State Roundup, Aug. 7, 2017

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OVERDOSE DEATHS SOAR: The number of drug-and alcohol-related deaths in Maryland climbed 37% in the first three months of this year, with the biggest increase related to people taking opioids laced with the potent additive fentanyl. There were 550 overdose deaths, including 372 from fentanyl, a cheap and powerful drug coming into the U.S. from overseas that mixed in with heroin, typically without people knowing, according to data released Friday by the Maryland Department of Health. The number of deaths from fentanyl soared 137% from 157 deaths during the same period last year, reports Andrea McDaniels in the Sun.

EVIDENCE UN-EXAMINED: WTOP-AM reporters Amanda Iacone and Megan Cloherty take a close look at the work that Maryland police evidence labs are doing and whether, in this age of digital evidence, they have the manpower to get the job done in a timely manner. WTOP specifically addresses one case where children continued to be abused while evidence against the suspect sat unexamined. There is a two-minute audio report and the article story below it.

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner speaks in May before her legislative breakfast. Photo from her Facebook page.

FEW WOMEN IN TOP GOVT: Catherine Rentz of the Sun looks at the women who hold top offices in the state, reporting that nearly a century after women obtained the right to vote, relatively few women do hold those top posts. And the state is 54% female. Only one out of nine counties run by county executives in Maryland has female leadership. But at least two women are said to be considering a run for Prince George’s county executive, including former Rep. Donna Edwards and State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. With the retirement of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and the departure of Edwards from the House of Representatives last year, Maryland residents now have no women representing them in Congress.

DIVERSITY FROM THE START: In an op-ed in the Sun, minority chambers of commerce execs Jorge Eduardo Castillo and Doris Cammack-Spencer write that medical cannabis is an emergent industry, and diversity must be woven into the fabric of this multi-billion dollar business from the beginning. We attempting to shed light on the economic impact we know this industry will have. With the economic drive to “follow the money,” communities of color must not be left behind.

STATE DRAGS ITS FEET: In a column for the Annapolis Capital, Jimmy DeButts opines that the clock is ticking, and the state is inexplicably dragging its bureaucratic feet. Chesapeake Bayhawks owner Brendan Kelly announced in March a $100 million plan to develop 544 acres at the former Crownsville Hospital Center into a lacrosse-centered facility. Nearly five months later, the Maryland Stadium Authority and Maryland Department of Health say they are still trying to figure out what they’re going to study. It’s just another fine example of government “efficiency.”

UN-TRUMP REPUBLICAN: Matthew Mosk, in a profile for the Washington Post magazine, writes about Gov. Larry Hogan, “The Un-Trump Republican,” kicking off with the close relationship between Republican Hogan and Democrat Comptroller Peter Franchot, both touting bipartisanship – at least with each other.

HOGAN’s CONSERVATIVE SIDE: The endorsement of millionaire waste management executive Sen. Scott Wagner, co-sponsor of a bill that would defund Philadelphia and potentially half of the senator’s district (which includes York, a “welcoming city”), revealed Gov. Larry Hogan’s ultra-conservative side, which he has attempted to downplay in the run up to his bid for re-election in 2018, writes Owen Silverman Andrews in Maryland Matters.

TOTAL WINE DOMINANCE: In a long piece for the Daily Record, Christine Condon explains how Total Wine, owned by would-be politician David Trone and his brother, have come to dominate the liquor retail industry in Maryland using a combination of volume pricing, employee and consumer education and lobbying.

MO CO POLS DOUBT WAGE STUDY: The Montgomery County lawmakers leading the charge for a $15 minimum wage in the state’s largest jurisdiction say they are not deterred by a study that says the change would cost tens of thousands of jobs over five years. Rachel Chason of the Post reports that County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) said the study — which asked business owners to predict the effect of raising the minimum wage rather than look at the impact of an actual wage hike — was designed to produce negative results.

From left, Gov. Hogan, former Gov. Mandel and Tim Maloney in 2015.

MALONEY SEES NO CONFLICT: Timothy Maloney, a former legislator representing two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Cabinet secretaries in a lawsuit, said concerns that he has a conflict of interest because of his relationship with the president of the Maryland Senate are overblown, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Maloney, a partner at Greenbelt-based Joseph Greenwald & Laake, is a longtime friend of Senate President Mike Miller and does legal work for Miller’s family and his law firm.

BELOW AVERAGE PENSION RETURNS: MACo’s Conduit Street reports on a Governing magazine showing that Maryland’s pension system had lower return on investment that at least a dozen other systems.

DELANEY FOLLOWS IN TRUMP’s FOOTSTEPS: Donald Trump may have started an unwelcome trend. An outsider who started as a joke rather than a serious contender in the wide-open GOP presidential primaries last year, Trump pulled off America’s biggest upset, opines Barry Rascovar in a column for MarylandReporter. Today he’s president and now just about anyone thinks he or she can do the same thing. Exhibit A is Maryland Congressman John Delaney, who is serving his third term in the House of Representatives as a Democrat from a district encompassing Western Maryland and parts of Montgomery County. That’s his only fling at public office.

POLITICS IS LOCAL: In a column for the Annapolis Capital, conservative Brian Griffiths writes that the most unfortunate aspect of politics over the course of the last 10 to 20 years has been the nationalization of every political issue. Average citizens are more likely to concern themselves with what is going on in Washington than what is going on in their local communities.

POLS COME OUT AGAINST JUSTICE DEPT. THREAT: Six members of Baltimore’s delegation to Congress on Friday questioned the Justice Department’s decision to withhold federal crime fighting assistance unless the city cooperates with the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement efforts, reports John Fritze in the Sun. Calling the Justice Department’s announcement “unconscionable,” the six lawmakers — all Democrats — noted that the state of Maryland sets immigration policy at Baltimore’s jail, not City Hall. The lawmakers also argued that immigration enforcement is a federal issue, not a local matter.

TOWN CONSIDERS WIDENING VOTER ROLL: Officials in College Park are weighing a plan that would make their city the largest in Maryland to give undocumented immigrants a right to vote in local elections, a long-standing practice elsewhere in the state that has drawn new scrutiny amid the simmering national debate over immigration, the Sun’s John Fritze is reporting.

AA JUDGES RACE PAYMENTS QUESTIONED: Questions about campaign payments in the 2016 Anne Arundel County judicial race have made their way to three state-level oversight entities, according to documents shared with the Annapolis Capital. Capital reporter Amanda Yeager writes that the Caucus of African American Leaders recently filed formal complaints asking the Maryland State Ethics Commission, Office of the State Prosecutor and Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities to investigate whether payments made by a slate of sitting judges to a firm owned by the wife of a county assistant state’s attorney constitute a conflict of interest or create the appearance of impropriety.

ANNAPOLIS NIXES NATIONAL POLITICS POSTINGS: Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides is forbiddings department heads and office leaders from making positive or negative comments about the president or national issues. In an email sent out last Tuesday, Pantelides reminded his staff of the policy following comments made by the Annapolis Police Department on its Facebook account, write Chase Cook and Phil Davis for the Annapolis Capital. The mayor encouraged department and office heads to focus on local issues and hoped it was “a lesson we don’t need to learn again.”

HAGERSTOWN GETS EPA GRANT: Tamela Baker of the Hagerstown Herald Mail reports that the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $5.6 million grant to Hagerstown to help pay for design and repair of the Edgemont Reservoir. That was news to city officials, who had heard nothing before U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen sent a news release Friday announcing the grant, along with several others for Maryland projects.

CHAIN MAIL MARYLAND FLAG: And now for something completely different: Kris Kielich of the Cecil Whig writes about a local artist who is recreating the flag of Maryland out of chain mail. It’s something you have to see to believe. Be sure to check out the photo gallery at the top of the story.