State Roundup, October 1, 2019

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STATE POLICE AUDIT: ERRORS IN HANDGUN PERMITS AMONG CONCERNS: Manual data entry caused hundreds of handgun serial number discrepancies in a Maryland database used by police in investigations, according to a legislative audit released Monday, which also revealed several concerns about the agency’s financial practices, Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters reports. An auditing team’s review of 52,000 entries from 2017 in the Maryland Automated Firearms Services System found that 392 serial numbers were different from those originally provided during licensing.

TESTING OF VAPE CARTRIDGES SOUGHT: An organization for safe medical cannabis products is calling for the state to test cartridges used in e-cigarette devices for two substances suspected of being involved in hundreds of lung illnesses and a dozen deaths across the country, Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports.

OPINION: HOGAN’s INADEQUATE OFFER: The editorial board of the Sun opines that Gov. Hogan’s no-room-for-negotiation $200 million offer to end the lawsuit by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities of Maryland to repair severe education setbacks caused by inequitable funding comes across as little more than an attempt to get rid of what has become an irritation rather than a solid effort to truly redress the damage of the past.

2 CITIES SUE TRUMP ADMIN OVER GREEN CARD CURBS: Phil Davis of the Sun reports that Baltimore City and the town of Gaithersburg are suing the Trump administration over its “public charge” rule, saying the rule allowing the government to prohibit green cards or permanent residency to certain immigrants using public benefits is “designed to reduce legal immigration levels and to disfavor poorer immigrants and immigrants of color.”

DEL. LUEDTKE PUSHES FOR 12th EARLY VOTING SITE IN MO CO: Kate Masters of Bethesda Beat reports that as elected Democrats battle appointed Republicans over an early voting site in Montgomery County, state Del. Eric Luedtke said Monday that he will file an emergency bill requiring a 12th location. The legislator, whose district includes significant sections of east county, announced his plan after the local Board of Elections again declined to reconsider a vote against adding a 12th early voting site in White Oak.

OPINION: COMPTROLLER A STEPPING STONE TO HIGHER OFFICE? In a column for Maryland Matters, Josh Kurtz writes that now that Comptroller Peter Franchot is flirting with a gubernatorial bid in 2022, it’s possible that the office of the comptroller could be a stepping stone to higher office after all. The last to make that leap was Millard Tawes, in 1958. The 2022 election is still three years away, but Franchot feels he needs to gear up early.

CUMMINGS TO RETURN TO HILL IN 2 WEEKS: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, who has been absent from Washington for more than a week following a medical procedure, said Monday that his doctors expect him to return in two weeks to Capitol Hill. Cummings, 68, is a key figure in the impeachment inquiry into Republican President Donald Trump as chairman of House Oversight and Reform Committee. He was among three Democratic committee chairs to sign a letter accompanying a subpoena seeking documents from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo related to the inquiry into whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Jeff Barker of the Sun reports.

BA CO MAY SUE MONSANTO: Baltimore County soon may ask a federal judge to force agriculture chemical company Monsanto to pay for the cleanup of environmental toxins, following a series of similar lawsuits filed by a dozen cities and states in recent years, Wilborn Nobles reports in the Sun. County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. wants the County Council to approve a contract with three law firms to represent the county in a lawsuit to be filed against the company and two former divisions it sold off. The lawsuit would allege the company contaminated the county’s environment and waters with polychlorinated biphenyls.

DAIRY FARMS DISAPPEARING IN CARROLL: Dairy farms are disappearing from Carroll County, and the farmers that remain are looking to alternative revenue sources such as crops or manufacturing to keep their businesses afloat, Mary Grace Keller of the Carroll County Times reports. In 2012, there were 53 dairies in Carroll County, and now, approximately 24 remain, according to Bryan Butler, University of Maryland Extension agent, quoting numbers from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Compare that to 731 dairy farms in Carroll County in 1959, 205 in 1978, and 92 in 2002.

OPIOID DEATHS DOWN IN FREDERICK: Heather Mongilio and Jeremy Arias of the Frederick News-Post reports that Frederick County saw a decrease in the number of fatal overdoses for the first half of 2019, a trend that might indicate opioid-related overdoses are continuing to plateau, if not beginning to drop. From January to June 2019, Frederick County saw 33 fatal opioid overdoses, down 11 from the same time period last year, according to the Maryland Department of Health. A majority of the deaths were due to fentanyl.

JUDGE DISMISSES SUIT AGAINST UMBC, BA CO, FOR NOW: Steve Lash of the Daily Record reports that a federal judge on Monday dismissed – at least for now — a civil rights lawsuit alleging UMBC, county police and the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office improperly handled sexual assault investigations by at least five women. In dismissing the lawsuit without prejudice, U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow criticized the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ “verbose complaint” whose “sheer volume of factual allegations and legal issues” fomented confusion rather than sound legal argument. Chasanow gave plaintiffs’ counsel three weeks to file “a more focused, perhaps modest” complaint.

SOME VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPTS GET FED GRANTS: Volunteer firefighter departments in Montgomery County received about $780,000 of federal grant money from FEMA to fund and retain their recruits, Suzanne Pollak of the Montgomery County Sentinel reports. Most of the money, $536,000, was awarded to the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association, and the remaining $245,000 will go to the Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department.

UM’s DIAMONDBACK TO END PRINT EDITION: After 110 years in circulation, The Diamondback will cease its weekly print publication in March, the newspaper’s parent company announced Monday, Samantha Subin reports in the Diamondback. “This is a very logical, natural step that The Diamondback is taking to get in touch with the University of Maryland community,” said Leah Brennan, the newspaper’s editor in chief. “This is where our readership is, so we’re trying to meet them where they are.”

PENCE BOOK: Tom LoBianco, a Towson native who wrote for several news outlets at the Maryland State House in years past, has penned a new book “Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House.” LoBianco is making the cable network rounds and the book has been well received, including a very positive review in the New York Times by Peter Baker, the paper’s veteran White House reporter.