$43.5 BILLION BUDGET: The General Assembly gave final approval Tuesday to a $43.5 billion state budget that closes a $400 million revenue gap while holding the line on taxes and sending new funding to Baltimore and 10 other school systems, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun. The lawmakers’ action came with time to spare — two weeks remain before the legislature will adjourn its annual 90-day session. The legislature’s only constitutionally mandated annual duty is to pass a balanced budget.
- As the state’s budget negotiations come to an end, funding for the LYNX program at Frederick High School and a downtown hotel and conference center are in. The salary for beleaguered Planning Secretary Wendi Peters and Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to live stream General Assembly sessions are out, reports Danielle Gaines for the Frederick News Post. The Maryland Senate and House of Delegates each gave final approval to the state’s $43.6 billion operating budget on Tuesday morning.
HELP FOR CITY SCHOOLS: The final budget includes nearly $30 million to help Baltimore City Public Schools fill its own budget hole. Rachel Baye of WYPR-FM reports that most of that money replaces funds Baltimore City Public Schools lost as a result of declining enrollment. Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, who chairs that body’s Budget and Taxation Committee, said additional legislation helps cover the city schools’ transportation costs by allowing students to use Maryland Transit Administration vehicles for free.
- The editorial board for the Sun opines that “We were heartened to see Gov. Larry Hogan commit on Sunday to providing additional funding to Baltimore City schools, and to a lesser extent to other districts, to help them cope with expected reductions in state aid next year. His rhetoric about the system has been disappointing throughout much of the debate, and he continued to paint a misleading picture about the district’s finances even over the weekend.”
SCHOOL EVALUATION LEGISLATION: Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly on Tuesday passed legislation establishing parameters for school evaluations that the state school board strongly opposes and Gov. Larry Hogan has promised to veto. The House went along with Senate amendments, and sent the bill to Hogan, who called it “an utter disgrace.” MarylandReporter.com and Capital News Service contributed to the story.
- Advocates pressed for the legislation as a way to prevent the governor and state school board from enacting controversial reforms Hogan recommended as Maryland seeks to meet new federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Erin Cox of the Sun reports. Among the most hotly contested issues were whether the General Assembly should forbid the state school board from putting all failing schools into a single “reform” district, turning those struggling public schools into charters or granting their students vouchers to attend private schools.
- The Senate amended the bill to say 65% of a school’s “accountability rating” should be based on academic indicators such as standardized testing, student achievement, student growth and graduation, compared with 55% in the original version, Josh Hicks and Ovetta Wiggins of the Post report.
PROTEST AGAINST BAIL BILL: About 100 people rallied on Tuesday, with the support of Maryland legislators, against a Senate bill they argued would walk back a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding bail reform, Carrie Snurr of Capital News Service writes. The bill, which passed in the Senate and is under consideration in the House of Delegates, establishes new requirements and standards for the release of defendants before their trial. The bill would increase the use of bail, according to a state analysis.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD: The General Assembly gave final passage Tuesday to a bill designed to protect Planned Parenthood if Congress votes to cut off federal funding, writes Ian Duncan for the Sun. The state Senate passed the bill 32–15 Tuesday. It will quickly be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan, who will be forced to decide whether to veto it, while leaving lawmakers sufficient time to override the veto before the General Assembly session ends April 10.
- The bill would direct $2 million in the state’s Medicaid budget to family planning services provided by Planned Parenthood, as well as another $700,000 from the state’s general fund, reports Brian Witte for the AP.
COMPLAINTS ON CRAFT BREWING BILL: A new bill passed through the Maryland House has craft brewers on their toes. House Bill 1283, adopted by the Economic Matters Committee March 22 with unanimous House approval, will increase the cap on how much Maryland class 5 breweries will be able to produce annually for on-site consumption — from 500 barrels to 2,000 barrels. However, the restrictions on the bill, from mandatory closing hours at 9 p.m. to halting collaborations between breweries, are said to outweigh the positives, Gina Fanelli writes in the Salisbury Daily Times.
DRUG DEALER PENALTIES: After undergoing a major overhaul in a Senate committee, a bill that started out as a way to punish individuals who distribute an opioid that is linked to a user’s death now instead would create an enhanced penalty for distribution of a mixture of controlled dangerous substances that contains fentanyl, reports Heather Cobun for the Daily Record.
UNTRUSTWORTHY ‘TRUST ACT:’ In an op-ed for the Annapolis Capital, Del. Herb McMillan opines that the “Trust Act” (House Bill 1362) was sold as a way to protect hardworking undocumented immigrants and their children, who only want a better life, from local law enforcement agencies more interested in deporting them than protecting us. The bill goes far beyond protecting undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed criminal acts from deportation. It makes Maryland a criminal sanctuary state for convicted felon illegal immigrants, McMillan says.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY PROGRAM: Lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to an extension of the state’s EmPOWER energy efficiency program. A coalition of businesses sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan urging him to sign the bill, which also has been championed by environmental advocates. Under the program, utility customers are charged a fee on their monthly bills. The money is used for efficient appliances, home energy checkups, rebates and bill credits for reducing electricity use, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun.
- In an op-ed for MarylandReporter, business owner Michael Giangrandi writes that when energy efficiency comes to mind, most of us think about our home or apartment and how upgrading our thermostat, for example, could save us hundreds of dollars. But that’s only part of the story here in Maryland. Energy efficiency is also shaped by statewide policies. These policies not only determine how much we pay for electricity but also have an enormous impact on how many jobs our state has, how competitive our economy is, and whether employers move here or leave.
McCORMICK LOAN: The Baltimore County Council is poised to support a $2 million loan from the state to McCormick & Co. Inc. as part of a deal made in 2015 to keep the spice and seasoning maker’s corporate offices in the county, Alison Knezevich reports for the Sun. The council is expected to approve a resolution endorsing the state loan at its April 3 meeting.
KAGAN AIDE ARRESTED: An aide to a state senator was arrested driving the wrong way on Route 50 early Thursday morning following a social outing with other legislative staff and nearly a dozen lawmakers. Katherine Donnelly, 23 of Crofton, was arrested after a police chase on Route 50 that exceeded 70 mph, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. She is a legislative aide to Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery.
ARUNDEL 3rd IN OD DEATHS: Anne Arundel County saw the third most deaths caused by drug overdoses in Maryland from 2013 to 2015, outpacing more populated counties by a significant margin, according to a study released this morning, reports Phil Davis in the Annapolis Capital. Only Baltimore City and Baltimore County saw more deaths because of drugs during the time, the study found. Law enforcement and public officials have largely attributed the increase in overdoses to an increase of heroin and opiate use in the region.
CARDIN, VAN HOLLEN OPPOSE GORSUCH: Maryland’s two Democratic senators said Tuesday they will oppose President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve on the Supreme Court, but they took a different approach on how far they would go to try to stop his confirmation, reports John Fritze in the Sun. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen said in separate statements that Judge Neil Gorsuch falls outside of the judicial mainstream and questioned his ability to separate his political and legal views.
- Van Hollen, a freshman senator from Montgomery County, and Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Gorsuch cannot separate his political views from his legal judgment, reports the Post’s Jenna Portnoy.
ELRICH IN MO CO EXEC RACE: Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich has officially launched a widely expected campaign for county executive, promising to bring his brand of liberal community activism to the office, writes Bill Turque for the Post.
- In a 30-minute-plus speech, Elrich touched on his achievements and priorities—from championing rent control in Takoma Park to pushing for minimum wage increases. He also mentioned his passion for political activism and the experiences that molded him into the liberal elected official he is today, Andrew Metcalf of Bethesda Beat reports.