State Roundup, November 27, 2019

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HOGAN TO EXPEDITE STATE CENTER PROJECT: Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that he was expediting redevelopment of the long-stalled State Center project in Baltimore that has become the subject of major lawsuits and a symbol of missed opportunity, Erin Cox reports in the Post. His plan includes moving thousands of state workers out of the deteriorating, 28-acre complex and finding a new master developer to build retail, housing and other amenities.

MILLIONS FOR RAPE KIT TESTING: Millions of dollars are set to help police around Maryland process rape kits that have sat untested in storage and keep pace with new cases. The funds include $3.5 million that is part of a new state fund for testing, plus a portion of a $2.6 million federal grant that also will help track kits and support survivors. And Baltimore County recently received a private $300,000 grant from a local foundation to help sex-crimes detectives investigate decades-old cold cases, Alison Knezevich reports for the Sun.

LEGAL POT MAY BE DELAYED: The prospect of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Maryland is growing dim for 2020, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun. While there’s growing acceptance for adult use of the drug, and some see it as a potential source of money to boost spending on public schools, state lawmakers appear not quite ready to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

AUDITOR SAYS UMMS HINDERING WORK: Maryland lawmakers say they’re concerned and closely monitoring the University of Maryland Medical System’s behavior after the state’s top legislative auditor said the hospital network was “hindering” his work, Luke Broadwater and Kevin Rector report for the Sun. Some legislative leaders, including the sponsors of sweeping reform legislation passed this year after a self-dealing scandal at UMMS, say more bills could be needed if the hospital network refuses to comply with the state audit.

PUSHBACK ON TOUGHENED DISCLOSURE BILL: Less than a week after Baltimore’s former mayor pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion, a City Council committee pushed forward with legislation that would impose stricter financial disclosure rules on elected officials. But after several city agencies testified the bill went too far, the council amended it to raise the threshold for what lawmakers would be required to report, Talia Richman of the Sun reports.

OPINION: PUGH’s SCHEME: In a column for his PoliticalMaryland.com blog, Barry Rascovar opines that there “was nothing fancy about the scam hatched by former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh: It was an updated version of a Ponzi scheme, designed to enrich the perpetrator with money essentially stolen from the donors. Pugh happened upon this self-enrichment plan well before she became mayor. … Pugh discovered (the health-care companies) really didn’t care if the books were delivered or not. The goal of the companies was to ingratiate themselves with an important state senator and later mayor.”

CARROLL: STATE WILL FINE FOR STYROFOAM: The Carroll County Health Department will be on the lookout for Styrofoam once the statewide ban goes into effect July 1, but the agency will not issue fines for violations. That duty will be left up to the Maryland Department of the Environment, Mary Grace Keller reports for the Carroll County Times.

OPINION: BROKEN PROMISES ON NICE BRIDGE: In a Maryland Matters op-ed, Eric Brenner, former Hogan appointee and chair of the Maryland Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, writes extensively about efforts to keep bicyclist safety issues in Gov. Hogan’s plans for rebuilding of the Nice Bridge and what he says are the Maryland Transportation Authority’s “unilateral” effort to break the commitment to a barrier separate path on the bridge and its implications for the future.

FERGUSON TO KEEP MILLER CHIEF OF STAFF: State Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), the presumptive next Senate president, told his colleagues in a memo Tuesday that he intends to keep his predecessor’s chief of staff in that role when he officially takes over on Jan. 8, Josh Kurtz reports for Maryland Matters. Ferguson said he would retain Jake Weissmann as chief of staff. Weissmann has been chief of staff to Senate President Mike Miller (D-Calvert) for a year, but served Miller and the Senate Democratic Caucus in several other roles for the past decade.

JUDGE DEWBERRY TO RETIRE: After nearly 18 years on the job, Maryland Chief Administrative Law Judge Thomas Dewberry has decided to retire effective Dec. 1. A Maryland native, Dewberry, 68, said he felt it was time to step down so he can spend time with his family and two granddaughters while he’s in good health, Louis Krauss reports for the Daily Record.

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CUMMINGS DAUGHTERS SUPPORT DAD’s AIDE: A daughter of the late congressman Elijah E. Cummings has issued a statement explaining why she and her sister are supporting Harry Spikes, one of his former staffers, in the race to succeed him — a crowded contest that includes former congressman Kweisi Mfume, several state lawmakers and Cummings’s second wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports.

7th DISTRICT RACE: Emily Sullivan of WYPR-FM reports that it’s difficult to get voters to turn out for a special election, but the task of replacing someone as visible as Elijah Cummings might motivate Marylanders to cast their ballots in a special election primary this winter. A whopping 32 candidates filed a run to take over the Baltimore icon’s 7th district congressional seat: eight Republicans and 24 Democrats, including Cummings’ widow and two others who spoke at his funeral.

MO CO OKs FOX-TV INCENTIVE: The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved $750,000 in local incentives for four corporations, including a $500,000 grant to Fox TV to relocate two news stations to Bethesda, Kate Masters reports for Bethesda Beat.

RUDE RECEPTION FOR FIRST LADY: A crowd of students booed first lady Melania Trump as she was introduced Tuesday at a Baltimore youth summit on opioid awareness, where she told them that “drugs will only slow you down.” The loud boos drowned out the cheers and applause of some in the crowd at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Event Center, but Trump smiled through it, Jeff Barker of the Sun reports.

MAYOR HOPEFUL’s FUNDRAISER: Baltimore mayoral candidate Thiru Vignarajah said Tuesday he raised roughly $20,000 at a recent fundraiser hosted by a pair of Texas donors who have backed efforts to fly surveillance planes over the city, Talia Richman of the Sun reports. Texas philanthropists Laura and John Arnold hosted a fundraiser for Vignarajah in Houston, part of a series of events in Baltimore and across the country aimed at boosting support for his campaign. John Arnold did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

RESIGNATION SOUGHT OF DISTRICT HEIGHTS MAYOR: Dozens of residents of tiny District Heights are demanding the resignation of Mayor Eddie L. Martin, who was convicted of misconduct in office last week for using his position to help an acquaintance buy $50,000 worth of fireworks, writes Rachel Chason for the Post.

CONGRESS AWAITS REPORT ON FBI HQ DECISION: Julianne Heberlein of the Capital News Service reports that with parts of the FBI headquarters building crumbling in D.C., there had been plans to relocate the agency to a more secluded and spacious campus in either suburban northern Virginia or suburban Maryland. Six months after President Donald Trump took office, his administration decided to not move forward with the relocation, opting to keep the old building, across the street from the Trump International Hotel. Congress is still waiting to see if an independent review by the Department of Justice’s inspector general finds that the cancellation of the FBI headquarters relocation plan was justified.