Committee cuts judicial pay raise to $20K; Strong support for term limits for legislators, more education funding, $15 minimum wage

All 313 Maryland judges would get a $20,000 pay raise — $5,000 for each of the next four years, the House Appropriations Committee is recommending. The committee cut $15,000 from the raises proposed by the Judicial Compensation Commission. Three-quarters of Marylanders (75%) support term limits for state legislators, and a majority (56%) support the two-term, 8-year limit proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, according to part 2 of a Goucher College poll taken last week.

The real story about Supervised Consumption Facilities for drugs

Supervised Consumption Facilities (SCF) are proven effective in reducing drug use, reducing disease, reducing discarded needles, reducing crime, and getting people into treatment. Equally important, there have been no overdose deaths in any of the facilities in operation because a trained rescuer is present at all times.

Opinion: Annapolis should keep hands off local pensions

About a year ago, I wrote an essay for the Maryland Reporter suggesting the state legislature look to local governments for ideas on how to successfully manage pension systems.  Naturally, the opposite has happened. A delegate is sponsoring legislation that would require local government pensions to provide a potentially budget-breaking disability benefit for some public safety employees.

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.

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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.