State Roundup, April 3, 2019

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ASBESTOS MEDIATION ROCKETS THROUGH: In the waning days of the Maryland General Assembly session, lawmakers are considering creating a new state office to mediate thousands of lawsuits from workers who have been sickened by asbestos exposure. The Sun’s Pamela Wood reports that the bill is being pushed by the Law Offices of Peter Angelos, a firm that represents two-thirds of the more than 30,000 asbestos cases pending in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

  • Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters writes that the wheels of justice grind slowly, but sometimes legislation in the Maryland General Assembly moves at lightning speed. When the two phenomena collide, the result can be confusing and unsettling. That’s what has quietly happened over the past few days in the state Senate, where the Judicial Proceedings Committee is moving a late-filed bill that would establish an Office of Asbestos Case Mediation and Resolution within the executive branch of state government.
  • Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports that the bill would allow alleged victims and corporate defendants to opt out of the mediation. Cases not resolved through mediation would be returned to court for trial. If approved by the Senate, the bill would move to the House of Delegates, where its fate is uncertain and time would not be on its side. The 2019 General Assembly session ends Monday at midnight.

SCALED BACK ED FUNDING: The Maryland Senate moved forward on a scaled-back “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” setting in motion increased funding and expanded education programs in the next two years, reports Danielle Gaines in Maryland Matters. The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs and Budget and Taxation committees voted unanimously on Monday to move the bill to the Senate floor, where it was debated in two separate floor sessions on Tuesday.

SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION FUNDS STALLED: Time is ticking down on the largest school construction bill in Maryland history. Diane Rey of MarylandReporter writes that with just five days until the end of the General Assembly session April 8, the Senate has yet to pass HB727, dubbed the Build to Learn Act, which would provide an additional $2.2 billion for school construction, divvying up the bulk of the funding to the state’s largest counties.

HANDGUN PERMIT BILL SCRUTINIZED: A bill to eliminate the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board was scrutinized on Tuesday by House lawmakers who pressed for evidence that the board acted improperly when it routinely overturned Maryland State Police decisions, Samantha Hogan reports in the Frederick News-Post. Sen. Pam Beidle, D-Anne Arundel, introduced the bill to move all concealed handgun permit appeals from the governor-appointed handgun review board to the Office of Administrative Hearings, after the Senate Executive Nominations Committee repeatedly questioned the board’s record in 2018 of overturning state police decisions 82% of the time upon appeal.

JHU POLICE BILL OK’d: Maryland lawmakers have given final approval to a bill that will allow the Johns Hopkins University to form its own police force in Baltimore. The Senate voted 42-2 to approve the final version of the bill, dubbed the “Community Safety and Strengthening Act.” The two votes against came from Baltimore senators who have both expressed deep reservations about allowing the creation of a police force for a private institution, writes Pamela Wood in the Sun.

 

UMMS REFORM BILL MOVES FORWARD: Two major pieces of reform legislation concerning University of Maryland-affiliated boards of directors advanced Tuesday to final votes in the House of Delegates. Without objection, the delegates voted to advance Speaker Michael Busch’s sweeping legislation that would reform the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors amid accusations of self-dealing that have rocked the hospital network, Luke Broadwater of the Sun writes.

STATE ‘HOLLY’ PROBE STARTS: The Maryland State Prosecutor has opened an investigation into Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s sales of her self-published children’s books, Pugh’s lawyer said Tuesday. Ian Duncan of the Sun reports that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan asked State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt on Monday to start the investigation of Pugh’s $500,000 sale of the books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she was on its board.

MAIF ALSO DONATED: The quasi-public company created by the Maryland General Assembly for hard-to-insure drivers — Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund — gave a $7,500 donation in 2012 to then state-Sen. Catherine Pugh’s Healthy Holly book company, shortly before she successfully sponsored legislation supported by the company, Meredith Cohn, Ian Duncan and Doug Donovan report in the Sun. The auto insurer’s contributions were made while M. Kent Krabbe was its executive director, its current executive director says. Krabbe went on to become a paid staffer on Pugh’s mayoral campaign in 2016 and served later that year as president of her inauguration committee.

AN EXTRAORDINARY BOOK DEAL: When the president of the National Writers Union heard how much Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh had been paid for her children’s books, he paused. “What?” said Larry Goldbetter, who has led the union for a decade. “No way.” Rachel Chason of the Post reports how the children’s book deal seems to be out of the ordinary for most children’s authors.

EX-SEN. KELLY, SONS STEP DOWN FROM BOARDS: Former state Sen. Frank Kelly and two of his sons are taking voluntary leaves of absence from the boards of six affiliated organizations amid a continuing controversy at the hospital network, Luke Broadwater and Kevin Rector of the Sun report. The Kellys’ Baltimore County business, Kelly & Associates Insurance Group, has done millions of dollars in business with the hospitals. Such deals between UMMS’ volunteer board members and their companies are under intense scrutiny following The Baltimore Sun’s report last month that nearly a third of the UMMS board of directors — including Kelly — did business with the hospital system.

REPORTERS TAKE QUESTIONS ON ‘HOLLY:’ In this video discussion, the Sun’s Doug Donovan, Liz Bowie and Andy Green take questions from Twitter and Facebook users on the Healthy Holly books and situation. Phil Davis of the Sun pulls out five takeaways from the Sun reporters’ Facebook live chat.

PUGH PERMITS UNRESOLVED: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh didn’t obtain all the necessary permits for renovations to a newly purchased home and has not resolved the matter, despite the head of the city’s housing department presenting her two years ago with steps for bringing the project into compliance with historic preservation rules and fire codes, Ian Duncan reports in the Sun.

MILLER STOPS SHORT OF CALLING FOR PUGH’s RESIGNATION: Senate President Mike Miller has stopped short of saying that Mayor Pugh should resign, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record. Miller did say, “I’m extremely disappointed. She is a great friend. She was a fine member of the Senate, the majority leader of the Senate. We had the highest hopes for her as mayor of Baltimore City.”

FORCING PUGH OUT NOT EASY: Forcing Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh from office — should the calls for her resignation turn to calls for removal — would be tricky and perhaps not possible without a conviction, Yvonne Wenger reports in the Sun. Councilman Ryan Dorsey said the city’s charter clearly spells out how to remove a member of the council or the comptroller, but “there’s no way for the council to remove a mayor.”

ARUNDEL TO GET $12.5M IN CAPITAL FUNDING: Anne Arundel County will receive about $12.5 million in capital funding to improve nonprofit headquarters, mitigate flooding and upgrade school athletic facilities after lawmakers finalized the Maryland budget last week, Chase Cook reports in the Annapolis Capital. This money is part of the annual tradition that gives lawmakers a set amount of money for local projects but forces them to make the difficult decision of who gets funding and who doesn’t.

FREDERICK SCHOOLS 2019-2020 SKED WON’T CHANGE: Wyatt Massey of the Frederick News-Post writes that the work of the Maryland General Assembly to overturn a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) will not change the upcoming 2019-2020 school year for Frederick County students. Last week, state lawmakers overrode the veto on a bill allowing local school boards to decide whether to begin the academic year before or after Labor Day. In 2016, Hogan issued an executive order requiring schools to start after the September holiday.

OPINION: GERRYMANDERING: WHAT WOULD PURVES THINK? In an op-ed for Maryland Matters, Howard Gorrell, the first complainant challenging the constitutionality of the apportion of congressional districts of the state of Maryland for the 2010 decade, writes about gerrymandering and the “legendary Dr. Pierre Marot Purves, the nation’s leading authority on congressional redistricting in the 1960s and early 1970s.”