State Roundup, July 17, 2017

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DISTRICTING’s ‘NEFARIOUS ACTIVITY:’ A panel of federal judges on Friday sided with Republicans challenging Maryland’s electoral map, saying there is convincing evidence that the state’s Democratic leaders intentionally drew voting boundaries to make it easier for their party to pick up another congressional seat. One judge described the politically motivated mapmaking as “nefarious activity,” Ann Marimow and Josh Hicks of the Post report.

DRIVE AGAINST GERRYMANDERING: Although the drive from Mount Washington in Baltimore to Hunt Valley in Baltimore County spanned only 13 miles, the travelers passed through four congressional districts, reports Carrie Wells for the Sun. On Sunday afternoon, members of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other groups stopped at four restaurants along the way to highlight what they characterized as Maryland’s extreme gerrymandering, in which boundaries of districts are manipulated to favor a specific incumbent or political party.

TUG OF WAR: Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports that two Maryland cabinet secretaries are the unlikely figures at the center of a growing political brawl between the state’s Republican governor and the Democratic-majority legislature that could end up in court. The dispute, over whether the legislature can prohibit the state from paying appointees whose nominations were sent to the state Senate but not approved, prompted an extraordinary allegation last week from Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief spokesman.

NO FBI HQ? NOW WHAT? The Trump administration’s decision last week to halt new FBI headquarters contracts caught Prince George’s County Executive Rusher Baker and other politicians by surprise, and left residents and local business owners wondering what other projects could be lured to the large parcels in Greenbelt and Landover that were finalists in the FBI’s search (the third finalist was in Springfield, Va.). Arelis R. Hernández and Jonathan O’Connell report the reaction for the Post.

HARRIS VOTES AGAINST FBI HQ FUNDING: Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who has supported bringing a new headquarters for the FBI to Maryland, voted against a measure late Thursday that would have restored $200 million in funding for the project. The amendment, offered by Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County, would have reversed an earlier decision by a House Appropriations subcommittee in June to strip $200 million in funding set aside for the headquarters building. Ruppersberger, a Democrat, and Harris both serve on the committee.

OVERTESTING? State lawmakers responded to the complaints of overtesting of school children by creating a commission to review testing policies and then passing legislation this year that caps the number of hours students can be tested each year. Most of the state’s school districts already fall within the limits, a review of data released by the state in May shows. Some school administrators, meanwhile, many of whom believe testing yields valuable information for teachers, object to the state involving itself in what they should be a local decision, Liz Bowie writes in the Sun.

FTA JOINS MD IN PURPLE LINE APPEAL: The Federal Transit Administration is now officially a partner with Maryland in the appeal of a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling in the Purple Line lawsuit, reports Andrew Metcalf for Bethesda Beat. The federal agency filed documents Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to join the state as it appeals Judge Richard Leon’s decision to call for a new environmental study of the 16.2-mile light-rail project.

McDANIEL BUDAPEST CAMPUS STAYS OPEN: Members of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Cabinet struck a deal Friday with Hungarian diplomats to ensure classes continue at McDaniel College’s Budapest campus after the Central European country tightened its regulation of foreign universities, Tim Prudente of the Sun reports.

NEGLECTED IN ROSEWOOD DEAL: The editorial board for the Sun opines that the Stevenson University-Rosewood deal is good for Stevenson, which has grown rapidly in recent years and needed land to expand, with no more logical place than this 117-acre parcel between its existing campuses. And it’s a good deal for Owings Mills, promising to transform a community eyesore into a productive use, but one that won’t strain local resources in the way new residential or commercial development would. But as yet, there is one group that isn’t getting much out of it: intellectually and developmentally disabled Marylanders, the group that was supposed to receive care at Rosewood but who were often treated with neglect or outright brutality during the century the institution operated.

CONOWINGO DAM PROBLEMS: For nearly a century, the Conowingo Dam had stopped silt and polluting muck in the Susquehanna River from spilling into the Chesapeake Bay. There was wide agreement the reservoir behind the dam would eventually reach its capacity, and stop holding back the pollution, writes Erin Cox for the Sun. But scientists now agree the dam is not stopping anything at all. The Republican governor says he will seek a contractor next month to deal with the sediment and dissolved phosphorous and nitrogen pollution that weakens the bay’s health. And he’ll convene a summit to discuss what he wants to do.

EX-MTA CHIEF JOINS CONTRACTED FIRM: The former head of the Maryland Transportation Administration has taken a position with a company that has a $15 million contract with his former agency, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Paul Comfort, who was abruptly ousted in June from his position as administrator of the state transit agency, joined Trapeze Group this month as vice president of business development.

TRUMP TO HONOR MD BIZ: The Trump White House has learned at least one thing about the State of Maryland: It never hurts to highlight a blue crab business in the middle of the summer, reports John Fritze in the Sun. Representatives from Heath’s Crab Pots in Crisfield will be on hand at the White House on Monday for an event touting American made products and manufacturing, officials said.

HELP FOR BALTIMORE VIOLENCE: A group of Baltimore lawmakers have sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan suggesting ways the state could do more to help Baltimore with its crime problem, reports Luke Broadwater for the Sun. Hogan last week expressed openness toward hearing ideas. In the letter, state Del. Antonio Hayes and 16 other Baltimore Democrats suggested state police, parole and probation officers and juvenile services staffers join warrant task forces; state police staff the Juvenile Booking facility, thereby freeing up city police to patrol the streets; and increase probation and parole visits to the homes of violent offenders released from jail.

MADALENO RUNS FOR GOV: Stalwart liberal state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. is planning to launch his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor today — heralding a contest for the party’s progressive base, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun. Madaleno said he would be the first Montgomery countian, the first Italian-American and the first openly gay person to be elected governor of Maryland.

HOUSE RACE FUND-RAISING: State House Majority Leader Bill Frick raised just over $213,000 in the second quarter of this year in the uncertain race for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, reports John Fritze in the Sun.

CARDIN COFFERS: Sen. Ben Cardin raised nearly $1 million in the second quarter of 2017, a figure likely to quiet speculation he’ll do anything other than run for reelection next year, reports John Fritze in the Sun. One of 24 Democratic incumbents up for re-election in 2018, Cardin raised $909,965 from April through June, according to a summary of a campaign finance disclosure. The state’s senior senator had nearly $1.7 million on hand. Cardin’s campaign also spent $146,000 — an indication he is ramping up a campaign apparatus.

MOONEY-HOUGH W. VA. TEAM: Ryan Miner of the A MinerDetail blog writes about West Virginia U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, the former Maryland GOP chief who ran across the border to run for an office he could win. He’s recently hired Maryland Sen. Michael Hough as his chief of staff as he gets ready to run against a former Jay Rockefeller and Hillary Clinton aide for his seat. Or is there something else in the works? Miner asks.

OPIOID DETOX CENTER IN HO CO: As Maryland continues its battle against opioid abuse, Howard County is taking steps toward opening its first residential detoxification center, something officials say is desperately needed and overdue, reports Kate Magill for the Howard County Times. The county’s fiscal 2018 budget began on July 1, and with it came $250,000 to help fund a capital project to choose a location and begin the design process for the center, according to the approved capital budget for fiscal year 2018.