State Roundup, March 8, 2017

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STATE SCHOOL BOARD NOMINEE WITHDRAWS: One of Gov. Larry Hogan’s nominees to the State Board of Education withdrew from consideration Tuesday after a rocky Senate committee hearing, Michael Dresser is reporting in the Sun. Brandon F. Cooper, the 28-year-old chairman of the Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee, dropped his bid to join the school board after majority Democrats on the Senate Executive Nominations Committee grilled him Monday night over his previous traffic offenses, personal finances, qualifications and affiliation with a conservative group that promotes alternatives to traditional public schools.

RALLY FOR PLANNED PARENTHOOD: As Congress and the Trump administration move toward a possible cutoff of federal money for Planned Parenthood, Democratic leaders in the Maryland General Assembly are rallying around a plan under which the state would fill the funding gap.Leading Democratic lawmakers have scheduled a news conference this morning to announce their support for legislation that would require the governor to budget money to pay for non-abortion services offered by the group if the federal action takes effect, reports Michael Dresser of the Sun.

FIGHT FOR $15: The fight for a $15 minimum wage went before the House Economic Matters Committee on Tuesday — and not all businesses are opposed to this national push for higher pay, writes Daniel Menefee of MarylandReporter.com. “Valuing workers is the best way to build and sustain our economy,” said T.J. Zlotnitsky, chairman and CEO of iControl Data Solution, at a press conference prior to the hearing. Zlotnitsky is a member of Patriotic Millionaires, a group of “high-net worth Americans” calling for a higher standard of living for “regular Americans” and an increase in the corporate tax rate.  Zlotnitsky said his lowest paid employee earns $17.85 an hour.

LAWMAKERS QUESTION DDA CONTRACT: Disability advocates and state lawmakers are questioning why Maryland is sending teenagers with a mix of intellectual disabilities and behavioral disorders to a facility in Massachusetts that has been the subject of complaints over disciplinary practices, writes Fenit Nirappil in the Post. In January, the Maryland Board of Public Works approved a three-year, $2.7 million contract to house five teens in the Judge Rotenberg Center after child welfare officials said they couldn’t find facilities in Maryland willing to accept them.

REPLACING HANDGUN PANEL: Fenit Nirappil of the Post reports that Democratic state Sen. Richard Madaleno wants to abolish the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board, which gun-control advocates say has become too willing to overturn state police recommendations about who should receive a concealed-carry permit. Madaleno would transfer the power to review permit denials to administrative judges. The panel is staffed with gubernatorial appointees.

SENATE OKs ENERGY PROGRAM EXTENSION: The Sun’s Pamela Wood is reporting that the state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill extending the EmPOWER Maryland energy efficiency program, following similar action in the House of Delegates last week. Senators voted, 32-14, to extend the program, which was created in 2008 to require utility companies to reduce per capita electricity use by 10% by 2015. The law didn’t require the program to continue past 2015, although the state’s Public Service Commission has supported the program and asked utilities to lay out plans to invest more in energy efficiency.

TRANSIT ISSUES: Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM interviews Del. Brooke Lierman of Baltimore City on legislation she is cosponsoring that would remove the 35% mandated farebox recovery ratio imposed on the MTA and replace it with performance metrics to help the system become more reliable and efficient.

FUNDING LEGAL HELP: Heather Cobun of the Daily Record writes that Maryland’s legal service providers that aid low-income residents in everything from domestic violence proceedings to foreclosures told a Senate committee Tuesday they need legislators to do away with a sunset provision on civil filing fee surcharges that fund the majority of their budgets.

YODELING IN ANNAPOLIS: Lawmakers got testimony and a performance from Cumberland’s “yodeling cowboy” during a hearing Tuesday on a resolution calling for a National Day of the Cowboy, Tamela Baker writes in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. You can hear him yodel toward the end of this short video.

STATE DEMS IN GERRYMANDER BIND: The editorial board for the Sun opines that as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder leads a nationwide Democratic effort to end gerrymandering, Maryland Democrats are left in a bind when it comes to Gov. Larry Hogan’s initiative to do the same locally: They generally acknowledged the governor’s basic point that voters should get to pick their representatives, not the other way around. Their objection, though often couched in gentler terms, was a nakedly partisan one: Why should Maryland give up the ability to draw districts to advantage Democrats when other states controlled by Republicans aren’t doing the same?

ROSENSTEIN GRILLED: Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, nominated to be the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, declined Tuesday to commit to a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference in the election — frustrating Democrats who say an outside counsel is needed to depoliticize the issue, John Fritze of the Sun reports. Facing a barrage of questions during his confirmation hearing, Rosenstein also said he saw no need to recuse himself from any pending investigations into Russia and said he would follow such a probe wherever it leads, including to the White House.

ACA REPLACEMENT CALLED THREAT: Health care advocates and Democratic lawmakers in Maryland called a newly released GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act a threat to coverage for more than 400,000 state residents, while top Republicans, including Gov. Larry Hogan, argued that the law must be changed to preserve access to health insurance, Meredith Cohn of the Sun is reporting. “The governor doesn’t want to see anyone losing health care,” said Doug Mayer, Hogan’s chief spokesman. “But he wants a system that works.”

CUMMINGS, TRUMP TO MEET: Rep. Elijah E. Cummings will meet with President Donald Trump today to discuss prescription drug prices — putting back on the books a meeting that appeared unlikely a few weeks ago, John Fritze writes in the Sun.

CHALLENGE TO SCHUH: Amanda Yeager of the Annapolis Capital reports that a Pasadena resident who was inspired by former President Barack Obama to run for office has become the first candidate to publicly announce a challenge to sitting County Executive Steve Schuh in 2018. Jessica Ewing says she decided to jump into the race after listening to Obama give his farewell address to the nation Jan. 10.