State Roundup, July 13, 2015

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OVERDOSE DEATHS, SOLUTIONS: Elisha Sauers of the Annapolis Capital reports that throughout the state, overdose deaths involving fentanyl, a painkiller 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, are spiking. Last year there were 185 fentanyl-related deaths, up from 58 in 2013. Last year Baltimore City led jurisdictions with 71 fentanyl-related deaths, followed by Baltimore County with 36. Anne Arundel County was third in Maryland with 23.

ILLEGAL TOBACCO SALES UP: Tobacco sales to minors are not at all rare among the more than 7,000 licensed tobacco vendors in Maryland, Jon Kelvey writes in the Carroll County Times. Maryland was out of compliance with federal tobacco laws in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, which ended June 30, with more than 20% of retailers checked having sold tobacco to minors — 24% in FY14 and 32% in FY15 — according to Barbara White, director of the Cigarette Restitution Fund Program at the Carroll County Health Department. Carroll also had unacceptable levels of sales to minors during Health Department enforcement checks in FY14 and FY15, with 24% and 28% of those vendors, respectively, making a sale to a minor.

AIRPORT CHIEF REPLACED: Gov. Larry Hogan has fired Paul J. Wiedefeld, the veteran chief executive of Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and replaced him with the director of Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport, writes Michael Dresser for the Sun. Hogan announced Friday that Ricky D. Smith Sr. has been named  chief executive of BWI and head of the Maryland Aviation Administration. Smith has also served as operations chief at BWI.

RETHINKING ‘MY MARYLAND:’ Brandi Bottalico of the Annapolis Capital writes that of the hundreds of songs Charlie Richardson has recorded in his decades as a local audio technician, one still stands out for him as the best representation of Maryland. The approximately two-minute “My Home, My Maryland” was composed and performed in 1976. The actual state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” has come under fire for its strong pro-Confederate slant — it uses phrases like “Northern scum” and “sic semper.” There have been attempts to change it over the last five decades; all have failed.

CONFEDERATE MONUMENTS: Two professors, Kate Drabinski and Karsonya Wise Whitehead, join Sheila Kast of WYPR-FM to discuss the history of slavery, the South and the Civil War and how the various memorials throughout Maryland honor the Confederacy.

CITY STUNG BY HOGAN DECISIONS: Gov. Larry Hogan’s decisions to kill an expensive light-rail project in Baltimore and reduce funding for schools have stirred tension with the city’s political leaders, who are questioning his commitment to addressing the struggling residents’ needs, writes Josh Hicks in the Post. John Willis, a political science professor at the University of Baltimore, said Hogan is unlikely to increase or even maintain his support in the city without some kind of policy decision that residents view as directly beneficial to them.

RED LINE DOCS SOUGHT: A pair of groups that supported the Red Line light rail project is asking the Hogan administration for copies of the information it used when it decided to kill the project. Rick Seltzer of the Baltimore Business Journal reports that the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and 1,000 Friends of Maryland have filed a Public Information Act request with the Maryland Department of Transportation asking for studies, statistics, reports, emails, recommendations and other records Gov. Larry Hogan used when he evaluated the Red Line.

GERRYMANDERING IN MARYLAND: Mark Plaster, an attorney, emergency room doctor and candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 3rd  congressional district, writes in American Thinker magazine that when it comes to gerrymandering, both political parties are guilty of this practice. He cites Maryland as a prime example of the problem.

OPEN MEETINGS BOARD CHIEF: Bryan Sears of the Daily Record writes that Gerard “Rod” Wittstadt Jr. never weighed in on a complaint filed with the state Open Meetings Compliance Board.  Technically, the attorney who was named in May by Gov. Larry Hogan to chair the government transparency panel was never officially appointed at all, according to the Attorney General’s office, which oversees the three-member panel. Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said in an email that Wittstadt withdrew “his name due to personal reasons.”        

ABERDEEN SOLDIERS CUT: Daniel Leaderman of the Daily Record reports that Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County will lose 126 soldier positions over the next two years due to ongoing reductions in the size of the U.S. Army, officials announced Friday. The latest reduction — which will take the size of the Regular Army from 490,000 to 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal 2016 — is the result of sequestration cuts set in motion by the federal Budget Control Act of 2011.

Terry Baker

Terry Baker

DNA ANALYSTS MUST TESTIFY: Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to cross-examine a DNA analyst whose report puts them at the crime scene “within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty,” Maryland’s top court has held in overturning the attempted murder and armed-robbery convictions of a man whose DNA was allegedly found on the mask the criminal used. Though contained in a DNA report, such an incriminating statement amounts to testimony by its author, the Court of Appeals ruled.

RUNNING FOR DELANEY’S SEAT: Saying he doesn’t like the direction this country is taking, Washington County Commissioners President Terry L. Baker announced this weekend that he plans to run for the U.S. House of Representative’s seat (6th District) currently held by Rep. John Delaney, Julie Greene reports for the Hagerstown Herald Mail.

DIXON CAMPAIGNING: Former Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon is suddenly ubiquitous, writes Yvonne Wenger and John Fritze for the Sun. A week after launching a campaign to reclaim her old job at City Hall, the 61-year-old Democrat is turning up on television screens, radio talk shows and community events as she strives to draw a contrast between her and incumbent Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — particularly on the administration’s handling of rising violence. Analysts say Dixon’s approach is just smart politics.

REPLACING BATTS: When Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired police Commissioner Anthony Batts and appointed an interim replacement, she executed a power that was once reserved for the governor of Maryland. Christina Jedra of the Sun writes that in fact, the power to appoint and remove the city’s police commissioners was in the governor’s hands for more than a century. In May 1976, Gov. Marvin Mandel signed legislation shifting the power back to the mayor — despite his personal opposition to the change.

MAYOR DOUSED: A story about the Mondawmin Festival in Baltimore City leads off with the fact that a Baltimore woman was arrested after she dumped what appeared to be water on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as she greeted residents Saturday morning at the festival. Jessica Anderson and Lorraine Mirabella write in the Sun.

NO TO HOSTING GOP? An NAACP leader is saying that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told him not to host Gov. Larry Hogan and other members of the GOP recently, a charge that the Mayor is denying. The story appears in the Washington Times.