State Roundup, February 14, 2020

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Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and then-City Council President Jack Young (left), who succeeded her as mayor after she resigned last year, are shown with Gov. Larry Hogan in 2017. (Governor's Office photo)

PROSECUTORS RECOMMEND JAIL FOR PUGH, REVEAL NEW DETAILS: Federal prosecutors argue that former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh should receive nearly five years in prison for conspiracy and tax evasion, Justin Fenton and Kevin Rector report for the Sun. The prosecutors laid out an array of new details from their investigation in a blistering, 37-page sentencing memorandum filed Thursday.

  • Prosecutors wrote Pugh didn’t use only Healthy Holly LLC as a conduit for illegal contributions to her 2016 mayoral campaign, reports Talia Richman for the Sun. She also arranged for money to flow through another side business, 2 Chic Boutique, a Pigtown consignment shop she co-owned with longtime City Comptroller Joan Pratt and two other women with ties to city government, the memorandum states.
  • Comptroller Joan Pratt, who has a stake in the boutique, told the Baltimore Business Journal she had “no knowledge” of the money laundering, Melody Simmons reports.
  • The comptroller, who owns her own accounting firm and did the boutique’s 2016 tax returns, said the $20,000 payment was not declared in taxes “because I knew nothing about it,” Mark Reutter reports for Baltimore Brew.
  • Pratt admits filing the boutique’s tax return but insists she thought the funds were a loan from Catherine Pugh, not a campaign contribution, reports Jeff Abell for Fox45.
  • Pratt stressed she had absolutely no knowledge of the check. She has not been charged or accused of any wrongdoing, Annie Rose Ramos reports for WJZ-TV.
  • In a new detail, prosecutors said, when asked for her personal phone the day authorities raided her home, she gave them a city-issued iPhone instead, reports Jane Miller reports for WBAL-TV. They called her personal number and they heard the phone ringing under her bed covers.
  • In the memo, prosecutors go over point by point how Pugh “engaged in a multidimensional scheme to defraud that spanned more than seven years,” and “corruptly solicited funds from purchasers doing business with State and City Government,” Ryan Dickstein reports for WMAR-TV.
  • Pugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges in November and is set to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow on Feb. 27, Heather Cobun reports for The Daily Record.

GOP OFFERS EDUCATION PROPOSALS: House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga on Thursday urged action on legislation to help teachers deal with students who consistently display disruptive behavior in school, Bryan Renbaum writes for MarylandReporter.com.

  • The Republican ideas to improve public schools come just as lawmakers are about to begin debating a massive education funding increase backed by Democratic leaders, reports Pamela Wood in the Sun. The Republicans — who are far outnumbered in Maryland’s legislature — touted an array of bills that they say would improve classroom discipline and offer children in poorly performing schools options to transfer to other public or private schools.
  • While much of the focus of the 2020 General Assembly session has been on implementing and paying for a $4 billion annual overhaul of public education, Republicans say those proposals are too long term, reports Bryan Sears for The Daily Record.

LAWMAKERS DEBATE SPOUSAL RAPE LOOPHOLE: State lawmakers are considering a bill that would repeal a clause that allows marriage as a defense against charges of rape, reports Rachel Baye for WYPR. Though marital rape became a crime nationwide in the 1990s, Maryland is one of several states that continues to have this loophole on the books.

  • Maryland’s current laws say spousal rape is against the law if force or a threat of force is used, reports Kate Ryan for WTOP. But prosecutors and advocates say there are still spousal exemptions to rape laws on the books, and those can prevent prosecutors from helping victims.

OPINION: CASH IN THE COURTROOM: It’s almost a cliche now to say how corrosive money in politics has become. But fundraising in these judicial races can be particularly unseemly, Josh Kurtz writes for Maryland Matters. They get next to zero public attention, which means, inevitably, it’s only lawyers who may have cases before these judges who are contributing money to their campaigns and working the polls on their behalf.

The Conowingo Dam connects Harford and Cecil counties. (Bay Journal photo by Dave Harp)

OPPOSITION TO CONOWINGO DEAL: Environmental groups and some rural Maryland officials are calling on federal regulators to reject the deal that the state has reached with the owner of the Conowingo Dam, Timothy Wheeler reports for the Bay Journal. The deal is meant to address the harm the hydropower facility has caused to the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay. Spurred by opposition, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers is making a bid to block the agreement through legislation.

SEX OFFENDER SUPERVISION PROPOSED: Discussion on a bill to require certain sex offenders to face lifetime sex offender supervision included testimony from a St. Mary’s mother of three, and the prosecutor who worked a case against the man who abused one of her children, Dan Belson reports for the St. Mary’s Enterprise.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN JAIL: Lawmakers are taking another shot at legislation to let local jails prohibit medical marijuana, reports Tamela Baker for the Hagerstown-Herald Mail. They’re hoping the third time will be the charm since it was first sought in 2018.

DEADLY ASSAULT SPURS HATE CRIME BILL: A bill prompted by a deadly assault at The Great Frederick Fair last fall would add spitting or dumping any bodily fluids on someone else to the state’s hate-crime statute, reports Steve Bohnel reports for the Frederick News-Post.

MORE MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING FOR POLICE: State lawmakers are considering legislation to require each first responder and law enforcement officer complete mental health awareness training, reports David Collins reports for WBA-TV.

FREDERICK EYES U.S. 15 FUNDS: Improving U.S. 15 between Interstate 70 and Md. 26 and more funds for paratransit bus service are among the top transportation priorities supported by the Frederick County delegation of state lawmakers, Steve Bohnel reports for the Frederick News-Post.

BILL PROPOSES PARENTAL CONSENT FOR BIRTH CONTROL: A new bill requires parental consent for certain kinds of birth control, reports Mallory Sofastaii for WMAR-TV. The legislator proposed the measure after seeing Sofastaii’s report on a 16-year-old girl who received a birth control implant while at school.

ALLEGANY DEBATES WHERE SLOTS MONEY SHOULD GO: Allegany County officials are asking the Western Maryland Delegation to reconsider its effort to drop funding for a scholarship program to local colleges, Greg Larry writes for the Cumberland Times-News. The funding, which comes from the county’s share of electronic gaming revenue at Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Flintstone, would go toward local fire and emergency services.