State Roundup, April 10, 2017

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SEN. OAKS CHARGED: State Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, a longtime Baltimore state legislator, was charged in U.S. District Court Friday with accepting cash payments in exchange for using his position to influence a development project, Justin Fenton and Luke Broadwater of the Sun report.

ETHICS RULES UPDATED: The Maryland General Assembly has unanimously passed the first major update to ethics rules in a decade, sending the measure to Gov. Larry Hogan for his promised signature, reports Erin Cox for the Sun.  The legislation, given final passage by the House of Delegates Saturday, was approved two days before the annual legislative session concludes Monday — a session bookended by corruption charges against four current, former and prospective lawmakers.

  • Josh Hicks of the Post reports that Hogan applauded the legislature and its Democratic leaders, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller, for working with him to enact the bill. “With this legislation, we are reaffirming our promise and commitment to the accountability, transparency, and fairness that the people of Maryland deserve,” Hogan said.
  • Under the bill, state officials will be barred from recommending specific lobbyists. The measure also strengthens ethics laws following Del. Dan Morhaim’s work for a company seeking a medical cannabis license. Morhaim was a leader in getting the legislation passed and later worked as a consultant while in the legislature. He was publicly reprimanded for that work earlier this year, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record.

BEER TOURISM WIN: The General Assembly on Saturday paved the way for beer giant Guinness to open a tourist-destination brewery in Baltimore County, and for other big breweries across the state to sell significantly more beer in taprooms, writes Erin Cox in the Sun.

FIGHT ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Legislation that would increase the number of licenses to grow medical marijuana and Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to give a tax break to manufacturers top the list of unresolved issues as the General Assembly heads into the final day of its 2017 session, writes Michael Dresser in the Sun.

CONTROLLING DRUG PRICES: Maryland could become the first state to give its attorney general the power to take legal action against drug companies that dramatically increase the price of off-patent or generic drugs under a measure that is moving through the General Assembly. Attorney General Brian E. Frosh proposed the legislation, which received final approval in the Senate on Friday, Ovetta Wiggins and Josh Hicks of the Post report.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD AID: Maryland became the first state in the nation to agree to reimburse Planned Parenthood clinics for their services if Congress defunds the organization, after Gov. Larry Hogan allowed the bill to become law Thursday without his signature, Ovetta Wiggins and Josh Hicks of the Post report. And in a second victory for progressives, a top aide to House Speaker Michael E. Busch said a bill to allow judges to require bail for poor defendants would not get a vote in the House.

CONTRACEPTIVES ACCESS: The General Assembly gave final approval Saturday to legislation that would allow pharmacists to supply women with oral contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun. The 112-23 vote in the House of Delegates sends the state Senate-approved measure to Gov. Larry Hogan.

RAPE KIT TESTING FUNDS IGNORED: Law enforcement agencies across the country have drawn on $80 million in federal grants to make significant progress in processing nearly 70,000 untested rape kits. But Maryland — which has 3,700 untested kits has yet to see a dollar. Almost no Maryland jurisdiction applied for grants, according to Justice Department records obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a Freedom of Information Act request, Catherine Rentz reports.

TEST RAPE KITS: In an op-ed for the Sun, Ilse Knecht of the Joyful Heart Foundation condemns recent comments  by Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger that dismiss efforts to implement legislation to test all rape kits, removing discretion from law enforcement and thus mandating reform. She cites efforts in Detroit to remove the backlog of kits there for ending in the conviction of 78 offenders and identifying 784 potential serial offenders.

RETAINING BAIL SYSTEM: House Judiciary Committee Chair Joseph  Vallario said Friday that the legislative fight to retain the current bail system is “not over yet” – though it likely is for this year, Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports. “It’s not in the drawer,” said Vallario, referring to the metaphorical location for dead legislation. “It’s on the shelf.” Vallario, D-Prince George’s, made his comments regarding bail’s future.

5 THAT DIDN’T MAKE IT: Daniel Menefee writes about five bills that MarylandReporter covered in hearings but were never heard from afterward. All but one never got a vote in committee, including one that proposed an online sales tax for those businesses without a physical presence in the state.

AS THE SESSION ENDS: As the session heads toward a midnight end, House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said he’s compiled a “long list” of “all the good things that we’ve done.” Among the session’s successes, Kipke said, are bills that push back against heroin abuse and legislation that offers tax incentives to manufacturers, which has passed in different versions in the House and Senate. The differences will have to be resolved today, writes Amanda Yeager for the Annapolis Capital.

THE ODD SESSION: In an analysis for Maryland Matters, Josh Kurtz looks at the strange 2017 session in Annapolis — it began in January with legislators being indicted. It’s ending in April with another legislator indicted — and wonders what the political climate will be in the next 14 months, as the governor’s race comes into focus.

PUGH GETS BOARD OVERSIGHT: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh would have more authority over picking city school board members under legislation passed Saturday by the Maryland General Assembly. Pugh made seeking that authority a priority this year, saying it would help her more quickly make necessary changes to the city school system, reports Erin Cox for the Sun. The bill, granted final approval by the House of Delegates Saturday, would remove the governor from the process of selecting and removing members of the city school board.

HOGAN SIGHS WITH RELIEF: In a column for MarylandReporter, Barry Rascovar opines that when the clock strikes 12 tonight, Gov. Hogan will breathe a huge sigh of relief. There have been few reasons for Hogan to take comfort in his dealings with the state legislature this year – or indeed for the two earlier 90-day sessions. Hogan and President Trump want to run things the way they did as private-sector real estate CEOs. Working cooperatively with a large, diverse and divisive legislature isn’t in their DNA. Nor is give-and-take compromise.

THE TRUMP EFFECT: In a normal year, the partisan jab on the floor of the Maryland Senate would have drawn only eye rolls. A Democratic senator used the ceremonial introduction of guests to slip in a reference to suspected Russian meddling in the presidential election. But like much in politics since the election of President Donald J. Trump, this was not a normal year in the Maryland General Assembly, writes Ian Duncan and Erin Cox for the Sun.

BAKER RUNS FOR GOVERNOR: The Prince George’s of 2010 was nothing like the county it is today, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III likes to tell people. Today in Prince George’s, Baker tells his audiences, there’s a glamorous new casino, crime is at its lowest level in decades, businesses are investing billions in projects and housing prices are nearing pre-recession levels. Graduation rates are up, some government operations have been streamlined and Baker’s ethics reforms have kept his branch of government, at least, scandal-free. Arelis Hernandez writes about Baker testing his message for a run for governor.

OD STABILIZATION CENTER: A new center in Crownsville, years in the making, will look to fundamentally change how law enforcement will handle drug overdose victims and addicts. The Maryland Community Health Resources Commission awarded $225,000 in grant money to the Robert A. Pascal Youth and Family Services to open a new “stabilization center” on the grounds of the former state psychiatric hospital, writes Phil Davis for the Annapolis Capital.

GREENBELT COUNCIL ERRED IN CLOSING MEETINGS: The State Open Meetings Compliance Board has found that the City Council of Greenbelt erred in closing some of its meetings, Diane Oberg writes in the Greenbelt News Review.