State Roundup, March 31, 2017

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BLACK CAUCUS AGAINST BAIL BOND BILL: In what could be a devastating blow to bail bondsmen, Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus voted overwhelmingly Thursday to oppose legislation that would partially restore the role of cash bail in pretrial release, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun. The caucus voted 31-5 to oppose a bill favored by the bail bond industry — and approved by the state Senate — that would overrule the Court of Appeals’ instruction in February that court commissioners and judges consider other forms of pretrial release before resorting to cash bail.

CONWAY PACKING UP: Boxes are being packed in the office of Sen. Joan Carter Conway, reports Bryan Sears in The Daily Record. All that’s left now is for the Baltimore city Democrat and formidable Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee chairwoman to decide if she is going to leave the Senate seat she has occupied for the last 21 sessions and when.

SUN SUPPORTS PROTECT OUR SCHOOLS VETO: The editorial  board of the Sun opines that Democrats in the General Assembly moved this week to send Gov. Larry Hogan a bill he has vowed to veto that would restrict the state Board of Education’s authority to craft a school accountability plan under the federal government’s Every Student Succeeds Act. … Gov. Hogan calls it a massive over-reach by the legislature that could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education funding while leaving thousands of kids in failing schools. … We agree with Mr. Hogan that it represents more direct meddling by the General Assembly into the state school board’s business than is wise.”

METRORAIL SAFETY COMMISSION: In a private ceremony in his State House office Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an emergency bill that establishes the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission, which will provide oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to regulate and enforce safety standards in a pact with D.C. and Virginia, reports Daniel Menefee for MarylandReporter.

WHO DECIDES LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE? The Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to legislation that would make clear that legislators, in repealing capital punishment in 2013, intended for judges – not juries – to decide whether convicted first-degree murderers deserve the state’s new ultimate punishment, life in prison without the possibility of parole, reports Steve Lash for the Daily Record.

RX POT & ADDICTION: Maryland lawmakers have a new idea to fight the deadly heroin epidemic that has swept across the state: Treat addicts with medical marijuana. A House of Delegates committee agreed to tuck the proposal into a bill that would extensively rewrite the laws governing the state’s medical marijuana program. The bill, to be considered by the full House today, would add “opioid use disorder” to the list of medical conditions physicians can cite when recommending medical marijuana to patients, write Ian Duncan and Meredith Cohn for the Sun.

POLITICIZING A RAPE: In an op-ed for the Sun, author and rape survivor Victoria Bruce opines that what makes the Montgomery County rape case so much more horrific “is that in addition to all of the pain that child is going through, Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, like White House press secretary Sean Spicer, added another layer to the assault: He politicized what police said was a brutal sexual attack upon a minor for his own fear-mongering and anti-immigration agenda.”

OVERPAYMENT REPAYMENTS: Six Washington County municipalities likely won’t need to repay tax money they were overpaid by the state, as legislation to forgive the debt is on its way to passage in the Maryland General Assembly, reports Tamela Baker for the Hagerstown Herald Mail. Hagerstown, Boonsboro, Clear Spring, Sharpsburg, Williamsport and Funkstown were among the 83 municipalities statewide that were overpaid local income-tax distributions by the Maryland Comptroller’s Office from 2010 to 2014.

INCLUSIVE WOMEN’s CAUCUS: In her Political Notes column for the Frederick News Post, Danielle Gaines offers a bit of insight into the General Assembly’s women’s caucus, which is populated by most female and a few male legislators. One exception is Del. Kathy Afzali, a Republican who said recently, “I’m already tortured by the liberal agenda enough in Annapolis.”  Still, three of the eight members of the caucus’s executive board recently elected for the 2018 session are Republican women.

ENERGY PROJECT INPUT: The Public Service Commission may be required to take county comprehensive plans into account when considering proposed energy generation facilities, should a bill dealing with the issue pass the state legislature, reports Josh Bollinger in the Cecil Whig. House Bill 1350 originally would have required local approval of permit applications to build energy generation facilities, like a solar farm, but was amended to say the PSC has to take into account a county’s comprehensive plan, instead.

VISITATION RIGHTS: Legislation protecting visitation rights for family members of sick, disabled or dying people is moving forward in the Maryland General Assembly. House Bill 1165 passed the House of Delegates unanimously earlier this week and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate.  Last month,  Kerri Kasem, daughter of the late “American Top 40” DJ Casey Kasem, and Kelly Rooney, a daughter of the late actor Mickey Rooney, flew to Annapolis to tell legislators about the difficulties they faced as they tried to visit their ailing fathers, Amanda Yeager of the Annapolis Capital reports.

SCHRADER’s NOMINATION: As the state Senate considers the nomination of Dennis Schrader to be secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, an ongoing dispute between the state and a nursing home operator has become a factor in its deliberations, writes Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters.

VETO OVERRIDE PLAN: In this four minute segment, WYPR-FM’s Joel McCord and Rachel Baye look at the rush of bills the General Assembly has sent to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk just in time for an override vote in case he vetoes any of them.

PROGRESSIVES PUSH HOGAN: A group of 10 progressive activists staged a “pop-up town hall” in a hallway of the Maryland State House on Thursday, asking Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — who did not make an appearance — to stand with them on issues such as immigration enforcement, health care, charter schools and sick leave, reports Josh Hicks in the Post.

IMPERFECT SYSTEM, EXCEPT FOR ALL OTHERS: In an op-ed in the Sun, Herb Cromwell writes that his “career involved working three dozen state legislative sessions…. In my experience, issues in Annapolis were and continue to be decided more on their merits than their politics… Obviously the Maryland system isn’t perfect. There are ethical lapses. Lobbyists serving moneyed interests do wield considerable influence. The good of the citizenry is not always honored. Worthy causes (see above) don’t always rise to the proper priority level. But by and large Maryland’s process serves the public well.”

FRACK YOU: By agreeing to ban hydraulic fracturing in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan  and the General Assembly aren’t just making significant state policy – they’re going against the wishes of one of the top donors in state politics. That’s the take on the pending fracking ban from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, writes Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters. In a short report issued on Thursday the institute noted that the energy and natural resources sector contributed about $4.5 million to state political candidates and committees between 2003 and 2014. The figure trended upward in the last three election cycles, the institute found.

COUNTIES DENY TRUMP ASSERTION: Three Maryland counties are disputing a Trump administration claim that identified them as failing to honor federal requests to hold immigrants in their custody — saying they have no record of the requests being made, reports John Fritze for the Sun. As part of an effort to apply pressure on “sanctuary” cities and counties, the Department of Homeland Security released a report last week identifying Montgomery, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties as having defied federal requests to hold immigrants in jail so that federal immigration agents could pick them up.

  • In an op-ed for Maryland Matters, Montgomery Council member George Leventhal writes that, “Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that the Maryland Trust Act, now pending in Annapolis, would make Maryland a sanctuary state. As the article points out, it would not. Our county attorney has advised that Montgomery County is in full compliance with applicable federal immigration law.”

CITY SEEKS FED AID: Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh told the state’s congressional delegation on Thursday that the city is looking to the federal government for help on housing, infrastructure and education funding — even as the Trump administration is seeking steep reductions in at least two out of three of those areas, reports John Fritze for the Sun.

PUSH FOR PURPLE LINE: Andrew Metcalf of Bethesda Beat writes that Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner urged the state on Thursday to push for an expedited ruling by a federal judge in an ongoing lawsuit that has delayed the start of construction of the long-planned Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton.