State Roundup, July 8, 2019

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AFTER REFUSAL OF FUNDS, DEMS BLAST HOGAN: Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports that a month ago, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he was forming a national organization aimed at promoting bipartisanship. “An America United” would encourage the idea of Democrats and Republicans “working together,” he said. But last week, Hogan announced that he was refusing to release funding for more than 70 of Maryland Democrats’ favored initiatives in the state budget — including more than a dozen that would have benefited deep-blue Baltimore. In return, Democrats accused the governor of being a disingenuous hypocrite.

$1.7M, 3 YEARS LATER: TRACK HOUSING STILL UNBUILT: In November 2016 horse racing regulators gave $1.7 million to the Maryland Jockey Club to build a three-story structure at Laurel Park to house racetrack workers as well as thoroughbreds — a project company officials said would be completed the following summer. Doug Donovan of the Sun reports that the facility remains unfinished as track workers continue to live in conditions that sparked criticism in March from lawmakers who called the housing “deplorable.” What’s more: The new facility is not expected to be finished for 10 more months.

OPINION: SCHOOL FUNDING WORKGROUP STACKED AGAINST COUNTIES: Bill Valentine, a former Allegany County commissioner who served more than two years on the Kirwan Commission – the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, writes in MarylandReporter that a subcommittee has been created to make recommendations for the distribution of funds by local school districts and between state and local governments. “I am greatly troubled by the make-up of the workgroup, which has only two members to represent interests of the county governments that pay the local costs of schools.”

NEW LAW REQUIRES DISCLOSURE OF WALL STREET FEES: A new Maryland law requires greater transparency in disclosing millions of dollars in fees paid by the state’s pension system to Wall Street investment firms. The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System has reported paying about $370 million annually in fees to the firms that invest its $51 billion in assets, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

ELECTIONS BOARD TO ALLOW ‘X’ GENDER: The Maryland State Board of Elections will soon allow people to choose “X” or “unspecified” as a gender, instead of male or female, on their voter registration, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports. The move comes as state Motor Vehicle Administration prepares to offer the third option for gender on driver’s licenses and state identification cards, in response to a new state law.

GERRYMANDERING FIGHTS TO CONTINUE ON STATE LEVEL: Battles over partisan gerrymandering are poised to shift to the states in the wake of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision issued late last month, Allison Stevens writes in Maryland Matters. The high court dealt a major blow to efforts to combat politicized redistricting when it issued a high-profile 5-4 opinion finding that courts couldn’t settle such disputes. Now, state-level efforts to combat partisan gerrymandering are moving forward in what some advocates see as a new era of reform.

LABOR DEPT DATA BREACH: The Maryland Department of Labor reported Friday that it has begun notifying 78,000 customers about a breach to its database system and some personally identifiable information might have been accessed, Meredith Cohn of the Sun reports. Department officials say that a review has not shown any misuse of the data.

CYBER INSURANCE OR NO CYBER INSURANCE? A city in Florida recently voted to pay the $10,000 insurance deductible to payoff a ransom for a cyberattack on its computer system. John Evans, Maryland’s top cybersecurity official, said he worries that as more organizations purchase insurance, it will only encourage hackers who see the prospect of a payout. “It creates a whole other dilemma,” he said. But Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, co-chair of a committee reviewing Baltimore’s response to the cyber attack, said the city should buy insurance.

WAIT-LISTED FOR E-CAR REBATES: Scott Dance of the Sun reports that when John Buckley bought a fully electric Volkswagen e-Golf to replace his 12-year-old Toyota Prius hybrid, he figured it was a smart trade up. The emissions-free e-Golf came with $10,000 in government rebates. Though he bought the $26,000 Volkswagen three months before Maryland offered a new round of electric vehicle incentives — the $6 million just became available Monday — all the money for the new fiscal year was already spoken for and he had to join a waiting list.

GREENE RETIRES FROM MD COURT OF APPEALS: Clayton Greene Jr. has retired from the Maryland Court of Appeals, giving Gov. Larry Hogan the opportunity to appoint a majority of the judges on the state’s top court, writes Steve Lash for the Daily Record. Greene retired with no public announcement, but his departure from the court was noted with an asterisk by his name in an opinion released July 3. The asterisk noted that Greene had “retired from the court prior to the filing of the opinion.”

OPINION: SOCIALIST LABEL LESS HEINOUS: In a column or Maryland Matters, Frank DeFilippo opines that as Republicans continue to try to paint Democrats with the “socialist” label, that label is being embraced by more and more Americans when it comes to universal health care. He outlines the benefits of European style health systems compared to American systems.

TRUMP FBI HQ DECISION TO BE REVIEWED: The inspector general at the U.S. Department of Justice plans to review the Trump administration’s decision not to build a new headquarters for the FBI in the Washington suburbs – Prince George’s County was in the running — a project that could have brought thousands of jobs to Maryland. Pamela Wood of the Sun reports that the Trump administration wants to keep many FBI employees in Washington, while moving thousands of others to Alabama, Idaho and West Virginia.

CONOWINGO MUCK: Behind the 94-foot-high barrier that is the Conowingo Dam lies a massive inventory of coal-black muck — some 200 million tons of pollutants picked up over decades from farmlands, industrial zones and towns. How big a threat this sediment stockpile poses to the Chesapeake Bay or whether anything can even be done about it depends on whom you talk to, David McFadden of the AP is reporting.

AMAZON PLANS CENTER IN PG: Amazon is pursuing plans to open a giant logistics and supply center in Prince George’s County, a relatively short distance from its new Northern Virginia headquarters, according to two government officials familiar with the discussions, Rachel Chason of the Post reports.

HOGAN VOWS NEW EMERGENCY RADIO TOWER IN MO CO: Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that the state will move forward with building a public safety radio tower in northern Montgomery County, despite plans from County Executive Marc Elrich to find a new location for the structure, Rebecca Tan of the Post is reporting.

  • Hogan’s announcement comes two weeks after he took to social media, chiding county officials for “inexplicable” delays in the network upgrade. In May, the Montgomery system experienced a 14-hour outage, knocking out nearly all of the radio channels first responders use to communicate. Police and fire officials were forced to communicate via cell phone and to restrict non-emergency communications, Caitlyn Peetz of Bethesda Beat reports.

OPINION: BREAKING MYTHS OF CHARTER GOV’T: In a column for the Carroll County Times, Christopher Tomlinson of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee attempts to explode some of the “myths” of what would happen to the county politically if it decided to adopt a charter form of government, such as it would become Frederick County and that it would erode its strong Republican base.

FAMILY CRISIS & A STATE DELEGATE: Alex Mann of the Annapolis Capital writes about a family facing head-on a mental health crisis, where one member of the family is a newly elected state delegate, how it ended up in court and how the case ended up in a mistrial.