Election year politics fuels competing lockbox plans

When Gov. Larry Hogan strode to the podium Wednesday, and started talking about a lockbox for the Education Trust Fund from casino revenues, it had a familiar ring to it. Didn’t Democratic legislators propose a similar lockbox just two weeks ago? The two proposals have somewhat similar goals, but different approaches for increasing education spending. The Democrats want a constitutional amendment that they will send to the voters for approval in November. The governor wants to do his lockbox by statute without any additional voter approval.

Judges defend big pay hike

Maryland’s top judges told the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday that increasing the pay of all 313 Maryland judges in the state was necessary to retain the quality and diversity of Maryland’s judiciary. The Judicial Compensation Commission recommended that all the judges get a $35,000 pay hike phased in over the next four years. This would bring the salaries of 173 circuit court judges up to $189,433 and the pay for 117 district court judges, the lowest paid of the jurists, up to $176,333. “I know it sounds outlandish what we propose,” said Elizabeth Buck, who chairs the independent commission. “I know it sounds crazy.”

The State House meal ticket and other General Assembly factoids

The 150-page report of the General Assembly Compensation Commission released last month contains gobs of interesting data about how the legislature operates and compares to those in other states, even while it recommended no raise for lawmakers during the next four years. One of the more interesting factoids is that last year more than four out of five legislators (82%, 155 senators and delegates) took 100% of the daily per diem meal limit. This is a bit surprising since there are receptions and lobbyist-paid committee dinners virtually every night of the week.

Montgomery County Candidates List for local, state, federal office 2/12/18

This is an updated list of candidates for local, state and federal office in Montgomery County as best as we could determine as of Feb. 12, 2018. Three Republicans have filed for candidacy in the U.S. Senate race, and Independent Neal Simon officially launched his campaign last week. Incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin has three Democrat opponents in the primary election, including convicted U.S. Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning. Incumbent Attorney General Brian Frosh, D, will be challenged by Republican Craig Wolf in the general election. John Rea of Anne Arundel County is the third Democrat to enter the 3rd Congressional District race to challenge incumbent Congressman John Sarbanes in the June 26 primary election. Just when we thought the County Council At-Large race couldn’t get any larger, Democrat David Lipscomb filed for candidacy, bringing the total number of Democrat candidates to 31. Legislative District 15 has a new Republican candidate – Marc A. King – and a new Democrat candidate – Amy Frieder. There are now 3 Republicans and 8 Democrats vying to fill one vacant House seat in this district. Democrat Marc Lande joined the Legislative District 16 House Delegate race and David Jeang of the Green Party joined the Legislative District 19 Senate race. 

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$35,000 pay raise proposed for all 313 Maryland judges

A proposal to give all 313 Maryland judges a $35,000 raise over the next four years faces a hearing Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee.
The recommendations of the Judicial Compensation Commission will take effect automatically if the legislature does not reject or amend them by March 15 —  and  lawmakers have not hesitated to reject or reduce judicial pay hikes in the past. Salaries for the 173 circuit court judges would go up to $189,433 and the pay for 117 district court judges, the lowest paid of the jurists, would go up to $176,333.

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Opinion: Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are advocates for quality, affordable prescription drugs

There is so much rancor and finger pointing these days over prescription drug prices that consumers are often left to wonder: who is fighting on their behalf? The answer: Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs. Companies and public programs providing prescription drug coverage hire PBMs for their expertise, and ability to reduce drug costs by negotiating for rebates and discounts from big drug companies and drugstores.

A walk in the Eastern Shore woods with a different kind of forester

It was a chill November morning, the rising sun sloshing light on the tree tops. Larry Walton and I were about half a mile into the woods that line the Nanticoke River near Vienna, Md., when he wrapped his arms around a great old Atlantic white cedar. That tree species once shaded thousands of acres of Delmarva Peninsula swamps with its dense, evergreen canopies, until rampant logging and wetlands destruction made cedars relatively rare. Today, you seldom see specimens like this.

Sen. Kagan scolds state school board veep for disparaging students

A Democratic senator scolded the Republican vice president of the state school board for his choice of words at an Annapolis hearing Wednesday when describing what he called Maryland’s low-ranking accountability standard used to measure student academic achievement. Chester Finn, vice president of the Maryland State Board of Education, said legislation approved by the state legislature last year placed Maryland “in the cellar” in terms of how U.S. schools rate student academic outcomes, which makes Maryland “second lowest” in the country.

Videos of full Assembly sessions get slim support, even though cost estimates reduced

A brief, perfunctory hearing in a Senate committee Tuesday made a rather weak case for Gov. Larry Hogan’s legislation to make the legislature’s proceedings more open and accessible to the public. Hogan’s Transparency Act of 2018requires the legislature to live video stream and archive all sessions of the House and Senate and their committees, including voting sessions. The governor’s communications staff put out a “Hearing Alert” promoting the bill, but Deputy Legislative Officer Heidi Dudderar was the only person to testify for the legislation before the Senate Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee.