State Roundup, February 27, 2019

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FILLING THE SHORTFALL: Delaying state employees’ 3% pay raise tops the list of proposed additional budget cuts legislative analysts are recommending to cope with a revenue shortfall of $200 million to $350 million they are expecting to be announced next week, Len Lazarick reports for MarylandReporter.

PROGRESSIVE AGENDA TESTED: Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate are expected to cast initial votes on bills that illustrate the strength of the progressive faction in each chamber. The House of Delegates will vote on a $15 minimum-wage proposal and coming to the Senate floor is a first-in-the-nation statewide ban on polystyrene foam food-service products, Ovetta Wiggins and Arelis Hernandez of the Post report.

HOUSE DEBATES MINIMUM WAGE BILL: The House of Delegates will begin debate today on a bill that would gradually increase Maryland’s minimum wage from $10.10 an hour to $15, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun. The bill, as revised by the House Economic Matters Committee, falls short of what unions and other advocates for workers hoped for.

LISANTI STRIPPED OF LEADERSHIP POST: Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, D-Harford, who is white, and who witnesses say used a racial slur to describe a legislative district in Prince George’s County has been stripped of her leadership position and will undergo sensitivity training, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports.

OPINION: REGULATE LONG GUNS: In an op-ed for the Annapolis Capital, reporter and Capital Gazette mass shooting survivor Rachael Pacella writes that she will be testifying for a bill allowing police to track the sale of rifles and shotguns, which are not tracked right now.

SHERIFF PROTESTS LONG-GUN BILL: Chase Cook of the Annapolis Capital writes that Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis has a message for Maryland lawmakers if they pass legislation regulating ownership of rifles and shotguns: His office will not comply. “The way the bill is written, it is impossible to comply,” Lewis said Monday. “I can’t send (my deputies) on a suicide mission.

PUSHBACK ON ‘GHOST GUN’ BAN: Dozens of gun-rights advocates testified in Annapolis on Monday on a bill that would ban 3-D printed and other homemade guns that lack serial numbers, what are sometimes referred to as “ghost guns” because they are harder to trace, Rachel Baye of WYPR-FM reports.

AID FOR FED WORKERS: During government shutdowns like the one that ended last month, federal employees who are considered “essential” and have to report to work without pay are not eligible for federal unemployment benefits. But under a bill the state Senate approved Tuesday, federal employees who have to work without pay would be eligible for interest-free loans from the state. A similar bill passed the House earlier this month, reports Rachel Baye for WYPR-FM.

STATE RETIREES SEEK DRUG BENEFIT FIX: Dozens of retirees testified Tuesday on a series of bills intended to restore or alter prescription benefits for retirees, many of whom say they now can’t afford a Medicare prescription drug program after dedicating their working lives to public service, Danielle Gaines writes in Maryland Matters.

LAUREL PARK WORK BLASTED: Baltimore residents, elected officials and others fighting for the revitalization of historic Pimlico Race Course blasted the racetrack’s owner Tuesday for investing the vast majority of its state renovation subsidies into its other horse racing track, Laurel Park, the Sun’s Kevin Rector, Pamela Wood and Doug Donovan report.

PAROLE FOR LIFE SENTENCE: A criminal sentenced to life in prison in Maryland would have to serve at least 25 years before becoming eligible for parole – more than a decade longer than the current 11-and-a-half-year minimum – under legislation that came before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports.

POLICE TRANSPARENCY BILL: Shortly after Del. Gabriel Acevero heard about the death of 19-year-old Anton Black in police custody on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the lawmaker called Black’s older sister with a request. Acevero, a Montgomery County Democrat, asked for permission to draft legislation called “Anton’s Law,” aimed at requiring greater transparency from law enforcement agencies after Black’s family had to wait more than four months to get basic documents involved in her brother’s case, Luke Broadwater of the Sun writes.

LIVESTREAMING BILL DROPPED: With the leaders of the General Assembly promising to begin livestreaming sessions of the House of Delegates and state Senate over the next two years, lawmakers are withdrawing a bill that would have forced them to do so, Pamela Wood writes in the Sun.

BLADENSBURG CROSS BEFORE SUPREMES: The Supreme Court will consider today whether a towering cross in a busy highway median just outside Washington is a historic and secular monument to World War I dead or an unconstitutional government embrace of Christianity, writes Robert Barnes in the Post.

OPINION: CROSS SUPPORTS RELIGION: In an opinion piece for the Post, law professors Nelson Tebbe, Richard C. Schragger and Micah J. Schwartzman argue that with the case of the Bladensburg Cross now before the Supreme Court “the ideal of religious equality is facing a critical test.” Increasingly, they write, the court is “upholding government support for religion that is neutral in theory, even if it favors the majority religion in practice. ”

EMBRY TO PROBE BALTIMORE ARCHDIOCESE: Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) has rehired a high-level prosecutor to lead a probe of sex abuse in the Baltimore Archdiocese, Bruce DePuyt writes in Maryland Matters. Elizabeth Embry has been brought back to lead the state’s efforts to locate victims, identify the church leaders who perpetrated the alleged abuse, and determine whether bishops and other high-ranking officials sought to shield predatory priests

ASSET FORFEITURE & MARYLAND: Last week’s unanimous Supreme Court decision that the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause applies to the states is garnering praise, but it is unclear how much the decision’s impact will be felt in Maryland, where legislators have been chipping away at the practice of asset forfeiture in recent years, Heather Cobun reports in the Daily Record.