State Roundup, March 29, 2018

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REDISTRICTING CASE BEFORE SUPREMES: The Supreme Court was asked on Wednesday to resolve an age-old problem — partisan gerrymandering — using a novel legal strategy offered by a group of Maryland citizens. It’s not clear the justices bought it, writes Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. “It was a very vigorous argument, with both lawyers being questioned very closely,” said journalist Kenneth Jost, a veteran court-watcher and author of “Supreme Court Yearbook.” “It’s clear that the justices are conflicted.”

OAKS RESIGNS SENATE SEAT: Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, under indictment on political corruption charges, resigned from the Maryland Senate Wednesday night, effective at 9 a.m. Thursday – two hours before he is scheduled to appear in federal court, William Zorzi writes in Maryland Matters.

MARYLAND CAN SUE TRUMP: A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit filed by Maryland’s attorney general alleging that President Donald J. Trump violated a constitutional prohibition on accepting foreign gifts may proceed — the first time an “emoluments” case against the president has cleared that hurdle, John Fritze of the Sun reports.

  • The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte in Maryland, marks the first time that a lawsuit of this kind has cleared the initial legal hurdle — a finding that the plaintiffs have legal standing to sue the president. Messitte gave credence to arguments by D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh that Trump unfairly profits from business at downtown Washington’s Trump International Hotel, in which the president continues to hold a financial interest, David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O’Connell of the Post report.

CONTROLLING FRANCHOT: The Maryland Senate on Wednesday approved a plan to study whether Comptroller Peter Franchot should continue to regulate the state’s alcohol industry — legislation inspired by a fight over beer policy between lawmakers and the Democratic comptroller, Scott Dance writes for the Sun.

BPW AUTHORITY OVER SCHOOL SPENDING: The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday night to a plan to strip the state’s spending panel of its traditional oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars in school construction projects — a legislative action that Gov. Larry Hogan called a “personal vendetta” and promised to veto, Scott Dance and Michael Dresser report in the Sun.

  • The editorial board of the Annapolis Capital opines that while you can argue that sessions of the Maryland Board of Public Works too often devolve into the Larry and Pete Show, with Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot ripping into local officials and school administrators who have inexcusably failed to install air conditioning or take mold problems seriously enough. But it doesn’t follow that it’s a good idea for the General Assembly, with virtually no hearings and in the waning days of an election-year session, to rush through a huge change in the way state government has operated for decades. And that change is likely to diminish visibility and accountability.

ARUNDEL SCHOOL FUNDING: Anne Arundel County is poised to receive about $8 million in additional school construction money as part of an increase in funding for educational districts with enrollment growth higher than the statewide average. The additional funding was added to the Maryland capital budget after the House of Delegates and Senate agreed on changes to the bill, Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital writes.

STUDENT DATA BREACHES: Legislation aiming to mitigate the impact of student data breaches like the one that hit Frederick County Public Schools a few years ago unanimously passed through the House. While the chamber easily passed the bill with no debate Wednesday, it will have to go through the extra hurdle of moving through the Senate Rules Committee since it is after the 69th day of the General Assembly session, Kelsi Loos of the Frederick News-Post reports.

TOO MUCH FOR AMAZON: Several Maryland lawmakers wondered aloud Wednesday whether Gov. Larry Hogan’s huge incentive package to lure Amazon’s second headquarters is too generous — or whether it should be offered at all. But a House committee voted by a slim margin to advance the plan another step toward passage, Steve Thompson of the Post writes. “Let’s bring Amazon home, baby,” Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) said ahead of the count.

SCHOOL CALENDARS: Local school officials in Maryland have been clamoring for more flexibility in creating their calendars since Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered them to open schools after Labor Day and close them by June 15. Now, the General Assembly is quickly moving to give school districts, and even some parents, what they have been asking for, Ovetta Wiggins and Rachel Chason report in the Post.

HIT & RUN ALERT: There is AMBER and Silver, and soon there could be Yellow. The AMBER and Silver Alert systems spread information on endangered children or frail seniors, respectively, who have gone missing. Messages issued by state police pop up on phones, on highway billboards and on the Internet. Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, wants to expand these services. His proposed Yellow Alerts would use the same means to disseminate information on hit-and-run drivers, including descriptions of the vehicles and suspects involved, Chase Cook reports in the Annapolis Capital.

SAME DAY REGISTRATION: In a column for Red Maryland, Brian Griffiths opines that Democrats in the General Assembly have passed a dubious and unnecessary amendment to the Maryland Constitution. You the voter will have the opportunity to decide this year if the state Constitution should be amended to allow for same-day voter registration on Election Day.

CYBERBULLYING BILLS: Heather Cobun of the Daily Record writes that two bills pending in the General Assembly banning cyberbullying and revenge porn have broad support but have been opposed by the ACLU of Maryland over First Amendment concerns. “Good intentions do not make a bill constitutional,” David Rocah, the organization’s senior staff attorney, told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

STATE PAYS FOR CITY TIFs: In August 2016, writes Brian Griffiths of Red Maryland, “we warned you that Maryland taxpayers would wind up on the hook for millions of dollars in revenue that Baltimore was losing thanks to Tax Increment Financing of the Port Covington project. Yesterday, the General Assembly made that a permanent part of state law.”

HAZARD SCARE AT SEN. MUSE’s OFFICE: A hazardous materials crew was called Tuesday night to the office of a Maryland state senator in Largo after several people said they felt sick and believed they had inhaled something dangerous. The incident happened just after 7 p.m. at a campaign office of state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D). Several people who worked in Muse’s office reported feeling sick and thought it might have been from products in an office trash can, Dana Hedgpeth reports in the Post.

STATE DEMS GET $85,000 GRANT: The Maryland Democratic Party will receive an $85,000 grant from the Democratic National Committee to help with voter turnout in this November’s elections, in which Democrats will try to unseat Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The money is targeted to energize voters who are young, African American or who live in rural areas, writes Ovetta Wiggins for the Post.

GILLIBRAND BACKS ARUNA MILLER FOR U.S. HOUSE: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a leading proponent of women’s issues, waded into the race to succeed Democratic Rep. John Delaney in Maryland on Wednesday by offering her endorsement in the crowded field of candidates. Gillibrand is backing state Del. Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery), describing her as a defender of “women and children from their abusers,” Paul Schwartzman of the Post reports.