State Roundup, July 27, 2018

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FENTANYL DEATHS CONTINUE TO CLIMB: The number of fentanyl-related deaths in Maryland reached an all-time high in 2017 and is on track to continue increasing in 2018, officials said, part of a nationwide overdose epidemic being driven by the powerful synthetic drug, Rachel Chason of the Post is reporting. Maryland fatalities caused by fentanyl jumped 42% from 2016 to 2017 — from 1,119 to 1,594 — even as deaths related to heroin use declined, according to data released by the Maryland Department of Health on Thursday.

PRISON POPULATION DROPS: Maryland’s prison population — which has been decreasing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country — continues to shrink. From October 2017 through the end of last month, the number of people locked up in Maryland’s prisons fell an additional 1.3% to 18,998, continuing a multiyear drop, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: For Frederick-based prisoners’ rights advocate Kim Haven, solitary confinement is one of the biggest human rights issues of our era. “What we do to people in there is what they bring back to our communities. The damage is incalculable,” he said. Haven spoke along with other advocates at a public forum Tuesday in Frederick on the use of solitary confinement in Maryland prisons. Haven shared firsthand experience with Maryland prisons, Cameron Dodd of the Frederick News-Post reports.

  • Although multiple domestic and international groups label solitary confinement as torture, many corrections officials say it is a valuable tool for keeping inmates and prison staff safe. Cameron Dodd of the Frederick News-Post reports that Maryland prison officials have taken some steps to reduce the amount of time incarcerated people spend in solitary. Officials also opposed reform bills proposed in Maryland by legislators and prisoner rights advocates during the previous General Assembly session. These officials, such as Maryland Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Steve Moyer, say they use restrictive housing to maintain security.

SENATORS SAY SSA HOSTILE TO WORKERS: Maryland’s U.S. senators say the Social Security Administration is demonstrating “hostility towards its workforce” in the way it is implementing recent executive orders signed by President Donald J. Trump. Trump signed the orders in May with the stated goals of promoting accountability, rooting out poor performers and negotiating union contracts more advantageous to taxpayers and the federal government, Jeff Barker reports in the Sun.

BIG BIZ INFILTRATES RX POT INDUSTRY: When state officials wrote the rules for Maryland’s lucrative new medical marijuana industry, they were guided by a few principles. They wanted to foster local businesses, encourage competition and spread opportunity as widely as possible. Their goal was to create a level playing field on which many smaller players could thrive. Doug Donovan of the Sun reports that now, less than a year after the industry launched, some firms have gained control of multiple dispensaries. Now lawmakers are concerned that their original rules have left the state vulnerable to large out-of-state corporations swooping in and dominating the budding industry.

A screen shot of the Conowingo Dam from above Thursday taken from a You.Tube video by AVP Drone Services. 

FLOOD CONCERNS AROUND STATE: David Anderson of the Aegis writes that Gov. Larry Hogan said on Twitter on Thursday night that state agencies were providing support to Port Deposit and other towns around the Conowingo Dam. Recent rainstorms in the region have pelted record amounts of rain — and produced historic flows. By late Thursday night, operators had opened 20 of the dam’s 53 spill gates to cope with the rising Susquehanna River, and more were expected to be opened within hours.

  • It appears that the flooding that town officials feared won’t materialize, as the operator of the Conowingo Dam had fewer spill gates open Friday morning that it did 12 hours prior. As of 4:30 a.m. Friday, the Conowingo Dam had 16 spill gates open and Exelon, the operator of the hydroelectric dam, didn’t expect to open many more by 8:30 a.m. Officials had previously reported that the Susquehanna River would crest, or reach its highest point, around midnight Friday, Carl Hamilton and Jacob Owens of the Cecil Whig report.

SOME DEMS RESIST JEALOUS: Maryland gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous needs all the help he can get to unseat incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R), but he’s facing resistance from some fellow Democrats uneasy with his left-wing platform, including Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Senate President Mike Miller. Others disagree with some of Jealous’ policies but offer strong support, the Post’s Robert McCartney writes.

ELRICH FINALLY CELEBRATES: Marc Elrich finally got his victory party, writes Josh Kurtz for Maryland Matters. One month to the day after the primary, the Montgomery County councilman basked publicly for the first time Thursday night in his status as the Democratic nominee for county executive. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you,” Elrich told a cheering crowd at McGinty’s Public House in downtown Silver Spring. “This victory was put together by lots of neighbors and lots of friends.”

CHANGES IN PG LEADERSHIP: Prince George’s County will see significant political changes next year: New county executive, new state’s attorney, six new County Council members, three new state senators and six new members of the House of Delegates. Though in typical Prince George’s fashion, some of the newcomers are repurposed politicians who previously served in other offices. One significant and relatively unexplored change is the expansion of the County Council, from nine members to 11, with the two new seats being at-large, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters reports.

COMMISSIONER’s WIFE WITHDRAWS ORDER, STICKS TO CLAIM: Don Aines of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reports that the wife of Washington County Board of Commissioners President Terry Baker withdrew her petition for a protective order on Thursday. The commissioner’s attorney then issued a statement denying that any assault occurred earlier this month in West Virginia, as Katrina Baker had alleged. However, in a later phone interview with Herald-Mail Media, Katrina Baker said, “I stick to my statement in my report” regarding the assault accusation against her husband.

MIKULSKI BACKS MEDAL FOR WINTERS: Former Sen. Barbara Mikulski is getting behind an effort urging President Donald Trump to award slain Capital Gazette writer Wendi Winters with the Presidential Medal of Freedom., Sarah Meehan of the Sun reports.

KEEP CAPITAL GAZETTE EVENTS NONPARTISAN: In a column for the Annapolis Capital, Michael Collins opines that as foul as President Trump’s many comments are — especially about the press — blaming him for inciting the Capital Gazette murders shifts the focus off the shooter for his heinous deed — and implicitly provides him an excuse. It also gives people with their own agendas the opportunity to hijack the grief of The Capital, their families and the community for their own partisan purposes. A warning is in order for the event organizers to play it straight — pay tribute to, and raise money for the victims and keep the partisan agendas out. You have a duty to protect the survivors and the memories of the victims from exploitation.