REPUBLICANS REVIVE VIOLENT CRIME PACKAGE: House and Senate Republican leaders unveiled a series of bills Wednesday aimed at addressing violent crime in the state, Bryan Renbaum reports for Maryland Reporter. The proposals include measures that would increase penalties for those who use a firearm during the commission of a crime, classify the theft of a firearm as a felony, increase the amount of jail time that prisoners must serve before they are eligible for parole, and establish a special unit within the Office of Attorney General to prosecute violent crimes in Baltimore City.
- Bryan Sears of the Daily Record reports that this is an attempt to resurrect a package of bills designed to reduce violent crime similar to legislation killed in the House of Delegates one year ago. “We have gone this far without addressing what should be a top issue: the violent crime crisis in our state,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties and the minority whip.
POLICE REFORM PASSES SENATE: A slate of legislation touted by supporters as the most consequential law enforcement reforms in a half-century passed the Maryland Senate on Wednesday, moving the General Assembly closer to fulfilling vows from its leaders to tackle such issues following nationwide protests last summer, Bryn Stole of the Sun reports
- After Senate President Bill Ferguson read aloud a disturbing message he and House Speaker Adrienne Jones received, the senators held a spirited debate for more than 90 minutes on a bill sought to restructure the state’s public information act for people to review police records, William Ford reports for the Washington Informer.
- Sen. Will Smith Jr., who is Black, spoke of African-Americans’ “shared heritage” as he hailed passage of the reform legislation he shepherded through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which he chairs, reports Steve Lash for the Daily Record.
SZELIGA PROPOSES STATEWIDE VIRTUAL SCHOOL: As Maryland students begin to slowly trickle back into classrooms this month, one state lawmaker is trying to establish a statewide virtual public school in Maryland, Elizabeth Shwe of Maryland Matters reports. House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) presented a bill that would allow local school boards or higher education institutions to establish a full-time virtual public school without approval from the state superintendent of schools.
RACISM HISTORY REMOVED FROM HEALTH BILL: Ovetta Wiggins of the Post reports that a state Senate bill addressing the role of racism in health disparities in Maryland laid out the context plainly: “Racism is rooted in the foundation of America, from the time chattel slavery began in the 1600s, to the Jim Crow era, to the declaration of the war on drugs that eventually led to the mass incarceration of Black people ….” But after Republicans and some conservative Democrats quietly complained, lawmakers struck all 11 references to racism, past and present.
STATE TO MARK ANNIVERSARY OF 1st COVID CASE: Maryland will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 Friday and honor all who have lost their lives to the disease, Greg Swatek of the Frederick News-Post reports. Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement Wednesday morning.
EQUITABLE VACCINE DISTRIBUTION URGED: The leaders of Maryland’s two largest majority-Black jurisdictions on Wednesday urged the state to do a better job distributing vaccines in an equitable way, reports Pamela Wood of the Sun. “Despite statements otherwise, the residents of Baltimore City are both entitled to — and deserve — the vaccines,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott said. “However our residents do not have equitable access to vaccine doses and the state is not providing an equitable share across jurisdictions.”
WA CO SEEKS TO ADDRESS VAXX RACIAL IMBALANCE: With nearly 35,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Washington County as of Wednesday, officials are trying to address an apparent racial imbalance shown in the recipient distribution, writes Alexis Fitzpatrick for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.
OUTBREAKS AT CARROLL ELDER CARE CENTERS: While new outbreaks of COVID-19 were detailed at two elder care facilities by the Carroll County Health Department on Wednesday, only 10 new cases were reported across the county, Bob Blubaugh reports for the Carroll County Times.
THE VACCINE HUNTERS: In an article in Maryland Reporter, Callan Tansill-Suddath of CNS writes about the Maryland Vaccine Hunters Facebook group that seeks to help people navigate the vaccine signup path and get appointments for their vaccines. The group has existed for just over a month but boasts, at publishing, nearly 55,000 members.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY FOR EQUITY & INCLUSION: Innovative strategies, business models, and technologies can be used to address underserved markets. Join the Maryland Clean Energy Center for this Policy Watch Session on March 8, from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m., to discuss how new policies or changes in existing policy can be used to minimize or eliminate barriers in these areas. Advance registration is required.
MO CO COUNCIL MEMBER SPEAKS ON RACISM; ACCENT BECOMES ISSUE: A Latina Montgomery County Council member was speaking to her colleagues about racial disparities in the coronavirus vaccine rollout when chatter started in the background of the Zoom call. It was the low-level murmur of two people who had forgotten to go on mute, followed by giggling. Nancy Navarro, who is originally from Venezuela, kept speaking as the pair continued to remark about her accent, writes Rebecca Tan for the Post
JOBLESS CLAIMS, FRAUD INCREASE: Unemployment claims in Maryland have increased greatly since the start of the pandemic, and more than half filed since January were found to be fraudulent, reports CNS’s Catherine Scott in Maryland Reporter. The Maryland Department of Labor has flagged 65% of all unemployment claims since January 2021 alone for fraud, and of that percentage, 87% were actually fraudulent.
OPINION: MO CO SOLAR FARM PLAN NOT AG FRIENDLY: In a commentary in Maryland Reporter, Joshua Rokach opines on Montgomery County’s plans to put a solar farm in its agricultural reserve area, writing that “massive solar installations would crimp the agriculture in the Agriculture Reserve. Indeed, the prestigious Union of Concerned Scientists came to the same conclusion. … (recommending in 2013) that zoning authorities place these energy projects in degraded land, not useful for agriculture, or in “brownfields” (contaminated soil) and abandoned mines.”
B’MORE ADULT CLUBS CAN RE-OPEN: Baltimore’s strippers can return to their poles after prevailing in a fight against a city ban on adult entertainment during the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Brandon Scott agreed to lift the ban, according to the attorneys who filed a lawsuit against the city last week on behalf of TC Entertainment, owner of The Penthouse Club, Emily Opilo reports in the Sun.
CARROLL SCHOOLS REOPENING PLAN DOESN’T NEED STATE OK: Carroll County Public Schools doesn’t need Maryland State Department of Education approval of its latest reopening plan, clearing the way for students to return to classrooms four days a week later this month, Kristen Griffith of the Carroll County Times reports.
HOUSE PASSES SARBANES’ REFORM BILL: The U.S. House passed Rep. John Sarbanes’ sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform, late Wednesday night along party lines in a 220 to 210 vote, but the historic package will face an uphill battle in the Senate as no Republicans currently support the bill, Ariana Figuroa of Maryland Matters reports.
EX-LAUREL POLICE CHIEF CHARGED WITH ARSONS, ATTEMPTED MURDER: The former chief of the Laurel police has been arrested on numerous charges of arson and attempted murder in a string of about 12 fires that officials said were set across five counties from 2011 to 2020, Katie Metler reports for the Post.
- Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and fire chiefs from the five jurisdictions are scheduled to hold a press conference on the arrest live-streamed on Facebook at noon today.
PRICE OF KLACIK’s RISE TO POLITICAL FAME: Jeff Barker of the Sun follows up on the Post article on Republican rising star Kimberly Klacik’s campaign coffers and what happened to them, writing that the former congressional candidate went from running a small, Baltimore-area nonprofit to becoming a conservative star tapped to speak at the Republican National Convention. Now, recently amended campaign finance reports show the price of her rocket to fame and fundraising success last summer.