State Roundup, March 14, 2019

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FORMER GOV. HUGHES DIES: Harry Roe Hughes, the 57th governor of Maryland who was a champion of clean government and a clean Chesapeake Bay, died Wednesday after suffering from pneumonia and other ailments, his family said. He was 92, Doug Donovan, Michael Dresser, Pamela Wood write in the Sun.

HOUSE OKs BUDGET BILL WITH 4.2% HIKE: The Maryland House of Delegates gave initial approval to a $46.7 billion budget bill on Wednesday that would increase state spending by about 4.2% next year, writes Danielle Gaines in Maryland Matters. The budget includes an additional $320 million for new education initiatives recommended by the Kirwan Commission, $500 million for public school construction and a $109 million increase in funding for public colleges and universities.

BILL TARGETS UMMS BOARD PROFITS: Nine members of the University of Maryland Medical System’s Board of Directors — including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh — have business deals with the hospital network that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each, a review by the Sun has found. The state Senate’s Finance Committee is scheduled to hear testimony this afternoon on legislation that would make it illegal for board members to profit from contracts with the hospitals they govern, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

CLEAN ENERGY BILL: The fight over clean energy legislation in the Maryland General Assembly took a bizarre twist Wednesday night when a vote in the House Economic Matters Committee to kill the bill failed – possibly owing to a lawmaker who held a grudge over a DWI conviction, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters reports. The surprise development gave supporters of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would mandate that electric utilities use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, new hope.

SCHOOL START BILL: Summer break could end in August this year for some Maryland students after the General Assembly took a significant step Wednesday toward undoing Gov. Larry’s Hogan’s 2016 order that public schools begin their academic year after Labor Day, Scott Dance of the Sun writes.

BILL UPDATE: Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters gives a roundup of recent action on legislation, including the minimum wage bill, sex identification on drivers license and the opening day of the school year..

GENDER NEUTRAL LICENSES OK’d: Marylanders who don’t identify as either male or female could decline to identify a gender on their driver’s licenses starting in October under a bill the General Assembly approved Wednesday, Scott Dance reports in the Sun.

JHU POLICE BILL GETS SENATE OK: The Sun’s Pamela Wood writes that the Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow the private Johns Hopkins University to create an armed police force, after opponents spent more than an hour attempting to amend the measure.

SENATE OKs $15 WAGE: The Maryland Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation raising the minimum wage for most workers to $15 by 2025, writes Ovetta Wiggins in the Post. The major victory for liberal Democrats sets up a possible showdown with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.  A final vote is likely by the end of the week.

WA CO BILLS MOVE FORWARD: A number of bills sponsored by Washington County representatives advanced this week in the Maryland House of Delegates, while others bit the dust, as the House and Senate try to complete work in the closing weeks of the legislative session, reports Tamela Baker in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. Those poised to clear the House this week included support for community dental clinics and earlier Sunday start time for beer sales.

GO-SLOW APPROACH ON GAMBLING: Maryland’s decision to enshrine gambling in its constitution, rather than codify it in law, means it will spend the next couple years on the sidelines when it comes to wagering on professional sports, reports Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. Officials appear content with the go-slow approach, unconcerned that other states and Washington, D.C., are rushing to take advantage of a recent Supreme Court ruling that allows states to chart their own course.

NEW MAP GETS PUBLIC AIRING: A commission dealing with the controversial layout of Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District has proposed a new map that brings all of Frederick County, part of Carroll County and a portion of Montgomery County back into the district, writes Dave McMillion in the Herald-Mail. Walter Olson, a co-chair of the commission, said Wednesday that he believes the new map is a more fair reflection of the Western Maryland region and returns the district close to how it looked for for decades.

  • There was mostly praise, but a few gripes, at the first public hearing on a proposal to redraw borders of the 6th and 8th Congressional districts, Dan Schere reports in Bethesda Beat. A new map released this month from a gubernatorial redistricting commission shifts parts of the existing 8th District into the 6th District by placing all of Frederick County and part of Carroll County in the 6th. Previously, Frederick had been split between the two districts.

OLSZEWSKI GRILLED ON ELECTION FUNDING: Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski got blowback from members of the County Council Tuesday over his proposal for an election fund for candidates, paid for by taxpayers. Council members questioned its cost and the details, John Lee reports for WYPR-FM.

BA CO BOARD TO RELEASE AUDIT: The Baltimore County school board promised Wednesday to release a comprehensive audit of its contracts and finances within weeks after growing criticism that it was keeping a draft audit secret for months, Liz Bowie reports in the Sun. The board announced in a news release that it would release the audit in “upcoming weeks — not months.” School board chair Kathleen Causey said in a statement that accountability and transparency are important but that at times “there are legal constraints to transparency.”

CUMMINGS’ INVESTIGATIVE STAFF: U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings has emerged as one of the Trump administration’s most formidable foes since taking the gavel of the powerful House Oversight and Reform committee this year. Working behind the scenes to help orchestrate the Maryland Democrat’s investigative onslaught are more than 60 committee staffers, many of whom are just-hired attorneys brought on to scrutinize President Trump and his appointees, Robin Bravender of Maryland Matters reports.