$15 WAGE HEADS TO HOGAN’s DESK: Pamela Wood of the Sun reports that the Maryland General Assembly gave its final approval Wednesday to legislation increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. The measure will go next to Gov. Larry Hogan, who opposes such a significant increase. But both the House of Delegates and the Senate approved the bill with more than enough votes to override a veto.
- A spokeswoman for Hogan’s office said he will “carefully review” the bill when it reaches his desk. Hogan said in a March 18 press conference that increasing the minimum wage to $15 will “devastate” Maryland’s economy by causing the state to lose 99,000 jobs $61 billion over a decade, Holden Wilen reports in the Baltimore Business Journal .
SENATE MOVES ON BUDGET BILL: Senators moved forward on a $46.6 billion budget plan Wednesday – but not before prolonged debate about a private school scholarship program for low-income students, Danielle Gaines reports for Maryland Matters. The Senate version of the budget includes more than $1.3 billion in cash reserves, funds public schools at a record level of $6.97 billion, puts $445 million to school construction and allocates $225 million to implement the first round of recommendations from the Kirwan Commission, with an additional $95 million available if lawmakers pass a bill to assess taxes on online marketplace facilitators.
LEGISLATION PROMISED AS UMMS CHIEF VOWS CHANGES: House Speaker Michael Busch said Wednesday that he will introduce sweeping legislation to reform the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors as accusations of “self-dealing” have rocked the hospital network. Busch’s legislation — which will act as a companion bill with Sen. Jill P. Carter’s Senate legislation — came as top officials from the medical system met with Gov. Larry Hogan and Senate President Mike Miller for an hour in the State House.
- Gov. Larry Hogan and Senate President Mike Miller Jr. on Wednesday voiced their concerns about financial deals made by University of Maryland Medical System board members during a meeting with its officials. Hogan, Miller and Busch have all sharply criticized the deals, which were in some cases worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Stephen A. Burch, the chairman of the board of the medical system, which is known as UMMS, said the board will meet Thursday about the next steps it will take, reports Rachel Chason of the Post.
- Leaders of UMMS vowed to restore confidence in a board beset with ethics concerns as top state officials Wednesday called for an independent audit of the system’s board dealings, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record.
- UMMS board chair Stephen Burch said UMMS board members are well aware of the criticisms and are striving to address them. “The board tomorrow will discuss in detail what we do to fix this going forward and to make sure things like this don’t happen again,” Burch told reporters, Bruce DePuyt reports in Maryland Matters.
PUGH CALLS PROBE A ‘WITCH HUNT:’ Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she properly reported and paid taxes on all sales of her “Healthy Holly” books and called inquiries into her deals with UMMS a “witch hunt.” She declined to provide copies of her personal and business tax records related to the $500,000 she has received from the medical system for 100,000 books since 2011, a period that includes her time as a state senator and as mayor. She said she returned the most recent $100,000 she received from the medical system since resigning from its board Monday amid questions about the deal, Kevin Rector and Doug Donovan of the Sun report.
- Fern Shen of Baltimore Brew reports that Pugh defended the $500,000, multi-year sale of her self-published children’s books to UMMS, purchases made while she was (until Monday) a board member. Pugh told WBAL she has “documents, including tax documents,” to account for the money her business was paid by the medical system for the books. But she also refused to release her tax documents “because I did everything right.”
CLEAN ENERGY BILLS: The Maryland Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would dramatically increase the state’s requirements for renewable energy, even as the measure faces uncertain odds in the House of Delegates. The Clean Energy Jobs Act would require 50% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2030.
- A clean energy bill that’s a top priority for Maryland environmental groups sailed out of the state Senate Wednesday but faces uncertain waters in the House of Delegates. Meanwhile, a heavily lobbied but little publicized measure to change the way electric and gas utilities set their annual rates picked up some important opposition this week – including from Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D). That bill has passed in the House but has not moved in the Senate, Josh Kurtz writes for Maryland Matter.
OPINION: SIGN END-OF-LIFE BILL: The editorial board of the Annapolis Capital is urging Gov. Larry Hogan to sign legislation End-of-Life legislation that seems headed for final approval in the General Assembly. He’s wrestling with what to do should it reach his desk. And the General Assembly likely doesn’t have enough votes to override his veto. However, as the legislature is the representative body of the people of Maryland, it appears the will of the people is to create this exit for those suffering as they near death.
UPDATE ON BILLS WE’VE TRACKED: Monday (March 18) marked “crossover day” in the Maryland General Assembly, the day bills must be sent to the opposite chamber in order to be guaranteed a hearing before the legislative session ends April 8. Diane Rey gives an update on 15 of the bills that Maryland Reporter has tracked this session.
‘EMERGENCY’ REST STOP VENDOR CONTRACT: The Board of Public Works has rejected an emergency contract for vending machines at the state’s rest stops saying that a need for sodas and candy bars was not an emergency, only to learn that the contract was already in place and the board was being asked to approve it retroactively, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record.
DESPITE BAN, STATE GATEWAY FOR FRACKED GAS: For the past year, Maryland has been a global gateway for American natural gas extracted from the ground through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — despite the state’s ban on the controversial process within its own borders, reports Kevin Rector of the Sun. Fracked gas from Pennsylvania and other states is being piped to an export terminal at Cove Point on the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland, then shipped around the world.
- In a quiet pocket of Southern Maryland where beach bungalows line dirt roads to the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s booming natural gas industry has established an unlikely multibillion-dollar foothold, Kevin Rector of the Sun reports.
MO CO PUSHES BACK ON TOLL ROAD PLAN: Maryland’s transportation secretary says without a proposed public-private partnership to add toll lanes to the Beltway and Interstate 270, $1.7 billion would be needed to make repairs on the roads — money the state doesn’t have. But Montgomery County officials have urged Secretary Pete Rahn to reconsider the proposal, Dan Schere reports in Bethesda Beat.
GREEN, LIBERTARIAN PARTIES NO LONGER RECOGNIZED: Maryland voters registered as members of the Green and Libertarian parties may have received a letter in the mail stating their party is no longer recognized by the state. Lillian Reed of the Sun explains what happened and what voters need to know about it.
KEEPING PREAKNESS IN BALTIMORE: The “immediate goal” of Baltimore’s lawsuit against the owners of Pimlico Race Course is to force them to negotiations over keeping the Preakness in the city, solicitor Andre Davis said Wednesday. Davis said “a resolution would be far preferable to full bore litigation” that seeks to block the Stronach Group from moving the race or using state bonds to pay for upgrades to Laurel Park, Yvonne Wenger of the Sun writes.
LAUREL ‘SUPER TRACK’ CONSTRUCTION COULD BEGIN IN FALL: Construction of a super track in Laurel could begin this October, with work on a “world-class” Bowie Training Center following, representatives for The Stronach Group told the Bowie City Council Monday evening, Rachael Pacella of the Annapolis Capital reports. Attorney Michael Johansen said if the funding legislation they’re lobbying for in the General Assembly is successful, they could start construction inside the clubhouse at Laurel after the Maryland Million race on Oct. 19.
PUBLIC WANTS MORE OF CARROLL IN NEW 6th DISTRICT: Speakers at a local hearing Wednesday night supported a new proposed map of Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District, but said they want more of Carroll County in it. About 25 people attended a hearing at Hagerstown Community College’s Kepler Theater on the proposed map drawn up by an emergency nonpartisan commission, Dave McMillion reports in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.