State Roundup, August 15, 2016

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DOJ Report coverAFTER DOJ REPORT: The Legislative Black Caucus and Baltimore NAACP promised Friday to take an aggressive legislative agenda to Annapolis next year in response to the Justice Department’s blistering report on the Baltimore Police Department, Michael Dresser of the Sun reports.  That agenda will include proposing beefed-up protections for police whistleblowers, increased civilian oversight of police discipline, and sanctions against officers who conduct the type of unconstitutional searches and arrests described in the federal report.

DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE: The editorial board for the Sun points a stern finger at former Mayor Martin O’Malley in relation to serious policing problems in Baltimore outlined by the Department of Justice report. O’Malley contends the problem wasn’t the mass arrests that took place under his administration but the failure of his successors to keep up his reforms of the police department. That’s completely at odds with what the DOJ’s report actually says.

VOICES FROM DOJ REPORT: Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM hosts a two-hour program on the DOJ report, in which those reporting mistreatment by police, including women who have been raped and transgendered individuals, talk about their experiences with Baltimore Police.

LIMITING YOUTH SHACKLES: The Department of Juvenile Services says it is considering new limits on when youths are strip-searched and shackled, a signal that the agency is softening its stance on policies that have drawn the ire of lawmakers and advocates, writes Erica Green in the Sun. The potential changes were outlined in a report the agency was required to submit to General Assembly budget committees after lawmakers withheld $1 million from its budget to compel more information about the practices.

RX POT LICENSING: Jacob Owens of the Cecil Whig reports that today marks the day when Cecil County will find out whether its future will be green, benefiting economically from the development of potential medical marijuana growing and processing facilities. The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, formed by 2014 legislation to develop policies, procedures and regulations to implement the state’s medical marijuana program, voted on its stage one license pre-approvals for 15 growers and the first 15 processors on Aug. 5.

STATE PENSION FUND MISSES TARGET: For the second year in a row, Maryland’s pension fund missed its target for return on its investment portfolio by a wide mark, earning just 1.16% for the 2016 fiscal year that ended June 30 compared to its annual goal of 7.55%. Last year, the fund made 2.68%, reports Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter.com. Because of the lagging returns the $45.5 billion fund is apparently worth $300 million less than it was worth June 30 last year, and long-term liabilities are up over $20 billion.

HOGAN SEEKS FEDERAL DISASTER AID: Gov. Larry Hogan has requested a federal disaster declaration for Howard County two weeks after flooding left two dead and decimated downtown Ellicott City, reports Fenit Nirappil for the Post. Hogan already declared a state of emergency, but a presidential declaration would send federal funding to help rebuild the communities. The U.S. Small Business Administration this week declared the county a physical disaster area, allowing businesses, homeowners and renters to apply for low-interest loans to repair flood damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been helping assess damage.

UPSTREAM DEVELOPMENT & FLOODS: For decades, Ellicott City residents have raised concerns about more stormwater runoff from development. In the late 1980s, former Judge James B. Dudley told the Sun that runoff from developments on once-wooded hillsides around Ellicott City was causing shallow streams to rage during storms. And now with this past deadly storm that also damaged downtown Ellicott City, development upstream is again becoming an issue, Luke Broadwater, Scott Dance and Pamela Wood write in the Sun.

HEATED WALK AT GOVERNMENT HOUSE: A heated brick walkway leading to the governor’s mansion sparked partisan criticism last week over how Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is spending money, reports Erin Cox in the Sun. Workers replaced an aging brick sidewalk inside the gated grounds of the historic Government House, and installed costly heating coils beneath it so the sidewalk won’t need to be shoveled in the winter. The entire project cost $130,000, said Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. He said the heating elements cost $30,000 and will save taxpayers money over time.

UMBC PROBED FOR RAPE HANDLING: The University of Maryland Baltimore County is under a federal investigation concerning allegations the school failed to comply with federal guidelines mandating prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging sex discrimination in cases involving sexual assault claims, reports Bryan Renbaum of the Baltimore Post-Examiner.

HOGAN-FRANCHOT ALLIANCE: Ovetta Wiggins of the Post writes that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) often ribs Comptroller Peter Franchot about how the veteran Democrat once called for his resignation. At the time, Hogan was appointments secretary for then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), and Democrats were asking questions about the administration’s hiring and firing practices. Franchot was a progressive delegate representing Takoma Park in Montgomery County. These days, the animosity between the two is gone. In its place is a bipartisan friendship that stands out in an increasingly polarized Annapolis — a bond they say is largely built on a mutual desire to rein in spending and improve the state’s fiscal climate.

HOW BI-PARTISAN IS DELANEY?: The Hagerstown Herald Mail’s Political Notebook column reports  that a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee took issue last week with U.S. Rep. John Delaney’s statement to Herald-Mail Media that “most of the stuff I’ve done in Congress is bipartisan,” claiming he’s more apt to vote with fellow Democrats.

NEW MD DEM PARTY EXEC: Chuck Conner is a political novice in many respects, but officials with the Maryland Democratic Party saw two things in him that they wanted in their new executive director: a common touch and experience with community outreach. Party Chairman Bruce Poole said those qualifications made Conner, a fourth-generation pastor with a law degree, an easy choice to lead day-to-day operations after Patrick Murray left the position, writes Josh Hicks for the Post.

CHANGES AT TOP IN MDGOP: The Maryland Republican Party has enjoyed steady leadership for three years with the same executive director and chairwoman running the party since 2013. But that is likely to change as executive director Joe Cluster could receive a seat in the House of Delegates after his name was sent to Gov. Larry Hogan to replace his father. John Cluster is leaving the house to join the state’s parole commission. And Republican chairwoman Diana Waterman won’t be seeking another term as chair at the end of the year for personal reasons, Chase Cook reports in the Annapolis Capital.

GLOBAL HOSPITAL PAYMENT SYSTEM: State Circle with Jeff Salkin looks at whether Maryland’s experimental new global hospital payment system puts patients at risk. “It basically sets a revenue cap for each hospital,” says Nelson Sabatini, chairman of the Health Services Cost Review Commission. He says it’s already led to significant reductions in admissions and re-admissions. “If this works you’re going to see excess capacity in the hospital system,” he said.  Will patients suffer if hospitals can’t collect for some services? Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi, said, “Patients should ask additional questions about why decisions about care are being made.”

SURGICAL DECISIONS: Maryland officials are expected to decide this fall if open-heart surgery will be offered in one of the Anne Arundel County’s two hospitals, Meredith Newman of the Annapolis Capital reports. In February 2015, Anne Arundel Medical Center and University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center filed Certificate of Need applications for the program. The Maryland Health Care Commission reviewer could approve both hospitals, one or none.