State Roundup, April 16, 2018

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GOUGING LAW RULED UNCONSTITUIONAL: A federal appeals court ruled Friday that a Maryland law passed last year to stop sharp increases in the price of generic medicines is unconstitutional, a setback to new efforts by states to keep down the cost of drugs, Ian Duncan of the Sun reports.

RACE FOR GOV TO KICK INTO HIGH GEAR: With the conclusion of the 2018 General Assembly session, Maryland’s race for governor is about to kick into a higher gear, and political analysts say Democratic voters can expect a contest unlike any in state history. The competitive seven-person race to claim Maryland’s Democratic nomination in June has created an unusual dynamic and a peculiar goal for many candidates: winning the race is likely to require not the majority of votes, but as little as 25%, Erin Cox of the Sun reports.

JEALOUS PICKS UP MSEA SUPPORT: Gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous has picked up the endorsement of the state’s largest teachers union, adding to the list of high-profile supporters backing him in the crowded Democratic primary, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post writes. The support from the Maryland State Education Association, which has often been in the crosshairs of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), is a huge boost for Jealous, who is making his first run for public office.

GOP TARGETS DEM WOMAN CONGRESSIONAL HOPEFUL: The cluster of Democrats seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) in Congress includes a tycoon, two state lawmakers, a pediatrician, a retired economist and a retired intelligence officer. But only one candidate — state Del. Aruna Miller (Montgomery) — is drawing the attention of the state’s Republican Party organization, which in the past couple of weeks has sent mass mailings attacking her as weak on crime and immigration, Paul Schwartzman of the Post is reporting.

IN-STATE BIZ TAX BREAKS: Maryland-based companies would get a break on their taxes — while out-of-state firms could pay more — if Gov. Larry Hogan signs legislation passed by the General Assembly last week, reports Michael Dresser for the Sun. The bill, which was approved in the final hours of the annual 90-day session, would put Maryland on what is known as a “single sales factor” system for calculating taxation.

BOOST FOR MARYLAND FILM INDUSTRY: A new bill aimed at boosting the Maryland film scene was passed by the Maryland House on the last day of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2018 legislative session – after passing in the Senate mid-March. It would increase the current Department of Commerce film budget by $3 million every year until 2023, when the budget would be capped at $20 million. It would also eliminate Maryland Commerce’s current film reserve fund. The legislation goes to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his signature. If signed, it will take effect July 1, Hannah Yasharoff of Capital News Service reports.

BID PROCESS WAIVED: A firm that once employed Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn is poised to win a nearly $69 million state contract after transportation officials waived their normal procurement procedures for competitive bidding. A consortium led by HNTB, a Kansas City, Missouri-based company, has been recommended from among four proposals for a consulting contract with the state to oversee a proposed $7.6 billion public-private partnership to relieve congestion on Interstate 270 and Interstate 495. The waiver was authorized by Rahn, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record.

PARROTT PUSHES FOR A VETO: Tamela Baker of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail writes that in the final weeks of the Maryland General Assembly, Del. Neil Parrott zealously opposed a bill that prohibits conversion therapy for minors struggling with their sexuality. Now he is lobbying Gov. Larry Hogan to veto the measure.

BILLS THAT IMPACT MO CO SCHOOLS: As the dust settles on the 2018 state legislative session, the Montgomery County school system is on course to get a salary review for the Board of Education, more flexibility for the academic calendar and funding for meals provided to economically disadvantaged students, Bethany Rodgers of Bethesda Beat reports.

2nd AMENDMENT SUPPORTERS RALLY: Calling passage of Maryland gun control bills earlier this month the first steps toward stripping Americans of their rights, Second Amendment advocates staged a rally Saturday outside the State House, urging Gov. Larry Hogan to veto the legislation, Lorraine Mirabella of the Sun reports.

INCENTIVES DON’T GROW ECONOMY: In an op-ed for the Sun, researchers Michael Farren and Anne Philpot write that state’s offer to lure the proposed Amazon HQ2 to Maryland now stands at $8.5 billion. That’s more than 3% of Maryland’s anticipated tax revenue over the next 10 years. All things being equal, Amazon would make a great addition to Maryland’s economy. The problem is that targeted tax incentives, grants and government-backed loans in the name of “economic development” don’t actually grow the economy

PHASING OUT CASH TOLLS? The Maryland Transportation Authority is exploring phasing out all cash toll booths across the state. Today, tolls are collected three ways: by cash, or electronically, by either an E-ZPass transponder or by video tolling — when the state uses a license-plate photo and mails drivers their bill. Transportation officials say that the transition to all-electronic, high-speed toll collection will: save drivers time on their commute, save the state money, reduce accidents at toll plazas, and reduce CO2 emissions as less fuel is being burned, writes Katherine Brzozowski of Capital News Service in MarylandReporter.

SEWAGE BAD, STORMWATER PROJECTS GOOD: A new study of 20 years of precipitation, pollution and water quality data has traced degradation of Baltimore’s Gwynns Falls to frequent sewage leaks, and some environmental improvements to projects to clean up or reduce stormwater runoff, Scott Dance of the Sun writes. “We’ve known a long time, sewage bad, stormwater projects good,” said Alice Volpitta, water quality manager for Blue Water. “Now we can say with scientific certainty that that is the case, and that carries a lot of weight.”

GUARD WELCOMED HOME: Gov. Larry Hogan welcomed home members of the Maryland National Guard at a ceremony at Aberdeen Proving Ground on Sunday after their recent service in the Middle East.

LEAVING GENERAL ASSEMBLY: This year, five lawmakers who represent Anne Arundel County finished their final session and, barring some unexpected callback, now move on to other chapters of their lives. The editorial board of the Annapolis Capital opines, “We don’t want to get maudlin, but we like to think we have agreed more often that we have disagreed with state Sens. John Astle and Ed DeGrange, and delegates Herb McMillan, Meagan Simonaire and Barbara Frush. We also should note that this was the end of Pam Beidle’s years in the House of Delegates, although she hopes to be back next year as a state senator. … these five men and women chose to serve as Maryland legislators and should be applauded for their commitment to the ideal of public service.”

ON RETIRING SEN. ASTLE: Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital writes about one of those retiring senators – John Astle – and his long career in politics, which began when he ran for Annapolis mayor and lost and now has ended with the very same scenario. But in between, he says he worked hard to make a difference for his constituents.

COULDA BEEN WORSE: The editorial board for the Frederick News-Post opines, “As is so often the case in the days following a General Assembly session in Annapolis, our feelings concerning the legislative results are mixed, crystallized in the thought ‘Well, it certainly could have been worse.’ In assessing the actions of the assembly, it is always best to try to be realistic. In Annapolis, as in life, you can’t always get what you want, but you hope you get what you need. Generally, you end up with some wins, some losses and some things that are in the middle.”

REPS REACT TO MISSILE STRIKE: U.S. Rep. Harris, Ruppersberger and Cummings reacted via Twitter to the missile attack launched by the U.S. and its allies against Syria on Friday evening, writes Jim Joyner for the Sun.

UPGRADING MARYLAND’s ELECTION SECURITY: Jarod Golub of Capital News Service reports that all nine of Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers in Congress have asked Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to allocate the money needed to get federal aid to improve the state’s election system infrastructure and security. “With the 2018 midterm elections fast approaching, we hope you will work quickly and collaboratively with the Maryland State Board of Elections to ensure Maryland has access to this critical federal funding,” the legislators wrote to Hogan.

RODRICKS ON REP. HARRIS: Sun columnist Dan Rodricks rails against U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, beginning by writing that “Harris, a big-time supporter of the Trump/Republican tax cuts that are expected to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt, is now railing against those who refused to support a balanced-budget amendment, because not doing so is — fiscally irresponsible?”

ALMOND, BROCHIN TRADE BARBS: Pamela Wood of the Sun writes that Baltimore County executive candidates Vicki Almond and Jim Brochin are trading barbs over sources of past campaign donations. Almond called on Democratic rival Jim Brochin to donate the money he has accepted over the years from gun-related groups to gun violence prevention efforts. Brochin, who has not accepted campaign donations from any of those groups since 2012, said Almond, a county councilwoman from Reisterstown, should make a donation to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in an amount equivalent to the thousands of dollars he says she’s received in campaign donations from developers and development attorneys.

ROSENSTEIN READY FOR FIRING: Chris Sommerfeldt of the New York Daily News is reporting that Rod Rosenstein stands ready to fall on his sword. The deputy attorney general, facing flak from President Trump and right-wing media, has told confidants this week that he is ready to be fired, knowing that he has executed his job with integrity and honesty. Rosenstein used to be state’s attorney for Maryland.