State Roundup, March 19, 2018

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HEALTH INSURANCE MARKETS: Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Maryland’s Democratic legislative leaders have reached agreement on a one-year plan to stabilize skyrocketing individual health insurance premiums by taxing insurance companies and using the money to pay the biggest claims, Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason of the Post report. Legislation that won initial approval in the state Senate on Friday would levy a surcharge of about $380 million on insurance companies that do business in Maryland, which are paying about that much less in federal taxes this year because of a one-time exemption provided by the recent overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

MARRIAGE AGE: The legislative debate over the minimum age for marriage in Maryland continues as cross-filed bills banning marriage for anyone younger than 18 were both amended in committee before moving forward in their respective chambers, Heather Cobun of the Daily Record reports.

THIRD SPAN STIRS CONTROVERSY: There has been no decision on where to place the third span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed. The results of a $5 million environmental impact study are still years away. But already, Marylanders on both sides of the bay are lining up to support or oppose a new crossing — depending on where it would be built. The Maryland Transportation Authority, which oversees the state’s bridges and tunnels, has received more than 500 comments from the public on the subject, Colin Campbell of the Sun reports.

CELL PHONE PENALTY: Frustrated that drivers continue to use mobile phones on the road despite existing penalties, Maryland lawmakers are weighing whether to increase the maximum fine for texting and driving to $500 — one of the highest penalties in the country, Rachel Chason reports for the Post.

HOGAN PICKS UMBC: Gov. Larry Hogan does know a thing or two about upsets. His stunning win in the 2014 gubernatorial election over then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown  was one of the biggest shockers in Maryland politics. So, when the governor filled out his bracket for the 2018 men’s tournament on Thursday, he went with University of Maryland Baltimore County, the underdog, advancing past No. 1 Virginia in the first round, writes Ovetta Wiggins for the Post.

PUPPY MILLS: There are only seven pet stores in the entire state that sell dogs from so-called “puppy mills,” but that is seven too many for some Maryland state lawmakers. The House of Delegates on Friday passed a bill that would outlaw all retail sales of cats and dogs unless they come from a rescue operation, effectively putting an end to “puppy mill” sales that source animals from large breeding operations, Erin Cox of the Sun reports.

TIPPING VS WAGE: In an opinion piece for MarylandReporter Seattle server and co-founder of the Full Service Workers Alliance responds to Sen. Richard Madaleno’s call for tipped service workers to “complain if they think they should be getting more” in MarylandReporter.com’s March 9 story. His attempt to eliminate the industry standard of tipping in favor of a flat $15 an hour minimum wage, Madaleno cited the minimum wage increase in Washington State as an example of success. However, in Seattle servers are facing a loss of income, says Simone Barron.

SENATE OKs STRIPPING STATE SONG OF TITLE: State senators on Friday approved a bill that strips “Maryland, My Maryland” of its designation as the “official” state song and re-brands the pro-Confederate anthem as Maryland’s “historical” tune, report Scott Dance and Michael Dresser in the Sun.

STATE CENTER LEGISLATION: Legislation advancing in the House of Delegates would require neighborhood participation in any effort to revive the stalled redevelopment project at State Center in midtown Baltimore, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun. Delegates gave preliminary approval Saturday to a bill sponsored by Del. Cheryl Glenn spelling out the General Assembly’s goals for the 28-acre parcel, now occupied by a state government office complex whose more than 50-year-old buildings are in a poor state of repair.

GOP STANDS IN WAY OF BOOZE REFORM: Red Maryland has often written about how backward Maryland’s prohibition-era alcohol laws are, Brian Griffiths writes in Red Maryland. Currently, for a brewery to sell its beer in a store, it must first sell to a distributor, who then resells the beer to a liquor store. A middleman takes a cut of the profit that otherwise would belong to the brewery. Correcting that impediment to the free market remains problematic so long as Speaker Busch continues to declare war on Maryland beer on behalf of his campaign treasurer, but unfortunately, those supporting the current system got an unexpected assist from Republicans.

FRANCHOT AS PUNCHING BAG: Speaking of alcohol system reform, Barry Rascovar of the Political Maryland blog opines that Peter Franchot, a 20-year veteran of the General Assembly who is in his 12th year as state comptroller, last week got his head handed to him — politically, that is — by his old colleagues. Franchot brought it on himself. And if he doesn’t start to make amends (which is highly unlikely) the comptroller could find himself stripped of one of his most cherished powers — regulating manufacturers and wholesalers of alcoholic beverages.

OAKS SEEKS COUNT DISMISSAL: Heather Cobun of the Daily Record reports that attorneys for state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks are seeking the dismissal of six counts of a federal indictment against him, claiming his request that the Maryland Department of Legislative Services draft a bond bill in the fall of 2016 was not an official act. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett on Friday called the argument “creative” after pressing Rebecca S. Talbott, a federal public defender representing Oaks, to confirm that was her position.

EPA AUTHORITY ON BAY CLEANUP: Congress faces deadlines this Friday to determine how much authority the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will have to enforce Bay cleanup efforts — and how much money it will have to spend on that work during this fiscal year that began Oct. 1, reports Bay Journal editor Karl Blankeship in MarylandReporter.

U.S. ATTORNEY CONFIRMATION URGED: Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation called on the Senate to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Maryland’s U.S. Attorney after revelations he is being held up over questions about oversight of the Justice Department, John Fritze of the Sun reports. The confirmation of Robert K. Hur, nominated in November to take over for former U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, is being delayed as Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee seek information about oversight of the investigations into the 2016 presidential election.

SOURED RACE IN D-39: The Democratic primary for the House of Delegates in Montgomery County’s District 39 has turned unexpectedly sour after the district’s senator and two of the incumbent delegates decided to publicly endorse a non-incumbent for the third House seat, outraging the other candidates, Kaanita Iyer of Maryland Matters writes.

TALKER OUSTED FROM SENATE RACE: A conservative talk show host running for a seat in the Maryland Senate has had his campaign ended, at least for now, by a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge. Doug Riley, a Republican former Baltimore County councilman who once ran for the same Senate seat in 2006, filed suit on March 8 against Jimmy Mathis as well as the state and county boards of election challenging the radio show host’s residency, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports.

SCHUH SEEKS TO CURB RX POT VARIANCES: Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh’s administration unveiled legislation Friday that would restrict variances for medical cannabis dispensaries, the same day the county employee responsible for approving those variances worked his last day. Doug Hollmann, the county’s administrative hearing officer, is no longer with the Anne Arundel County government as of Friday. County officials wouldn’t comment on his departure. Hollmann’s office did not return a request for comment, writes Chase Cook in the Annapolis Capital.

DNR NIXES FAIRGROUND TRANSFER: Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital reports that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has turned down Anne Arundel County’s request to shift control of the Anne Arundel County Fair’s land from the state to the county. In a letter dated March 7, DNR Secretary Mark Belton wrote the department wouldn’t begin the surplus process to transfer the land to the county or any other group. County Executive Steve Schuh had made the request as the county wanted to invest in fairgrounds improvements but wanted to own the land before doing so.

FORMER DELEGATE HOPEFUL BUYS BAR: A former candidate for House of Delegates in District 33 has purchased the building housing downtown haunt O’Brien’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Annapolis. Konstantinos Alexakis, known as Kostas, said he purchased the building in February and is making arrangements to take over the business, writes Danielle Ohl in the Annapolis Capital.

MO CO AT LARGE CANDIDATES: It was Act II of this year’s political equivalent of speed dating as 14 of the 33 Democratic contenders for Montgomery County Council at large appeared before the Leisure World Democratic Club Thursday evening, following a similar forum with 14 other candidates a week ago, Louis Peck writes in Bethesda Beat.

WA CO COMMISH DEM FORUM: Ryan Miner of A Miner Detail blog recaps the forum of Washington County’s five Democratic candidates seeking election to the Board of County Commissioners. Among topics discussed were economic development, renewable energy and equal treatment for women. Two of the five candidates are women.