State Roundup, March 16, 2018

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SENATE OKs $44.5B BUDGET: The Maryland Senate on Thursday unanimously passed the state’s $44.5 billion budget for fiscal 2019, just 2.2% higher than this year’s spending plan, reports Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter. The senators heaped bipartisan praise on budget committee chairman Ed Kasemeyer, who is retiring from the Senate this year and got three standing ovations from his colleagues over the past three days as he presented the budget.

  • The budget allocates $200 million in new education funding, using additional tax revenue that state residents are expected to pay as a result of changes in the federal tax code. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had proposed changing state law to fully offset an estimated $400 million in additional state taxes Marylanders would have to pay as a result of changes on the federal level affecting which state tax deductions residents can claim, Rachel Chason and Ovetta Wiggins of the Post report.

GUN MEASURES PASS HOUSE: With little debate, the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday passed three gun control bills that expand the state’s assault weapons ban and creates ways to seize guns from dangerous people, Erin Cox writes in the Sun.

  • Senate President Mike Miller has appeared perturbed about the pace of the gun control legislation in his chamber, asking about the progress of the bill from the rostrum on at least a few occasions, Bruce DePuyt writes for Maryland Matters. The bill is finally headed to the full Senate. One day after the Senate president took the unusual step of publicly badgering one of his committee chairmen to get the measure moving, the Judicial Proceedings Committee gave Senate Bill 707 its stamp of approval on a 7-2 vote late Wednesday.

VIOLENCE THREAT: Amid students’ dramatic calls for change following a deadly school shooting in Florida, a Senate panel heard conflicting testimony Thursday on legislation to make it a crime to knowingly threaten violence that would seriously injure at least five people if it were carried out. The legislation drew praise from the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, which told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee the bill would enable police to thwart mass violence before it occurs. But the Maryland public defender’s office countered the measure would make criminals of people who speak out in bravado, drunkenness or mistake, Steve Lash reports for the Daily Record.

PREDATORY HISTORY: The House Judiciary Committee Thursday unanimously approved legislation that would allow evidence of previous sexual predatory behavior by defendants to be admitted in court, reports Glynis Kazanjian for MarylandReporter. The committee’s approval of the “prior bad acts” legislation happened only after advocates of the bill pressured committee leaders, who have been criticized for failing to advance similar legislation in previous years.

HARASSMENT REPORTING REQUIREMENT: Advocates for a bill to prohibit provisions or policies that waive legal remedies of sexual harassment claims in the workplace asked the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday to keep a reporting requirement that was gutted from the House version, Anamika Roy reports for the Daily Record. “The reporting requirements in my mind are the heart of the bill,” Lisae C. Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in an interview after the hearing

HOUSE PUSHES TO GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS: The Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday approved a call for a national convention to amend the U.S. Constitution in a way that limits the influence of corporate money in politics, reports Erin Cox for the Sun. In particular, supporters want to reverse the effects of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision in 2010 that lifted limits on corporate spending in elections.

CRAFT BREWERY REFORM SPUTTERS: Comptroller Peter Franchot’s effort to reform Maryland’s brewery laws during this year’s legislative session might be close to dead, writes Holden Wilen in the Baltimore Business Journal. Franchot said he has “started a movement” for Maryland craft beer but it “may not be super successful.” Franchot’s comments came in response to a question about how Maryland can can engage millennials and attract them to live in the state.

APPOINTMENTS LOOPHOLE: A tiff over two appointments made and later withdrawn by Gov. Larry Hogan has Democratic lawmakers pushing to close what they say is a loophole that circumvents their advice and consent powers, writes Bryan Sears in the Daily Record.

D.C. WEIGHS IN ON METRO FUNDING: A threat to derail a regionwide Metro funding plan among Maryland, D.C. and Virginia dissolved in less than 24 hours as D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Thursday that he wouldn’t let his objections to the deal prevent it from being approved, writes Robert McCartney in the Post. But Maryland would need to come up with more money.

SMOOTHER DRIVING: The editorial board for the Annapolis Capital opines that as all of us motorists jolt our way through spring pothole season, the importance of legislation currently before the General Assembly will become clearer. House Bill 807, whose lead sponsor is Del. Pam Beidle, concerns highway user revenues, a pot of state money from gas taxes and motor vehicle fees. As currently amended, it would change the formulas over the next five years to send more money to Baltimore City, other municipalities and the counties. The estimated annual increase would come to $3.4 million for Anne Arundel County and $1.3 million for Annapolis.

LEGALIZING SPORTS BETTING: Bipartisan legislation calling for Maryland voters to weigh in on legalized sports betting in the state sailed through the House Thursday with a vote of 124 to 14. Glynis Kazanjian reports in MarylandReporter that the bill, sponsored by Del. Frank Turner, D-Howard, would place a law to allow sports betting at Maryland casinos and horse racing tracks on the November ballot through a voter referendum on a constitutional change. Like many other states, it is currently against the law in Maryland to bet on sporting events.

SUBSTANCE TESTS FOR DRIVERS: De’Auntte Griffin-Dezurn of Pumphrey remembers the day her son died, recalling the specific damages to his face and body after he was hit by a car. She has teamed up with Sen. Bryan Simonaire on legislation that would require police officers do drug and alcohol tests on drivers involved in an accident resulting in a death. “It bothers me that my son’s blood alcohol level was tested but not the driver,” Dezurn said during testimony before a Senate committee, writes Chase Cook for the Annapolis Capital.

DECRIMINALIZING ADULTERY: A bill that would decriminalize adultery in Maryland was the subject of discussion following its hearing before a Senate committee Thursday, where members considered the possible benefits of maintaining the law. Though Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, who sponsored House Bill 267, referred to the law as “archaic” in written testimony sent to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, committee members discussed a rationale for keeping it during a voting session after the hearing, writes Heather Cobun for the Daily Record.

NONPROFITS EYE POSSIBLE SURPLUS: Spurred by last week’s announcement that Maryland is looking at a $430 million budget surplus for the upcoming fiscal year, several nonprofit groups are teaming up to urge lawmakers and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to invest more in programs that boost economic opportunity, promote equity and inclusion and improve Marylanders’ quality of life, writes Josh Kurtz for Maryland Matters.

LASER POINTER MISUSE: An extension of Maryland’s prohibition on misuse of laser pointers to cars and boats received a quick hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday after passing the House of Delegates unanimously last month, Heather Cobun of the Daily Record writes.

SCHOLARSHIP PROPOSAL: Tim Curtis of the Daily Record writes that legislation creating a scholarship to honor 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III was heard and approved by a Maryland Senate committee Wednesday. The black 24-year-old Bowie State University student was killed last May, days before his graduation, at a bus stop on the College Park campus. His killing has sparked discussions of race and the campus environment for black students at the state’s flagship public university.

DEM GOV HOPEFULS EMBRACE RENEWABLE STANDARD: Hours after a legislative committee torpedoed a bill to boost Maryland’s renewable energy standard to 50%, clean energy advocates got a consolation prize and some hope for the future: Six Democratic candidates for governor on Thursday pledged to support the measure if they’re elected in November, reports Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters.

HARRIS CHALLENGED ON GUN STANCE: Students walked out Wednesday at thousands of schools across the country, including Perry Hall High School in Baltimore County. They were demanding action on gun violence. Perry Hall High is in Congressman Andy Harris’s district, and the incumbent congressman is being challenged on his record of being a strong supporter of gun rights, John Lee reports for WYPR-FM.

SEAT PLEASANT SUED ON HUGE TAX JUMP: Several business owners are suing the small town of Seat Pleasant for an approximately eightfold property tax increase they allege is unlawful and designed to shut down their businesses, reports Rachel Chason for the Post. The owners of a discount market, a Chinese takeout restaurant and a liquor store say officials violated the city’s charter and state and federal laws when they created an ordinance that sent the property taxes of certain businesses soaring.