State Roundup, February 22, 2017

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ASSAULT RIFLE BAN UPHELD: A federal appeals court upheld Maryland’s ban on assault rifles, concluding that the military-style guns outlawed by the measure are not entitled to protection under the Second Amendment.The 10-4 ruling, issued by the entire Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, reverses a decision by a smaller panel of judges from the court last year that called the law’s constitutionality into question, Ian Duncan reports in the Sun.

OT ELIGIBILITY: A bill that would make 80,000 more salaried employees in Maryland eligible for overtime pay is not sitting well with business and nonprofit groups, whose salaried employees often work more than 40 hours a week. But the bill’s sponsor says companies have avoided paying overtime for decades by unfairly classifying hourly workers as salaried employees. The bill, HB665, would increase the salary cap for white-collar and service workers currently exempt from overtime pay to $47,476 up from $23,660, Daniel Menefee of MarylandReporter.com reports.

STATE AP RANKING DROPS TO 2nd: Maryland’s decade-long reign as the state with the greatest percentage of students to pass an Advanced Placement test has come to an end. The state placed second in the nation last year with 30.4% of high school seniors passing the rigorous exams. Massachusetts finished first with 31% of seniors earning a score of three or better, the threshold for many colleges to award credit, Tim Prudente writes in the Sun.

SEX ASSAULT BILLS: The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a pair of bills designed to lift a major barrier to prosecuting rape and ensure that physical evidence of sexual assaults is  preserved.The final debate and vote on the bills is expected on Thursday. The first bill would make clear that it is not necessary for a victim to show they resisted their attacker. The second bill would set statewide rules for the preservation of rape kits, Ian Duncan writes in the Sun.

  • If online shoppers can track their orders, Maryland should be able to track sexual assault evidence kits, Del. Karen Lewis Young said. Lewis Young introduced a bill in the General Assembly that would require Maryland State Police to create a statewide universal tracking system, following kits from hospital rooms to laboratories to police and prosecution storage facilities, and beyond,  Danielle E. Gaines and Jeremy Arias report in the Frederick News Post.
  • Garrett County State’s Attorney Lisa Thayer Welch is supporting legislation sponsored by Del. Brett Wilson, R-Washington, that would allow sex assault convictions in other states to apply toward repeat-offender penalties in Maryland in cases of first-degree rape, second-degree rape, first-degree sexual offense or second-degree sexual offense, Tamela Baker of the Hagerstown Herald Mail reports.

CURB ON LOCAL AID IN FEDERAL IMMIGRATION ACTION: A pair of bills would restrict the involvement of law enforcement agencies in Maryland with federal immigration efforts, banning state government agents from asking crime victims or suspects about their immigration or citizenship status, Carrie Snurr reports for the Capital News Service.

TOWNS MAY BE SPARED FROM REPAYMENT: Small towns around the state who received overpayments in local tax collections could be off the hook for repaying the state under a bill being considered in the Maryland Senate, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports. The Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 397, which would exempt municipal governments from repaying the state as much as $30 million. The bill is sponsored by Sen. George Edwards. “It’s a fairness issue,” Edwards said.

BLOCKING INTERSECTIONS: Vehicles that enter an intersection but fail to cross it once the light turns red would be subject to a ticket and fine under a “don’t block the box” bill sponsored by Del. Al Carr, D-Montgomery. The goal of the bill is to address the problem of traffic congestion, to make the state’s roadways and intersections safer and to increase the road capacity during busy hours, Cara Newcomer of Capital News Service writes.

BRING THE BEER HERE: The editorial board of the Sun decries “the myopic and self-interested crowd at the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association, who have been using state liquor laws as a cudgel to protect their members from the forces of the free market for decades.” The MLBA is the only one opposing a proposal by the Guinness company to build a brewery and taproom in Baltimore County, which could bring 70 new jobs to the area and thousands more tourists annually.

TOTAL WINE BILL: A bill that would enable business owners in the state to open a second alcohol store in Montgomery County drew opposition during a hearing Monday in Annapolis as one opponent noted the co-owner of the company pursuing the change has said he wasn’t planning to open a store in the county, Andrew Metcalf writes in Bethesda Beat.

SAVING PENSION SYSTEM: Caroline County Administrator Ken Decker, in a piece for MarylandReporter.com, writes that potential solutions to Maryland’s looming pension crisis can be found in the one place the legislature would never think to look: Local governments. Caroline County has its own pension system.  Five years ago, the county’s retirement plan was less than 65% funded.  Today, the funding level has increased to over 81% despite substantially lowering the expected rate of return on investments.  Caroline’s fund for retiree healthcare is over 100% funded.  The state of Maryland has almost nothing set aside to fund its generous retiree healthcare benefits.

HOGAN UNBLOCKS PEOPLE ON FB: Aides to Gov. Larry Hogan have begun to unblock people from his Facebook page after criticism over his office deleting negative comments and banning critics and the threat of legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The organization wrote to Hogan’s office on Friday to demand a review of all 450 people barred from posting on the governor’s popular social-media page, Fenit Nirappil of the Post reports.

FREDERICK ETHICS BILL: The Frederick County General Assembly delegation’s ethics reform bill is being reformed. Both the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the bill’s drafter, Sen. Michael Hough, have suggested revisions. On Tuesday, Del. Carol Krimm shared a letter from the counsel to the General Assembly that concluded that at least one facet of Hough’s bill — a ban on campaign contributions — is overly broad and could be considered unconstitutional by a court. But Hough already had amendments in the works that he thinks will address the concerns, Danielle Gaines reports in the Frederick News Post.

PUGH SEEKS APPOINTMENT POWER: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh called on state legislators Tuesday to return control of Baltimore school board appointments to City Hall for the first time in 20 years. Pugh, a former state senator, testified before a Senate committee considering legislation that would end the arrangement under which Baltimore’s mayor and Maryland’s governor have jointly selected members of the board.

AD ATTACKS HOGAN: Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports that the Maryland Democratic Party doesn’t yet have a clear candidate to take on Gov. Larry Hogan in 2018. But the party’s campaign to oust the popular first-term Republican governor seems to have begun. Last week, Democrats released a Web video that they say shows Hogan criticizing the policies of then-President Barack Obama during his gubernatorial campaign, but declining this year to weigh in on President Trump’s policies.

VAN HOLLEN ON INFRASTRUCTURE: Sen. Chris Van Hollen, touring the port of Baltimore on Tuesday, said he hopes President Trump and Congress will come to an agreement on how to address $1 trillion in infrastructure needs nationwide — although no such deal appears close, writes Colin Campbell for the Sun. Senate Democrats proposed a blueprint last month for federal investment in the country’s roads, bridges, ports and airports. There is bipartisan support in Washington for infrastructure, but paying for it has been a point of contention. The article is topped by a short video interview with Van Hollen.

PETROUKA OPERATIVES FOUND GUILTY: A District Court judge on Tuesday said Anne Arundel County residents had a right to know who was behind a contentious robocall made during a 2014 County Council race, finding two Republican strategists from Virginia guilty of violating state election laws. The two workers in the successful Michael Petrouka campaign were sentenced to a year in jail with all but 30 days suspended for misdemeanors charges of violating and conspiring to violate the authority line requirements of Maryland election laws. They were also sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and a $1,000 fine, the Annapolis Capital is reporting.