State Roundup, January 4, 2018

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SNOW DAY: Schools throughout most of Maryland are closed today for the snow, with blizzard conditions along the coast. 

ARUNDEL SUES OVER OPIOID CRISIS: Anne Arundel County is targeting a number of players in the opioid industry in a new lawsuit, claiming everyone from the biggest manufacturers to local prescribers contributed to the local opioid crisis, Phil Davis reports for the Annapolis Capital. Filed Wednesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court by the Washington D.C.-based firm of Motley Rice, the lawsuit names everyone from the manufacturer of OxyContin, the leading opioid painkiller, to prescribers based in Annapolis.

TAX CONFUSION: Maryland’s tax collector says a report on how the federal tax overhaul will affect the state will be released in a few weeks, the AP is reporting. Comptroller Peter Franchot said Wednesday the new law has resulted in a lot of confusion and anxiety among tax professionals, state and local governments and taxpayers across the country.

CONOWINGO CORRECTION: The Conowingo Dam story we posted in Thursday’s roundup was an old story that had the same headline as a Sun editorial on the topic that ran on Tuesday, but was somehow MIA on their website. It is now up, and here’s the Sun’s opinion about Exelon’s responsibility for the polluted sediment buildup behind the dam.

JUDGE APPOINTEE IN BIAS LAWSUIT: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) appointed a Worcester County prosecutor embroiled in a highly publicized racial discrimination lawsuit to become a circuit court judge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports. The Dec. 28 appointment has provoked the ire of the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, whose leader said the group will discuss it at an executive committee meeting on Thursday.

DON’T ADD TO BAY BRIDGE LANES: As the state studies ways to relieve congestion on the Bay Bridge, the editorial board for the Sun suggests this: Don’t add capacity to the existing spans, not a single, solitary lane mile. The last thing Maryland needs is to further unleash sprawl development across the Eastern Shore, potentially destroying some of the most scenic and pristine land and waterfront the state has left, the Sun says.

NEALL & OBAMACARE: Political pundit Barry Rascovar, in his Political Maryland blog, writes, First, the good news: Gov. Larry Hogan has named a new health secretary who not only knows what he’s doing health-care wise but also is an experienced “Mr. Fixit” when it comes to devising solutions to knotty problems. Now the bad news: Bobby Neall has a king-sized dilemma staring him in the face as he steps into his Baltimore office suite on Jan. 9: The perilous steps taken by Republicans in Washington to subvert and eventually kill the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

RX POT DISPENSARIES IN CARROLL: Two medical cannabis dispensaries, meanwhile, are planned in the Westminster area, even though they remain in the planning phase. If and when they open, qualified medical patients will be able to purchase cannabis products at those two locations — assuming they know it’s an option., John Kelvey of the Carroll County Times reports.

ANNAPOLIS ISSUES FROM TOWSON: Towson’s state lawmakers — Sen. Jim Brochin and Dels. Susan Aumann, Steve Lafferty and Chris West — are readying themselves for the 2018 General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 10 in Annapolis. Brochin said that his priority will be submitting a bill called the Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act, Nelson Coffin writes in the Towson Times.

COUNT DOWN TO ANNAPOLIS SUMMIT: Marc Steiner hosted a number of 30-minute podcasts as he counts down to his annual Annapolis Summit, cohosted by the Daily Record. Here they are:

ISSUES AS POLITICAL PINATAS: Del. Cory McCray, a Democrat who is running for state Senate, writes in op-ed for Maryland Matters that it has become fashionable for politicians to turn life-changing regulations into mere rhetorical piñatas, where the real object is political gain, not the benefit of their constituents. Democrats who were previously hesitant to offer their support suddenly become vocal proponents, laying claim to a moral high ground that just months earlier they refused to occupy unless its impact was watered down. This is exactly what occurred in the instance of paid sick leave, McCray claims.

CHINA CURBS U.S. WASTE STREAM: Elizabeth Daigneau of Governing magazine writes that starting this month, China will no longer buy most of the paper and plastic U.S. consumers recycle. In July, Chinese officials told the World Trade Organization that they will limit the entry of “foreign waste” by banning two dozen types of materials that often contain “dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes.” The announcement has thrown recycling programs across the country into turmoil. With China out of the picture, American waste and recycling firms are scrambling to find new buyers for the scrap they collect from curbside bins. (This will obviously affect Maryland counties.)

SEN. OAKS’ HEARING: A federal judge will hear state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks’ request to sever his fraud-related charges from a later obstruction of justice charge just one day after the 2018 General Assembly session begins, Heather Cobun of the Daily Record reports.

LABOR ENTERS DEM RACES: Determined to win a larger role in the state Democratic Party organization, Maryland’s labor unions are entering the 2018 off-year election season early, and betting on some of their own rank-and-file members for places in the state legislature and other local offices, reports Bruce Vail for In These Times.

PEACE CORPS NOMINEE: A visiting professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work who is a veteran official at the Peace Corps will be named to lead the organization of global volunteers, the White House said Wednesday. Josephine Olsen of Silver Spring has taught at the University of Maryland, Baltimore for eight years and is the director of the school’s Center for Global Education Initiatives. She served as the Peace Corp’s acting director during the first months of the Obama administration, John Fritze reports in the Sun.

BUDGET SHORTFALL IN MO CO: Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D) on Tuesday sent the County Council a proposed savings plan to address a budget shortfall of $120 million. The plan recommends nearly $28 million in cuts from county government and $25 million from Montgomery County Public Schools. The county’s annual operating budget is about $5.5 billion.

  • Andrew Metcalf of Bethesda Beat reports that Leggett’s proposed cuts include: $25 million from the school system’s budget; $5 million from Montgomery College; $4.3 million from the Department of Health and Human Services; $3.8 million from the police department; $2.6 million from the fire department. Other agencies’ budgets also are expected to be cut as Leggett seeks to reduce funding for each department by about 2 percent to address the shortfall.

MO CO PRE-PAID TAXES: Rachel Siegel of the Post reports that more than 5,000 homeowners in Montgomery County rushed to prepay their 2018 property taxes in the waning days of December, after the County Council came out of holiday recess to pass emergency legislation allowing them to do so. The payments were a last-ditch attempt to claim a tax deduction that will be capped starting this year as part of the broad tax overhaul passed by Congress last month.

COLD CITY SCHOOLS: Brian Griffiths of Red Maryland writes that while Baltimore City school children are freezing in schools with no heat, Democrats are attacking Gov. Larry Hogan for the problem. He writes, “Everybody knows that Governor Larry Hogan has funded education at record levels every year he has been in office. This isn’t news; we’ve been talking about it at Red Maryland for three years.”