State Roundup: Legislature OKs $52.4 billion budget targeted at Covid recovery; wrangling continues over police reform

State Roundup: Legislature OKs $52.4 billion budget targeted at Covid recovery; wrangling continues over police reform

House of Delegates March 2021, MarylandReporter.com photo

GENERAL ASSEMBLY OKs $52.4B BUDGET: Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters reports that the Maryland General Assembly gave final approval Friday to a $52.4 billion budget that House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said is worthy of a moniker: “I call this The Recovery Act,” she said.

  • Only in 2021, perhaps, could approval of a massive state budget fattened by federal aid to help struggling businesses and families go by with barely a remark in the General Assembly. “It’s been like ‘small ball’ this year to pass the budget,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said as his chamber voted Friday to put the finishing touches on the $52 billion spending plan, up from a $49 billion proposal made in January, Pamela Wood and Bryn Stole report in the Sun.
  • The new spending plan, nearly 12% larger than last year’s, builds parks and playgrounds in every county, outfits schools with new ventilation systems, sends cash payments to the poor, gives tax breaks to small businesses and unemployment recipients, and attempts to give broadband access to a half-million residents without it, reports Erin Cox in the Post.

WRANGLING CONTINUES OVER POLICE REFORM: Maryland legislators were still wrangling Friday over key provisions of a package of police accountability measures. Among sticking points were details of how to revamp the disciplinary process for law enforcement officers accused of misconduct, Bryn Stole of the Sun reports.

  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) made a motion Friday to reject amendments the Senate made to House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’ omnibus police reform bill, Hannah Gaskill of Maryland Matters reports. And, in a surprise twist, the Senate did not agree to convene a conference committee to iron out the chambers’ discrepancies with the bill.
  • The package of bills would also create a scholarship program for officers, raise the civil liability limit on police-related lawsuits to $890,000, allow for — but not require — the forfeiture of a convicted officer’s pension, ban police departments from acquiring surplus military equipment, restrict no-knock warrants and mandate police-worn body cameras by 2026, Ovetta Wiggins reports in the Post.
  • One of the most controversial provisions says that if an officer commits a felony — including perjury — a judge can take away the officer’s pension, Rachel Baye of WYPR-FM reports.

MASSIVE COVID RECOVERY BILL ADVANCES: A bill that would require the Maryland Department of Health to create and implement a two-year plan for COVID-19 recovery by June 1, among other measures, is nearing passage in the Maryland General Assembly. With a price tag of at least $152 million in federal funds, the bill offers a multifaceted approach to COVID-19 recovery through the next two years, Callan Tansill-Suddath of Capital News Service reports.

AUDIT: $9M S. KOREAN TEST KIT PURCHASE FLAWED: Maryland’s $9 million purchase of half a million coronavirus tests from a South Korean company was based on a flawed agreement and most of them were likely never used, according to the findings of a state audit released Friday, Pamela Wood reports in the Sun.

HOGAN SAYS HE’LL LET ED REFORM BECOME LAW: Gov. Larry Hogan told state legislative leaders Friday he would let revisions to a sweeping education legislation become law without his signature, but expressed reservations about the state legislature’s failure to identify a source of funding, Liz Bowie of the Sun reports.

SCHRADER FINALLY OK’d AS HEALTH SECRETARY: Dennis Schrader, who has been under scrutiny for Maryland’s bumpy COVID-19 vaccine rollout, has been confirmed as the state’s health secretary, Pamela Wood reports for the Sun.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan first nominated Schrader to become secretary at the Maryland Department of Health four years ago. On Friday, Schrader was finally confirmed by the state Senate, 45-2, with Sens. Clarence K. Lam and Mary L. Washington dissenting, Josh Kurtz reports for Maryland Matters.
  • If Friday’s vote to confirm Schrader was easy, the nearly hour-long debate before his approval raises the question: What would difficult look like? Some lawmakers, including Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel, raised concerns about what she called a lack of transparency regarding the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Maryland and shortages of vaccine shipments to larger counties such as the one she represents. Still, she voted for Schrader, writes Bryan Sears in the Daily Record.

McNAIR’s LEGACY: GREATER VOICE FOR STUDENT ATHLETES: Glynn Hill of the Post writes about Martin McNair and Tonya Wilson, the parents of Jordan McNair, the University of Maryland football player who died after a team workout in 2018. Their loss inspired them to honor their son’s legacy, including by helping to shape recent state legislation that bears Jordan’s name. Similar versions of the bill, named the Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act, were passed by the state Senate and House of Delegates and are being reconciled before a bill can be presented to Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

HOGAN ADMIN BACKS HOUSE CLIMATE BILL: The Hogan administration on Friday endorsed the House version of a climate bill that is working its way through the General Assembly — but the ultimate fate of the legislation remains unclear due to differences between the House and Senate on some of the measure’s key provisions, Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters reports.

HIGHEST NUMBER OF COVID CASES SINCE JANUARY: Maryland health officials reported 1,669 new cases of the coronavirus and eight more deaths Sunday as the state posted its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the virus since January, Phil Davis reports in the Sun.

OPINION: PROPOSED CHANGES MEAN TORTURE FOR VICTIMS’ FAMILIES: Baltimore County state’s attorney Scott Shellenberg, in a column for the Sun, writes that proposed changes to sentencing rules that would permit revision of long sentences if the defendants were under age 25 when the sentences were imposed will continue the nightmare for victims’ families. He writes, in the case of the horrific death of Officer Amy Caprio, “By my calculations, family members would have to come back to court three times in 2036, four times in 2038, four times in 2041, three times in 2042, four times in 2044, once in 2048 and once every 6 years thereafter to face a possible reduction of sentence for one of the people whose actions led to their loved ones’ death. … The torture of the family will never end.”

D.C.-B’MORE MAGLEV RAISES ALARMS: Luz Lazo of the Post reports that a high-speed train that would take passengers from Washington to Baltimore in 15 minutes as an alternative to traffic-choked roads would cut through a swath of public land, raising alarms among researchers who say hundreds of acres of forests and sensitive areas would be destroyed.

OPINION: WORKING ACROSS THE AISLE: In an opinion piece for the Sun, state Sen. Cory McCray writes about bipartisan oversight legislation that came out of the spending scandal at Maryland Environmental Services, where former director Roy McGrath “spent lavishly in his tenure and ultimately negotiated a significant payout when he left to become the governor’s chief of staff that summer.”

HOGAN SEEKS MORE VISAS FOR CRAB SEASON WORKERS: With blue crab season just around the corner, Gov. Larry Hogan is again asking the federal government to increase the number of visas available for seasonal migrant workers, who make up a massive portion of the seafood industry’s crab pickers, Johanna Alonso of the Daily Record reports.

HAGERSTOWN, WA CO IN DISPUTE OVER $405,630 BILL: After more than two years, Hagerstown and Washington County elected officials remain at odds over an annual bill of $405,630 for 911 dispatch services. The Washington County commissioners have sent a letter to the city setting a deadline for the city to pay or resume its own dispatch service, Alexis Fitzpatrick reports for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

CITY SOLICITOR MUM ON MOSBY GRAND JURY SUBPOENAS: The Baltimore solicitor won’t say whether any city agencies have received a federal grand jury subpoena in the criminal tax investigation of Council President Nick Mosby and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Tim Prudente of the Sun reports that furthermore, the city solicitor’s office has declined requests filed by The Baltimore Sun for any such document under the Maryland Public Information Act.

VIDEO SHOWS FEDERAL INVESTIGATORS ENTERING MOSBY OFFICE: Federal investigators bound for Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby’s office were led into City Hall last month by city Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, surveillance video released by the city shows, Emily Opilo of the Sun is reporting.

RASKINS HOLD SON’s MEMORIAL: Peter Jamison of the Post writes about mourning and funerals in the time of Covid-19, through the eyes of the family and friends of U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, whose son died by suicide in December. The Covid-safe memorial service for Tommy Raskin was held on Saturday.

  • Family and friends remembered Raskin during a drive-in service at RFK Stadium, with attendance limited to invited guests. The service also included music and a series of video anecdotes from friends and relatives, Dan Schere of Bethesda Beat reports.

BAINUM GROUP MAY HAVE UPPER HAND IN TRIB PURCHASE: Cara Lombardo and Lukas Alpert of the Wall Street Journal report that a special committee of Tribune Publishing’s board has determined that a roughly $680 million, $18.50-a-share bid submitted late last week by Choice Hotels International Inc. Chairman Stewart Bainum and Hansjörg Wyss is reasonably likely to lead to a proposal that is superior to Alden’s $635 million deal, people familiar with the matter said. That is legal deal-speak indicating Alden may need to raise its bid or risk losing the deal.

About The Author

Cynthia Prairie

cynthiaprairie@gmail.com
https://www.chestertelegraph.org/

Contributing Editor Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor since 1979, when she began working at The Raleigh Times. Since then, she has worked for The Baltimore News American, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Prince George’s Journal and Baltimore County newspapers in the Patuxent Publishing chain, including overseeing The Jeffersonian when it was a two-day a week business publication. Cynthia has won numerous state awards, including the Maryland State Bar Association’s Gavel Award. Besides compiling and editing the daily State Roundup, she runs her own online news outlet, The Chester Telegraph. If you have additional questions or comments contact Cynthia at: cynthiaprairie@gmail.com

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