Brochin tries again to repeal 2011 alcohol tax

For a second year in a row, Sen. Jim Brochin is trying to repeal the retail sales tax on alcohol that went from 6% to 9% in 2011. He said it unfairly targets one industry and puts Maryland at a disadvantage with neighboring states. “Currently surrounding states are charging less in sales and use tax…and it’s having a negative effect on local businesses,” Brochin told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Wednesday.

Hogan moves to suspend $50 million supplement to pension system

In his State of the State speech Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan worried about the state’s pension system’s $20 billion unfunded liability, and urged legislators to pass a new pension option like a 401(k) for new employees. But in his fiscal 2018 budget, the governor withholds a mandated $50 million supplement to the State Retirement and Pension System due to declining revenue estimates that have left a slim $70 million surplus in fiscal 2017.

Senate postpones vote on renewable energy veto

A Senate vote to increase the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto from the 2016 session was postponed Thursday for a week. The bill would mandate that 25% of all electricity consumption in the state come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020. The measure ups the renewable energy goal from the current 20% by 2022. Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey said the vote scheduled this Thursday came earlier than expected and was anticipated to take place only after the House took up the RPS veto next week.

Third try for the right to die legislation

After two years of dead ends, Maryland lawmakers have again introduced measures to give terminally ill Marylanders the right to die using doctor prescribed medications. The nation’s oldest end-of-life advocacy group, Compassion & Choices, brought nearly 200 supporters to Annapolis on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to pass the “Richard E. Israel and Roger ‘Pip’ Moyer End of Life Options Act.”

Lawmakers target escalating drug prices

Maryland House and Senate Democrats are moving to stamp out prescription drug price gouging and force drug makers to reveal how their drugs are priced. On Tuesday, policy analysts, advocates and an assistant attorney general testified before the Senate Finance Committee that prescription drug prices will remain unaffordable without more competition in the generic drug market and better transparency in drug pricing, where prices have increased by as much as 1000% in a one-year period.

Hogan proposes ethics reform, more openness for legislature

Seizing on bribery and conspiracy charges facing former Democratic lawmakers, Gov. Larry Hogan unleashed a handful of bills Thursday to rein in corruption and put an end to influence peddling in Annapolis. Hogan also proposed legislation to take some of the politics out of liquor board appointments, force the Maryland Senate and House to video stream their sessions, and set up an independent commission to draw lines for legislative and congressional districts.

Hogan gives caregivers for disabled smaller raise than promised; most earn fast-food wages

The budget Gov. Hogan rolled out Wednesday is short on mandatory funding increases for workers serving Marylanders with developmental disabilities — putting providers in direct competition with fast food chains, said Senate Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton in a press briefing Wednesday. Hogan’s budget cuts the mandatory 3.5% wage hike to the Developmental Disabilities Administration to 2%. The legislature needs to make up the 1.5% reduction before the end of the session, said Middleton, a long-time advocate for DDA caregivers.

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State police audit finds potential savings if more civilians were hired

Maryland taxpayers could save $11 million annually if 127 of the current 1,426 uniformed positions in the Maryland State Police were replaced with civilian employees, according to a report released by the Office of Legislative Audits. The audit found the positions were not involved in daily law enforcement activities. The savings would be found in lower salaries and fringe benefits attributed to civilian employees, which would include a $7.8 million reduction in annual pension costs.