State Roundup, September 23, 2019

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POLL: 74% WANT MORE ED SPENDING; BUT WHAT’s KIRWAN? Marylanders overwhelmingly say they are willing to pay more in taxes to improve public education, according to a new Goucher College poll. Luke Broadwater of the Sun reports that in the survey conducted Sept. 13-18, 74% of Marylanders said they support personally paying more in taxes to improve public education, while only 26% were opposed.

OPINION: HOGAN & HIS DARK MONEY ANTI-ED PUSH: The editorial board of the Sun takes Gov. Larry Hogan to task, writing that according to the Washington Post, Hogan is seeking to raise $2 million in unregulated funds, potentially from undisclosed donors, in part to prevent the state from giving all Maryland children the education they need to succeed. Just let that sink in for a minute. Mr. Hogan is soliciting big checks from people with who-knows-what motives to stop a once in a generation effort to fix our wildly inequitable and overall mediocre system of K-12 education.

ANALYSIS: KIRWAN WORKGROUP CLOSES DOOR ON SMARTS: Legal but politically stupid. That was the decision last week by the Kirwan Commission workgroup on school spending to go into closed session to begin hashing out funding formulas, writes Len Lazarick for MarylandReporter. This was a shocker from a commission that has been remarkably open and transparent. This workgroup is technically an informal committee. But the workgroup has been acting like a public body.

FROSH QUESTIONS SACKLER SETTLEMENT: Attorney General Brian Frosh is questioning the Sackler family’s attempt to settle lawsuits nationwide against their company Purdue Pharma, makers of the highly addictive drug Oxycotin, that has been the focus of much of the opioid-death crisis. Purdue filed for bankruptcy protection last week, with members of the Sackler family proposing to contribute $3 billion in assets to a $10 billion to $12 billion settlement. Frosh has expressed doubt that such high figures could be achieved through reorganization of the company. And he thinks the family’s contribution is not sufficient, Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters reports.

OPINION: LOW-DOWN ON P3s: Transportation issues are rarely about getting from here to there. Usually they involve what land will be developed and who’s going to get rich. Add to the equation those who are about to get stiffed. Maryland Matters’ columnist Frank DeFilippo opines that Maryland’s tawdry history in this regard is worth remembering as Gov. Larry Hogan (R) leads a delegation of transportation and elected officials to Australia to study infrastructure design and financing methods. Public-private partnerships, known in their vernacular as P3s, are a design for the private sector to profit at public expense.

COLLEGES ADD VAPING TO SMOKING BANS: Maryland colleges and universities have added vaping to campus smoking bans, providing resources to help students stop vaping or to encourage them not to start up the habit at all, Tim Curtis of the Daily Record reports. But the rapid rise of the vaping industry has left universities with little data and even less research on just how prevalent vaping is and the best way to address it.

TALENT COMPETITION IS WORKFORCE CHALLENGE: Gov. Larry Hogan’s second summit for business leaders across Maryland had a specific focus: workforce development, Holden Wilen reports in the Baltimore Business Journal. Hogan’s summit provided business leaders with an opportunity to network and hear about some of the positive things that make Maryland a good place to do business. But the event also addressed what continues to be one of the key challenges for businesses across the U.S. “Here in Maryland just like everywhere else in America, competition for this talent is fierce,” Hogan said.

LOW UNEMPLOYMENT: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released state jobs and unemployment data. According to the preliminary survey data, Maryland added 500 jobs in August. Maryland’s unemployment rate remained at 3.8%. Maryland continues to be in its longest stretch of unemployment below 4% since 2008, the Garrett County Republican reports.

OPINION: A VICTORY TO PROTECT CHILDREN: State Sen. Susan Lee and Del. Lesley Lopez, in an op-ed for the Sun, praise Maryland’s move to criminalize the display of sexually-exploited children and digitally-generated images that are indistinguishable from real photos, often called “deep fakes.” The state’s first anti-child pornography bill goes into effect on Oct. 1. Without this new law, our state’s law enforcement were not empowered to go after predators possessing digital and lascivious images, and in effect, there was a legal loophole to let child rapists get away.

DOUGLASS COUNTY, MD? David Krucoff would one day like to welcome you to Douglass County, Maryland, which lies — in his vision and on maps he’s made — on land now occupied by the nation’s capital. Krucoff imagines a 24th Maryland county created from land reacquired from the District of Columbia, which lacks U.S. senators and a voting member of the U.S. House. He says his long-shot plan would grant disenfranchised Washington the voting representation in Congress that residents long for, Jeff Barker of the Sun reports.

CLIMATE STRIKES: Charlotte Corcoran is getting used to walking out of class to protest the issues she views as threats to her future. When she was 14, she marched out of Roland Park Country School carrying a sign that read: “I’m missing a day of school because 17 are missing the rest of their lives,” a reference to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. Now she’s 15, and on Friday she joined thousands of other students across Maryland in skipping school to call attention to the devastating effects of climate change. Talia Richman of the Sun reports on the climate strikes that occurred throughout the state and the world on Friday.

RAILROAD SAFETY GRANT UNSPENT: Three years after a CSX freight train hit a garbage truck, derailed and exploded in Rosedale in 2013, the state of Maryland won a $700,000 grant from the federal government for safety improvements at that railroad crossing and others nearby. But, reports Colin Campbell of the Sun, after another vehicle was struck Tuesday by a train at the same crossing, officials say the money — which was matched by a combined pledge from the railroad, the state and Baltimore County — has not been spent on improvements that were recommended by federal rail safety regulators.

BSO, MUSICIANS REACH TENTATIVE ACCORD: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its musicians announced Saturday that they have reached a tentative agreement on a one-year contract that could return the performers to the stage at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall as early as next week. No details of the proposed contract will be released before the ratification vote, which is scheduled for Monday, Mary Carole McCauley reports in the Sun.

WA CO LOOKS AT TAXING SHORT-TERM RENTALS: Washington County has joined a growing number of jurisdictions looking at the impact of short-term rentals to its tourist industry. Visit Hagerstown and Washington County has embarked on a six-month study to determine how much money owners of short-term rentals in the county bring in. The reason behind the study — to determine if short-term rentals should be subject to the same 6% lodging tax hotels and motels in the county pay, Sherry Greenfield of the Hagerstown Herald Mail reports.

TAIL OF TWO IMMIGRANTS: Dave McMillion of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail writes about two immigrants now living in Maryland. One immigrated to the United States more than 25 years ago to escape violence in El Salvador. The other, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico, found love in the U.S., and became a citizen last month. Jose Hernandez of Boonsboro and Adriana Majalca of the St. James area stand as U.S. citizens who successfully navigated the country’s immigration process.

ARUNDEL PROBES ACHIEVEMENT GAP: Naomi Harris of the Annapolis Capital reports that the first meeting for the new partnership between the school district and Anne Arundel County will review why there is an achievement gap between white students and minority students — by first understanding the problem. “The purpose of tomorrow’s meeting is to define the problem and hear from people on how they see the problem,” County Executive Steuart Pittman said.