to Prince George’s County and has about $8,000 in campaign funds — more than 90% of it his own money. But that won’t stop the 34-year-old from trying.

ON PENA-MELNYK: Here are five things you should know about Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, who is running for the 4th Congressional District race.

CITY LIQUOR BOARD CHIEF QUITS: The Baltimore City liquor board’s top official is no longer with the agency, according to the board chairman. Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, who was named the first woman to head the city’s liquor board as executive secretary in April 2014, left Thursday, board chairman Benjamin Neil said Friday, Jessica Anderson and Tim Prudente of the Sun report.

OVERDOSES IN AA COUNTY: In less than three months, Anne Arundel County police have responded to more than double the number of opioid overdoses than they did in the same period last year, police data show. Some of the jump may be due to a heightened awareness among law enforcement of heroin use, writes Lauren Loricchio for the Annapolis Capital.