State Roundup, August 18, 2016

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Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Ports. Governor's Office Photo

Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Ports. Governor’s Office Photo

TRANSIT PROJECT SCORING: The Hogan administration has backed off of plans to implement a new system for scoring state transportation projects this year after the Maryland attorney general’s office issued an opinion saying the law does not require it to do so before next year, reports Michael Dresser of the Sun. In a letter to Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore, Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Ports dropped the department’s insistence that the new law forces it to begin scoring projects by Sept. 1.

NO DIVERSITY IN RX POT LICENSING: Maryland set up its legal medical marijuana industry with hopes of racial diversity and equity in spreading profits, but none of the 15 companies cleared this week for potentially lucrative growing licenses are led by African Americans, reports Fenit Nirappil in the Post.

STATE PROMISES SCHOOL AID TO CITY: State legislative leaders have promised Baltimore officials that they will enact a long-term fix to make sure the massive special tax deal for the waterfront Port Covington development won’t cost Baltimore schools millions of dollars in state aid, reports Luke Broadwater for the Sun.

STATE AID FOR ELLICOTT CITY: Maryland’s Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved $2.5 million that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) requested to help businesses and property owners recover from the flooding that devastated Ellicott City last month. Josh Hicks of the Post reports that in a 2-0 vote, the panel granted the Department of Housing and Community Development $2.5 million from the state’s Small, Minority and Women-Owned Business Account to make zero- and low-interest loans to eligible businesses in the town.

MORE VOTING MACHINES: Voter registration figures in Frederick County show a nearly 7% increase in voter registration since 2015. The county added 10,579 voters since June 30, 2015 — and as a result, will get more election machines, writes Danielle Gaines for the Frederick News Post. The Maryland Board of Public Works approved contracts on Wednesday morning that will bring more voting equipment to several counties before the general election.

STAFF SHORTAGES: A union for state employees claims staffing shortages are endangering youth and staff at a residential center for high-risk young offenders in Sabillasville, an assertion denied by the Department of Juvenile Services. Jeremy Arias of the Frederick News Post writes that citing the state’s fiscal 2017 budget, AFSCME said that, of 2,051 positions statewide, the department had 242 vacancies,  96 more than the department would have to fill in order to meet fiscal 2017’s turnover rate.

THE ‘POKEMON GO’ PROBLEM: Erin Cox of the Sun reports that Maryland’s political leaders gather every August to discuss the most pressing issues in governance; this year Pokemon Go is on the agenda. The augmented reality game that has sent people exploring neighborhoods, congregating in public places and distractedly “hunting” digital creatures also creates a public policy conundrum for local governments. Armed robbers have preyed on preoccupied Pokemon hunters. In Baltimore, an engrossed player sideswiped a parked police cruiser while staring at his cell phone.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT: Melissa Ann Ehrenreich writes for MarylandReporter.com that municipal officials will tell you that public participation in the budgeting process is horrifically low. Engagement is often limited to the privileged, or  people with extreme points of view. No wonder it’s sometimes called the “dark side” of civic engagement. But some municipal governments are finding interesting ways to get their communities involved.

ZERO TOLERANCE FOR O’MALLEY: WYPR-FM’s Fraser Smith and Andy Green, editorial page editor of the Baltimore Sun, take up former Mayor/Gov. Martin O’Malley’s defense of “broken windows” policing that was so sharply criticized in the recent Department of Justice report on the Baltimore police department.

THE REPUBLICAN DILEMMA: Long time Republican Richard Cross went to the GOP convention to help write speeches for those speaking before the nomination of Donald Trump for president. He wrote the line “If Hillary Clinton can’t give us the truth, why should we give her the presidency?” for one mother whose son died at Benghazi attack. But now Cross, who worked for Helen Bentley and Bob Ehrlich, just may be voting for Hillary Clinton, he writes in an op-ed for the Sun.

TRUMP’S CATHOLIC PROBLEM: Martin O’Malley and Sen. Jim Rosapepe, in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post, write that Donald Trump has a big problem with Catholics. And he’s earned it. … Catholics are a quarter of the electorate and, four years ago, Mitt Romney split the Catholic vote almost 50/50 with Barack Obama — and lost the election. Why are so many Catholics down on Donald Trump?

HEALTH HELP OVER CHIX FARM IN ZION: Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Director of Environmental Health Dr. Clifford Mitchell has offered to serve as a resource to citizens with health concerns related to a large chicken farm proposed for the Zion area Tuesday morning, Cheryl Mattix reports in the Cecil Whig.

BA CO COUNCIL FINALLY TO LIVE STREAM: The Baltimore County Council plans to start live-streaming its meetings — years after other county governments adopted the practice, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun. The decision to broadcast meetings live online comes amid complaints from county residents, who feel shut out of the government decision-making process when they can’t trek to Towson to watch meetings in person.

COUNCILMAN ATTENDS BY ROBOT: When the Anne Arundel County Council reconvenes in September, there will be six men and a robot up on the dais in council chambers, Amanda Yeager of the Annapolis Capital reports. Though he can’t be physically present at the body’s first meeting back on Sept. 6, Councilman Pete Smith plans to be tele-present. Smith will live-stream the meeting using a robot on loan from a technology startup.