State Roundup, January 23, 2017

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SUPPORT FOR SICK LEAVE: The debate over whether to require Maryland companies to offer workers paid sick leave begins anew today, starting with a rally for legislation being considered by the General Assembly. The gathering in Annapolis, organized by proponents of paid sick leave, is the first public display of support during this legislative session for a policy state lawmakers have debated for four years, writes Pamela Wood of the Sun.

HOGAN AS CENTRIST: Gov. Larry Hogan remained on the sidelines last year when the majority-Democratic legislature haggled over a paid-sick-leave bill. The measure never made it to his desk. Now Hogan, a Republican, is taking the idea long championed by Democrats and trying to make it his own. It is part of a calculated move by the first-term governor to cast himself as a centrist in a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 and independents make up the fastest-growing voting bloc, Ovetta Wiggins and Josh Hicks report in the Post.

DESPITE CASINO FUNDS, SCHOOLS SUFFER: In the seven years since the first of Maryland’s six casinos opened, they have pumped $1.7 billion into the state’s Education Trust Fund — the financial windfall that advocates for gambling promised would go to the state’s public schools. State budget analysts say the money from the casino-fueled Education Trust Fund is, in fact, going to schools. But that stream has allowed the governor and lawmakers to take money that once went to schools and redirect it to pay salaries, fund roadwork and support other government programs and services, Luke Broadwater and Erica Green of the Sun report.

FROSH ON CASH BAIL: Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told a panel of Baltimore City representatives in the House of Delegates on Friday that the state’s cash bail system is likely unconstitutional, reports WYPR-FM’s Rachel Baye.

HOGAN HELPS METRO: Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia have agreed to give Metro the extra money it has requested for its next budget, granting the transit agency a bit of financial breathing room as it works to improve safety and reliability. The key event came Wednesday, when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) presented a budget that includes a $42 million increase in the state’s subsidy for Metro operations for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Robert McCartney of the Post reports that Hogan authorized the increase without fanfare even though the Maryland transportation budget is tight, and he prefers to spend money on roads that serve his political base in rural and outer suburban communities.

OPEN LOBBYING: It’s political party time in Annapolis as the Maryland General Assembly cranks up its 2017 legislative session. When Republicans and Democrats are done jousting in legislative hearings, they have a long list of invitations to consider for breakfasts, lunches, happy hours, dinners and receptions all around the state capital. The secrecy around the events may soon end, writes Doug Donovan for the Sun.

WORRYING ABOUT HEALTH-CARE: First, Diana Muller’s vision starts to blur. Next, she loses feeling along her left side. Then comes the debilitating pain. The 39-year-old Silver Spring resident suffers from seizure migraines, some of which last more than four days. But after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, worrying about how she would pay for health insurance was no longer a headache. That changed after the election. Now Muller, along with many of Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers, has plenty to worry about, Talia Richman of Capital News Service writes.

AFFORDABLE MEDICINE: In an op-ed for the Sun, Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen and Hank Greenberg of the state AARP write that policymakers in Annapolis are pushing back at the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. And a series of bills should help make prescription drugs more affordable for Marylanders.

ATTY HIRED IN MORHAIM ETHICS PROBE: The General Assembly ethics committee that’s investigating Del. Dan K. Morhaim’s work with a medical cannabis company has hired a lawyer to assist with the review. Senate President Mike Miller, who on Friday disclosed the hiring of the special counsel, said the action underscores the serious nature of the investigation, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun.  “It’s very, very unusual,” Miller said. “It means we take the case very seriously.”

BUDGET RUFFLES FEATHERS: Although Washington County generally fared well, Gov. Larry Hogan ruffled some powerful feathers last week when he unveiled his budget proposal for fiscal 2018. Hogan said every school system and local government was getting “every penny” of what they expected in the new budget. But some other items were missing — namely, all the money for items that the General Assembly last year tried to force the governor to include. That ended in a drawn-out tussle between the Republican governor and the Democratic majority in the State House, Tamela Baker of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail is reporting.

HOGAN, TRUMP & VIEWS OF AMERICA: Two bleak views of American society were on display last week coming straight from our elected executives – expressed first by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. and the next day by President Donald Trump at his inauguration, political pundit Barry Rascovar opines in MarylandReporter.com.

REPORT ON FEDERAL SCHOOL AID: One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis, Emma Brown writes in the Post. Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.  “We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. (Smarick is also the president of the Maryland State Board of Education. Maryland received $6.5 million in these grants just last year.)

FREDERICK FARMER ON NATIONAL BOARD: Frederick County dairy farmer Chuck Fry will carry the voices of Northeast farmers to Washington for the next two years as he embraces a second term on the Farm Bureau’s national board, Samantha Hogan reports for the Frederick News-Post. Fry, who is president of the Maryland Farm Bureau, will represent local farmers and those in states up the East Coast as the Northeast region’s representative on the American Farm Bureau Federation board of directors.

BROWN’s UNEXPECTED LOAN REPAYMENT METHOD: Rep. Anthony G. Brown is slowly making progress paying back the $500,000 he borrowed from a union in the waning weeks of his unsuccessful 2014 run for governor — but he is doing so in an unexpected way. And it is a method that is legal, John Fritze reports for the Sun.

CARDIN, OTHERS REINTRODUCE ERA: As women and their supporters marched in Washington and cities around the world Saturday, Sen. Ben Cardin joined with Senate Democrats to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment, Matthew Hay Brown reports in the Sun.  “Many Americans would be shocked to find out that the U.S. Constitution still lacks a provision ensuring gender equality,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. “Think about that: in 2017, women lack the same constitutional protections as men.  This is clearly wrong and needs permanent correction.” In a separate effort earlier this week, Cardin introduced legislation to extend the deadline for the states to ratify the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment.

SCHUH CAMPAIGN COFFERS GROW: Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh saw his already sizable campaign coffers grow over the last year as he rounded the corner past the halfway point of his first term and toward the 2018 election. The Republican from Gibson Island took in $658,794 in campaign contributions in the last year, according to an annual campaign finance report filed last week by his campaign committee, Citizens to Elect Steve Schuh, Megan Brockett reports for the Annapolis Capital. Schuh said he has raised more this election cycle than any other elected official in the state beside Gov. Larry Hogan.

U.S. REP. RASKIN NOW IN MINORITY: Before winning his first term in Congress in November, Jamie Raskin was known in Maryland as a powerful state senator who helped legalize same-sex marriage and ban the death penalty. Now he’s a U.S. lawmaker who emerged from one of the nation’s most expensive primaries to reach the pinnacle of his political career: a seat in a marginalized minority party with Republican President Donald Trump in the White House. “It’s funny looking up on that vote board and seeing that I’m voting with the minority in vote after vote. That’s a new one,” Raskin said, in this Post profile of the progressive congressman by Jenna Portnoy.

BUCKLEY TO RUN FOR ANNAPOLIS MAYOR: At his Sunday announcement event, Annapolis resident Gavin Buckley laid out an early vision for his mayoral platform that included expanded trolley service, making downtown more “local” and trying to unify the poor and wealthy portions of Annapolis. He currently will face Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, in the Sept. 19 Democratic primary. The winner of the primary is likely to face incumbent Mike Pantelides in November, Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital is reporting.

STYMIED AT THE GATE: Outside Marley Station Mall in the early morning hours of Inauguration Day, a group of about 100 Republicans from Anne Arundel County beams with a prideful optimism. For them, it is to be a day to revel in triumph. But protesters stymied their plans at the gates of the inaugural grounds, writes Phil Davis of the Annapolis Capital.