State Roundup, December 1, 2017

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TAX OVERHAUL & MARYLAND: Senate Republicans were scrambling Thursday to lock down support for a major tax overhaul that could deliver President Donald J. Trump one of his first legislative victories while potentially cutting — or increasing — the taxes paid by nearly 3 million Marylanders, reports John Fritze for the Sun.

SECRETARY APPTS IN COURT: The feud over a pair of gubernatorial recess appointments seems poised to stretch into the 2018 General Assembly session, even as one of Gov. Larry Hogan’s cabinet members hasn’t been paid for six months, reports Danielle Gaines in the Frederick News-Post. An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge is considering a complaint filed by former Planning Secretary Wendi Peters and current Health Secretary Dennis Schrader against Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D). Peters and Schrader are asking the court to declare budget language restricting their pay as unconstitutional and award them back pay from July 1, the date the budget took effect.

  • An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge will delay an order in a case that pits the controversial appointments against the state’s treasurer and Democrats in the Maryland Senate. Judge Ronald Silkworth Thursday said he would delay a decision to allow attorneys for both sides to prepare proposed orders. Both sides are seeking summary judgments, and both sides warned of a severe constitutional crisis that would befall the state should the other prevail, reports Bryan Sears in the Daily Record.

ELECTION INTEGRITY: Efforts to improve the integrity of the election process in Maryland are gearing up ahead of next year’s General Assembly session. Josh Kurtz writes in Maryland Matters that next Tuesday morning, good government advocates will join state Sen. Will Smith (D) and Dels. Kirill Reznik (D) and Eric Luedtke (D) at a Lawyers Mall news conference in Annapolis. The group will call on lawmakers to protect and expand ballot access in the state; legislation is pending.

BIG PAY HIKES FOR TEACHERS PROPOSED: Big increases in teacher salaries along with the creation of statewide career ladder that would put teachers in line with other “high-status professions” are among the key recommendations a statewide commission on school funding will make to the legislature this year, writes Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, charged with looking at a wide range of education issues, will also recommend teams of teachers be given greater autonomy and spend less time in the classroom and more time collaborating on teaching strategies.

BANNING BUMP STOCKS: The editorial board for the Sun writes: If there is a piece of legislation that deserves unanimous consent in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session, it must surely be the proposal to ban “bump stocks,” the device that allows a user to turn a semiautomatic rifle into the equivalent of an automatic weapon, 

HOGAN CAN SAVE INSURANCE: The editorial board of the Sun opines that Gov. Larry Hogan can help save health insurance coverage for Marylanders, writing that, to his credit, Hogan has made several statements of support for the Affordable Care Act during the past year and in opposition to flawed “repeal and replace” bills advanced by members of his party in Congress. With the Senate poised to vote on a tax cut plan that includes a repeal of Obamacare’s requirement that most people have insurance he has a chance to do more than talk. He can’t stop Congress from making such a destructive move, but he can lend his support to an effort to preserve the benefits of the ACA in Maryland and to stave off the potential havoc in the state’s insurance market that killing the individual mandate would cause.

BAKER ON PG SCHOOLS: Following a verbal scuffle with Gov. Larry Hogan, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said Thursday that “significant systemic changes are coming” to the suburb’s public school system as a result of a state-ordered audit, which found evidence of grade-tampering that resulted in an inflated number of high school graduates. Arelis Hernandez of the Post writes that Baker, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, was awarded partial control of the troubled school system in 2012 and has touted improved test scores and graduation rates as one of his significant accomplishments.

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LEADERSHIP CHANGES: Some high-profile organizations in the Maryland political and public policy sphere are going through some leadership changes. At Common Cause/Maryland, the good government group, Executive Director Jennifer Bevan-Dangel is leaving to become executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters writes.

OUR MARYLAND CONFERENCE: In a Political Notes column, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters writes that Our Maryland, the newish progressive multi-issue education and advocacy organization, is hosting its initial conference – billed as a politics and policy summit – on Monday in College Park. The purpose of the event is to bring together activists, donors and stakeholders from across the progressive spectrum to talk about strategies for winning policy and political battles in 2018. It will focus on issues for the upcoming legislative session in Annapolis and how to chart a course for the general election.

UNIONS BACK EDWARDS: Four local unions representing thousands of Prince George’s County hotel, food, retail and public-sector workers endorsed former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards on Thursday in the race to become the next county executive, Arelis Hernandez of the Post reports.

ETHICS REFORM IN FREDERICK: County Executive Jan Gardner (D) announced on Thursday that she’d reached a compromise on ethics reform legislation for the upcoming General Assembly session. The new bill reflects a compromise between Gardner and state Sen. Michael Hough (R-District 4), whose dueling reform bills last session both failed to pass, Danielle Gaines reports in the Frederick News-Post.

HOWARD BILLS: Members of Howard County’s state delegation listened as residents gave their input Wednesday night on the 23 local bills they have proposed for the upcoming 2018 General Assembly legislative session, reports Kate Magill in the Howard County Times. The bills include a variety of issues, ranging from the creation of grants for local projects like an Ellicott City Public Arts Project to raising the Howard County sheriff’s salary from $94,000 to $145,000 in 2019 and establishing a student loan assistance program for county teachers.

CITY COUNCILMEN SEEK FED PROBE: Two powerful Baltimore City councilmen called on Thursday for the police department to turn over the investigation into the killing of Det. Sean Suiter to federal authorities. The move came as federal prosecutors filed a new indictment against Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, a former member of Baltimore’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, alleging that he duped Suiter seven years ago into finding drugs Jenkins had planted in a man’s car, Justin Fenton of the Sun reports.

MD REPS SAY CONYERS SHOULD STEP DOWN: U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer, John Delaney and John Sarbanes have all said that Rep. John Conyers, a Civil Rights hero who has been accused of repeated sexual harassment, should resign, writes Jenna Portnoy in the Post.