State Roundup, July 27, 2017

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HOGAN OPPOSES SKINNY ACA REPEAL: Gov. Larry Hogan weighed into the health care fray again Wednesday, signing a bipartisan letter to Senate leaders that opposes the so-called “skinny repeal” plan emerging as a potentially viable option to dismantle Obamacare. “Congress should be working to make health insurance more affordable while stabilizing the health insurance market,” Hogan and nine other governors wrote in the letter, John Fritze reports for the Sun.

MO CO OKs PURPLE LINE WORK: Montgomery County granted legal permission Tuesday for the Maryland Transit Administration to build and operate a light-rail Purple Line on county-owned land, reports Katherine Shaver in the Post. The state recently won a major court victory that allowed it to begin building the 16-mile rail line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties while a lawsuit opposing the proposal continues.

NO PAYCHECK FOR 2 CABINET SECRETARIES: Two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Cabinet secretary nominees weren’t paid this week, Danielle Gaines of the Frederick News-Post reports. Wednesday marked the first full pay period for state employees in fiscal 2018. Maryland Planning Secretary Wendi Peters and Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader weren’t paid, pursuant to budget language passed by the Democratic Party-controlled General Assembly.

STATE STEPS IN TO HELP CITY SCHOOLS: Maryland education officials will meet with administrators of the 20 worst performing schools in Baltimore over two days next week to find ways to turn them around. Liz Bowie, reporting for the Sun, writes that state and city officials will then collaborate over the next year as they develop interventions that can improve the academic performance of students in those schools.

STATE SCHOOL FUNDING: Maryland often prides itself on how good its schools are and how much it spends on them. But the Kirwan Commission studying the state’s school funding and how it spends the money was told on Wednesday that Maryland actually lags behind several states with better test scores — Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Hampshire. On the other hand, compared to countries with top-performing students, U.S. schools spend far more per pupil. The conclusion, according to commission’s lead consultant, is that “money matters but how it is spent matters greatly.” He made a number of key recommendations, some of them controversial. Len Lazarick reports in MarylandReporter.com.

RX POT OFFICE IN HAGERSTOWN: A group of doctors who want to help Maryland patients enter the state’s new medical-marijuana program are planning to open an office in Hagerstown next month, reports CJ Lovelace in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. Green Health Docs is already accepting patients in anticipation of opening Aug. 14. “We decided to open these clinics mainly because there’s a big opioid epidemic, and we wanted to help patients find other ways” to manage pain and chronic illness, said Dr. Shivani Amin, a co-owner of the practice.

OPIOID DEATHS IN MO CO: Montgomery County has seen a significant rise in opioid overdoses this year as use of heroin and other drugs continues to spread, officials said this week, Joe Zimmerman of Bethesda Beat writes. County police report that nonfatal opioid overdoses have increased by 44% from the same period last year. Of 122 overdoses, 31 were fatal.

BPW, CITY SETTLE DEATH SUIT: The Board of Public Works unanimously approved a $400,000 settlement with the family and estate of a man who died in handcuffs in 2013 while being arrested in Baltimore city, writes Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. The three-member panel approved, without discussion, the agreement between the family of Tyrone West Sr. and Morgan State University. An officer from the university assisted city police in West’s arrest and reportedly sat on West as he was handcuffed on the ground.

MGM REVENUES LOWER: Prince George’s County has revised projected MGM National Harbor casino revenues to be lower than first expected, writes Emily Blackner for the Prince George’s Sentinel. The Prince George’s County Local Development Council on July 19 received an updated local impact grants spending plan proposal from the county executive’s office. The proposal spells out how the county executive intends to spend $4.26 million in MGM video lottery terminal revenues – a decrease of about $615,000 from the plan presented to the LDC in April.

HOGAN STAFF CHANGES: Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff, Sam Malhotra, is leaving the administration after less than a year in that post, the Governor’s Office confirmed Wednesday. The Sun’s Michael Dresser reports that Malhotra will be replaced by Matthew A. Clark, the Republican governor’s former communications director. The staff changes comes as Hogan is gearing up for his 2018 re-election campaign.

OFF-SHORE WIND: Ana Faguay of Maryland Matters writes that offshore wind energy was on its way to the Free State, but now that may be on standby. Its fate may be determined by the U.S. Senate – or by a Capitol Hill conference committee. Last week, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) inserted an amendment into a House spending bill to push the wind mills back farther from the shore – effectively killing the projects.

CROWDED GUBERNATORIAL FIELD: Marylanders have more than a year before they’ll cast votes for governor, but already the field is crowded. Six Democrats have declared their candidacy, and at least that many are considering it. Do any of them have what it takes to unseat Maryland’s popular Republican governor? Sheilah Kast of WYPR-FM chats with political scientists Todd Eberly of St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Mileah Kromer of Goucher College about Gov. Larry Hogan’s prospects, the Trump effect and potential strategies the Democratic party might take.

REACTION TO TRANSGENDER BAN: The Naval Academy confirmed Wednesday it has frozen any moves toward admitting transgender people, the same day President Donald Trump used his Twitter account to say he plans to bar them from serving in the military. Rachel Pacella of the Annapolis Capital reports. Cmdr. David McKinney said the academy had been working under interim guidelines issued in November. They would have moved the academy to begin accepting qualified transgender applicants for the incoming class in 2018.

FATHERLESS FAILS CHILDREN: Towson University Professor Rick Vatz in an op-ed piece in the Sun writes that to stem violence in our cities there needs to be a full throttle rhetorical and economic effort to disincentivize broken families. Mayors and other political and social leaders, as well as clergy, need to loudly reject a culture wherein having children outside of marriage is acceptable. Fatherlessness is highly correlated with crime, poverty, social pathologies and psychological problems.