State Roundup, February 7, 2018

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‘BLANK CHECK’ FOR AMAZON TRANSIT: Maryland’s transportation chief said Tuesday that he has promised Amazon a “blank check” for any transportation improvements the retail giant would want if it chooses the state’s Washington suburbs for a second headquarters, Katherine Shaver of the Post reports. Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said that amount “could be more or could be less” than the $2 billion in unspecified transportation upgrades the state has already committed to as part of its $5 billion pitch for Amazon to choose the White Flint area of North Bethesda in Montgomery County.

SICK LEAVE DELAY BILL DELAYED: For the second time in as many days, the Maryland Senate on Tuesday postponed a preliminary vote on a bill to delay the state’s new paid sick leave requirement, reports Tamela Baker in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. The bill as currently amended would delay implementing the law until July 1. Sen. Joan Carter Conway asked that the vote be postponed until today because she plans her own amendment to it.

SENATE OKs REMEDY TO TRUMP TAX PLAN: The Sun’s Scott Dance reports that, in the first of what is expected to be a series of moves in reaction to President Donald Trump’s tax plan, the Maryland Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to prevent state taypayers’ bills from rising $1.2 billion next year. The legislation would ensure that Marylanders can continue to take personal exemptions on their tax returns even though a new law Trump signed in December eliminates that break on federal tax returns.

ORAL HEALTH: There are more than 700,000 Medicaid-eligible Marylanders — roughly 13% of the population — whose insurance will cover the cost of an emergency room visit to treat oral infections or pain but not the cost of dentistry to prevent or fix the underlying problems. Health care advocates plan to push legislation in the current General Assembly session to close what they call a glaring coverage gap in Maryland’s medical safety net for low-income adults, reports Michael Dresser in the Sun.

GERRYMANDERING FIX: History says no, but Del. Michael Malone, R-Crofton, believes he has a solution that could solve Maryland’s gerrymandering problems by adding language to the state constitution, Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital reports. His bill, submitted Monday night, would require Maryland congressional districts be drawn “of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and be of substantially equal population,” according to the bill.

MANDATORY SENTENCING FINDS FOES: Gov. Larry Hogan called for increasing mandatory minimum sentences for violent repeat offenders during his State of the State address last week. The bills to do that came up for a hearing Tuesday in a House of Delegates committee and ran into opposition. Lawmakers opposing the bills said they were sympathetic to the victims of violent repeated offenders, but worried whether they would do any good, Dominique Maria Bonessi reports for WYPR-FM.

CALLER ID ‘SPOOFING:’ Tired of spam phone calls that use bogus caller ID numbers? So is Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick), writes Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. She is introducing legislation to crack down on caller ID spoofing, as the practice is called. Telemarketers “are purposely masquerading their location in order to get you to pick up the phone,” she said. “It is a purposeful attempt to get an innocent person to think it’s somebody local calling them.”

CURBING TACKLE FOOTBALL: Jeff Barker and Erin Cox of the Sun report that proposed legislation in the General Assembly would prohibit children from playing tackle football on public fields until they reach high school, a move one of its sponsors says would improve public health. The measure would prohibit football and other contact sports for elementary and middle-school kids if they are played on public fields or facilities maintained with public funds.

SESSION VIDEOS GETS WEAK SUPPORT: A brief, perfunctory hearing in a Senate committee Tuesday made a rather weak case for Gov. Larry Hogan’s legislation to make the legislature’s proceedings more open and accessible to the public, reports Len Lazarick in MarylandReporter. Hogan’s Transparency Act of 2018, sponsored by almost all Republican lawmakers and no Democrats, requires the legislature to live video stream and archive all sessions of the House and Senate and their committees, including voting sessions.

DEDICATED NURSING SPACE: Del. Carol Krimm on Tuesday presented a bill that would follow federal law and require state entities to provide a break time and a private place for employees to express breast milk. Krimm noted that even the State House did not have a dedicated nursing space, Kelsi Loos of the Frederick News-Post reports.

FUND FARM/FOOD GRANT PROGRAM: In a commentary for Maryland Matters, farmer Joan Norman and Michael J. Wilson of Maryland Hunger Solutions opine that Gov. Larry Hogan’s recently released budget, which his office touts as making “prudent investments,” leaves out funding for the Farms and Families Act, a new grant program to support a public-private partnership that is a win for Maryland’s family farmers and our food insecure neighbors.

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2nd AMENDMENT PROTEST: After two men were arrested Monday while protesting on Annapolis sidewalks, their organization is planning a much larger protest Monday near the State House, Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital reports. Kevin and Jeff Hulbert were arrested by Maryland Capitol Police Monday night after they were asked to leave the sidewalk. They were cited with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

  • Civil rights activists are concerned about Monday’s arrests, writes Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland noted that there is no constitutional right to block the sidewalk for a demonstration that does not have a permit, or that is not a response to imminent events. But based on video of the arrests shot by The Daily Record, “it seems pretty clear that the small number of people who were peacefully holding signs were not actually blocking the sidewalk.” The article is topped by a 12-minute interview with Jeff Hulbert.

COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE: Cycling organizations urged legislators Tuesday to establish a comparative negligence standard for when they or pedestrians are struck by vehicles, drawing opposition from insurers, defense attorneys and local government, Heather Cobun of the Daily Record is reporting. Sen. Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery, proposed a “comparative negligence carve-out” that would allow such plaintiffs to recover damages even if they were partially at fault in a collision. It has not been cross-filed.

HYPOCRITICAL DEMOCRATS: The editorial board of the Sun opines that the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a state court ruling ordering Pennsylvania to draw new congressional districts doesn’t have any direct legal impact on Maryland’s own contested and convoluted maps. But there is most assuredly a chance to observe once again the flagrant hypocrisy of Maryland Democrats. This time, the culprit, the editorial board says, is Tom Perez.

HUNTER PINK: A bill to allow Maryland hunters to wear “daylight fluorescent pink,” sailed out of committee Tuesday minutes after the two young Eastern Shore girls who came up with the idea testified before the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Maryland Reporter is reporting.

77 CHARGED WITH INSURANCE FRAUD: The Maryland Insurance Administration charged 77 people with fraud last year, Lorraine Mirabella of the Sun writes. Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer authorized civil orders and criminal charges totaling $466,261 in fines,penalties and restitution, the agency said.

HOGAN HONORS 5th GRADER: Just over a year ago, Makenzie Greenwood, now a fifth-grader from Hampstead, had a big idea to feed hungry people. Since then, she has been honored by the Baltimore Orioles, the Carson Scholars Fund, the comptroller of Maryland and, on Jan. 24, by Gov. Larry Hogan and the state legislature, Bob Blubaugh writes for the Carroll County Times.

STATE LOAN HELPS BLACK & DECKER GROW: Stanley Black & Decker plans to add 400 jobs in Baltimore County as the tool company opens an $8.5 million facility in Middle River, writes Pamela Wood for the Sun. Part of the project will be funded by a $2 million conditional loan from the state and a $200,000 conditional loan from Baltimore County. Conditional loans can be converted into grants that don’t have to be paid back if the recipient meets certain employment requirements.

CARDIN FILES FOR RE-ELECTION: Sen. Ben Cardin, a fixture in Maryland Democratic politics for more than five decades, filed Monday to run for a third term in the U.S. Senate, John Fritze writes in the Sun. Cardin, a former state lawmaker who went on to serve 10 terms in the House, has been building a campaign and fundraising operation for months — and was expected to run — but he had not previously directly answered questions about his intentions.

CARDIN LOSES TOP SLOT: Sen. Ben Cardin is losing his role as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ending a run that began almost three years ago with the tricky politics of the Iran nuclear deal, John Fritze of the Sun writes. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey would return to the role of ranking member. Cardin took over the job in 2015 as Menendez was fighting federal corruption charges.