State Roundup, March 15, 2018

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GUN CONTROL: As students across the country walked out of class on Wednesday to protest school shootings in Florida and beyond, Maryland lawmakers from both parties advanced a pair of bills that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called “common sense” measures to tighten restrictions on guns, Erin Cox reports in the Sun. They include outlawing bump stocks, which make semi-automatic weapons behave like automatic weapons, and create a so-called red flag rule for seizing weapons from people whom judges deem dangerous.

  • Kelsi Loos of the Frederick News-Post reports that an amendment by Del. Kathy Afzali would have required state police to facilitate a turn-in of the banned modifications, made it legal to transport them for the purposes of turning them in and would have required the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to advertise the changes in the law. Her intent, she said, was to make sure that people who already own the rapid-fire trigger activators for sport or hunting are aware that they would have to turn them in while facilitating the process. The amendment was voted down.

TARGETING BALTIMORE POLICE CORRUPTION: After testimony in the Gun Trace Task Force trial revealed systemic corruption in Baltimore’s police department, state lawmakers filed bills in Annapolis aimed at making the department more transparent and accountable. One of those bills would require state auditors to conduct a financial audit of the department every six years, Dominique Marie Bonessi reports for WYPR-FM.

EVIDENCE OF SERIAL OFFENSES: A bill that would allow judges to admit evidence of other, similar sex offenses by a suspect accused of rape is poised to pass the Maryland Senate and receive a committee vote in the House of Delegates, Michael Dresser writes in the Sun. The Senate gave the legislation preliminary approval Wednesday and is expected to pass it by the end of the week. It would then go to the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to take a long-awaited vote on the measure.

IMMIGRATION DEBATE: Activists on both sides of the immigration debate are leaning hard on Maryland lawmakers, offering testimony late into the evening Tuesday on measures requiring — and condemning — cooperation between local law enforcement personnel and federal immigration officials, Bruce DePuyt reports in Maryland Matters.

TAX OVERHAUL RESPONSE: A measure to increase standard tax deductions in Maryland passed the Senate on Wednesday as part of the state’s response to the federal tax overhaul, Brian Witte of the AP reports. The 46-0 vote sends the bill to the House. The measure increases the standard tax deduction by $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples for three years. The deduction will go from $2,000 to $2,500 for individuals and $4,000 to $5,000 for joint filers.

NEW RENEWABLE MANDATE VOTED DOWN: In a major blow to Maryland environmentalists and their allies in the General Assembly, a House Economic Matters subcommittee voted against a bill Wednesday that would have expanded the state’s renewable energy mandate. The bill called for boosting the state’s renewable energy portfolio to 50% by 2030. Currently the state has a mandate to use 25% renewable electricity by 2020, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters writes.

PIPELINE PROTESTERS ARRESTED: Several protesters of the planned natural gas pipeline under the Potomac were arrested Wednesday. The sit-in’s organizers, including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Food and Water Watch, said the protesters are grandmothers from Maryland and West Virginia, reports Scott Dance in the Sun. Capitol Police say protest organizers had contacted them days earlier “to determine what actions were needed for their members to be arrested,” spokesman Nick Cavey said. He also noted that press releases the groups issued ahead of the event “stated the demonstrators’ intent to protest ‘until they get arrested.’”

‘MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND:’ A bill that advanced Wednesday in the state Senate would not consign “Maryland, My Maryland” to the playlist of history but it does seek to relegate the official state song to B-side status, Michael Dresser wittily writes in the Sun. Senators narrowly gave preliminary approval to legislation that would re-designate the pro-Confederate anthem as the “historic” state song — putting some distance between modern Maryland and 157-year-old lyrics that refer to Unionists as “Northern scum” and label President Abraham Lincoln a “despot.”

  • It’s a change some lawmakers say is too long in coming as officials here and around the country seek to deal with remnants of the country’s ties to slavery and the Civil War while other legislators say the changes amount to erasing history, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. “Others of us would see it as divisive, dated and racist,” said Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan, D-Montgomery and lead sponsor of the bill. “It’s time to move forward on this. It’s time to enact a compromise.”

BAN MANDATORY MICROCHIPS: Sen. Ron Young testified in support of his bill that would prevent employers and the state government from requiring or coercing anyone to be implanted with an identification device, reports Kelsi Loos in the Frederick News Post. The premise of Young’s bill may sound like the plot of a science fiction film, but proponents say it addresses a very real issue.

FINANCIAL LITERACY: Two bills being considered in the Maryland Senate look to bring more financial literacy and entrepreneurship education to state high school students and prison inmates, writes Morgan Eichensehr in the Baltimore Business Journal. Sen. Barbara Robinson, a Baltimore City Democrat, said she has heard from people in her constituency who have graduated high school without knowing basic banking skills, or who have run up high amounts of debt in college because they never learned how credit works.

STATEHOUSE TURNOVER: This is the last legislative session for 10 senators and 27 delegates as they leave their seats to others, whether by retiring or running for other offices. Primary and general elections may unseat other lawmakers, but Len Lazarick of MarylandReporters offers up a list of lawmakers that will produce at least a 20% turnover in both chambers.

OAKS ZINGED: Senate President Mike Miller got in a zinger at Sen. Nathaniel Oaks’ expense and to roars of laughter from fellow senators over Oaks being stripped of his committee assignments since he is facing federal charges, William Zorzi writes in Maryland Matters.

ROADS FUNDING: Anne Arundel County and Annapolis could see a several million dollar boost in road maintenance and construction funding if a bill increasing the local share of highway user revenues funding is approved by the Maryland General Assembly, reports Chase Cook in the Capital. Del. Pam Beidle’s legislation tweaks state formulas to send more Highway User Revenues to Baltimore City, counties and Maryland municipalities.

OAKS DROPS ENTRAPMENT CLAIM:  Bill Zorzi of Maryland Matters reports that without explanation, defense lawyers for Maryland state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks late Wednesday formally – and abruptly – dropped their earlier strong suggestion that federal investigators had entrapped the lawmaker in the public corruption case against him.

CUMMINGS RECOVERING: Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) is recovering at home in Baltimore after a 10-week absence from Capitol Hill for treatment of a knee infection. Aides do not know when he will return, reports Jenna Portnoy in the Post. Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has been missing from the day-to-day action on the Hill even as his staff pressures the GOP-controlled House to hold President Trump accountable. Last month Cummings, 67, filed paperwork to seek a 13th term in Congress.

OPIOID CRISIS PART OF CAMPAIGN: Christopher Hearsey and David Trone have both seen upclose the damage that drug abuse can do to a family. Both men are now running for the open seat to represent Maryland’s 6th Congressional District — a competitive and crowded race in Western Maryland, where the opioid epidemic has become central and personal to a degree not seen in any other political contest in the state, John Fritze of the Sun reports.

EDWARDS ENDORSED: Former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards earned the support of the progressive group Maryland Working Families in her bid to become Prince George’s next county executive, reports Rachel Chason in the Post. Edwards, a progressive who was drafted to run by local activists, secured the endorsement of the grass-roots group because of her focus on “lifting up working people,” including pushing for better paid family leave and to increase the minimum wage, said the group’s executive director.

HOGAN BLASTS KAMENETZ: Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday criticized Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for not speaking out on two recent criminal convictions of senior schools officials, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports. Hogan is running for re-election and Kamenetz is seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat. “The school board, the county council members and legislators are saying: What’s going on?” Hogan said in an interview. “I haven’t heard a word out of the county executive who is responsible for it all. Where is he?”

BAKER BUDGET: For his final year in office, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III is proposing a $4.09 billion budget that is the county’s largest ever and, his administration says, shows progress made during Baker’s eight-year tenure, writes Rachel Chason in the Post. When Baker, who is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, undertook his first budget process in 2010, the county faced a $77 million shortfall, led the state in foreclosures and struggled with a high crime rate. Baker, who has faced sharp criticism recently for his handling of controversies involving the county’s public schools, increases education spending in his proposed budget by $72 million.

WHAT CARSON KNEW & WHEN: Documents made public Wednesday suggest U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the celebrated Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon, was involved in the controversial purchase of a $31,000 furniture set for his office suite, despite claims by an agency spokesman that he was not aware of it, John Fritze reports in the Sun.