State Roundup, May 5, 2017

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COMPTROLLER GETS MORE AUTHORITY: The state Office of the Comptroller will have more power to crack down on identity thieves and fraudulent tax preparers under legislation signed by Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday. The Taxpayer Protection Act, the No. 1 priority this year of Comptroller Peter Franchot amid a rise in tax fraud, passed in the final hours of this year’s General Assembly session a year after similar legislation failed, reports the Sun’s Michael Dresser. Franchot described the measure as a “game-changer.”

IMMIGRATION DETAINERS: Maryland’s top lawyer is advising local jails that they should not honor requests from federal officials to hold people suspected of immigration violations for up to 48 hours past their release date, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun.

AUDIT FINDS POSSIBLE OVERCHARGE: Maryland taxpayers may have been over-charged by a Towson University consulting firm hired to review and evaluate applications for licenses under the state’s medical cannabis program. A report issued by the Office of Legislative Audits Wednesday found that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission failed to properly bid out a contract for consulting and review services and instead improperly hired the Regional Economic Studies Institute based at Towson University, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record.

  • “The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) improperly procured license application evaluation services through interagency agreements with a State university, circumventing competitive procurement and control agency approvals,” chief Legislative Auditor Thomas Barnickle wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “The structure and use of the interagency agreements resulted in a lack of assurance that these services were obtained at the most advantageous cost to the State. For example, MMCC significantly understated the number of applications to be evaluated, resulting in an increase in the value of the agreements from $545,000 to $2.4 million. MMCC relied on Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute to renegotiate prices with the hired evaluators without ensuring the cost increases were reasonable.”

SEA GRANT PROGRAM: Rona Kobell of the Bay Journal writes in MarylandReporter about the Sea Grant program, which has helped states to restore  depleted sealife throughout the United States and in Maryland in particular the oyster population. It is a small program, but has come under threat by the Trump administration.

AA TO ELECT SCHOOL BOARD: Gov. Larry Hogan signed Anne Arundel County’s school board bill into law Thursday, setting the wheels in motion for voters to begin to elect board members beginning in 2018, writes Amanda Yeager in the Annapolis Capital. The change follows decades of debate over the process used to select board members appointed by the governor. Anne Arundel is the last county in Maryland to have a fully appointed school board.

JUDGE NOMINEES ONCE MORE: Somerset County State’s Attorney Daniel Powell, Ajene Turnbull — an assistant state’s attorney in Wicomico County — and his wife, Jennifer Turnbull, a Somerset County public defender, were nominated May 1 by the Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commission of Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties, writes Deborah Gates in the Salisbury Times. In December, the commission rejected the three attorneys in favor of Somerset County District Court Judge Paula Price who decided not accept her appointment to the judgeship.

BALTIMORE COUNTY BATTLEGROUND: Baltimore County is a key battleground — a bellwether — because it mirrors the state politically. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by more than two to one. And it is also home to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz who is considering a run for governor. But Larry Hogan in 2014 crushed his Democratic opponent in the county, getting about 60% of the vote. Even so, can Kamenetz cut into that? John Lee of WYPR-FM reports.

SCHMIDT-PERKINS STEPS DOWN: Dru Schmidt-Perkins, who has lobbied for smart-growth and environmental-sustainability policies in Annapolis for 19 years, is stepping down from her role as CEO of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, Scott Dance of the Sun reports.

  • 1000 Friends of Maryland was formed in 1994 to bring together business groups, developers, environmentalists, transportation advocates, community leaders, and local planners to promote sustainable development throughout the state. It was an all-volunteer organization until Schmidt-Perkins, who had been the regional director for the group Clean Water Action for eight years, was brought on as its leader in 1998, writes Josh Kurtz for Maryland Matters.

NIH FUNDING: The passage of the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that includes the $2 billion increase for Bethesda-based NIH earned praise from Rep. Jamie Raskin, who represents the 8th Congressional District that includes Bethesda and Silver Spring and is home to NIH. It also earned praise from TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, writes Andrew Metcalf for Bethesda Beat.

PREDICTABLE SPLIT ON HEALTH CARE: John Fritze of the Sun writes that Maryland’s congressional delegation split along predictable, partisan lines when the House voted Thursday on the latest version of the Republican health care plan, with U.S. Rep. Andy Harris voting to repeal Obamacare and everyone else vote against the plan.

DEMS IN WESTERN MARYLAND: Danielle Gaines of the Frederick News-Post writes that there was a trickle of potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates through Frederick last week, with politicos headed to Flintstone for the 13th annual Western Maryland Democratic Summit and Straw Poll. A well-known local face, U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-6th), won the very early, very unscientific straw poll at the meeting. But other potential Democrats showing interest in challenging Republican Gov. Larry Hogan have been making the rounds in Western Maryland.