State Roundup, July 25, 2019

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STATE OKs REOPENING OF POWER PLANT: The C.P. Crane power plant in Baltimore County is set to reopen after Maryland regulators on Wednesday denied an appeal filed by environmental and community groups who raised concerns about climate change, Scott Dance of the Sun is reporting. The Public Service Commission said a state utility judge was justified in approving plans for the former coal plant to be replaced with a natural gas-fired facility on the same site in Bowleys Quarters. The panel said that review of the proposal fairly considered potential environmental and community impacts, as well as the need for electricity reliability.

BPW OKs $369,000 IN SETTLEMENTS: Maryland’s spending panel on Wednesday authorized paying $369,000 to settle claims of mistreatment by three state employees at their workplaces, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

NO GRACE PERIOD ON NEW STANDARDIZED TESTS? A divided state school board on Tuesday couldn’t agree on how much of a grace period students would have to pass a new standardized test to get a diploma, Liz Bowie reports in the Sun. One faction wanted to give a one-year cushion that would allow struggling students to get a diploma without passing the tests; another wanted two years. So they walked away without any grace period at all. Neither side was able to collect six votes to get a regulation printed to comply with the law passed earlier this year. The board will have to vote next month when two more board members are present.

RELIGIOUS ORGS CAN SEEK STATE PROTECTION GRANTS: The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention released information about applying for the Protecting Religious Institutions Grant. The state expects to award $3 million in grants during the 2020 fiscal year. The money is to help religious congregations enhance security at houses of worship and protect religious institutions from hate crimes, reports Mike Lewis of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

OPINION: KEEP POLITICIANS OUT OF HOLOCAUST CURRICULUM: The editorial board for the Sun opines that states “around the country are adopting mandates that would require all schools to teach about the atrocities of the Holocaust, the wholesale killing by Nazi Germany of 6 million Jewish men, women and children during World War II. We don’t think Maryland should be one of them. Let’s be clear: It is not the teachings of the Holocaust that we are against. We agree the best way to keep the Holocaust relative is through education, but don’t think politicians should be throwing around mandates to make that happen.”

FRANCHOT PUSHES MTA ON LIGHT RAIL REPAIRS: Comptroller Peter Franchot used his influential perch at the Board of Public Works on Wednesday to press the Maryland Transit Administration over the progress of repairs to Baltimore light rail stops as officials say they’re finalizing plans to reopen roads near a sinkhole that formed earlier this month, writes Luke Broadwater for the Sun.

DEL. IMPALLARIA SUES FOR DEFAMATION: A state delegate will spend time in the coming month in courtrooms around the state suing members of his own party. Del. Rick Impallaria, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, is suing fellow Republicans in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties for defamation. And while the four-term delegate appears to be attempting to use the courts to intimidate political opponents, in one filing Impallaria claims he and his family have suffered emotionally and compares his accusers to embattled actor Jussie Smollett, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports.

UNDERWATER GRASSES FLOURISH, BEFORE RECENT RAINS: The full impact of last year’s high flows on the Chesapeake’s underwater grasses, one of the Bay’s most critical habitats, remains murky as scientists try to assess the full impact of last year’s record rainfall, the Bay Journal’s Karl Blankenship reports in Maryland Reporter. The good news, according to the results of the 2018 aerial survey, is that underwater grass acreage increased overall from 2017 in areas where the survey was completed. But the full story is far from clear.

REGIONAL PANEL OKs NICE BRIDGE REPLACEMENT: A regional transportation panel threw its support behind the state’s proposal to replace an aging Southern Maryland bridge — despite sharp divisions stemming from the Hogan administration’s unwillingness to commit to a dedicated lane for bicycles and pedestrians, reports Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. The Transportation Planning Board, meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, voted 17-7 to approve plans to replace the Governor Harry W. Nice/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge. The result means the Maryland Department of Transportation can seek low-interest federal financing considered key to making the $769 million project a reality.

3 PLEAD GUILTY IN MD PRISON SCHEME: Three people charged in a prison bribery scheme pleaded guilty in federal court this week in a case prosecutors say involved correction officers accepting kickbacks to sneak contraband to Maryland prison inmates, Lynh Bui of the Post reports.

B’MORE & THE U.S. CENSUS: In preparation for the 2020 census, the Baltimore mayor’s office has released an outreach plan that includes a digital campaign, community events and partnerships with the police department, the school system and the city’s immigration office, Juliana Kim writes in this Sun article on five things you need to know about the census in Baltimore City.

OPINION: PHILHARMONIC FUNDING UNSUSTAINABLE? In a column for Bethesda Beat, Adam Pagnucco writes about Montgomery County funding for the National Philharmonic, its local classical music orchestra and whether the county’s funding of it is really as unsustainable as Council President Nancy Navarro says it is.

MD U.S. SENATORS PUSH DRUG AFFORDABILITY: Maryland’s U.S. senators have introduced legislation to help the state’s fledging prescription drug affordability board gather the information it needs to rein in high-priced medications, writes Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin have crafted the Empowering States to Address Drug Costs Act, a measure intended to provide states with average manufacturer price, best price and rebate calculation data under Medicaid.