State Roundup, September 16, 2019

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HOGAN PLEDGES COP COPTER CREWS FOR BALTIMORE: Gov. Larry Hogan pledged to authorize up to 10 Maryland State Police helicopter crews to staff flights over Baltimore as part of a $21 million effort to help the city to deter crime, Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports.

COCAINE DEATHS RISE: Cocaine hasn’t received as much attention in recent years, but it is increasingly playing a role in the opioid epidemic, state data show, Ian Round reports for the Annapolis Capital. Despite some good news from the first quarter of this year, cocaine-related deaths have skyrocketed annually in Maryland since 2015, with nearly half of those occurring in Baltimore. The vast majority of those deaths — 82%, according to the Maryland Department of Health — involved fentanyl, a powerful and dangerous synthetic opioid.

BACK AND FORTH ON PENSION RETURNS: In response to the Maryland Public Policy Institute’s recent blog post – The MSRPS Misses its Benchmark and Lowers Discount Rate,” the Maryland State Retirement & Pension System argued that the institute neglected the longer-term (10-year) performance in our analysis of the system’s investment returns. The MSRPS’ argument is ironic, considering their longer-term 10-year performance is no better, says senior policy analyst Carol Park. Over the years, the Maryland Public Policy Institute’s pension studies have always focused on the analysis of MSRPS’ 10-years performance. Here is the full response from MPPI.

LYNCHING TRUTH PANELS START: The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created last spring by the Maryland General Assembly, met last Thursday at the University of Baltimore School of Law before an audience of 200, Louis Krauss of the Daily Record reports. Such meetings will be held in every community where one of the 41 lynchings in Maryland took place. Bowie State University history professor Nicholas Creary, who came up with the idea for the panel, said when he presented the idea to the House panel, he said, “ ‘Think of it like 41 open murder cases.’ These are open cases where the police knew who did it but didn’t arrest anyone.”

AC IN BALTIMORE SCHOOLS: On a steamy September day that saw dozens of schools in the Baltimore region close early or not open at all, state officials approved more than $23 million in funding to bring air conditioning to more than 15 additional schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, reports Danielle Gaines for Maryland Matters. But in a gut punch for Sen. Bill Ferguson, a city project wasn’t recommended to receive $2 million for a new heating and air conditioning system by the Interagency Commission for School Construction.

MO CO CAMPAIGN FINANCING PROGRAM ‘A MODEL:’ Advocates of publicly financed political campaigns in Maryland say they are encouraged by the initial results of a small-donor fund in Montgomery County, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports. The program, used for the first time in the 2018 election, is credited with opening the doors for a number of candidates who otherwise might have considered fundraising too much of a barrier, according to a report released Thursday by the nonpartisan MaryPirg Foundation.

METRO PROBE: A drama that began in early July, when Maryland withheld more than $40 million in capital funding that was due to be provided to the Washington, D.C. area’s transit agency, is likely to be resolved in the next couple weeks, Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters reports.

MD MILITARY PROJECTS IMPERILED BY TRUMP MOVE: About once every other month, sewage backs up into the classrooms, restrooms and the kitchen at a child development center inside Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County. A $13 million replacement child care center was slated to be built in 2020, but it was among the 127 projects whose funding was diverted by the Trump administration to fund a $3.6 billion wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Robin Bravender of Maryland Matters reports.

PENCE OFFERS OLIVE BRANCH TO CUMMINGS: Vice President Mike Pence urged U.S. House Republicans in Baltimore Friday to “make it clear” that the GOP is prepared to work with Democrats — including Elijah Cummings, the Baltimore congressman sharply and repeatedly criticized by President Donald Trump, Jeff Barker reports in the Sun. Speaking at a House Republican retreat, Pence went where Trump — who addressed the lawmakers Thursday night — did not by appearing to extend an olive branch to Cummings.

BSO PODCAST: Even record attendance wouldn’t turn around the BSO. Other cities’ orchestras show what could, a Sun podcast with reporter Pamela Wood explains. The podcast comes the day after musicians rejected offers in contract negotiations, and a likely postponement of the group’s fall season.

MD WINEMAKING HIT BY CLIMATE CHANGE: The heavy rains and warmer temperatures of climate change are changing things for Maryland’s wine makers, reports John Lee for WYPR. Grape growers are trying to figure out how to survive an unpredictable future.

A YEAR IN, QUESTIONS REMAIN ON ANTON BLACK’s DEATH: A year after Anton Black’s death at the hands of Eastern Shore police officers, a lot of questions remain, writes Glynis Kazanjian, who has been following the story for Maryland Matters. Black’s family is searching for answers. A local group called The Coalition for Justice for Anton Black has sprouted up. Lawsuits are likely to follow.

ICE PROTESTS IN MO CO: Hundreds of protesters representing the two sides of the polarizing immigration issue stood face-to-face in Rockville Friday with only metal barriers and a police-lined street separating them. The dual protests staged outside the Montgomery County Council office building were prompted by an ICE-related executive order signed by County Executive Marc Elrich (D) in July that preceded a recent string of sexual assaults allegedly committed by undocumented residents, Glynis Kazanjian of Maryland Matters reports.

MO CO SCHOOL DRESS CODE STIRS CONTROVERSY: The new principal at Montgomery County’s Albert Einstein High School has stirred up much controversy by issuing a new dress code that some are saying is directed more at girls than boys, Joe Heim reports for the Post.

HOWARD COUNCILWOMAN PUSHES ELLICOTT CITY PLAN: A Howard County councilwoman continues to galvanize support for her development regulation reform proposal ahead of a Monday hearing on Ellicott City flood mitigation plans. Liz Walsh has proposed a bill that would expand the historic town’s watershed by relabeling it under a state-recognized watershed zone. The proposal would also bar developers from disturbing parts of historic district and would expand protections for buffers around wetlands, steep slopes and all waterways, including man-made streams. She also proposes expanding protections for forests, Erin Logan of the Howard County Times reports.

OPINION: HOWARD IS NOT SEGREGATED: Howard County resident and attorney Lew Jan Olowski, in an op-ed for MarylandReporter, opines that the Howard County superintendent’s redistricting plan forces 7,300 students to switch schools, promoting equity by reducing the presence of low-income families at some schools and increasing their presence at other schools. Many of the plan’s proponents cannot defend it in good faith. A majority of the County Council, and the chair of the Board of Education, urge redistricting to solve “socioeconomic and racial segregation in the school system.” That pretext is false. Howard County is not segregated. Howard County is diverse.