State Roundup, November 19, 2019

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SUPERFUND SITES VULNERABLE TO CLIMATE CHANGE: Seven of the most contaminated sites in Maryland are in areas that could be vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to a report from a government watchdog agency, Robin Bravender of Maryland Matters writes. The Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that works for the U.S. Congress, assessed how impacts of climate change — including flooding, storm surge, wildfires and sea level rise — might impact some of the most dangerous hazardous waste sites around the country.

VAPE BUSINESSES SUFFERING: It has been a rough few months at Vapor Worldwide in Gaithersburg, a suburb of about 69,000 people that sits 22 miles north of Washington. Two employees have been let go, and sales are down 35%. Rebecca Tan of the Post reports that like 21 other vape shops in Montgomery County and hundreds more across the country, the store has seen business plummet amid widespread panic over vaping, fueled in part by a rash of illnesses that has sickened more than 2,000 individuals and killed 39.

HOWARD PUSHES TOWARD REDISTRICTING: The Howard County Board of Education took three straw votes Monday night to move a total of 5,320 students for the 2020-21 academic year. However, the school board’s vote Thursday will reflect a lower, undetermined final student number. The school board voted separately on the high, middle and elementary school options. All votes passed 5-2, Jess Nocera of the Howard County Times reports.

COSTS & BENEFITS OF HOGAN KEEPING SECRETS: Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters writes about Gov. Hogan’s penchant for keeping big proposals under wraps until he does the “big reveal,” writing that “if Hogan’s preference for pre-announcement secrecy comes with a cost, it’s in the potential damage it does to the relationships the administration has (or might benefit from having) with policy-makers in the General Assembly and local government, those officials say. … By keeping plans to a small group of trusted aides, the Hogan team is able to avoid waking up on the morning of a big announcement only to find that their news is already being reported by the media, taking the steam out of their event.”

CITY ADOPTS HBCU RESOLUTION: The Baltimore City Council on Monday adopted a resolution calling for the state to settle a longstanding lawsuit over disparities in the way Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities are funded, Talia Richman of the Sun reports. Advocates for the state’s four HBCUs proposed in September the state pay $577 million to settle the case, which has wound through the legal system for more than a decade. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan responded with what he called a “final offer” of $200 million to settle the case.

287(g) PROGRAM QUESTIONED: Two members of the Frederick County delegation have sent a letter to the state attorney general’s office, asking for an opinion related to the 287(g) program. Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-District 3A) said Friday that she and Sen. Ron Young (D-District 3) drafted a letter and sent it about two months ago. Steve Bohnel of the Frederick News-Post writes that the letter is in regards to who has oversight over the sheriff and the program, which allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train sheriff’s deputies to ask about the immigration status of anyone booked into the county’s adult detention center, and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.

POULTRY SLURRY TANKS STIR CONTROVERSY: The backlash to a planned 3-million gallon, open-air storage tank in the back country of Wicomico County shines an uncomfortable spotlight on a substance that the poultry industry calls “residuals” and others call “industrial waste.” The Bay Journal’s Jeremy Cox writes in Maryland Reporter that for decades, the slurry has been stored in tanks or former manure lagoons until spread with little fanfare on farmland to help crops grow — until now.

OPINION: CLEAN POULTRY PROBLEM NOW: The editorial board of the Sun opines that four years ago, Gov. Larry Hogan won much praise in the environmental community for supporting the so-called Phosphorus Management Tool, designed to prevent excess phosphorus, a nutrient found in abundance in poultry droppings, from washing off farm fields and polluting Eastern Shore streams. And for years, poultry growers and the companies that contract them have known that they’d have to find new ways of disposing of litter from poultry houses instead of dropping it on fields already saturated with phosphorus. Now, it appears the industry is banking on the state Department of Agriculture and the governor to cave on those rules and substantially delay them because they claim not to have found an affordable alternative to spreading the waste on their own land.

OFF SHORE WIND FARMS GET A SECOND LOOK: Two wind farms proposed off the coast of Ocean City are getting a second look from the state of Maryland in response to concerns raised by Ocean City officials about the farms’ impact on tourism to the famous vacation spot. Both projects submitted updates to the state this fall detailing plans to install taller, more powerful turbines in their respective leasing areas. Julia Rentsch writes for the Salisbury Daily Times.

FROSH WARNS OF MEGA MILLIONS SCAM: Attorney General Brian Frosh is warning residents that scammers are trying to convince people they’ve won a nonexistent Mega Millions lottery by mailing phony letters to people’s homes, writes Phil Davis for the Sun. According to Frosh’s office, the scam is targeting Maryland residents by sending a phony letter proclaiming the recipient has won the “Mega Millions International Lottery 2019 Draw” and can pay the recipient via a wire transfer to their bank account.

SEN. SMITH RETURNS TO CHANGED POLITICAL WORLD: Pamela Wood of the Sun reports that when state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. returned to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport after a six-month deployment with the Navy to Afghanistan, he was most nervous about reuniting with his 18-month-old daughter, Jacqueline. While his daughter has grown and changed, so has the state’s political world. House Speaker Michael E. Busch died and was replaced by Del. Adrienne A. Jones. Senate President Mike Miller announced he’s stepping down from his leadership position, to be replaced by Sen. Bill Ferguson.

ELLICOTT CITY PLAN AWAITS ONE BUILDING PURCHASE: Howard County needed to acquire 10 properties on lower Main Street before it could begin to roll out its five-year Ellicott City flood mitigation plan. In an update Monday morning, County Executive Calvin Ball said the county had purchased nine so far, leaving the Phoenix Emporium as the remaining holdout, Taylor DeVille of the Howard County Times reports. The Phoenix is one of four buildings scheduled to be razed under Ball’s potentially $140 million plan to make room for widened streambeds to stimulate water flow.

DEL. PARROTT TO SEEK TRONE’s U.S. HOUSE SEAT: Conservative state Del.Neil C. Parrott is set to launch a bid for the 6th District U.S. House of Representatives seat held by Rep. David Trone (D), who is serving his first term and vows to run an aggressive re-election campaign, writes Ryan Miner of A Miner Detail blog. One other Republican – Kevin Caldwell of Brunswick – has filed paperwork with the Maryland State Board of Elections to enter race. Parrott, 49, told a number of Republicans last weekend at the bi-annual Maryland Republican Party state convention that he will formally announce his candidacy Nov. 21.

OPINION: COULD CARTER WIN CUMMINGS’ SEAT? In a commentary for Maryland Matters, Josh Kurtz writes about the potential of state Sen. Jill Carter winning the February special primary, and inevitably the seat held by the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore

HOUSE PANEL SEEKS CUMMINGS REPLACEMENT: The AP is reporting that as impeachment hearings resume on Capitol Hill, House Democrats are preparing to choose who will lead the powerful Oversight and Reform Committee. Three veteran lawmakers, including the acting chairwoman, Carolyn Maloney of New York, are seeking to replace the late Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who died last month.

EDITORIAL CARTOONIST MIKE LANE, 78: Former Evening Sun editorial cartoonist Mike Lane took pleasure in tweaking his subjects but found more happiness in being with members of his family. He was surrounded by them when he died Sunday at his home in Roland Park of complications of cardiac surgery. He was 78. Meredith Cohn writes his obituary for the Sun.