State Roundup, December 5, 2019

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Senator Will Smith.

SEN. SMITH TO CHAIR JUDICIAL COMMITTEE: Sen. Will Smith has been named the new chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Incoming Senate President Bill Ferguson made the announcement at a party to welcome Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat and U.S. naval intelligence officer,  home from a six-month tour in Afghanistan. The announcement comes one day after Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, announced he would resign in January, writes Bryan Sears for the Daily Record.

SOME SCHOOLS RETURN TO PRE-LABOR DAY START: Donna St. George of the Post reports that a new state law upended Gov. Hogan’s executive order that schools start the year after Labor Day, returning decision-making power to local officials. So as school systems draw up academic calendars for 2020-2021, the idea of opening in August is back — with some systems considering start dates a week before Labor Day, even two weeks. Montgomery’s board decided this week to open on Aug. 31 in 2020 — as did Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore. Howard County went earlier still, voting for a calendar with a first day of classes Aug. 25.

  • After a high volume of public feedback, the school system’s Calendar Committee has added a third option for a possible 2020-2021 Frederick County Public Schools calendar, Katryna Perera reports for the Frederick News-Post. The added option has school beginning Aug. 31 and ending June 15. There are 24 full weeks of school, and students are off for both Fair Day and Yom Kippur, as well as Election Day on Nov. 3. This option also has a six-day spring break that includes the Monday after Easter.

WA CO SCHOOLS RANKINGS: Eight public schools in Washington County earned top marks in the state’s school rating system — six fewer than last year, according to results released Tuesday. Alexis Fitzpatrick of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reports that the 2018-19 Maryland Report Card shows how schools scored on Maryland’s accountability measures during the 2018-2019 school year. During that time, WCPS had five elementary, one middle and two high schools earning a five-star rating, the highest score possible on the state’s “1 to 5” scale.

STUDENTS FACE OPTIONS IN HOWARD REDISTRICTING: Although the Howard County Board of Education voted last month to move about 5,400 students to new schools for the next academic year, not all of those students will leave their current school. Jess Nocera of the Howard County Times reports. The school board voted to exempt several student groups for the 2020-21 school year. These student groups have the option to either attend the new school or remain at their current school. Exempted students and their families need to decide on an option by Dec. 13, according to the school system.

BPW DELAYS VOTE ON HIGHWAY WIDENING: American Legion Bridge hit a snag Wednesday after Comptroller Peter Franchot asked for the delay of a key Board of Public Works’ vote, Bryan Sears reports for the Daily Record. The three-member panel was set to vote on a proposal to expand parts of Interstate 270 and Interstate 495, including the American Legion Bridge — a project proposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who chairs the board. But dozens of Democratic lawmakers opposed the project, and Franchot, also a member of the panel, called for a pause.

PORT EXEC DIRECTOR STEPS DOWN: The executive director of the Maryland Port Administration will resign Dec. 31 after 18 years of leading the agency. In a news release, the administration wrote that James J. White will step down from his position at the end of the year, Phil Davis of the Sun writes.

CHAMBERS BACK MAGLEV: Four local chambers of commerce representing about 1,500 businesses threw their support behind a proposed high-speed magnetic levitating train — saying the multi-billion dollar project will be “transformative” for Greater Baltimore because it will create thousands of jobs, Holden Wilen of the Baltimore Business Journal reports. Leaders from the chambers of commerce for Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Prince George’s County and Northern Anne Arundel all spoke about a need for better transportation options in the region to reduce traffic congestion and spur economic development.

BIG FINES FOR SKIPPING SMALL TOLLS: As Maryland moves toward all-electronic toll billing and constituents complain about high fines that total thousands of dollars in some cases, two lawmakers are working to reduce the penalties for late video toll payments. Drivers who go through toll facilities without paying are sent a video toll invoice. If the video toll is not paid within 30 days, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) issues a citation with a $50 civil penalty. Meg Tully writes in Maryland Reporter.

OPINION: RECONSIDER LIFE OPTIONS ACT: In an op-ed in the Sun, Dr. Lewis Cohen, who testified last year before the Maryland General Assembly, writes that he hopes that Maryland revisits the 2019 Maryland’s End of Life Options Act, which died following a tie vote in the state Senate. He writes that U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who died this past month, had urged its passage, writing that, “As a just and compassionate society, we cannot value life in the abstract and deny to those who are about to die the self-determination that they deserve.”

PENCE VISIT COST MDGOP: Maryland’s Republican Party was socked with unexpectedly high costs for hosting Vice President Mike Pence at a fundraiser, creating a hole in party finances and forcing officials to run up a line of credit. Financial statements obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that at the end of September, the party had less than $4,000 in the bank and a balance of nearly $94,000 on a line of credit, Pamela Wood of the Sun reports. Hosting Pence meant the Maryland Republican Party had to pay for dozens of Secret Service agents and other expenses associated with the vice president, party chair Dirk Haire said

YVETTE LEWIS EXPECTED TO BECOME DEM PARTY CHAIR: Maryland Democrats appear likely to go back to the future when they meet in Lanham Saturday to select a new state party leader. The job is vacant following the resignation of party chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who served for 11 months before stepping down recently to enter the special congressional election to replace her husband, the late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.). The frontrunner is Yvette Lewis – who served as party chairwoman from 2011 to 2015, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters reports.

YOUNG TO INVEST IN CITY SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE: Mayor Jack Young plans to use the city’s projected budget surplus to help fund a massive school infrastructure plan, his spokesman said Wednesday. The mayor’s pledge comes roughly a month before the General Assembly session begins. The first bill expected to be introduced by lawmakers in Annapolis would dramatically increase funding for public school construction, reports Talia Richman for the Sun.

RASKIN TAKES PART IN IMPEACHMENT HEARING: Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin invoked his late colleague Elijah E. Cummings Wednesday at a U.S. House impeachment hearing, writes Robin Bravender for Maryland Matters. Raskin, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said, “If Elijah Cummings were here, he’d say, ‘Listen up people, listen up. How we respond will determine the character of our democracy for generations.’” As the Judiciary Committee held its first official impeachment hearing on Wednesday, Raskin and his Democratic colleagues laid out their framework for articles of impeachment against President Trump.

CITY TO REVIEW J.P. GRANT CONTRACTS: Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott on Wednesday asked Baltimore’s inspector general to review the last five years of city contracts with Columbia financier and “Healthy Holly” book purchaser J.P. Grant. The request comes in response to federal prosecutors’ contention that Grant knew he was inappropriately funding former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s political campaign by writing checks for her self-published children’s books, Kevin Rector and Luke Broadwater of the Sun report.