State Roundup, May 4, 2018

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CRAB PICKING CRISIS: Federal immigration officials have agreed to approve 15,000 new guest worker visas for seasonal work, including a Maryland crab industry grappling with a significant labor shortage, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris said Thursday. Still, he acknowledged that the 15,000 additional visas “is probably not going to be adequate.”

  • The editorial board of the Sun opines that Hoopers Island lost the lottery. There’s really no better way to explain the economic devastation that is gradually unfolding on this tiny Dorchester County community, among the most remote on the Eastern Shore. Crabs are a main source of livelihood here, and so far this year, four crab processing plants have gone belly up — victims of the Trump administration’s decision to tighten restrictions on the guest worker visas known as H-2B
  • The editorial board of the Annapolis Capital also weighs in on the situation, writing that Gov. Larry Hogan has urged the federal government to “take immediate action” and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore, says he is working with the administration to either raise the visa cap or allow crab pickers in under an unrestricted agricultural worker visa program. We hope their efforts succeed — but it would have been better if this needless problem hadn’t been foisted on the Maryland seafood industry in the first place.

SOYBEANS & TRADE WAR: It’s planting time for Eastern Shore farmer Jason Scott, and as he buries seeds in a dozen dusty rows at a time, prices for his soybean crops are strong. The excitement of this day, he says, is rivaled only by the harvest, when he learns just how much he has grown, and what it’s going to be worth. But when that day comes, will the beans be worth so much? For Scott and other farmers in this mostly Republican region of the state, the threat of a trade war with China, motivated by the America first philosophy that propelled President Donald Trump into office, looms over the start of this growing season, reports Scott Dance of the Sun.

LAWYERS’ MALL: A FORUM OR NOT: A free-speech challenge to a Maryland state agency’s ban on financial solicitations on Lawyers’ Mall could come down to whether the site – at the foot of the State House and the feet of Thurgood Marshall’s statue – is an open forum for political protest or a simply a common area subject to legitimate government control, writes Steve Lash for the Daily Record.

TRUMP SEEKS MARYLAND SUIT DISMISSAL: Stephen Braun of the AP reports that President Donald Trump is asking a federal judge in Maryland to dismiss a lawsuit that argues that Trump’s acceptance of payments from foreign and state governments at his Washington hotel violates the Constitution. A private lawyer for the president wrote in court papers this week that the suit should be tossed because the president cannot be sued in the matter either as an individual or in his official capacity.

DEMS & OAKS’ SAGA: William Zorzi of Maryland Matters writes about the long and perplexing tale of former Sen. Nathaniel Oaks and how the Democratic leadership has tried to manage his place in the party amid the scandal that has surrounded him.

SHEA-SCOTT TEAM RELEASES TAX RETURNS: Gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea and his running mate, Baltimore City Council member Brandon Scott, released their federal and state tax returns on Friday, becoming the first gubernatorial ticket to jointly make their financial records public. Shea is the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to release his returns. State Sen. Richard Madaleno posted six years of tax returns on his website in April and called on all other candidates to do the same, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports.

POLITICAL REVERBERATIONS: The decision by the state’s top education official to block, at least for now, Verletta White’s hiring to be the permanent superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools is having reverberations in several political campaigns, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. More than a half-dozen elected officials and community activists led by Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian Jones expressed their outrage over the rare, if not unprecedented, decision by Maryland State Schools Superintendent Karen B. Salmon at a news conference just outside White’s office.

BA CO DISSENTERS LOBBIED SALMON: The Baltimore Sun is reporting that shortly after a divided Baltimore County school board voted to hire Verletta White as superintendent last month, dissenting members began a lobbying effort to ask the state schools chief to do something none of her predecessors have done in at least a half-century. The effort appears to have worked. Ten days after the board’s 8-4 vote, Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon blocked White’s appointment. The move came after Salmon’s office received 95 letters calling for that action, and just two supporting White. Now White’s supporters are embarking on their own effort to lobby Salmon to undo what they decried Thursday as unprecedented state overreach.

COLUMBIA AT 50: Richard Krantz will discuss his film and Len Lazarick will discuss his book, both titled Columbia at 50, at a Salon of the Little Patucent Review, Monday evening 7-9 pm. at Columbia Arts Center in the Long Reach Village Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045. Lazarick will also be selling and signing his book.

PENSION PERFORMANCE QUESTIONED: Maryland state pension managers lost out on nearly $9 billion in income over the past decade by paying higher-than-average investment fees to Wall Street managers in exchange for lower-than-average investment returns, according to a new report from the Maryland Public Policy Institute. The findings call into question the portfolio strategy of the Maryland State Retirement & Pension System (MSRPS), which provides retirement benefits for 400,000 current and former state employees, as well as the value of Wall Street investment advice.

RED MARYLAND ENDORSES GOP RIVAL: In endorsing his Republican primary rival Jack Bailey, Brian Griffiths of Red Maryland writes that four years ago Steve Waugh defeated Roy Dyson, winning a state Senate seat that was long thought unwinnable by Republicans. A lot has changed since then. Waugh has sided with the Democratic leadership a little too much. Just this year not only did Waugh vote with Senate President Mike Miller and the Democrats to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that prevent colleges from asking about the criminal record of applicants, but he also sat idly by while Miller killed $28 million in funding for a new higher education center for his district.

MO CO TEACHERS ADD MORE NAMES TO APPLE BALLOT: The Montgomery County teachers union added a few more names to its much vaunted “Apple Ballot” of political endorsements Thursday, backing four incumbent County Council members for reelection but still not weighing in on the county executive’s race, Jennifer Barrios reports in the Post.