FUTURE OF HEALTH EXCHANGE: Maryland’s poorly performing health exchange will cost taxpayers $33 million more than expected this year, bringing the state’s total annual expense to $138 million, officials said Monday. The money is needed, in part, to pay the company hired to help fix the dysfunctional web site and to triple the work force at the state’s call center, which has been overwhelmed by requests for help from customers struggling to buy insurance online, Erin Cox is reporting for the Sun.
- The Maryland health insurance exchange has so many structural defects that a key member of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Cabinet said Monday that officials are “actively investigating alternative options” for the next enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15, reports Jenna Johnson for the Post. That would mean walking away from all or part of a system that has cost tens of millions of dollars to build.
- Leaders of the state’s troubled health exchange also are considering firing the exchange’s prime contractor and switching to the federal health exchange, reports the Annapolis Capital’s Alex Jackson. Maryland’s top health care officials gave the options during a newly formed legislative oversight committee’s first meeting on Monday.
- Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports that Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein said there have been significant improvements to the site since it opened Oct. 1 but added: “That doesn’t mean we’re satisfied with the way the system is functioning.”
- Sears also reports that Republican candidate for governor David Craig is demanding that Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown release information on the costs associated with the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. “I am dumbfounded that legislators should even have to ask how much this thing costs,” said the Harford County executive.
MINIMUM WAGE HIKE WILL HARM, STUDY SAYS: A study commissioned by a pro-business group in Maryland warns that raising the state’s minimum wage could lead to thousands of job losses, increase the price of consumer goods and weaken the state’s competitive position, reports John Wagner for the Post. The study was released Monday on the eve of a legislative hearing in Annapolis at which Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to urge lawmakers to pass a bill to raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016 and peg future increases to inflation. (Editor’s note: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown will fill in for O’Malley, who will be attending a funeral.)
- Ryan Marshall and Sylvia Carignan of the Gazette report that Montgomery County is vowing to protect its minimum wage hike, even as a newly released report by a pro-business group concluded that a statewide increase could be harmful.
BROWN, MIZEUR FIND COMMON GROUND: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a leading Democratic candidate for governor, on Monday called the state’s marijuana laws “costly, ineffective and racially biased” in a letter in which he outlined his reasons for supporting decriminalization of small amounts of the drug, writes the Post’s John Wagner.
- In a two-page letter that his office released to the media, Brown told Del. Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County that her recently introduced decriminalization bill is a “welcome part of the debate” and said he looked forward to working with her on the issue, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.
- John Wagner also reports in the Post that gubernatorial hopeful Heather Mizeur on Monday invited her two Democratic rivals to join her in testifying for legislation she is sponsoring to decriminalize marijuana, calling it an area where “we can all come together.”
CAMPUS DRINKING: How to change the drinking culture on college campuses is a growing concern in Maryland, according to a legislative briefing on Monday. Jennifer Shutt of the Salisbury Daily Times writes that among top concerns are having colleges do more than just tell incoming freshmen about the problems of binge drinking, working to address the ring of bars that often encircles college campuses and removing grain alcohol from all liquor store shelves
EARLY EDUCATION: Fraser Smith of WYPR-FM opines that Maryland’s education and child welfare community must find the current interest in early childhood education exciting, gratifying – and somewhat amusing. But only time will tell if politicians are serious enough to pony up the money.
LODGING REIMBURSEMENT: Senators and delegates living within 50 miles of the State House would be denied lodging reimbursements during the 90-day General Assembly session under a bill introduced by a Howard County senator, Alex Jackson reports in the Annapolis Capital. The bill comes a year after 99 lawmakers used the maximum $9,191 allowance, according to the Department of Legislative Services. Thirty-six more asked for more than $9,000 in reimbursement for lodging. There are 141 delegates and 47 senators in the General Assembly.
PIT BULL ADVOCATE: Kirsten Petersen writes in the Gazette about Eric Bernthal, chairman of the board of directors for the Humane Society of the United States, is a staunch advocate for striking down a Maryland Court of Appeals opinion that makes an owner of a pit bull automatically liable for any damages.
FISHERIES BILL WITHDRAWN: The bill that had watermen up in arms has been withdrawn by its Senate sponsor and referred to interim study in the House, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. The legislation would have defined how the Natural Resources Department opens and closes fishing seasons, changes catch limits and modifies where fishing can take place via public notice.
DEFINING ‘JOURNALIST:’ Are lawmakers in Annapolis going to get to define who is and isn’t a journalist, what is or isn’t a news organization in Maryland? It seems so, judging by what transpired at a House of Delegates Judiciary Committee hearing attended Wednesday by Baltimore Brew editor and publisher Fern Shen.
- Here Fern Shen blogs about her experience testifying in Annapolis and what she learned.
- MarylandReporter.com editor and publisher Len Lazarick also testified. You can watch the archived webstream of the testimony at hour 3:00 in the recording.
SHA PERMITS STREAMLINED: Some Washington County delegation members said the Maryland State Highway Administration is becoming more responsive to streamlining its permits process for developers, but there is room for improvement, Kaustuv Basu reports in the Hagerstown Herald Mail. The SHA is required to make sure that developers make roadway improvements to mitigate impacts caused by new developments or changes to existing developments.
POWER OF LOVE COUPLES: Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland blends Politico with People to come up with the state’s power couples for a Valentine’s Day kiss to the power of love and the love of power.
COLBURN DIVORCE PRIVATE: Concerns over politics and privacy led a Dorchester County judge to rule state Sen. Richard Colburn’s divorce should be hidden from public eyes. No one will be allowed to view the court file, reports Jennifer Shutt for the Salisbury Daily Times. Only attorneys and the Colburns will be allowed inside court proceedings. And if you try to find out when the trial will take place, it will look on Maryland’s online court management system as if the divorce does not even exist.
CURBS ON ELECTION ADMINISTRATOR: The State Board of Elections will consider restricting some authority from State Election Administrator Linda Lamone to interpret election law on her own after one of her rulings gave a fundraising advantage to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s gubernatorial campaign without the board’s consent or knowledge in December, reports Glynis Kazanjian for MarylandReporter.com.
BROWN BACKERS BLAST GANSLER: More than two dozen elected officials from Prince George’s County — most of them backers of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown for governor — signed onto a letter Monday accusing Democratic gubernatorial rival Doug Gansler of making “demeaning” remarks about the county during a campaign stop over the weekend, John Wagner reports in the Post.
- A perceived lack of high-end shopping and dining opportunities has long been a sensitive subject in Prince George’s, but county officials contend they have made important strides in remedying that in recent years. The letter names National Harbor, the Hyattsville Arts District and Woodmore Towne Centre as examples of places that offer fine dining and shopping, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun.