State Roundup, November 16, 2017

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SEN. OAKS FACES NEW CHARGE: State Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, already facing allegations of fraud and bribery, was charged Wednesday with obstruction of justice in a new federal indictment in which prosecutors say he reneged on a deal with the FBI, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun. Prosecutors say Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, tipped off the target of another investigation that FBI agents had in their sights.

STATE WORKFORCE DOWN: A Maryland budget analyst says the state workforce is understaffed in some agencies, the AP is reporting. David Juppe, a Department of Legislative Services analyst, told lawmakers Tuesday the executive branch has abolished nearly 8,000 positions since 2002, leaving it with less than 50,000. He etimates agencies are understaffed by about 1,300 positions. That’s in addition to vacant positions that are simply not filled at this time.

MID-SHORE MENTAL HEALTH: The Behavioral Health Coalition of the Mid-Shore met with local legislators to discuss the needs and hurdles in facilitating mental health services in the Mid-Shore area at the Behavioral Health Legislative Forum, held Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Talbot County Community Center in Easton, Denae Spiering writes in the Easton Star Democrat.

BILL TARGETS DRUG PRICING: Fresh off the successful enactment of a law limiting generic and off-brand prescription drug price increases, Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, is pushing for greater limitations on name-brand drugs. His organization’s ideas, he says, are popular — and he has the numbers to show it, Samuel Manas writes in Maryland Matters.

  • Under the legislation proposed, the state would create a Prescription Drug Cost Review Commission, similar to the Health Services Cost Review Commission that sets rates for services at Maryland’s hospitals, writes Tim Curtis in the Daily Record. The proposal would also allow pharmacists to provide information to consumers about lower-cost alternatives and require drug companies to justify prices for new drugs as well as price increases for older drugs.

METRO OVERSIGHT QUESTIONED: Martine Powers and Faiz Siddiqui of the Post report that the U.S. Senate’s chief oversight committee is questioning whether Metro’s internal watchdog, the Office of Inspector General, has the independence to properly perform its job — writing to Metro this week that possible censorship by the agency’s board or staff, along with the OIG’s lack of separate lawyers and funding are hindering its autonomy.

SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION: Building additional schools and pushing for more up-to-date, efficient and innovative design proposals is under review by a state panel charged with examining school construction. Today, an estimated 65,297 students in Maryland public schools are in temporary classrooms such as trailers, and there is $23 billion in estimated statewide school construction needed through fiscal year 2023, according to the Maryland State Department of Education and local schools, reports CNS’s Georgia Slater in MarylandReporter.

FRANCHOT ON LANSDOWNE RENOVATION: No high school in Baltimore County is in worse shape than Lansdowne High, John Lee reports for WYPR. The county plans to renovate the school, but State Comptroller Peter Franchot said Lansdowne should get a new school and that isn’t happening because the community isn’t affluent, and doesn’t have much influence. But Franchot’s motives are being questioned., by a school board member who represents the area.

MO CO SCHOOL CALENDAR: Donna St. George of the Post reports that spring break for Montgomery County students will be cut by two days in the 2018-2019 academic year, but public schools will continue to close on the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, as part of a calendar adopted this week by the school board. The shorter spring break departs from a longtime tradition in the Maryland school system.

ENVIRONMENTAL AWARDS: At its annual dinner in Annapolis Wednesday night, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters bestowed the Legislator of the Year Award to Del. Kumar Barve, chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, and its Chesapeake Champion award to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its longtime president, Will Baker. LCV gave its John V. Kabler Memorial Award to 2016 Chispa Maryland Promotores class, a program that elevates Latino leaders and offers training on grassroots organizing. Barve was honored for his work passing legislation to permanently ban fracking. Barve also helped guide legislation protecting pollinator habitats, advancing clean energy, and ensuring sustainable oyster fisheries. “It was a milestone year for Maryland’s environment in the 2017 legislative session,” said Karla Raettig, the league’s executive director. MarylandReporter.com

TRIBUTE TO HIXSON: Leading Democrats from Montgomery County and around Maryland gathered in Silver Spring Tuesday night to pay tribute to a woman who has been a political institution and to observe the end of an era. At the close of the evening, Sheila Hixson made the announcement widely anticipated for months: that she would not seek an 11th full term in the state House of Delegates.

FARMERS CUT THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: It seems like everyone is in love with the romance of farming and the seemingly simple life it promises. Beyond the romantic soft-focus photos you see of neat rows of crops and fiery sunsets, Maryland farmers want you to know there’s hard work and a lot of unromantic paperwork involved in their job, says the My Maryland Farmer blog. And sometimes, they get frustrated for being blamed for troubles with the Chesapeake when they have done so much to reduce their environmental impact and so can you.. Here are five ways to make a difference. SPONSORED CONTENT

LEGISLATIVE SUMMIT FOR ADVOCACY GROUPS:The Maryland Legislative Coalition of nonprofit advocacy groups is holding a summit on Sunday, Dec. 3, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at UMBC’s Engineering Building Lecture Hall to prepare for the 2018 legislative session. The morning session teaches how to communicate effectively with legislators, with training on lobbying provided by Maryland Working Families. At 1 p.m., major non-governmental organizations will discuss their priorities for the session. Participants will have the opportunity to connect directly with the organizations to help support their legislative goals. Click here to see a full list of advocacy groups and register for the event.

MADALENO SPEAKS TO UM PROGRESSIVES: State Sen. Rich Madaleno was elected to the state legislature in 2002, he was told being out would destroy his career, writes Naomi Grant for the Diamondback. An openly gay man had never served in Maryland’s legislature before, and it was only in 2001 that the state barred discrimination based on sexual orientation. Madaleno was the first guest of a speaker series hosted by this university’s College Democrats and Our Revolution chapters. The group also plans to host gubernatorial candidate and former NAACP President Ben Jealous on Dec. 5.

MO CO EXEC CANDIDATES DEBATE: Six Democrats vying for Montgomery County executive squared off Wednesday evening to pitch how they would grow the county’s economy, support small businesses and widen the local tax base, reports Rachel Siegel for the Post. In a debate that touched on issues including transportation, the minimum wage and Montgomery’s liquor monopoly, candidates placed particular emphasis on how they would encourage businesses to start — and stay — in one of Maryland’s wealthiest and most diverse jurisdictions, albeit one pocketed by poverty and economic disparity.

AA DEMS MAY HAVE SCHUH OPPONENT: Anne Arundel County Democrats, buoyed by their strong showing in last week’s Annapolis elections, may have finally found a candidate to run for county executive, writes Josh Kurtz for Maryland Matters. Multiple sources this week said that Steuart Pittman, a Davidsonville horse farmer whose family has lived on 350 acres alongside the Patuxent River for eight generations, is preparing to run. Pittman, has been actively involved in county agricultural and development issues for several years, but has become increasingly disenchanted with County Executive Steve Schuh’s (R) development priorities.

WITH BUCKLEY WIN, ANNAPOLIS PRESERVATIONIST QUITS: The top historic preservation official in Annapolis resigned Monday, a week after the election of a new mayor who challenged the city’s policy on protecting its historic buildings. Lisa Craig, chief of historic preservation since 2010, submitted her resignation to planning and zoning director Pete Gutwald, Danielle Ohl of the Annapolis Capital reports.