State Roundup, September 3, 2019

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TEACHING BECOMES REVOLVING DOOR: Maryland’s largest school systems launched an aggressive campaign this year to hire at least 6,000 new teachers by the fall. District officials in Baltimore County and elsewhere made recruiting trips across the country, offered incentives and conducted job fairs, reports the Sun. But as enrollments grow, baby boomers retire and a younger generation eschews teaching, school systems are finding it tougher and tougher to fill vacancies. And just as difficult as finding teachers is persuading them to stay.

OPINION: LET’s SUE PENNSYLVANIA, PART 2: Six weeks ago, the editorial board for the Sun suggested that Maryland and Virginia should sue Pennsylvania for failing to comply with its commitments to reduce pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay. A spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called such litigation a terrible idea and suggested that Maryland send some of its Chesapeake tourism tax dollars upstream to pay for water quality improvements instead. Hah. “Now, it turns out that this nonsense wasn’t the only crap Harrisburg was sending our way,” says the Sun.

SHA SEEKS TRAFFIC MONITORING OK: State Highway Administration officials are once again asking the Board of Public Works to approve a contract with a San Francisco-based company that will monitor traffic patterns using smartphone application data, brushing aside concerns that were raised about privacy issues, Bryan Sears reports in the Daily Record.

STREAMLINE OF TOLL SYSTEM SOUGHT: If a series of proposed changes goes into effect, Maryland motorists who drive certain vehicles will get a break at the toll booth, and those who refuse to get an E-ZPass transponder will gain new, faster ways of paying their tolls, Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters reports. The changes are among several that the Maryland Transportation Authority board recommended in July. A public comment period runs until Oct. 3 and the first of nine public hearings is being held Tuesday evening. The proposals are part of a gradual push by the state toward cashless tolling.

SHIFTING POLITICS OF GUN CONTROL: Robin Bravender of Maryland Matters writes that gun control politics have shifted dramatically in Maryland and across the country over the past 26 years. When Congress passed landmark gun violence prevention legislation known as the Brady Bill back in 1993, two of Maryland’s four U.S. House Republicans were among the 54 GOP lawmakers who voted to send the bill to President Clinton’s desk.

LEGAL DEFENSE OF IMMIGRANTS: Rebecca Tan of the Post reports that local governments across the Washington area are expanding legal defense funds for immigrants facing deportation, reviving a debate that has divided advocates, officials and residents in Maryland’s largest jurisdiction. As the Trump administration deepens its crackdown on immigrant communities, introducing a fast-track deportation process to bypass immigration judges and raiding work sites across the country, local governments have doubled down on efforts to protect their undocumented residents.

TERRIBLE TRAFFIC TUESDAY: The Sun, whose reporters are on a byline strike this week over contract negotiations with parent company Tribune, reports that vacationers heading west after spending Labor Day weekend on the Eastern Shore will likely be stuck in traffic, stretching longer than a dozen miles along US-50, before getting to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The Maryland Department of Transportation repeatedly tweeted that drivers should stick to US-50 and leave local roads to first responders and local residents.

REGENT DIES AMID MALPRACTICE SUIT: A University of Maryland regent died Saturday after a long fight with cancer – in the middle of a medical malpractice trial over her care. She was 39, writes Danielle Gaines for Maryland Matters.

BANNING BALLOON LAUNCHES: Erin Cox of the Post writes that it was the deflated clump of balloons floating in Unicorn Lake that really did it. When Jay Falstad found them near his home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he dutifully called the Dayton, Ohio, family that had released the balloons — four days earlier from more than 500 miles away — with an “if found” note. The family’s whimsical experiment unwittingly set in motion the country’s latest ban on releasing helium-filled balloons, part of a national trend that views such “balloon pollution” as, at best, tantamount to littering. At least five states and more than a dozen cities nationwide have some form of a ban, including Virginia and Baltimore.

MD IS 13th BEST STATE TO WORK: Maryland is the 13th best state to work in in America, according to a Labor Day-themed study conducted by the anti-poverty organization Oxfam. Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters writes that the Free State has dropped one notch since a similar study was conducted a year ago, flipping places with New Jersey, which is now No. 12. Oxfam looked at three factors in its survey: A state’s wage policies, its right to organize policies, and its worker protection policies.

OPINION: THE GOOD & BAD FOR MARYLAND LABOR: In a column for Maryland Matters, Lisa Brown of the 199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Maryland/D.C. Region, opines that this Labor Day is a complex one for Maryland’s workers. “On the one hand, we have much to celebrate. By organizing together at our workplaces and in Annapolis, we made significant gains toward economic and social justice. ,,, On the other hand, we see increased attacks on labor organizing aimed at separating workers from each other.”

SUN BYLINE STRIKE: Melody Simmons of the Baltimore Business Journal reports that Baltimore Sun reporters are blocking bylines from their stories this week as labor negotiations at Maryland’s largest daily newspaper heat up. The reporters in the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild and representatives of Tribune Media are expected to return to the bargaining table on Sept. 9 downtown. The reporters launched the byline strike Monday as a symbolic Labor Day gesture and said on social media it would continue for a week until the negotiations resume.

OPIOID CRISIS IN CARROLL: A lawsuit filed on behalf of Carroll County against an array of pharmaceutical companies and their owners alleging the companies are responsible for damages resulting from the opioid addiction crisis that has killed hundreds in Carroll has been withdrawn. But that doesn’t mean the case is over, Jon Kelvey reports in the Carroll County Times.

  • Kelvey also reports that Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center, in conjunction with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, announced recipients of $10 million in grants to combat opioid addiction and overdoses. More than $400,000 of that will be coming to Carroll County, funding the health department’s mobile crisis response team as well as treatment and prevention programs with other county organizations. The fiscal 2020 funding is part of $50 million Gov. Larry Hogan committed to combat opioid addiction over five years.

OPINION: CARROLL COMMISSIONERS DID RIGHT: The editorial board for the Sun opines that the Carroll County Commissioners have done the right thing in ending its commissioner-lead prayers before meetings, writing that the commissioners’ views on the matter are still very much in line with their constituents’ conservative values — their fiscally conservative ones, that is. More appeals would probably have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars with little chance for success.

FREDERICK CONFIDENT ON STATE COMPLIANCE OF MASTER PLAN: As the Frederick County Council prepares to vote on the Livable Frederick master plan, officials are confident that a new state planning document will augment rather than conflict with the county’s plan, Ryan Marshall of the Frederick News-Post reports. The state’s A Better Maryland development plan, released in early August, aims to provide local governments with strategies that can support existing communities and future development opportunities, according to Rob McCord, state planning secretary.

WHO IS RUNNING FOR B’MORE MAYOR? In Baltimore’s mayoral race, there’s a waiting game under way. Is Mayor Jack Young running? He won’t say. Is City Council President Brandon Scott? No firm answer. How about former Mayor Sheila Dixon? She, too, is waiting to see. Like party-goers hesitant to step on an empty dance floor, the biggest names considering runs in Baltimore’s consequential mayoral contest are still sitting it out, each waiting for others to make the first move, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

HAMMEN RESIGNS CITY JOB: Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said Friday that Deputy Chief of Staff Pete Hammen, a former state delegate, has resigned from city government to spend more time with his family. Hammen joined city government in December of 2016 as chief of operations for former Mayor Catherine Pugh, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

DRIVER RAMS TANEYTOWN CITY HALL: A person rammed their car into Taneytown City Hall Friday night, in what the mayor said amounted to “nothing less than a terroristic attack on the city.” Mayor Bradley Wantz published a statement Saturday describing the incident. He said a “disgruntled resident” caused substantial damage to the building, and put an employee inside City Hall at the time in danger, Talia Richman reports in the Carroll County Times.

VAPING GIANT JUUL UNDER SCRUTINY: E-cigarette giant Juul Labs is facing mounting scrutiny from state law enforcement officials, with the attorneys general in Illinois and the District of Columbia investigating how the company’s blockbuster vaping device became so popular with underage teens, the Associated Press has learned.

BEVERLY POWELL, BGE LOBBYIST, LEGISLATION REVIEWER, DIES: Beverly A. Powell, a former Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. chief lobbyist in Annapolis who had earlier been a systems analyst and programmer at the utility, died Aug. 24, according to the Sun. The Charlestown retirement community resident was 81. After retiring in 1993, Mrs. Powell worked during the mid-1990s in the state Department of Legislative Services reviewing bills that were bound for the legislature.