State Roundup, March 28, 2018

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MD GERRYMANDERING CASE: Former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s frank admission on his goal of electing a Democrat after he redrew districts to imperil former U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a popular Republican, is at the heart of what is becoming an unprecedented look at partisan gerrymandering by the Supreme Court. The justices today will hear the challenge to Maryland’s Democratic decision-making, after last fall examining — but not yet deciding — a lawsuit on Republican efforts in Wisconsin, reports Robert Barnes in the Post.

CONVERSION THERAPY BAN: Following a prolonged debate that carried echoes from the years-long push for same-sex marriage, the Maryland Senate on Tuesday gave tentative approval to a measure banning the use of “conversion therapy” on gay teens. The party-line vote came after a tense moment on the floor that suggested a GOP filibuster might be in the offing, writes Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters.

  • If approved, Maryland would join the District and nine other states that have outlawed the practice, which has been widely discredited by medical and mental-health associations. The Senate action came after an hour-long debate over whether the legislation was needed, how it would affect religious leaders and if it would create problems for health professionals who, many Republican senators said, are trying to simply provide counseling, Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason write in the Post.
  • Many of the bill opponents them called the legislation unclear and too broad, suggesting it could discourage therapists or social workers from treating lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth, writes Scott Dance in the Sun. Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said the legislation is flawed because “if you truly believe this is child abuse, you’d say child abuse should never occur.”

CHILD ABUSE REPORTING: A bill to criminalize a failure to report child abuse if a mandatory reporter has actual knowledge cleared the Maryland Senate and was before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where its crossfile has sat without a vote since its hearing in February, writes Heather Cobun for the Daily Record.

SEX IN POLICE CUSTODY: Rachel Baye of WYPR-FM reports that it is illegal for a correctional officer to engage in sexual acts with people in their custody, but most law enforcement officials don’t face the same restriction. State lawmakers are considering legislation that would close that loophole. Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday that she was moved to push for the change after reading reports about women who were raped while in police custody. She said no one in police custody is in a position to give consent to sexual activity.

FILLING TIF GAP FOR SCHOOLS: The General Assembly passed a bill that is expected to save Baltimore’s public schools from losing more than $300 million due to special tax deals awarded to developments that make the city appear more prosperous than it really is. The legislation applies to certain tax deals awarded to developments across Maryland, but will have the biggest effect in Baltimore, which has authorized one of the largest such deals in the nation on its southern peninsula in Port Covington, Luke Broadwater reports in the Sun.

PROGRESSIVE MARYLAND IN FIGHT WITH ZIRKIN: Four state senators strongly rebuked a progressive lobbying group, calling the organization’s tactics “bullying” and statements made on a website grossly insensitive, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, and three members of the his committee fired back at posts made by leaders of Progressive Maryland. The group opposes an omnibus crime bill authored by Zirkin, calling it “racially bigoted injustice,” legislation written by white supremacists that is designed for mass incarceration of black people and “genocide.”

HONORING POLITICIANS QUESTIONED: The practice of naming things after politicians who continue to serve in office is well established in Annapolis, but not everyone thinks it’s such a good idea. One Democratic lawmaker is willing to take on his own party – and his district-mate – in saying so out loud, reports Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters.

BUDGET INCLUDES FREDERICK PROJECT: The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval Tuesday to a $44.5 billion budget. The budget includes a 2.2% increase in spending over last year and more than $6.5 billion in funding for public education. And it includes a small grant for the downtown Frederick hotel project, Danielle Gaines reports in the Frederick News-Post.

DEVELOPERS BILLS: About a month after a Frederick County bill to revise policy on long-term developer agreements expired, a Senate committee will take up the issue, Kelsi Loos of the Frederick News-Post reports. The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Health Affairs Committee heard testimony Tuesday on House Bill 1390. Like the lapsed proposal from County Executive Jan Gardner (D), the bill would require developers to provide “enhanced public benefits” before entering into a Developer’s Rights and Responsibilities Agreement with a local jurisdiction.

HELP FOR OC EVENTS: Del. Mary Beth Carozza and state Sen. Jim Mathias have introduced bills in their respective chambers of the General Assembly that could alter the way events such as Cruisin’ and H2O International are handled in Ocean City. Gray Hughes reports for the Salisbury Daily Times. The idea for the bill came out of the town’s Motor Events Task Force, which was created to explore ways to lessen the impact of these events, said Rick Meehan, Ocean City mayor.

ARUNDEL RECOMMENDED FOR PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL: A commissioner with the Maryland Health Care Commission on Monday recommended an Anne Arundel Medical Center psychiatric hospital, reports Danielle Ohl for the Annapolis Capital. The AAMC Mental Health Hospital would house 16 beds and offer in-patient and out-patient treatment for an array of mental health conditions.

GAS COMPANIES’ MERGER: The Maryland Public Service Commission is expected to rule within a matter of days on a proposed $6.4 billion merger between WGL Holdings Inc. – more commonly known as Washington Gas – and AltaGas Ltd., a Canadian company. The Maryland Energy Administration and the companies themselves say the deal benefits ratepayers and will help the state meet its clean energy goals. But the high-stakes merger has come under fire: from environmental leaders, who argue that the deal encourages natural gas fracking, which is banned in the state, reports Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters.

LEVENTHAL POLL: Montgomery County executive candidate George Leventhal, a four-term at-large county councilman, on Monday released the results of a poll that shows him in a virtual tie with fellow Democratic executive candidate Marc Elrich, who, like Leventhal, is term-limited and resides in Takoma Park. Leventhal’s poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners from March 15 through March 20, surveyed 400 “likely 2018 Democratic primary voters in Montgomery County.” Ryan Miner writes in a Miner Detail blog that the results of the poll claim to show Leventhal and Elrich locked in a virtual dead heat. The poll’s margin of error was of +/- 4.9%

AMENDED FILING IN HARASSMENT CASE: An attorney for former Assistant County Administrator Sarah Lankford Sprecher filed an amended complaint in her lawsuit against Washington County Commissioner LeRoy E. Myers Jr., with new details of allegations against Myers from a 2016 county business trip to Seoul, South Korea. Don Aimes reports for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. The amended complaint states Myers “improperly grabbed Ms. Sprecher around the waist and pulled her in for a kiss, pressing his body against hers. Since Defendant Myers’ mouth got within inches of her own mouth, Ms. Sprecher was placed in imminent fear of being kissed on the lips.”