State Roundup, August 29, 2019

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HOGAN FAVORS ONE SPAN PLAN: Maryland transportation officials are still studying how to best reduce traffic backups at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. But Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Wednesday that building a third span at the existing bridge is the only option he would approve, Katherine Shaver of the Post reports. “There is only one option I will ever accept: adding a third span to our existing Bay Bridge,” Hogan tweeted.

OPINION: SAY NO TO ANY SPAN: The editorial board for the Sun finds the prospect of a new span problematic, opining, “Too bad that Gov. Larry Hogan … can’t recognize a genuine transportation boondoggle when he sees one.” The board also urges Maryland voters to “express their preference for the no-build option to the MdTA in the coming weeks.”

BAY DEAD ZONE AMONG BIGGEST IS 35 YEARS: They call it bad water, and it spreads across the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay every summer. Watermen know that if they leave crab pots at depths of more than 10 or 12 feet this time of year, anything they catch will suffocate in a layer of water starved of oxygen. Scott Dance of the Sun reports that this season, the volume of that water — known ominously as the dead zone — is among the largest in the past 35 years.

STATE REVENUE UP, OUTLOOK SOMBER: Despite an end-of-the-year budget surplus, the state’s top tax collector is urging Gov. Larry Hogan and the General Assembly to take a parsimonious approach to the coming budget year, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record. Maryland raked in nearly $217 million more in revenues in fiscal 2019, according to a report issued by Comptroller Peter Franchot. The higher-than-expected revenues bring the state’s unassigned surplus balance to $351 million.

SOLAR FARM PERMITS DENIED: Maryland environmental officials have denied a permit application for a solar project proposed on hundreds of acres of forest in Charles County, blocking construction of a controversial Georgetown University-sponsored solar farm, Scott Dance of the Sun reports.

  • Josh Kurtz reports that in a decision that illustrates the tension between policymakers’ desire to promote clean energy and preserve forests and surrounding waters, Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles on Wednesday denied permits for two large Charles County solar energy projects. One is the Georgetown University project; the other would have supplied power to Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, the local utility.

MO CO STUDENTS TEST ABOVE STATE AVERAGE: Montgomery County students scored higher than the state average in all categories of state tests issued last school year, but declined in student performance on algebra 1 and 10th-grade English exams, Caitlynn Peetz of Bethesda Beat reports. About 3.5% fewer scored a 4 or 5 on the 10th-grade English exam and 7.1% fewer earned top marks on the algebra test, according to new state data released Tuesday. The drop in algebra performance was the second-largest behind the Anne Arundel County school district, which experienced a 10.5% drop.

QUEEN ANNE’S BANS BALLOON RELEASES: WMAR-TV is reporting that Queen Anne’s County has become the first county in Maryland to ban non-biodegradable balloon releases, the County Commissioners announced on Tuesday after unanimously voting to pass Ordinance 19-13.

GROUP WEIGHS SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION FUNDING: A group tasked with revamping how school construction money is doled out is considering a complicated formula that officials hope will target systems with the most need. The draft formula could upend a decades-old system that proportionally doles out state aid to all of the state’s 24 subdivisions. But the new proposal seemed to have trouble gaining traction with a number of members of the Work Group on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities, which found it hard to understand and perhaps even more complicated to explain to constituents, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record.

HOGAN REPORTS FOR JURY DUTY: As he reported for jury duty on Wednesday morning, Gov. Larry Hogan joked that jury service might be a respite from politics. But in the end, he was not picked for a jury in Anne Arundel County, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports.

VAPING SENDS 5 MARYLANDERS TO HOSPITAL: Five people in Maryland have been hospitalized in the past two months with severe lung illnesses after using e-cigarettes, joining almost 200 nationally who became sick and one who has died in Illinois, Meredith Cohn of the Sun writes. The Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland Poison Center at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy reported the illnesses in four adults and one minor, according to a news release. They continue to investigate the cause of the illnesses in people using the electronic devices, known as vaping.

POT PANEL DELAYS VOTE ON TESTING ISSUE: A subcommittee of the state’s medical cannabis committee delayed a vote Tuesday on a proposal to eliminate a round of testing of marijuana plants before they are sent for processing. The proposed change, which was sought by some growers, was seen as a way to lower costs associated with the state’s medical cannabis program. The effort stalled Tuesday as patient advocates raised concerns about how eliminating a round of testing might adversely affect consumer health and safety.

MO CO APPROACHES AMAZON: Montgomery County has expressed interest in a massive Amazon warehouse after the tech giant announced last week that it would no longer be located in Prince George’s County, officials said Wednesday. Rebecca Tan of the Post reports that Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) revealed at a virtual town hall with residents on Monday that he was reaching out to the tech giant about its plans to relocate the fulfillment center.

BA CO COP TEST COMMON TO AREA: Use of police officer screening exams such as the one targeted in a federal lawsuit against Baltimore County is common among police departments in the Baltimore area, with most agencies requiring applicants to take a written test, McKenna Oxenden and Wilborn P. Nobles of the Sun report. Departments say it’s one piece to help determine if a potential recruit will be a good fit. But most police and sheriff departments — including Baltimore City, Harford, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Howard counties — use tests from third-party vendors. Baltimore County created its own test.

B’MORE USES PARKS FUNDS FOR CYBER ATTACK: Baltimore officials on Wednesday voted to transfer $6 million from a fund for parks and public facilities to help pay for the devastating impact of the May ransomware attack on the city. The funds will help pay for “cyber-attack remediation and hardening of the environment,” according to the city’s spending panel, the Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Jack Young.

COLUMBIA SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE CLOSED: The Columbia Social Security office is closed because of the natural gas explosion on Sunday at the Lakeside Office Park building. Officials recommend visiting other offices or trying to access services by phone or online, Sun staff report.

$800,000 IN FED FUNDS FOR OYSTER HABITAT: In a string of recent environmental efforts, U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen — now with the support of U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer — announced $800,000 in federal funding toward oyster habitat rehabilitation in the Chesapeake Bay, Candice Spector reports for the Easton Star Democrat.

DELANEY FAILS TO MAKE DEBATE CUT: Former Maryland congressman John Delaney said Wednesday that he will remain in the presidential race – which he says is still fluid – but won’t qualify to participate in the next debate on Sept. 12, Jeff Barker of the Sun reports. “I am fully committed to staying in” the contest for the Democratic nomination, the former Potomac businessman told The Baltimore Sun.

BREAD & ROSES CANDIDATE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT: Jerome Segal, a philosopher and progressive activist, announced Wednesday that he is running for president as the nominee of a party he created — the socialist Bread and Roses party, which Maryland certified this year, Rachel Chason of the Post is reporting. That means Segal, a 75-year-old Silver Spring resident, will appear on the Maryland ballot for the 2020 election. He and his nascent party are trying to qualify for the ballot in other states, he said.

MARRIOTT HOTELS TO ELIMINATE TINY BOTTLES: Drew Hanson of the Washington Business Journal reports that Marriott International Inc. is bidding adieu to tiny shampoo bottles. The Bethesda-based hospitality giant said Wednesday it will replace single-use bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel in all of its hotel rooms worldwide with larger bottles with pumps. It now expects “most” of its hotel portfolio to be without tiny bottles by December 2020.