State Roundup, June 21, 2019

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SUPREME COURT SAYS PEACE CROSS CAN REMAIN: A World War I memorial in the shape of a 40-foot-tall cross can continue to stand on public land in Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Thursday. Gov. Larry Hogan praised the ruling, calling it  a “great victory.” The court’s ruling also means another cross-shaped memorial in Towson is likely to stand. The court decided it doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others, Jessica Gresko reports for the Associated Press.

  • Justice Samuel Alito wrote the main opinion and said history and tradition must be taken into account when judging modern objections to monuments that were built with a secular purpose or have come to take on a new meaning, reports Robert Barnes in the Post.
  • Maryland officials react to the Supreme Court ruling on Maryland’s Peace Cross, report Kristi King and John Domen for WTOP. “It’s important to residents of Prince George’s County because it honors heroes who served in World War II who are from our community,” said Bladensburg Mayor Takisha James.
  • More on the ruling is reported by Robin Bravender in Maryland Matters. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was joined by Sonia Sotomayor in her dissent, wrote that using the cross as a war memorial does not transform it into a secular symbol.
  • In Washington County, religious leaders praised the decision, the staff of the Herald-Mail add to an AP story.

OPINION: THE PEACE CROSS: The rationale to keep the Peace Cross on public land, opines Post columnist Harry Litman, merely papered over for now remarkably fundamental differences about how the court should approach such establishment-clause cases. The likely result —  if future cases push on these fissures — is to permit significantly more government support for religion in American public life.

PENCE TO SPEAK IN MD; HOGAN BUSY: Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to attend the Maryland Republican Party’s annual “Red, White and Blue” dinner Monday night, reports Doug Donovan for the Sun. But don’t count on buying tickets or sponsorships. The event has been sold out for a month.

  • But Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters points out Gov. Larry Hogan won’t be in attendance. Whether Hogan was agonizing over whether to attend the Republican dinner is unknown, but if he was, he now has an out: He’s planning to be at the MML conference in Ocean City Monday.

KIRWAN ED FUNDING GROUP MEETS: A workgroup charged with recommending a new funding formula to guide how a proposed injection of billions of dollars into Maryland K-12 schools met for the first time Thursday, reports Danielle Gaines in Maryland Matters. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Workgroup should wrap up work by the end of September. And House and Senate leaders are hoping that a plan is voted on by the end of the year, and in time for the 2020 legislative session.

EVANS TO RESIGN FROM METRO BOARD: Jack Evans said Thursday that he will resign from the Metro board next week, after a legal memo became public saying he “knowingly” violated ethics rules to help friends and clients rather than serve the interests of the transit agency, reports Robert McCartney in the Post. He did not offer an explanation, but the decision came within hours after the Post published a confidential 20-page memo from the outside law firm that investigated Evans for the board’s ethics committee.

OPINION: AN ELEPHANT IN THE UMMS SCANDAL: In an op-ed for the Sun, Sen. Clarence Lam writes that much of the attention on the UMMS scandal has been focused on Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, state legislation passed to improve board oversight and resignations of certain board members. However, there is an elephant in the room: Most of the board members were, as required by statute, appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, with some improperly reappointed beyond the two-term legal limit. And many of them, including several of the 11 newly appointed board members, donated to his campaign as individuals or through affiliated businesses — some in apparent excess of campaign finance limits — for a combined total of over $115,000.

REAL ID SNAFU: It wasn’t until five months after the MVA mailed out more than 1.6 million new driver’s licenses and ID cards to Marylanders across the state that agency officials realized there was a major problem in the REAL ID rollout, Colin Campbell reports on emails obtained by the Sun in a public records request.

STATE EMPLOYEES GET RAISES: Most state employees got at least a 5.5% raise to their overall pay between Jan. 1 and July 1 this year, Bryna Zumer reports on the 2020 budget for WBFF Fox45 News.

WONKY BUDGET TALK: The ongoing budget impasse between Gov. Larry Hogan and the General Assembly has reached a boiling point, according to Michael Sanderson and Kevin Kinnally, who discuss the issue on the Conduit Street podcast for the Maryland Association of Counties. They mention that some counties really could use fenced off money for school construction, such as $3 million tied up for a Caroline County school construction project already in the pipeline.

MTA PRICES RISING: A fare increase for Maryland Transit Administration bus, light rail link, metro subway link and Mobility link will take effect Sunday, Juliana Kim reports in The Baltimore Sun. The transit fare increase is legislatively mandated by the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013.

GAS PIPELINE FIGHT: Maryland’s attorney general wants a federal court to dismiss Columbia Gas Transmission’s lawsuit over a proposed pipeline, reports Mike Lewis for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. In paperwork filed in U.S. District Court, Attorney General Brian Frosh argues that, “because the state has sovereign immunity, this court lacks the power” to rule on the matter.

USM BOARD WILL EXPAND, HAVE MORE REQUIREMENTS: Today’s meeting of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents marks the last time it is scheduled to meet before a new oversight law takes effect next month, though some measures could take up to a year to implement, reports Tim Curtis for The Daily Record. The changes arose out of fallout from the death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair.

KEEPING USDA OFFICES: Maryland Democrats are rushing to stop the Trump administration from moving two of the Agriculture Department’s scientific research agencies out of the Washington, D.C., region, reports Alison Winter in Maryland Matters.

STATE CENTER OVERHAUL: Holden Wilen of the Baltimore Business Journal reports that the State Center overhaul draws interest from eight development teams, including some big names.

ELLICOTT CITY BIZ OWNER TESTIFIES ON DISASTER AID: The owner of a toy shop formerly located in Ellicott City testified in front of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Wednesday afternoon, where he shared his story, Jess Nocera writes in the Sun. He was invited by Sen. Ben Cardin, who is seeking improvements to the SBA’s various disaster programs.

HANDLE WITH CARE: The Handle With Care initiative is expanding into 11 counties, including Garrett, staff of the Garrett County Republican reports. Handle With Care is a new model adopted in Maryland by Gov. Larry Hogan that encourages law enforcement and school systems to collaborate to help children exposed to trauma.

CITY MANAGER LODGES OPEN MEETINGS COMPLAINT: A Pocomoke City manager who was fired by the city council has filed a complaint with the Maryland Open Meetings Act Compliance Board and a lawsuit could be on the way, Matthew Prensky reports for the Salisbury Daily Times. Robert Cowger was removed preliminarily in a closed session in April, and the council made a final decision Thursday night.

MOCO PUBLIC ACCESS CHANNELS ENDANGERED: A proposed change to the way the Federal Communications Commission regulates public-access television channels could pose a danger to the survival of Montgomery County’s 11 public, educational and governmental channels, Dan Schere reports for Bethesda Beat.

U.S. REP. HOYER TURNS 80: Steny Hoyer stood in the foyer just inside the entrance of the Newton White Mansion in Mitchellville personally greeting hundreds of visitors who came to offer him birthday wishes on his 80th milestone during his annual bull roast and birthday party celebration June 14, reports Bobby Jones in the St. Mary’s Enterprise.

RASKIN TALKS TO MOCO YOUTH: On the last day of school, about 50 politically progressive high school students gathered to elect officers and watch a documentary about themselves that is making the rounds on social media. They also listened as U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin?urged them to work toward a better future, Suzanne Pollak reports in the Montgomery Sentinel.

FRANCHOT’S FATHER DIES: Douglas W. Franchot Jr., a retired lawyer and World War II veteran who frequently accompanied his son, Comptroller Peter Franchot, to public events — and seemed to delight in doing so — died Thursday of cardiovascular failure, reports Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters.