State Roundup, March 20, 2019

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COMPROMISE ON MINIMUM WAGE: Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters is reporting the conferees on the proposed $15 minimum wage have split the difference between House and Senate versions of the bill. 

2 MORE UMMS BOARD MEMBERS RESIGN: Two more members of the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors have resigned amid intense scrutiny over the system’s contracting practices — and as the hospital network announced a “comprehensive review” of its business deals, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports. Stephen A. Burch, chairman of the University of Maryland Medical System board of directors, said Tuesday that he has accepted the resignations of board members John W. Dillon and Robert L. Pevenstein.

PUGH PAYMENTS LISTED AS GRANTS: The University of Maryland Medical System classified its two most recent purchases of books from Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh as “grants” in federal tax filings — one to the city public school system in 2017 and one to the Democrat’s Healthy Holly company in 2015, tax documents show. Several tax experts said the medical center did not follow basic reporting rules for tax-exempt organizations by labeling as grants what the nonprofit hospital has called purchases it made from Pugh’s private company, Doug Donovan reports for the Sun.

HISTORY OF UMMS: In a detailed article for Baltimore Brew, Mark Reutter explains how Bob Chrencik, a young KPMG accountant in the late 1970s took the University of Maryland Medical Center on Greene Street in downtown Baltimore, privatized it and turned it into the University of Maryland Medical Systems, with 28,000 employees and $4.4 billion in annual revenues. Chrencik now makes one of the highest salaries in the region — $4.7 million in 2016. Then the scandal was revealed …

HEALTHY, HAUNTING HOLLY: In a column for the Sun Dan Rodricks writes that in a 93-word statement of resignation from the board of the University of Maryland Medical System, the mayor of Baltimore moved on to other matters or, in her words, “pressing concerns that require my full attention, energy and efforts.” Unfortunately, “Healthy Holly” is going to be “Haunting Holly” for some time. Bookgate is the kind of thing Baltimore voters are likely to remember — or be reminded of — next year when they consider Catherine Pugh for a second term in City Hall.

HOUSE OKs NEW SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION FUNDS: The Maryland House of Delegates has overwhelmingly passed legislation to provide $2.2 billion in school construction funding — on top of current school projects — by fiscal year 2020. The Build to Learn Act, sponsored by House Majority Leader Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, passed by a 133-3 margin late Monday, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

SENATE WEIGHS LESS ED SPENDING THAN HOUSE: The state Senate Wednesday will consider a nearly $47 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year that proposes increased spending on education as part of the Kirwan Commission recommendations. The plan, which includes $225 million in additional education spending for the fiscal 2020 year and another $325 million set aside for the following year, calls for less education funding than the proposal sent over from the House of Delegates, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports.

HANDGUN PERMIT BOARD: The Maryland Senate is advancing a bill that would abolish the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board, which some critics say is too permissive in overturning denials of permits to carry handguns. A key committee on Monday night approved the bill, the first step before the measure can become law, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports.

BA CO DELEGATES BACK CITY ON PREAKNESS: Baltimore County’s delegates are lining up to support Baltimore City’s lawmakers in their efforts to prevent the owners of Pimlico Race Course from moving the Preakness Stakes and abandoning the track, Pamela Wood reports in the Sun.

PUGH SUES FOR PREAKNESS: In the meantime, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh sued the owners of Pimlico Race Course in hopes of blocking them from moving the Preakness Stakes or using state bonds to fund improvements at Laurel Park. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, Pugh, on behalf of the city, also asks the court to grant ownership of the racetrack and the race to the city through condemnation, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports.

CRAFT BEER DISTRIBUTION RULES: Lawmakers, brewers, wholesalers and alcohol retailers spent the first part of the year rewriting the terms of “divorce” for beer distribution agreements in Maryland. The topic has been a contentious one, but significant progress was made and now a bill with an amicable split appears ready to pass the General Assembly, Samantha Hogan of the Frederick News-Post reports.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE LOOPHOLE: Instead of requiring individuals to close a campaign finance account before serving on certain boards in Frederick County, now appointees will be prohibited from raising or spending money from it. Samantha Hogan of the Frederick News-Post writes that what seemed to be a straightforward amendment to a local ethics bill at the start of the 2019 General Assembly session has morphed into something a bit different from what its sponsor, Del. Jesse Pippy, R-Frederick and Carroll, planned, but it’s still a step in the right direction, he said.

‘GREEN’ TRASH INCINERATOR LABEL: For the second year in a row, the Maryland Senate advanced a bill Tuesday declaring that energy generated by burning trash should no longer be considered “green,” report Luke Broadwater and Scott Dance in the Sun. That label qualifies trash incinerators, including the Wheelabrator Baltimore facility off Russell Street at Interstate 95, for millions of dollars in subsidies designed to promote clean, renewable energy that are paid for by electricity ratepayers across the state.

ANNAPOLIS SLOW TO LIVE STREAM: On March 19, 1979, Americans with cable television — and some time on their hands — were able to watch C-Span’s first gavel-to-gavel coverage of a U.S. House of Representatives floor session. Four decades later, Maryland’s legislative leaders are just now embracing that view. “We dragged them kicking and screaming into the new world,” House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga said with a laugh this week. Szeliga and Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery) cosponsored legislation earlier this session to live-stream House sessions starting next year. The state Senate is expected to follow suit in 2021, Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters writes.

DEMS SLAM HOGAN ‘REAGAN REPUBLICAN’ REFERENCE: The Maryland Democratic Party on Tuesday argued that Gov. Larry Hogan’s claim of being a Reagan-style Republican, as he continues to position himself as a moderate alternative to President Trump in 2020, instead signaled that he is a “dog whistle white nationalist,” reports Colin Campbell for the Sun.

HOGAN CONTINUES PITCH FOR AMAZON: Rachel Chason of the Post reports that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Tuesday that he pitched Maryland as a possible alternative to New York for Amazon’s second headquarters in a recent conversation with leaders at the company and is not giving up on luring the retail giant to the state. Amazon officials have said they do not intend to reopen a search for a second headquarters but will continue with plans to put at least 25,000 jobs at a new campus in Arlington, Va.

FUNERAL FOR HARRY HUGHES: Funeral arrangements for former Gov. Harry Hughes, who died March 13 at age 92, have been scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday. Hughes’ family will receive visitors from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Moore Funeral Home, 12 S. Second St., in his hometown of Denton on the Eastern Shore. At noon Thursday, Hughes will be remembered at a funeral service at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, 199 Duke of Gloucester St. in Annapolis, Scott Dance writes in the Sun.

SHARP QUESTIONS IN EMOLUMENTS SUIT: Jeff Barker of the Sun reports that attorneys for Maryland and the District of Columbia faced sharp questioning from a panel of federal judges Tuesday on their suit alleging President Donald Trump illegally profits from his presidency — and what they propose to do about it. The judges questioned the foundation of the suit, which alleges Trump is violating a constitutional prohibition by doing business with foreign and state governments that patronize the luxury Trump International Hotel in Washington with overnight stays, receptions and conferences.

PUGH COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT QUITS: Mayor Catherine Pugh’s top communications consultant said Tuesday he is stepping down at the end of the month from his job advising the mayor on media strategy. Greg Tucker, whose one-year, $150,000 contract with the city ends March 31, said he is not seeking to renew the agreement despite an option to do so, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.