State Roundup, April 9, 2018

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UNFINISHED BUSINESS: Guns and crime will top the list of unfinished business today as state lawmakers gather in Annapolis for the final day of the 2018 legislative session. Legislators introduced a record 3,101 bills introduced in the Maryland General Assembly this year. Now Democrats and Republicans will be rushing to salvage parts of what was once sweeping crime-reduction legislation endorsed by Gov. Larry Hogan and lawmakers to help reduce violence in Baltimore, Michael Dresser of the Sun reports.

  • Bryan Sears of the Daily Record writes that the legislature has already dealt with many high-profile issues, including a temporary stabilization of health insurance rates and controversial changes to the Board of Public Works and how state aid to school construction is allocated and approved — a move that led to a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan and a quick override in the House and Senate. But that doesn’t mean the waning hours of the last session before the election will lack for issues or drama.
  • Steve Lash of the Daily Record writes that lawmakers appear ready to defeat a proposed repeal of a decades-old rule requiring that doctors be barred from testifying in medical malpractice cases if they have spent more than 20% of their professional time as expert witnesses. Less certain is what the General Assembly will do about a Senate-House impasse about whether to raise the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 16, as the Senate seeks, or to 17, as the House of Delegates has passed.
  • Tamela Baker of the Hagertown Herald-Mail writes that although the bills are dead, Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, said Friday that two of his proposals might become reality without legislation. The House Environment and Transportation Committee voted to recommend in a letter to the MVA his suggestion that parallel parking return as a requirement for driver’s licenses in Maryland. And the SHA plans to include his recommendation for pedestrian hybrid beacons —special traffic lights for pedestrian crossings in areas where there are no full traffic signals — as it updates its traffic-control devices manual.

TAX RELIEF PLAN: About 22% of state taxpayers are expected to see their state and local income tax bills go up, on average, by an estimated $730. The tax relief plan nearing final passage in the Maryland General Assembly today, the last day of the 2018 legislative session, would reduce that average increase by $40, writes Erin Cox in the Sun. While state lawmakers have carved out more relief for younger taxpayers, the working poor, military retirees, small businesses and retired corrections officers, they decided they had to delay more relief for all taxpayers until they could see precisely how much state tax bills increase as a result of the federal changes.

REGULATING FACEBOOK POLITICAL ADS: Maryland is poised to be the first state in the country to regulate political ads on Facebook and other social media sites. A bill approved by the General Assembly late Thursday would require social media platforms to track all political ads, keep copies of them and record which users are being targeted — data that state elections officials could use to track bad actors or detect foreign interference, Erin Cox of the Sun reports.

HARASSMENT IN THE STATEHOUSE: The Maryland Senate gave final approval to a bill that creates a new set of rules for dealing with sexual harassment complaints in the State House – the first major overhaul to the state’s anti-harassment policy in decades, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports. The bill heads back to the House, which passed it last month and is expected to approve the changes made by the Senate before the General Assembly adjourns tonight at midnight.

ARUNDEL BILLS STILL HANGING: Today is Sine Die — the last day of the 2018 General Assembly session — and a few Anne Arundel County-centric bills have yet to receive a final vote, including one allowing Annapolis bookstores to serve alcohol during events, barring certain state’s attorney employees from political consulting, and a bill mandating alcohol and drug abuse patients are given assessment records, Chase Cook reports in the Annapolis Capital.

HIGH-STAKES BILLS: Maryland lawmakers are working quickly to pass bills to send to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk before the close of the 90-day legislative session today at midnight, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports. Among the high-stakes pieces of bipartisan legislation that the General Assembly has passed is a bill that provides $167 million in dedicated funding to stabilize the Washington region’s Metro system, a measure that helps create an $8.5 billion package to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to Montgomery County and legislation that develops a one-year plan to stabilize individual health insurance premiums.

AUTOMATIC REGISTRATION: A bill that allows Maryland residents to automatically register to vote when they interact with state agencies has become law without Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports. Maryland joins the District and 11 other states, including Oregon and California, that allow people to register while renewing a driver’s license, signing up for health coverage with the state Health Benefit Exchange or receiving help from a social service agency.

LOCKBOX BILL: Maryland lawmakers gave final approval Friday night to a measure that would allow voters to decide whether all of the state’s casino money should be spent on K-12 public education, Rachel Chason of the Post reports. The “lockbox” bill is intended to stop future governors and lawmakers from diverting casino funds toward balancing the budget.

PUPPY MILLS & PET STORES: Maryland pet stores would no longer be able to sell dogs born in so-called “puppy mills” under a bill the General Assembly approved Saturday, Scott Dance of the Sun writes. The legislation, which also applies to the sale of cats, limits where stores can obtain their animals to three sources: animal welfare organizations, animal control units and licensed breeders.

HOMES FOR LAB ANIMALS: Scott Dance of the Sun writes that researchers who use dogs or cats in research will have to “take reasonable steps” to offer the animals for adoption under legislation the Maryland General Assembly passed Friday. It has been dubbed the Beagle Freedom Bill because that breed is the most common dog used in scientific experiments. The law applies to any research facility in Maryland that uses dogs or cats in its studies, and to any canine or feline test subject that a veterinarian deems suitable for adoption.

CRIME PACKAGE: Maryland lawmakers made progress Saturday on a package of bills intended to grapple with violent crime, especially in Baltimore, Michael Dresser of the Sun reports. A House of Delegates committee on Saturday morning declared the omnibus crime measure known as Senate Bill 122 dead. The committee approved two bills, each incorporating parts of the initial comprehensive bill. Both of smaller bills were approved overwhelmingly by the House later Saturday and will head to the Senate today.

  • Rachel Chason of the Post writes that some lawmakers who opposed the major overhaul backed the more limited measures because of a provision allowing residents who commit certain felonies to have their records expunged after 15 years. “It still gives some people heartburn,” Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the newly elected chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said of one of the approved bills was opposed by some because it would strengthen penalties for violent offenders. “I told people to vote their conscience.”

PROTECTING STUDENTS AT FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES: Legislation expanding protections for students attending for-profit colleges gained final passage in the General Assembly Thursday as the state continues to deal with the fallout of the closures of ITT Technical Institutes and Corinthian Colleges, Tim Curtis reports for the Daily Record. The Senate bill requires for-profit colleges to disclose to students information about the loans they take out and graduation statistics before students sign any loan paperwork.

MEDICAID ADULT DENTAL COVERAGE: Some adults who are insured under Maryland’s Medicaid program could soon be covered for routine dental care for the first time under a pilot program the General Assembly approved Saturday, Scott Dance of the Sun reports. For now, Medicaid only covers dental care for children and emergency room dental care for adults.

HATE CRIME LEGISLATION: A few days after another noose was found an Anne Arundel County school campus, the Maryland House of Delegates cast a deciding vote on legislation that strengthens Maryland’s hate crime laws. Sen. John Astle’s hate crime legislation — Senate Bill 528 — passed with a 133-4 vote Saturday. Since the House of Delegates did not amend the bill, it will go before the governor for signature, Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital writes.

AN EVENTFUL ELECTION YEAR SESSION: The editorial board for the Annapolis Capital opines that the conventional wisdom is that election-year General Assembly sessions are drowsy affairs in which lawmakers avoid votes that could be thrown in their faces during the campaign season. This year disparate events outside the control of anyone in Annapolis have hit home in the State House. For one thing, the Trump administration’s tax cut package has a nasty sting in its tail for high-tax jurisdictions like Maryland — one that will actually take as much as $500 million more in state income tax revenue unless legislators can compensate.

MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: Advocates for an increase in Maryland’s minimum wage are expressing disappointment that a measure they championed during the legislative session seems likely to die without a vote, Bruce DePuyt and William Zorzi of Maryland Matters report. Ricarra Jones of Maryland Fight for $15 said, “Studies show that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour will help 573,000 workers” in the state. Maryland’s current minimum wage, $9.25 an hour, is due to increase to $10.10 an hour July 1.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA: The Maryland House and Senate have reached an agreement on the thorny issue of expanding the state’s nascent medical marijuana cultivating industry to give minorities an ownership role, Michael Dresser writes in the Sun. The House of Delegates on Saturday approved a compromise measure by a wide margin that would allow the state to issue 20 new licenses for growing or processing marijuana in a way that assures racial diversity among the firms that win them.

SENATE STRIPS GREEN ENERGY LABEL: The Maryland Senate voted Friday to strip a Baltimore trash incinerator and similar facilities of a state “green energy” label that qualified them for millions of dollars in subsidies paid for by electricity customers over the past seven years. A day earlier, Scott Dance of the Sun reports, senators cited a recent Baltimore Sun investigation revealing that a trash-burning facility in Southwest Baltimore has collected roughly $10 million through a state renewable-energy incentive program — despite being the city’s largest single source of air pollution.

NO MORE BEGATHONS: Thankfully, the General Assembly — over Gov. Larry Hogan’s belligerent objections — legislated the annual school construction “begathons” before the Board of Public Works out of existence, opines political pundit Barry Rascovar in his Political Maryland blog. No longer will educators be forced to grovel and sate the egos of Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot.

ANDERSON REMAINS DELEGATION LEADER: Veteran Democratic state lawmaker Del. Curt Anderson will remain the leader of the influential Baltimore delegation even after telling all of his colleagues he wanted to step down, Erin Cox of the Sun reports.

  • For reasons that remain fuzzy, Anderson wanted to quit his chairmanship early, before the September date for the election of new officers in the delegation’s by-laws. The plan supposedly was for him to anoint Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, the outgoing chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, to take his place — without elevating the vice chairman, Del. Keith E. Haynes, and perhaps even to bounce him from the No. 2 spot, reports William Zorzi for Maryland Matters.

NIMBLE HOGAN: The 2018 session was a warm-up for the June 26 primary elections, writes columnist Frank DeFilippo for Maryland Matters. For Democrats, the session had two main purposes – to stigmatize Republican Gov. Larry Hogan with the Macbethian stain of President Trump, and to arouse Democrats for a massive voter turnout in November to recapture the governorship so the party can dominate the redistricting process following the 2020 census. But Hogan has proven to be a nimble politician. He has learned that the best way to defeat Democrats is to act like one.

HOYER’s LAST SHOT: The AP’s Lisa Mascaro reports that Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is not welcome in Trump country, which was probably one reason another top Democrat — her long-term rival Steny Hoyer of Maryland — was zipping through Republican-friendly corners of western Wisconsin this past week. Hoyer, the Maryland centrist and perpetual leader-in-waiting in the House of Representatives, was on a mission to woo blue-collar voters and help his party win back control of the House. He was also looking for what could be his last shot.

STEELE WON’T ‘GO ALONG’ ON TRUMP: It was a conversation about trade that brought Michael S. Steele around to an argument he’s been sounding a lot lately. But it just as easily could have been the budget, or Russia, or what he once described as President Donald Trump’s addiction to “Twitter crack.” One of Maryland’s best-known Republicans, the former lieutenant governor has been increasingly unwilling to “go along” with a party he led just seven years ago, John Fritze of the Sun reports.

FREDERICK TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS: Frederick County sent its annual transportation priorities letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn on Thursday, outlining the top projects it would like to see the state incorporate into Maryland’s fiscal 2019-fiscal 2024 Consolidated Transportation Program. Along with the three roads projects that make up the county’s top priorities, the final version of the letter also included local and commuter bus projects and commuter rail projects, as well as several projects at Frederick Municipal Airport, Ryan Marshall of the Frederick News Post reports.

PG KEEPS FUNDING TROUBLED FACILITY: Prince George’s County will continue to fund the problem-plagued nonprofit that runs the county’s sole domestic violence shelter, despite calls from women who have lived in the shelter and advocates to end the exclusive relationship, Rachel Chason of the Post reports.

MO CO MAY STREAMLINE ZONING: Montgomery County is considering streamlining its zoning processes to make it easier for a “signature business headquarters” — such as Amazon.com — to locate in the county, Jennifer Barrios reports in the Post. The proposal, which will go before the County Council on Tuesday, halves the development review process to 60 days for companies that bring more than 25,000 employees to an area near a Metro station in the county.