State Roundup, December 11, 2019

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OPINION: LOW TURNOUT IN VOTER FRIENDLY MARYLAND: In an op-ed for the Post, Eric Cortellessa, digital editor of the Washington Monthly, opines that on paper, Maryland looks like one of the United States’ most voter-friendly states. It holds eight days of early voting, has same-day and automatic voter registration, allows returning citizens to vote and doesn’t impose undue obstacles, such as voter-identification laws, to prevent people from exercising their franchise. Why, then, do Marylanders vote in such disappointingly low numbers? In 2018, for instance, only 54% of eligible Maryland voters showed up to the polls for the general election — meaning almost half of all the state’s residents who could have voted didn’t.

HOGAN APPROVES OF NEW NAFTA DEAL: U.S. House Democrats have worked out key differences with the Trump administration over a massive trade deal, allowing both sides to declare a legislative victory on the same day the House unveiled articles of impeachment against the president. And Gov. Larry Hogan was the first prominent Maryland elected official to express approval for the bipartisan agreement, Allison Stevens writes in Maryland Matters. If ratified, the deal would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect a quarter century ago.

OPINION: NO TO PITTMAN PROPOSAL: In a column for his RedMaryland blog, Brian Griffiths goes after Arundel County Exec Steuart Pittman’s proposal to permit counties to impose higher income tax rates on the highest earners. “Pittman,” he opines “is living in a fantasy world, a product of his naiveté and his complete lack of leadership experience prior to taking over Anne Arundel County government and his lack of preparedness at actually thinking he was going to win this election.”

OPINION: LET’s SEE SPECIFICS FIRST: On the other hand, the editorial board for the Sun, in addressing Pittman’s proposal, opines that “we’d have to see specifics to give a flat-out endorsement to the proposal but it’s surely worth serious consideration when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes next month. County Executive Pittman …(is) only asking for the ability for (Arundel) county to make that choice. So opposing the plan on the grounds it’s a “tax-and-spend” proposition is highly misleading given that some people (conceivably thousands of county residents) might well see a tax cut from progressive rates.”

MARYLAND COLLECTS DRIVING DATA: Motorists in Maryland may be aware of the cameras that enforce speed and red-light violations, but the state’s tracking practices include other layers to assist in law enforcement efforts, and for traffic and planning purposes. Eric Myers of Capital News Service reports that through the different practices, Maryland collects both anonymous and identifiable information — depending on the method — about driving patterns, raising concerns for privacy advocates. The article appears in MarylandReporter.

FERGUSON TOURS EASTERN SHORE: The presumptive president of the Maryland Senate visited Queen Anne’s and Kent counties on Monday with state Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, to learn more about the key issues affecting the Eastern Shore, Connie Connolly writes in the Easton Star Democrat.

OPINION: NEW BRIDGE NEEDS SAFE HIKE-BIKE LANE: In a column for the Post, David Brickley, of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Association Oxon Hill Bicycle & Trail Club, writes that the proposed Nice-Middleton Bridge will be with us for another 100 years, so it is imperative that it be done right. The Maryland Transportation Authority’s plan to eliminate a barrier-separated bike and pedestrian component to the planned Nice-Middleton Bridge is a major step backward, and one that will be with us for a century or more.

STATE UNVEILS RAIL STATION REHAB: Maryland officials debuted the renovated BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport Rail Station in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. The upgrades to the 40-year-old station include a larger passenger-waiting area with more seating, windows, electrical outlets and ticketing facilities, as well as a new concessions area and upgraded restrooms. But the $4.7 million, 14-month renovation did not add wireless internet or improved cell service or fix the leaky roof over the covered walkway.

CITY SCHOOLS SET 2020 CALENDAR: The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners approved a school calendar with an Aug. 31 start date at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Phil Davis of the Sun is reporting. Under the calendar posted online, spring break will be March 29 through April 5. School is scheduled to end June 11, with five days built in for inclement weather, allowing the school system to push the end of school until June 18.

HOUSE CANDIDATE LENDS CAMPAIGN $500,000: University of Baltimore law professor F. Michael Higginbotham said he will lend $500,000 to his campaign in the race to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a contest that has attracted 32 candidates, Jeff Barker reports in the Sun. “I hate asking people for money,” the constitutional law professor said in a recent interview. “When I ask them for money, I want them to know that I have a personal stake in this campaign, as well.”

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE OK’d FOR FEDERAL WORKERS: Federal lawmakers have reached a landmark agreement on paid parental leave for federal workers that could institute paid time off for civilian employees for the first time, Allison Winter writes for Maryland Matters. The measure would give federal workers 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child — extending the same benefits given to the military to the 2.1 million civilian members of the federal workforce. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said, “With this agreement, the federal government will finally start to lead by example. … We will continue fighting until all working families around the nation receive paid family and medical leave benefits.”

FINE, JAIL TIME FOR FORMER MAYOR: Rachel Chason of the Post reports that former District Heights Mayor Eddie L. Martin was ordered to serve two days in jail and pay $22,252 in restitution for using his government position to help an acquaintance buy $50,000 of fireworks, the Maryland state prosecutor’s office announced Tuesday.