As usual, the week between Christmas and New Year’s was fairly slow news-wise, except for all the stories about the partial federal shutdown. To summarize those stories: Nothing happened. And nothing is expected to happen until the new Congress and Speaker Pelosi are sworn in Thursday.
Here’s a longish roundup of the top stories from the past week.
BALTIMORE CRIME: Top of the front page of the Washington Post Dec. 28 was a long summary of the Baltimore crime situation: “As Baltimore has seen a stunning surge of violence, with nearly a killing each day for the past three years in a city of 600,000, homicide arrests have plummeted. City police made an arrest in 41 percent of homicides in 2014; last year, the rate was just 27 percent, a 14 percentage point drop.” If you haven’t read the drip, drip of the problems of Baltimore murders and its police force, this Post story by Wesley Lowery, Steven Rich and Salwan Georges of its investigative unit provides an overview.
FERGUSON REACTS: The Post story lead to this reaction from Baltimore State Sen. Bill Ferguson on Facebook. “Just wonderful national news. Infuriating. Meanwhile, we wait months and months for a commissioner to be nominated and weeks and weeks for any actual transition. We lose our director of Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. We still haven’t expanded Safe Streets after money was granted by the State. We flounder along in implementing the consent decree. And we continue to stagger without a coherent crime and safety plan for the City. It doesn’t have to be this way, it simply doesn’t. We are so much better than this, Baltimore, and we cannot accept such low expectations for our City.”
ASSESSMENTS UP: Conduit Street, the blog of the Maryland Association of Counties, reports on the statewide 9% increase in property values, with links to Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation website and press release.
- State assessments for residential and commercial properties in some areas of Howard County saw an average rise of 8.5%, continuing a years-long upswing in values used to calculate the taxes property owners pay. Meredith Cohn and Lorraine Mirabella report in the Sun. The state reassesses one third of properties on its books each year, and this year assessments rose on 87.5% of the 696,974 properties reviewed statewide. In Howard County, areas that were assessed include Ellicott City, Marriottsville, West Friendship and parts of Columbia west of Route 29.
- In Anne Arundel County, property values are up 7.9 percent overall, reported Danielle Ohl in the Capital. The increase is smaller than the last assessment increase in fiscal 2016, but will affect nearly 90 percent of residential properties and 85.32 percent of properties overall.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Six years after Maryland legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the state’s cannabis industry has finally completed its first full year of sales. Building up the local cannabis market has been a long and tumultuous process, but the industry seems to be gaining momentum now, writes Morgan Eichensehr in the Baltimore Business Journal.
LEGALIZING POT: The legalization of recreational marijuana appears to be a long shot in 2019, but lawmakers heading to Annapolis say this year could be important in setting the table for the future, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record. The General Assembly will have plenty of cannabis-related issues to mull over, including efforts to expand the 2014 decriminalization law and to establish rules for how medical cannabis dispensaries can advertise to the public.
GAMBLING REVENUES RISE: This year the casino industry in Maryland soared to new heights, even as Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino was unable to match past revenues, Amanda Yeager reports in the Baltimore Business Journal. Each month seemed to bring a new record for total revenue among the state’s six casinos, which repeatedly posted year-over-year growth. The latest record was set in October, with casinos generating a total of $158 million, an increase of 18.6% compared with October 2017.
BRAVEBOY AND JUVENILE JUSTICE: Early in her career advising Prince George’s County officials on legislative matters, Aisha N. Braveboy learned that large groups of students were skipping classes from her alma mater, Largo High School. Now, as the new State’s Attorney, Braveboy wants to keep those youngsters in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Lynh Bui reports in the Post.
INAUGURAL DONATIONS TO BE REPORTED: For the first time in Maryland, private donations from people and corporations that fund inaugural festivities for the governor will be made public in financial disclosure reports required by law, writes Brian Witte for the Associated Press.
MONTGOMERY SCHOOL BOARD: For the first time, Montgomery’s elected school board is composed of a majority of people of color, Donna St. George writes in the Washington Post. It is a notable change in a school system — the state’s largest — that has been majority-minority for much of two decades.
FREDERICK HOTEL: With a clear separation along party lines, members of Frederick County’s delegation have disagreed for years over using state money for a planned multimillion-dollar hotel and conference center in downtown Frederick. But now, as three new delegates prepare to take office — one of whom has voiced clear support for the project — the group may enter the 2019 session with a different stance, Mallory Panuska reports in the Frederick News-Post.
WATER BILLS AND PUGH NEWS: Since the summer, Baltimore residents opening their monthly missive from the Public Works department have found something more than another water bill to pay – the smiling face of Mayor Catherine Pugh, reports Fern Shen in Baltimore Brew. Pugh is pictured prominently at the top of a glossy one-page newsletter with short blurbs on her administration’s activities.
REVOLVING DOOR IN BALTIMORE: When Khalil Zaied left as Baltimore’s deputy mayor for a job in El Paso, Texas, in 2016, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “Our loss will be El Paso’s gain.” Zaied is now back in Baltimore, reports Mark Reutter in Baltimore Brew. And not only back, but working for a private company managing a project that, already doubling in price, was developed and bid during his time as deputy mayor. Before Christmas, the Board of Estimates upped the amount for repairing the city’s underground conduit system from $26 million to $50 million – with the prospect that the contract may double again to $100 million.
PITTMAN ON IMMIGRATION: Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman formally announced the cancellation of Anne Arundel County’s 287(g) program with the federal government that allowed local law enforcement to help enforce immigration laws, Ethan McLeod reports in Baltimore Fishbowl.
- Pittman reversed his position on ending an agreement to rent space at a county jail to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigrant detainees, writes Jennifer Barrios in the Post. He said he would keep that program in place but use part of the revenue the county receives to help fund legal representation for the detainees housed there.
5 CAUCUSES SET LEGISLATIVE GOALS: The leaders of Maryland’s five General Assembly caucuses are preparing for what they say will be a busy legislative session across the board. The Sun’s Hallie Miller compiles the goals of the caucuses for Latinos, women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and veterans. Health care issues are a priority.
ELLICOTT CITY PLANS: Saying Howard County “must make sure we are not using a sledgehammer when only a scalpel is necessary,” County Executive Calvin Ball said last week that the county will continue its move to acquire buildings in historic Ellicott City, but has not committed to demolishing them. At a news conference Dec. 27 Ball announced a package of flood mitigation efforts he dubbed his “Safe and Sound” initiative, reports Jess Nocera in the Howard County Times. Components include continuing construction of infrastructure to improve stormwater retention and stream capacity, more frequent maintenance of tributaries to remove debris, upgrades in the county alert system to warn people of potential flooding and other disasters and a matching grant program to provide $150,000 of funds for private flood mitigation efforts.
- Calvin Ball directed the county’s Department of Public Works to “explore flood mitigation options that do not require full scale demolition” of buildings — even though demolition was a core piece of his predecessor’s controversial plan, Rachel Chason reports in the Post.
GRANT TO HOWARD COMMUNITY COLLEGE: Howard Community College received a state grant of $9.8 million Dec. 19 through the Maryland Board of Public Works as part of an overall $18 million package for projects at five higher education institutions across Maryland, writes Jim Joyner in the Sun.
HOWARD COUNTY EMAIL HACKED: Howard County Executive Calvin Ball’s email distribution list was hacked as part of a phishing scam, according to the county government. The county warned residents Sunday night that Ball’s Constant Contact account had been compromised and urged recipients to delete emails from Ball with the subject line “Account Cancellation.” The emails, which claims to come from Netflix, ask recipients to validate their account information, writes Sarah Meehan in the Sun.
TEACHER RAISES IN HOWARD: Howard County school officials and the county’s teacher’s union have announced a two-year pact that revises educators’ salary scales. According to a release from the school system, the deal will increase entry level salaries for 10-month teachers with a bachelor’s degree to $48,519 for the 2019-2020 school year and $50,000 for 2020-21.The current minimum for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $47,802
PG SCHOOL BOARD: Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks this month sought the resignation of a school board member appointed by her predecessor, in another sign of efforts to chart a new course for the Maryland school system, Donna St. George reports in the Post.
SAINT BARBARA PRAY FOR US: Katherine Shaver, the Post’s veteran transportation reporter, writes: “Deep underground in the Maryland suburbs, about 30 feet beneath downtown Bethesda, a small bronze-colored statue of a woman sits perched on a steel beam, gazing upon construction workers as they excavate an enormous elevator shaft for the Purple Line light-rail project…. The feminine presence on the predominantly male work sites is Saint Barbara, the patron saint of tunnelers, miners, artillerymen and others who work with explosives. Wherever workers in hard hats head below ground — amid the potential for something to go terribly wrong and collapse the earth around them — a small statue regularly stands watch.”
FREDERICK MULLS I-270 PLANS: Interstate 270 doesn’t run anywhere near Annapolis, but the road is likely to be a topic of conversation during the upcoming General Assembly session, reports Ryan Marshall in the Frederick News-Post. Frederick County’s delegation will work to make traffic congestion on the highway and U.S. 15, as well as a proposal by Gov. Larry Hogan to add lanes and possibly tolls to the road, a focus during their time in Annapolis, delegation members said.
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR BLADENSBURG CROSS: A bipartisan group of Maryland state senators has expressed support for a cross-shaped World War I monument in Bladensburg whose fate is being determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. The bipartisan group of senators includes Democrats President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Joanne C. Benson, Ulysses Currie, James “Ed” DeGrange Sr., Katherine Klausmeier, Douglas Peters, Victor Ramirez, James Rosapepe, and William C. Smith Jr, and Republicans Gail Bates, Justin Ready, Bryan Simonaire, and Steve Waugh. Jessica Anderson reports in the Sun.
VIRUS HITS THE SUN: computer virus disrupted production of The Baltimore Sun, Capital Gazette, Carroll County Times and other Tribune Publishing newspapers across the country, the company said Saturday, according to the Sun. Print editions of The Baltimore Sun, Capital Gazette and Carroll County Times were published Saturday without paid death notices and classified ads. The company continued to address the problems for Sunday editions. Tribune Publishing news websites were not affected, and no customer information was compromised, the company said Saturday.
CAPITAL GAZETTE MARYLANDER OF THE YEAR: The editorial board of The Baltimore Sun has named Capital Gazette and its staff Marylanders of the Year for 2019, an honor that recognizes people and organizations that make the state a better place. The board announced the honor Thursday, citing the work by the small news organization in Annapolis both in the immediate wake of a June 28 newsroom shooting that killed five members of the staff and the ensuing six months. The award is the latest for the news organization’s editorial and advertising staff. Their work has been recognized by the National Press Foundation, the National Press Club, the Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Time magazine recently named the staff one of its Persons of the Year.
BANNING NOOSES, SWASTIKAS: Del. Mark Chang, D-Anne Arundel, has re-introduced legislation barring the use of nooses or swastikas to threaten and intimidate people. His bill almost passed at last year’s session but hit a wall on the final day, Chase Cook reports in the Capital Gazette. It was introduced late in the last session, so Chang is hopeful a pre-filed bill will have a better chance. He also thinks continued racist incidents in the county will spur lawmakers to action.
AIRPORT INJURIES: Seven people were injured in a jet bridge collapse Saturday night at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. Four medics, two Southwest airline employees and the sick passenger all fell to the ground and were treated for injuries, according to the FAA. Lillian Reed and Christina Tkacik report in the Sun.