State Roundup, February 27, 2018

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SEN. OAKS STRIPPED OF COMMITTEE POSTS: Baltimore Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, who is facing federal corruption charges, has been removed from his committee positions in the Maryland Senate, an unusual disciplinary action that strips Oaks of the type of influence he’s accused of abusing, Erin Cox of the Sun reports. The removal announced Monday night is the most severe punishment Senate leaders can take without a finding of wrongdoing from an ethics committee investigation.

BILL TO ARM TEACHERS: Del. Deb Rey, R-St. Mary’s, has cosponsored a bill introduced this month at the General Assembly that would authorize qualified teachers to carry handguns in Maryland schools. Jason Babcock and Jacqui Atkielski of the Enterprise report. At least one member of the St. Mary’s County school board, the St. Mary’s teachers union president and Rey’s possible political opponent in the fall were against the bill, which is not likely to become law in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. House Bill 760 was introduced Feb. 1, sponsored by eight Republican delegates.

REDISTRICTING REFORM: Supporters of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s effort to create an independent commission to redraw congressional maps every decade are hoping the third time is the charm, writes Bryan Sears in the Daily Record. Hogan’s effort, unsuccessful on two previous occasions, is likely to face continued opposition from Democrats in the legislature who want a national or, at least, regional approach, and it faces competition from lawmakers who are proposing efforts to create regional compacts.

HYGIENE PRODUCTS FOR JAILED WOMEN: Judiciary committees in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly voted last week to support bills aimed at increasing access to menstrual hygiene products for incarcerated women, Cameron Dodd of the Frederick News-Post reports. The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee both voted unanimously in favor of the companion bills.

SPEED CAMERA LEGISLATION: WJZ-TV is reporting that two bills before the Maryland General Assembly would change the way speed cameras operate in the state. House Bill 1151 would require speed camera citations to “provide an accurate visual record of a motor vehicle,” as well as “an accurate representation of the distance traveled by the motor vehicle between each time-stamped image.” House Bill 1365, would require speed cameras in school zones to have a device that shows the real-time speed of the vehicle.

RENEWABLE ENERGY LEGISLATION: Two bills in the General Assembly this session aim to keep expanding renewable energy in Maryland, and the change could benefit solar installers that have struggled for the past year to sign contracts with homeowners uncertain about how an impending tariff on imported solar panels could change prices, Samantha Hogan of the Frederick News Post reports. President Donald Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced in January a 30% tariff on foreign solar cells and modules, which went into effect this month. The threat alone, however, has affected the sale of solar panels in the state during the last year, said Ryan Nicholson, sales manager for the Frederick-based solar company Sustainable Energy Systems.

MORE POT BILLS: Pot is hot for Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis this year, Michael Dresser and Ian Duncan of the Sun report. The General Assembly is considering more than two dozen bills on marijuana. For marijuana enthusiasts, full legalization for recreational purposes is at the top of the wish list. Bills in both the House and the Senate would put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to let voters decide whether to replace prohibition with a system of regulated sales and taxation.

NEW BAY PARTNERSHIP: A new partnership of 20 organizations has set a new goal for themselves, adding 10 billion — with a “B” — oysters into the Chesapeake Bay by 2025, Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital reports. The announcement Monday was part of ongoing efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay’s health. Oysters are a natural filter for the bay, but populations have been devastated over time due to overfishing and environmental changes. Both Maryland and Virginia have committed to restoring five tributaries in each state by 2025. That restoration will play a key role in the 10 billion oyster goal.

CUMMINGS BACKS ASSAULT WEAPON BAN: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings has announced his support of a bill banning assault weapons on Monday, nearly two weeks after a gunman used an AR-15 in a deadly shooting at a Florida high school, WJZ-TV is reporting. The Assault Weapons Ban of 2018 was formally introduced by Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline and Florida Rep. Ted Deutch. The legislation would make it “unlawful for a person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a semiautomatic assault weapon.”

Mary Kay Sigaty

SIGATY TO SEEK KASEMEYER’s SEAT: Howard County Council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty announced Monday that she will run for the seat being vacated by Democratic state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer. Kasemeyer, who has represented District 12 in the General Assembly, announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election after more than 30 years in the legislature, Kate Magill writes in the Howard County Times.

Sen. John Astle

ASTLE WON’T SEEK RE-ELECTION: Since 1983 Sen. John Astle has served in the Maryland legislature. The Annapolis Democrat will break that tradition next year, writes Chase Cook for the Annapolis Capital. Astle, 74, announced Monday night during a General Assembly session that he will not seek re-election. He gave a brief speech from the Senate floor where he got emotional making his announcement, but still found time for a few jokes. “Nothing lasts forever, unless you are the Senate president and Speaker of the House, that seems to last forever,” Astle said, prompting laughs.

CAMPAIGN DONATION RETURNED: Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams said he will return a campaign donation from a physician after learning the doctor was placed on probation for over-prescribing opioids. Responding to questions by The Capital about a $250 contribution from Dr. Gary Sprouse of Chester, the prosecutor’s campaign released a statement saying he would return the money, Phil Davis reports in the Annapolis Capital. Adams, a Republican seeking a second term, has made the widespread abuse of opioid painkillers and drugs such as heroin and fentanyl a priority for his office.