State Roundup March 19, 2010

Today we’ve got fallout from the death of a teacher at the Cheltenham youth detention center. The Senate budget committee put off some of the more difficult budget decisions, and the Senate gets heated over card games.

CHELTENHAM: The superintendent of the Cheltenham youth detention center has been demoted, two staffers have been fired, and others are suspended after the Department of Juvenile Services found security lapses that led to the death of a teacher at the facility, Peter Hermann writes in The Baltimore Sun. Mary Pat Flaherty has the story for The Washington Post, and Zoe Tillman writes for The Gazette. Kathleen Cairns has video for WBFF.

BUDGET: The Senate budget committee put off decisions on $60 million in local school aid Thursday, but lawmakers made many controversial decisions about tax credits, environmental programs and life science research, Andy Rosen writes for Alan Brody and Erin Cunningham with The Gazette writes that lawmakers have split into two camps over the budget. Some want to make minimal cuts and wait out the economy, while others want to fix what they see as long-term problems now.

WAGE REQUIREMENTS: A bill would set wage requirements for employees of companies that get more than $250,000 from the state in projects or development at 130 percent of the minimum wage, Nick Sohr reports for The Daily Record. But business groups blasted it, saying it would make state economic development funds “worthless.”

GAMBLING: The Senate got into a debate over whether to legalize card games at race tracks around the state, as a lawmaker sought to amend Senate President Mike Miller’s plan to put cards at Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County. John Wagner has the story at the Post. Here’s Annie Linskey’s take from The Sun’s Maryland Politics blog.

SHORE FACILITY: EPA officials are recommending further study of a controversial State Department security facility on the Eastern Shore, likely delaying construction into next year, Paul West writes for The Sun. A letter from the agency last week raised the question whether the project “may adversely affect the aquatic and terrestrial environment.”

MEDICAL WEED: State lawmakers are considering a plan to legalize medical marijuana for patients with “debilitating” illnesses, Hayley Peterson writes for the Washington Examiner. If enacted, supporters say the bill would be much tougher on marijuana distribution than the state law concerning narcotics like oxycontin.

FORECLOSURES: Maryland had the 10th-highest foreclosure rate in the country last month, and officials are pushing hard for a bill that would require lenders to work with borrowers to fix loans before they move to seize property. Kevin James Shay has the story for The Gazette.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS: Lawmakers have filed 38 bills to change the state constitution, Alan Brody writes for The Gazette. That’s a lot even in an election year, when changes approved by the legislature can appear on the ballot.

WAXTER CENTER: The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill that would close Laurel’s state-run Thomas J.S. Waxter Center for female juvenile offenders, Shauna Miller reports for Capital News Service.

SEX OFFENDERS: Robert Lang has a roundup of bills that the House Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday evening. The panel approved increasing the sentence for second degree rape and sex offense involving a victim under 13, but rejected a bill that would have imposed the death penalty for the murder of a child who was sexually assaulted.

The sheer volume of bills to strengthen sex offender laws has one senator concerned. Sen. Brian Frosh, who heads the Judicial Proceedings Committee, is worried that too many changes could confuse the law, Sean Sedam writes for The Gazette.

WATER-BILL FORECLOSURES: Sen. Jim Brochin was trying to pass a bill to make it harder for counties to seize properties over delinquent water debt, but the bill was postponed indefinitely on the Senate floor, Nick DiMarco writes for

SCHOOL FUNDING: Lawmakers are running low on time to pass changes to the state’s “maintenance of effort” school funding laws, which require local governments not to cut school funding under penalty of state aid reductions. Marcus Moore has the story for The Gazette.

NOT SO SOUTHERN: Despite Maryland’s position south of the Mason-Dixon Line, lawmakers successfully petitioned to move from the Southern Region of the Council of State Governments to the Eastern Region, Brian Witte writes for the Associated Press.

WEALTH SHIFT: Erin Cunningham at The Gazette highlights a report that shows Baltimore City and Washington, D.C. residents are becoming richer on average, well classically wealthy jurisdictions like Baltimore and Montgomery counties are getting poorer.

PRIMARY DATE: The recently enacted federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requiring that service members receive absentee ballots at least 45 days before the November election could prove problematic for Maryland’s traditional September primary date, Tim Craig writes for The Post.

SUNSHINE: Sunshine Week, which focuses on open government, is drawing to a close. Blair Lee writes in his Gazette column about some recent failings of transparency, highlighting a recent court decision in Baltimore City.

DISTRACTED DRIVING: David Collins has a video report on the recent Senate debate on distracted driving. Floor action has been delayed twice this week.

WINE: Although the fate of a proposal to legalize direct shipment of wine from winery to consumer remains uncertain, supporters have a backup plan in a proposal to study wine-shipping practices in other states, Nick Sohr writes in The Daily Record. After the study, they can revisit the issue next year.

EHRLICH: Democrats are calling for an inquiry into whether former Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s Baltimore office has served as a “de facto campaign headquarters,” Margie Hyslop writes for The Gazette. Julie Bykowicz has more from The Sun blog.

REREG: Sens. Jim Rosapepe and E.J. Pipkin are pushing for a plan to re-regulate the state electricity market, Nancy Royden writes in the Prince George’s Sentinel. The Retail Energy Supply Association has is backing a bill to boost consumer education, while BGE says competition among energy providers is increasing.

BALANCE BILLING: A bill that would take patients out of health care billing procedures may also banish the practice of out-of-network doctors charging their patients the balance of the charge not covered by the insurer, Scott Graham writes for the Baltimore Business Journal.

LEGAL SERVICES: Both chambers of the General Assembly have signed off on a bill that would raise civil filing fees to help poor people get legal services, Julie Bykowicz reports for The Sun’s blog.

UNION FEES: Del. Chris Shank advocated for his bill blocking a potential requirement for state employees to pay union service fees, Erin Julius reports in The (Hagerstown) Herald-Mail. The bill would strip provisions passed last year allowing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to put a service fee in the contract between the state and employees. But AFSCME said it wouldn’t try to implement the service fees amidst the recession.

MOONEY: The race for the Republican primary for state senator in Frederick County is getting a lot more interesting, as newly appointed Del. Charles Jenkins is considering running against Sen. Alex Mooney in the September Republican primary, Meg Tully writes in The Frederick News-Post. His statement comes after Mooney sent a campaign mailing criticizing the process used to appoint Jenkins and touting his former aide Michael Hough, who is running for Jenkins’s seat after being the runner-up for the appointment in January.

VALLARIO: Barry Rascovar writes in his column for The Gazette that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario’s reputation for allowing panel members to grill witnesses could cost him.

GUNS: Laslo Boyd writes in his Gazette column that anger is evident in the emotional debate over gun laws in Annapolis.

MARCH MADNESS: The NCAA men’s basketball tournament kicked off Thursday, and The Gazette’s Reporter’s Notebook is chock full of General Assembly basketball stories. Plus, did O’Malley forget about Morgan State?

“STIMULANTS”: Another Reporter’s Notebook entry from The Gazette talks about one delegate’s idea to promote a proposed ban on sexual stimulants by handing out pills like “Stiff Nights.” The handouts were unfortunately-timed, however.

MILLIONAIRES’ TAX: The General Assembly is considering renewing the millionaires’ tax, originally implemented in 2008, Scott Dance writes for the Baltimore Business Journal.

TRACKING DEVICES: Del. Chris Shank’s proposal to start a pilot program for placing GPS tracking devices on those who fail to comply with protective orders in Washington County may get a bit bigger if two Prince George’s County delegates have their way, Erin Julius writes for The Herald-Mail. Dels. Victor Ramirez and Benjamin Barnes were interested in adding Prince George’s County to the pilot program, given the much larger number of protective order cases in the urban county.

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