State Roundup, April 22, 2019

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UNEMPLOYMENT UP SLIGHTLY: The unemployment rate in Maryland ticked up to 3.8% in March from 3.7% the previous two months, but is still below the 4.1% the state posted a year ago, Meredith Cohn of the Sun reports. The state rate was the same as the national rate of 3.8% for March, which was unchanged from the previous month and little changed from a year ago, according to the latest report from the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

PROTECTION FOR STUDENT LOAN BORROWERS: A bill passed in the Maryland General Assembly would provide protections for student loan borrowers who have complained of predatory behavior from loan servicers, Daniel Oyefusi of Capital News Service reports. House Bill 594 would prohibit student loan servicers from engaging in any deceptive practice — like giving false information to students or misapplying or refusing to correct misapplication of payments. The legislation was introduced at the request of Attorney General Brian Frosh.

AGE 21 FOR SMOKING, VAPING: Charlie Youngmann of the Capital News Service writes that cigarettes, Juul pods, rolling papers and nicotine-free vape juice all have in common? Starting Oct. 1 they will all be considered “tobacco products” in Maryland, and you will have to be at least 21 to buy them. House Bill 1169 and its corresponding Senate Bill 895 will raise the smoking age in Maryland to 21 as well as reclassify all vape products and accessories as tobacco products regardless of their nicotine concentration.

JHU TO BEGIN POLICE FORCE PLANNING: Despite a three-week long sit-in protesting the move and with a newly signed law giving them the authority, Johns Hopkins University, newly empowered to act on its leaders’ belief that a police force is necessary to keep its three Baltimore campuses safe, is preparing to begin a multiyear process to roll out the force, reports Talia Richman for the Sun.

OPINION: BAN FOAM FOOD CONTAINERS: The editorial board of the Capital Gazette praises the moves by the city of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and now the state of Maryland to ban foam food containers from restaurant use and store purchase. “A significant portion of the junk that clogged Chesapeake Bay creeks and streams last summer after massive rains flooded down the Susquehanna River was plastic foam,” the board writes.

PRESSURE ON COUNTIES FOR SOLAR PLACEMENT: When the Maryland legislature this year dramatically increased the amount of solar power Maryland must produce in the coming years, lawmakers also increased the pressure on the counties that help decide where that power will come from, Pete Pichaske writes for the Daily Record. Counties already had been grappling with where, and where not, to locate large solar installations. Now that more such installations will be needed, the pressure has intensified.

CARROLL DELEGATES BRING HOME CAPITAL: Del. Susan Krebs and other members of the Carroll County delegation celebrated bringing capital money to the county for things like a critical care unit at Carroll Hospital and a water storage tank project in New Windsor. But they also decried the minimum wage increase, which will become law since the legislature overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto, and a political attitude they say has taken a sour turn, Cody Boteler of the Carroll County Times reports.

PEDESTRIAN, CYCLIST DEATHS: Ryan Marshall of the Frederick News-Post reports that while deaths on Maryland roads dropped by nearly 9% in 2018 from the previous year, officials in the Washington, D.C., region are preparing to launch a campaign to prevent deaths among pedestrians and bicyclists. There were 133 pedestrians and six bicyclists killed in Maryland in 2018, compared to 117 pedestrians and 11 bicyclists in 2017, according to the Department of Transportation.

OPINION: BELTWAY COMMUTE TO WORSEN: The editorial board for the Washington Post warns Marylanders stunned by rush-hour traffic on the Capital Beltway, brace yourselves: Your commute is on track to get much, much worse. Roughly 30,000 more vehicles will be using Maryland’s portion of the highway each day by 2040, on top of the current 253,000, meaning cars and trucks will creep along at an average speed of 14 mph between Bethesda and College Park — a 10-mile segment that will take 43 minutes.

HOGAN IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: Gov. Larry Hogan will speak at a “Politics and Eggs” event in New Hampshire Tuesday as pundits wonder whether the Maryland governor will mount a primary challenge to Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, Capital News Service’s Carolina Velloso reports. “The fact that Hogan is coming into New Hampshire is surely something of great interest to people who follow politics,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, which hosts the speaker series.

UMMS DIRECTORS FUNDED PUGH CAMPAIGN: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, then a state senator in a tough campaign for the job she long coveted, turned to fellow University of Maryland Medical System Board of Directors for an influx of cash as voting started in the 2016 Democratic primary for mayor. Pugh received $200,000 in loans from fellow UMMS board members in mid-April of that year. Additionally, 13 board members, as well as UMMS employees serving in ex officio capacities on the board, and their spouses contributed nearly $37,000 to Pugh between June 2015 and April 2016, Adam Bednar of the Daily Record reports.

ETHICS BILLS TARGET BALTIMORE GOV’T: Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey plans to introduce Monday three bills aimed at ensuring an ethical city government — including measures that would ramp up financial oversight and disclosure requirements and protect whistleblowers, Kevin Rector of the Sun reports. Dorsey said the bills have long been in the works, but acknowledged they take on added meaning amid recent revelations that Mayor Catherine Pugh failed to disclose selling her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to entities doing business before the city.

OPINION: SUCCESSION STRUGGLES: In a column for his Political Maryland blog, Barry Rascovar writes that in Maryland’s state capital and in the state’s largest city, succession struggles are under way that could tear governments apart. In Baltimore, acting Mayor Jack Young apparently has embarked on a “get-even” campaign, suspending six appointees of on-leave Mayor Catherine Pugh. Meanwhile, a battle for succession is taking place in the Annapolis State House, where three delegates are vying to replace the late House Speaker Michael Busch.

MAYOR HOPEFUL SEES POT PERMITS, TAXES: Thiru Vignarajah, who says he will run for mayor of Baltimore, said he would issue permits for and tax the city’s marijuana trade, Justin Fenton reports in the Sun. In a position paper — timed for April 20 — Vignarajah said taxing marijuana could create well-paying jobs, reduce overdoses of other drugs, and fund universal pre-kindergarten for every child in Baltimore.

UM REGENTS LACKED LEADERSHIP, REVIEW SAYS: A review of the system’s governance has found that the University System of Maryland Board of Regents was “unprepared and ill-equipped” to handle the fallout from the death of a football player, leading to a reputational hit for the system, Tim Curtis reports for the Daily Record.

HOWARD GROWS: Jess Nocera reports in the Howard County Times that Howard data revealed the county had a 12.6% population change between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2018. The number of residents rose from an estimated 287,085 to approximately 323,196 living in Howard. Statewide, Howard County had the largest population growth over the last eight years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual population estimates released Thursday.

VAN HOLLEN ADDRESSES SHORE ISSUES: Last Thursday, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., sat down with community leaders of Dorchester County and Taylors Island residents to discuss issues related to the community and county, with a chief concern for the area being preservation, due to the rising levels of seas caused by climate change, Jack Rodgers writes in the Easton Star-Democrat.

TRONE BIZ SUPPORTS NPR: If you are a regular NPR listener you’ve likely heard a bunch of sponsorship spots for Total Wine. What you may not know is that Total Wine is co-owned by U.S. Rep. David Trone of the 6th Congressional District.