State Roundup, January 16, 2019

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IT’s INAUGURATION DAY: A full day of activities are planned to mark the inauguration Wednesday of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford. Pamela Wood offers what you need to know to take in the day.

ECONOMY GOOD, FOR NOW: Maryland lawmakers will craft a budget this legislative session in about as favorable an environment as they could hope for, an economist said Tuesday. Federal government shutdown aside, of course. By most economists’ best guesses, the next recession to hit America will probably come in mid-2020. Dan White, director of government consulting and public finance research at Moody’s Analytics, said a possible trade war with China or an extended federal government shutdown should cause lawmakers to proceed with caution, he told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters reports.

HOGAN PLANS $5M FOR SECURITY: Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that he plans to propose $5 million in spending in his next budget for security grants for houses of worship, schools and day care centers. The governor’s budget is due Friday to the General Assembly, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports.

SHADY DEALS AT MTA AND OTHER AUDIT PROBLEMS: In four reports released in the past week, state auditors found: potential shady contract deals at the Mass Transit Administration that they referred for prosecution, persisting problems at local social services agencies, failure to follow state procurement regulations and check residency requirements at a state university, and problems in verifying that Marylanders with developmental disabilities are getting the help they need. The story is in MarylandReporter.com. 

GUNS SEIZED FROM 148 UNDER RED FLAG LAW: Maryland’s judiciary fielded 302 requests to remove firearms from individuals over the first three months of the state’s “red flag” gun safety law — including five cases involving threats against schools, Luke Broadwater reports in the Sun. “These orders are not only being issued appropriately; they are saving lives,” Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin, a leader in the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association who helped develop the law, testified Tuesday before the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee.

HATE CRIME EXPANSION BILL: A proposal before state lawmakers would expand Maryland’s hate crime law to include displaying a noose or swastika on someone else’s property without permission, writes Rachel Baye for WYPR-FM. Versions of the bill passed both the House and the Senate during last year’s General Assembly session, but the chambers didn’t agree on a final version before time ran out.

HOGAN PUSHES MORE DISTRICTING REFORM: Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.  and legislative Republicans are intensifying their efforts to reform the way congressional and legislative district boundaries are drawn in Maryland. Hogan continues to make nonpartisan congressional redistricting a top priority. And this week he introduced legislation requiring the House of Delegates to have single-member districts, instead of the customary three members per district, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters writes.

FATAL ODs RISE: Fatal overdoses are continuing their grim march upward in Maryland, and the bulk of the deaths continue to be related to the powerful opioid fentanyl, according to the latest figures from the state Department of Health, Meredith Cohn is reporting in the Sun. The deaths recorded in the first nine months of 2018 jumped 8% from the same period the year before to 1,848.

OPINION: A PUNCH LIST FOR GOV. HOGAN: As Gov. Hogan gets ready to take the oath of office for the second time, the editorial board for the Annapolis Capital, which has supported him, suggests that he can make a few improvements this time around, including joining a group of states and Puerto Rico in aiming to stemming the flow of illegal guns used to commit violent crimes and taking the lead of protecting oystering in Chesapeake Bay.

MD GOV’T PARODIED: Arelis Hernandez of the Post writes about a parody Facebook page, writing that at first glance, it looks official. It co-opts the University of Maryland’s spherical logo, uses an aerial image of the State House in Annapolis as its cover photo and lists itself as a “government organization.” But there is no blue check mark of authenticity on the @StateofMD Facebook page. And users intrepid enough to click the “About” tab can discover the page’s true identity: “The Old Line State .?.?. in parody form.”

COLUMN: CUMMINGS EYES DRUG PRICING: In a column for the Sun, Dan Rodricks writes that big pharmaceutical companies in the United States raise the prices of some prescription drugs to outrageous levels simply because they can. “There are few obstacles to jacking up prices so the companies that sell brand-name drugs — and spend millions to advertise them ad nauseam — do pretty much what they please, and shamelessly.” On Capitol Hill, Rep. Elijah Cummings is set to investigate the problem. Meanwhile, here in Maryland, legislators, General Assembly leaders, county executives and patient advocates are again trying to get something done.

CHURCH VICTIMS HOTLINE: Maryland’s top law enforcement official last week announced a phone hotline for victims to report child sex abuse associated with a place of worship or school across the U.S. state, which is steeped in Catholicism like few others. Attorney General Brian Frosh announced the creation of the hotline in Baltimore, home to the country’s first bishop, first cathedral, first diocese and first archdiocese, David McFadden of the AP is reporting.

DEPORTATION BLOCKED: A woman whose wrongful 2008 arrest by Frederick County sheriff’s deputies sparked a federal lawsuit has been granted a temporary reprieve from deportation after she was detained earlier this month. The deportation of longtime Frederick resident Roxana Orellana Santos, a single mother from El Salvador who is living in the country illegally, was temporarily blocked Monday following a court order aimed at allowing her to resolve her lawsuit against Frederick County, Cameron Dodd reports for the Frederick News Post.

UMBC, POLICE SEEK LAWSUIT DISMISSAL: The University of Maryland, Baltimore County called a lawsuit alleging the school, police and prosecutors improperly handle sexual assault investigations “long on outrage and short on concrete facts” in a motion to dismiss filed Monday, reports the Daily Record’s Heather Cobun. The lawsuit, filed in September, contends that UMBC and law enforcement have a pattern of failing to properly investigate and prosecute sexual assault allegations. After it was initially filed, three more women joined the potential class-action suit.