State Roundup, May 10, 2019

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INCREASE IN OPIOID DEATHS SLOWS: Opioids again killed a record number of people in Maryland last year, but state officials said Thursday that the unprecedented epidemic now fueled by fentanyl deaths is starting to show signs of slowing, Erin Cox is reporting in the Post. Preliminary data found 2,114 opioid-related deaths in Maryland in 2018, a 5.2% increase from the year before. Though the annual death toll remains record-breaking — and more than four times higher than just nine years ago — the rate of increase is the slowest single-year jump since 2011,

RAHN DEFENDS HIGHWAY WIDENING: Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said critics of the state’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 are “putting their heads in the sand.” And he vigorously defended the Hogan administration’s decision to engage private sector firms in the design, funding and construction of the highway projects, reports Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters.

REAL ID DEADLINE LOOMS: More than 66,300 Marylanders who have gotten a new REAL ID driver’s license or identification card — but haven’t filed their identification and residency documents with the Motor Vehicle Administration — must do so in the next month or risk having their licenses recalled, Colin Campbell reports in the Sun.

STATE UPS EFFORT TO COLLECT ILLEGAL PESTICIDES: Two Maryland agencies are boosting outreach efforts to collect illegal pesticides after recent poisonings of bald eagles, the AP is reporting. The Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday that they are working together to address the continued illegal use of carbofuran, a banned pesticide that has been implicated in recent poisonings in Kent and Talbot counties on the Eastern Shore. At least seven bald eagles and one horned owl have died.

POLL: METRO’s REPUTATION RISES: Metro’s reputation in the region has improved dramatically in the past two years and has almost reached the positive levels it enjoyed before a fatal smoke incident in 2015, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll. Robert McCartney and Scott Clement of the Post report that the results suggest that the transit agency’s intensive efforts to upgrade the system’s performance, begun in 2016, have restored much of the public confidence lost in earlier years amid chronic problems with safety and reliability, a view echoed in follow-up interviews with several poll respondents.

SMALL POLL SAYS HOGAN SHOULD RUN FOR PREZ: More than 68% of respondents to The Daily Record’s Pulse Poll think Gov. Larry Hogan should run for president. More than two thirds of tht group thinks Hogan should run for president even if President Trump doesn’t run. Just under a third of respondents said he should not run.

OPINION: MOVING PREAKNESS A BAD IDEA: In a column for the Sun, Peter Schmuck writes that moving the Preakness to Laurel might actually be a bad idea. “There already is a real question about how much excitement the Preakness — under any circumstances — will generate in the Washington area. … does anyone seriously believe the parochial affinity for the race and infield festival that generates annual six-figure crowds at Pimlico will somehow shift from Baltimore to Laurel?”

EX-UMMS BOARD MEMBER: WE DID NOTHING WRONG: Robert L. Pevenstein, one of a handful of University of Maryland Medical System board members who have resigned in the wake of a self-dealing scandal related to lucrative contracts their companies held with the system, said he and his former colleagues have done “nothing wrong,” Kevin Rector reports in the Sun. “I know what was disclosed in our committees,” said Pevenstein, who chaired the financial and audit committees that oversaw the board’s operations. “What we’ve done is nothing wrong.”

ANOTHER PRINTER OF ‘HEALTHY HOLLY:’ When FBI agents raided Baltimore City Hall, one of the dozens of items they seized was a UPS envelope containing a printer’s proof for a “Healthy Holly” book and an invoice from Premier Printing, Talia Richman and Kevin Rector of the Sun report. The document was the first indication that additional copies of former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s self-published children’s books were produced. Previously, Pugh provided paperwork that showed only that 60,000 of her children’s books were printed by another company, Kromar Printing of Winnipeg, Canada.

MO CO WRESTLES WITH TRASH ISSUES: Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) was elected last year, he vowed to close down the county’s trash incinerator — much to the delight of community and environmental groups, which had been working toward that goal for years. But now that he’s in office, Jennifer Barrios of the Post writes, a vexing question remains: What should be done with the roughly 1,800 tons of trash Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction sends to its incinerator every day?

FREDERICK REPS CRITICIZED OVER NOT SUPPORTING HOTEL: In a livelier than usual Chamber of Commerce legislative wrap-up breakfast Wednesday, chamber members criticized Republicans in the local delegation for not backing the downtown hotel project, Allen Etzler reports for the Frederick News Post. After Frederick County’s delegates and senators each received time to answer questions about issues like minimum wage and the Interstate 270 expansion, and a few minutes to tout their achievements this session, chamber members chimed in to harp on the delegation’s biggest failure: Not moving the downtown hotel and conference center project forward.

GROUP CLAIMS OPEN MEETING VIOLATION: A group seeking answers in the police-involved death of a 19-year-old Greensboro man has accused the Caroline County town’s leaders of illegally changing the rules of council meetings to stifle uncomfortable questions at public sessions, Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports. The group on Thursday called on the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board to examine what it alleges was the mayor and council’s clandestine decision to stop permitting town residents to speak at council meetings. The group said the mayor and council changed the policy without providing the public with notice, in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

OPINION: HONOR WENDI WINTERS  WILLIAMS LIKE YOU HONORED TIGER WOODS: The editorial board for the Annapolis Capital is praising golfer Tiger Woods for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom as it also urges President Trump to finally give that honor to Wendi Winters Williams, the Capital Gazette reporter who died trying to save the lives of other staffer in last year’s shooting at the newspaper. Maryland’s congressional delegation, led by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, has asked the president to make this gesture — noting that three of Winters’ four children are serving in the Navy.