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January 31, 2011

Pipkin wants slots out of the MD Constitution

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, the new senate minority whip, said this morning at a University of Maryland panel that he will introduce legislation this year to remove the state's gaming program from Maryland's constitution.

The change could make it easier for additional counties to build casinos. It could also ease the way for table games like poker or roulette and streamline the process for increasing the number of slots machines. Such modifications must currently be approved by voter referendum -- that only happens every other year.

Pipkin, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, says the current gaming framework puts Maryland at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states. Some lawmakers want to add gaming in Prince George's County as a way to enhance the profitability of Rosecroft Raceway, and are frustrated that the process will take two years. Penn National, a gaming powerhouse that already owns one of Maryland's casinos, just bought the track.

Pipkin said that he's still drafting the legislation -- and the voters would likely need to approve it via referendum. The next statewide ballot is in 2012.

He spoke at the first annual political summit sponsored by the University of Maryland's Center for American Politics and Citizenship. It was attended by other state leaders who gave some hints about where General Assembly members might tweak Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget.

 

House Speaker Michael E. Busch noted that the governor's cuts are falling heavily on healthcare and transportation while education funding is nearly untouched. "Our transportation system is somewhat at risk," he said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller reiterated his support for a gasoline tax, though did not say how much he'd like to increase it. Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola is expected to introduce a legislative package this week that hikes the gas tax.

On transportation Pipkin floated creating a separate taxing authority for big ticket transit projects like the proposed light rail lines in Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs. "If you live in the rural areas you don't share those hopes and dreams," he said.

He characterized O'Malley's proposed cuts to the state Medicaid program as a tax on Marylanders with insurance because he predicted that hospitals will hike health costs for insured Marylanders. "It that a tax?" he asked. "Some would call it a hospital tax."


Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:18 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 28, 2011

Wine-by-mail considered by House, Senate

The consumer-backed version of the wine-by-mail legislation was introduced in the House and Senate Friday morning with little fanfare.

The measures are similar to last year's effort: They allow vineyards and stores to send wine directly to consumers via the U.S. mail. The legislation is popular with lovers of specialty wines who have been frustrated that the current law prevents shipments. Some Marylanders skirt the state's prohibition by having cases wine shipped to Washington, D.C. where it can be legally mailed.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, said there is "broad consensus" in the Senate that wine shipping should be allowed this year and thirty-two senators have signed on to the bill. The House version, introduced by Prince George's County Democrat Jolene Ivey, has 83 sponsors including House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

But liquor lobbyist Bruce Bereano predicted additional bills more friendly to the industry would be introduced. He doesn't believe out-of-state retailers should be allowed to mail into Maryland. Such a provision would expose Maryland's liquor stores to competition that could "cannibalize" their business, he said.

Advocates disagree. They also that the industry-backed restriction would prevent Marylanders from participating in wine-of-the-month clubs.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:43 PM | | Comments (8)
        

February: Same-sex marriage month

The legislative debate over same-sex marriage will get going in the Maryland Senate on Feb. 8.

That's the date Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman Brian Frosh has set for a hearing on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, a bill that would allow Maryland to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The hearing is set for 1 p.m., and will wrap in all other bills "relating to same-sex marriage and civil unions," according to the schedule.

Additional bills could include the civil unions bill that Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, says he'll introduce.

A review by The Baltimore Sun indicates that the bill allowing full gay marriage rights has the support of exactly enough senators and a bare majority of delegates on the Senate Judicial Proceedings and House Judiciary panels to proceed to floor votes.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario, Jr., has said that he'll wait and see if the Senate passes the bill before he takes it up in his committee.

Eighteen of the state's 47 senators have co-sponsored the Senate bill. The House companion has 58 of 141 delegates. Lawmakers pushing the issue in both chambers are counting votes and sound confident they can secure final passage.

But opponents, including the Maryland Catholic Conference and the National Organization for Marriage, disagree and say the votes are not there on the floor. NOM, however, pledged to take the issue to the voters if it becomes law. If that happened, same-sex marriage could land on the 2012 ballot.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:03 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Bad drivers frequent Annapolis target over the years

Gov. Martin O'Malley wants bad drivers to pay additional fees -- an obscure revenue generating part of his budget that we wrote about in today's Sun.

But we didn't note that the concept has been kicked around in Annapolis frequently over the years. It was last embraced by O'Malley's predecessor and recent electoral foe former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. The Republican governor touted it as a way to discourage speeding and neglectful driving, according to a 2006 article in The Gazette.

Before that, the idea was championed by Sen. Rob Garagiola and Del. William Bronrott -- both Democrats from Montgomery County. That bill (the Driver Responsibility and First Responders Fund Act) would have levied a $50 fee for a fourth point on a license, and $300 for alcohol related offenses. It passed in the Senate in 2005 and 2006, but died in the House both years.

O'Malley's plan slaps a $100 fine on drivers for every point over five. Alcohol related offenses result in a $500 fee. The fines must be paid every year for three years -- and apply to in-state and out-of-state drivers convicted here. 

Similar fees have been adopted in four other states. Virginia drivers disliked the idea so much that the legislature repealed the fines a year after passage (and reimbursed motorists). Texas, Michigan and New Jersey also fine bad driving.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 27, 2011

Balto. Co. issues speed camera report

Baltimore County officials released a report today evaluating its 6-month-old speed camera program.

Speed cameras are in place in 15 school zones throughout the county. The first two sites were activated last March; all 15 cameras were in place by June.

A few highlights:

• The county issued 16,342 violations in July -- the first month that all cameras were in operation – a five-fold increase from the previous months.
• More than 3,000 potential violations were rejected throughout the year due to technical problems.
• Overall, the number of violations tends to decrease during the first several weeks after the camera is activated, although the overall level varies substantially among sites.
• There’s been an almost 52 percent decrease in the number of citations issued since August.
• Data involving car crashes is inconclusive. Six of the 15 locations had more traffic accidents within a one-fourth mile radius last year compared to previous years; eight had fewer. One had the same amount. Camera locations averaged 31 accidents per site before and after they were activated.
• Requests for additional cameras have come from Stoneleigh and Baltimore Highlands elementary schools, and Deer Park Middle School.
• 53,000 citations have been issued and 35,427 have been collected, generating $1.4 million. Contract costs have totaled about $1.1 million.
• Revenues go to a restricted account in the police department budget that can only be used for the actual program costs. Any additional funds may only be used for public safety projects such as technology/equipment enhancements, capital needs, staffing and matching funds.
• Additional staff will be needed for the program if it is expanded. The council is currently considering a bill that would lift the cap on the number of speed cameras.

The report, made public today, is dated Jan. 21.

-Raven L. Hill

Posted by Andy Rosen at 6:56 PM | | Comments (6)
        

Governor to seek horse racing subsidies, oversight

Gov. Martin O'Malley wants state officials to review the financial documents of private horse tracks in exchange for giving track owners access to millions of dollars per year in subsidies if they need the money to operate.

Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, praised the governor's intervention efforts but called the proposal "a Band-Aid on an arterial wound." The administration and lawmakers have wrestled for years with how to save horse racing -- and the jobs and land preservation that accompany the struggling industry.

In legislative briefings today and Wednesday, O'Malley's aides said the forthcoming proposal would look similar to the emergency deal the governor struck at the end of the year, when the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Laurel Park in Anne Arundel County and Pimlico in Baltimore, said it did not have enough money to pay for a full, 146-day racing calendar this year.

The state gave the Jockey Club, operated by MI Developments and Penn National Gaming, $3.6 million in money generated by the fledgling slot-machine gambling program. It is supposed to be used for track improvements. Instead, it'll be used just to keep the tracks open.

Joseph Bryce, O'Malley's top legislative aide, said the administration is crafting bills that would give track owners ongoing access to slots money for operations -- a proposal that would last "a couple of years."

Under current law, 2.5 percent of slots money goes into an account that tracks are to use for upgrades. It is split 80/20 between the Jockey Club and the two harness tracks, Rosecroft in Prince George's County and Ocean Downs on the Eastern Shore.

The O'Malley legislation will enable track owners to use that money for operations if they can show the state that they need it, as they did this year. Bryce said the legislation will charge the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation with reviewing the financial books of the owners.

The legislation also will contain provisions for monthly communication between the owners and DLLR Secretary Alex Sanchez and require auditing when necessary, Bryce said.

For harness racing, owners could not draw more than $1.2 million for operations per year. The Jockey Club could access about as much as it did this year. Bryce said the governor also wants the state to loan Rosecroft's new owners several million dollars right away to re-start live racing.

Some senators at yesterday's briefing questioned whether any amount of state aid can save horse racing. Others criticized the Jockey Club's long and pricey battle against the state's largest slots project, at Arundel Mills mall, at the same time it is taking state money. 

"It's not a perfect confluence of events," Bryce said. "But they own the stadiums, and no one can race without them."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Administration, Slots
        

State senator called to duty in Georgia

As a delegate for eight years, J.B. Jennings didn't miss a single vote. As a new senator, he'll miss nearly his entire first legislative session.

That's because Jennings has been activated for a federal training mission in Georgia for the Air National Guard. It begins Wednesday and concludes April 30 -- weeks after the current 90-day session draws to a close.

Jennings, a Republican representing parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, said in a press release this morning that he'll return to Maryland for some voting sessions, at his own expense, but he acknowledged he'll miss some votes.

"I wish I could be in two places at once," he said in the release. "Being in Annapolis is very important to me. However, being fully trained and ready to serve as a member of our armed forces is also very important."

Jennings learned about his activation in November. He said he told Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller last month but shared the news on the Senate floor this morning -- an announcement that coincided with the General Assembly's fallen heroes ceremony.

During the morning session, Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, a Prince George's County Democrat, announced the names of nine senators (himself included) who had served in the military, plus Jennings, who is serving now. Peters also read the names of Marylanders who have died in action in the past year.

Jennings' colleagues gave him a standing ovation when he explained his mission. He'll be training in a C-27, a new military aircraft, as a loadmaster. He's a private pilot, but in the military, he is part of the crew. His duties include monitoring flight systems and fuel management, as well as overseeing the plane's troops and cargo.

After training in Georgia, he'll return to his home base, Warfield Air National Guard Base at Martin State Airport, and continue gaining experience on the C-27. He said he expects his unit to be deployed overseas in the near future. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:55 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 26, 2011

House same-sex marriage bill gets 58 sponsors

* Updated links on jump take you to lists of Senate and House sponsors. 

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve today submitted the House plan to legalize same-sex marriage -- a proposal backed by 58 delegates who have signed on as co-sponsors.

Barve described the number of supporters as "pretty darn good" for a controversial issue. The House would need 71 "yes" votes to pass the legislation. 

It's another sign that gay marriage has gained traction this year. Maryland would join six other states and the District of Columbia if either full marriage benefits or a compromise civil unions plan is passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has said he would do so.

Notably, 12 members of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that will weigh whether to send the measure on for debate in the entire chamber, are co-sponsors, according to a list of signatures provided to The Sun this morning. That's exactly the number needed to approve the bill in committee.

The Senate bill was introduced last week with 18 co-sponsors. Among the names were six senators on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee -- the number the legislation needs for initial approval. It needs the support of 24 senators for passage in that chamber.

Here's the House bill.

It does not appear that any Republicans are listed as co-sponsors of either the House or Senate bill. Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, has said he will introduce a civil unions proposal this session.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:57 AM | | Comments (32)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Imposter tweets for Hoyer during SOTU

Michael Kinsley defined a gaffe in Washington as a moment in which someone accidentally tells the truth.

Still, the messages on Rep. Steny Hoyer's Twitter account during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night suggested a shocking new level of candor, particularly from the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives.

“This AZ thing is working out for us very well,” read one Tweet attributed to the Southern Maryland Democrat and captured by blogger Steve Lunceford. “Look how Republicans fell for this bi-partisan seating crap.”

“He is going to veto bills with Earmarks?” Hoyer appeared to ask in another. “Load of Bull! He promised this a year or two ago. Whatever. At least the fool McCain is happy.”

In fact, Hoyer's old Twitter account – to which his official home page was still linked Tuesday night – was taken over by an imposter.

When Republicans took control of the House this month, Hoyer went from majority leader to minority whip. He opened a new account, @WhipHoyer and abandoned his old @LeaderHoyer – leaving an opening for a hacker to step in.

"Main key to politics: say arongantly things that u dont believe,” the imposter wrote, according to Ben Smith at Politico (the Tweets have been taken down and the account has been suspended). “The clowns on the st will sell ur load to others & get u elected.”

And finally, a taunt, captured by Lunceford:

“This is what happens when political offices pay for high-priced, money-sucking ‘social media’ firms that have no clue what they are doing.”

A Hoyer spokeswoman opted to look on the bright side.

"Just goes to show that Steny Hoyer has made it big on Twitter," spokeswoman Katie Grant said. "They say impersonation is the best form of flattery."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
        

January 25, 2011

Business groups want transit funds in a lockbox

A constellation of Maryland business groups believe the state must raise more money for transportation, but they also want a constitutional amendment to wall off the funds so it can't be used elsewhere in the budget.

Members of the group, called START (State Transportation Alliance to Restore Trust), say they've become frustrated by Gov. Martin O'Malley's habit of closing budget shortfalls by raiding transit funds. In next year's budget, for example, O'Malley proposed taking $30 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to fill up the state's Rainy Day Fund.

Don Fry, the head of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said Tuesday that the repeated raids have caused "an undermining" of the Transportation Trust Fund. Kathy Snyder, the president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce said "hundreds of millions of dollars" are needed to attack a backlog of transportation projects, but her members are hesitant to support new revenues -- like a hike to the gas tax -- out of fear that the funds would be moved elsewhere.

A tax package aimed at replenishing the trust fund will be introduced in coming days by Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola, who also supports protecting the money for transit projects. He estimates the state needs an additional $400 to $600 million a year, but wouldn't provide details about his plan on Tuesday. One option frequently discussed is an increase to the gas tax: One penny nets the state $30 million.

But Garagiola has a timing problem if he wants an ironclad protection on money he'd raise this year. Changes to the state's constitution must be approved by the voters and they won't see another ballot until November 2012.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:36 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Administration
        

Roscoe Bartlett's date for SOTU: Nancy Pelosi

We posted earlier about Republicans and Democrats sitting together at President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Now we learn that Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Western Maryland, a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee and the new Tea Party Caucus, will be sitting with Democratic former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House Republicans' No. 1 target in their successful midterm elections.

“I look forward to sitting between two lovely ladies, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Judy Chu," Bartlett said in a statement. "I also look forward with great hope that Congress and all Americans will listen to President Obama give another speech in the spirit of his address in Tucson.”

The Baltimore-born Pelosi, for her part, apparently turned down the invitation of House Republican Leader Eric Cantor to ask Bartlett.

"I thank @GOPLeader for his #SOTU offer, but I invited my friend Rep. Bartlett from MD yesterday & am pleased he accepted," she Tweeted.

Members of Congress are planning to break up the traditional seating plan for the State of the Union address – Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other – and sit with members of the opposite party.

The idea follows the shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords this month that left six dead and 14 wounded; polls show it has broad public support.

Other Maryland-related pairings include Democratic Sen Barbara A. Mikulski and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Republican Rep. Andy Haris and Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, both from Baltimore County.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:11 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Table games on the table?

Leaders of the Maryland General Assembly said in interviews today that legislation seeking voter approval of table games such as poker and roulette could gain passage either this year or next. A gambling expansion has long been discussed, even though just two of five planned slots parlors are up and running.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he'd prefer to let the 2008 voter-approved slot-machine program get going before making any changes to it. Ground breaking for what will be the state's largest casino, at Arundel Mills Mall, is scheduled for Thursday. O'Malley, who isn't thrilled that slots are going there instead of Laurel Park race track, is slated to attend.  

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he believed any gaming expansion moves would "take place next year," rather than this year.

"There will be some sort of vetting of this issue over the summer," Busch predicted. "There will be discussions between the Senate leadership, the House leadership and the governor. ... I don't think it goes anywhere unless you have all three people" on board.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said there's a "strong possibility" his chamber -- which has had a more favorable view of gambling than the House -- will consider the table games legislation this year. But he acknowleged that the House holds the cards.

"The history in the House is that they don't take up issues such as this until the year they'd be on the ballot," Miller said.

That would be next year, for the presidential election.

When the time comes, Miller, who represents parts of Prince George's and Calvert counties, said he would like to see voters weigh in both on table games and on adding new slots sites -- namely Prince George's Rosecroft Raceway, a long-struggling harness track up for sale.

-- By Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Slots
        

Marylanders mixing it up at State of the Union

Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation are joining the effort to mix things up at the State of the Union Address Tuesday night.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Andy Harris and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger are some of the many members of Congress who are planning to break up the traditional seating plan for the event – Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other – and sit with members of the opposite party.

The idea follows the shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords this month that left six dead and 14 wounded; polls show it has broad public support.

Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, is planning to sit with Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican.

Cummings has championed broadening access to pediatric dentistry, particularly in poor communities, since the 2007 death of Deamonte Driver, the 13-year-old Prince George’s County boy who succumbed to an infected abcess after his mother was unable to afford a routine tooth extraction.

Gosar is a dentist.

“I am pleased to have a chance to discuss this critical cause with Dr. Gosar,” Cummings said in a statement. “The death of Deamonte Driver was a seminal moment in my life, and in the lives of so many in the dental community who have fought to see dental and oral health education and treatment, particularly for children, reach an equal footing with other types of healthcare. Dr. Gosar has dedicated his life to this crucial service and I salute him for that. As well, he is a member of the Arizona delegation in which my good friend Gabrielle Giffords serves. It will be my pride to share stories with him about this beautiful public servant who we both pray will rejoin our body as soon as possible.”

Gosar said he is “looking forward to sitting with Rep. Cummings and learning more about his passion for children’s healthcare.”

“I admire the Congressman's dedication to this important issue,” he said. “We share the values of ensuring good health care for children and all Americans. I am encouraged by the response of all our colleagues thus far – it is time we put our country first and move past the partisan rhetoric and focus on solutions that will make our country a better, stronger place.”

Mikulski, a Democrat, will be sitting with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who won reelection in November as a write-in candidate after losing the GOP primary to Sarah Palin endorsee Joe Miller.

Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, and Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, are sitting with each other.

Earlier, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland – the No. 2 Democrat in the House – endorsed the new seating arrangements.

“I believe Congress has a responsibility to set an example of less ugly, less divisive debate,” he said. “I believe that members of both parties can symbolize our common citizenship and common interests by sitting together to hear the president’s remarks, rather than divided across the aisle by party. A gesture like this won’t make partisanship disappear, nor should it—democracy is built on strong disagreements between the parties. But this gesture … should help end the political theater of repeatedly seeing one side of the aisle rise in applause, as the other sits still. We must always consider ourselves Americans first, and Democrats or Republicans second. It is my hope that this new tradition can remind us that, no matter what our differences, we all come to Congress with the nation’s best interests at heart.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:32 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Washington
        

Ruppersberger named top Democrat on Intel

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has named Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Ruppersberger’s appointment Tuesday as ranking member – leader of the minority party – puts the Baltimore County Democrat in position to chair the committee should Democrats regain control of the House.

“I want to ensure that our men and women in the intelligence community have the resources to keep our country safe, even in an era of tight budgets,” Ruppersberger, a longtime member of the committee, said in a statement. “I also want to ensure proper Congressional oversight for our intelligence agencies, and I look forward to using my expertise as Chairman of the Technical and Tactical Intelligence Subcommittee [in the previous Congress] to maintain the strength of our intelligence capability.”

Pelosi, herself a former member of the intelligence committee, said Ruppersberger “brings years of experience to his new role – and he will be a strong voice for our safety in the 112th Congress.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, now chairs intelligence.

Ruppersberger’s district is home to the National Security Agency.

He is the third Maryland Democrat to be named ranking member of a House committee in the current Congress. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore is the top Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County is the top Democrat on the Budget Committee.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:44 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Advocates, lawmakers kick off gay marriage push

A dozen lawmakers from the Maryland House and Senate formally kicked off their push for gay marriage this afternoon using sweeping comparisons to the civil rights battles and generational shifts in attitude.

House freshman Keiffer Mitchell from Baltimore said "years from now children will ask where you were" on the issue. "History will record where we stood." He held up a pen used by Gov. Spiro Agnew to sign the law allowing interracial marriage, and said he hopes to have a similar stylus from Gov. Martin O'Malley this year if gay marriage passes.

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve said the bill "goes to the very core of what it means to be an American." He also reference the next generation. "Twenty years from now I look forward to the day when young people will say 'What was the big deal?'"

The Senate bill, sponsored by Majority Leader Rob Garagiola and Sen. Rich Madaleno, was introduced last week and has a total of 18 sponsors. Twenty-four votes are needed for final passage, though the bill will almost definitely be subject to a filibuster. Garagiola said advocates are working "very, very hard" to secure the votes to overcome that hurdle.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:42 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 24, 2011

Montel Williams urges passage of medical marijuana

An emotional Montel Williams joined legislators today in Annapolis to urge the General Assembly to legalize medical marijuana.

The talk show host and Baltimore native suffers from multiple sclerosis and says he uses marijuana -- and nine other medications -- every day to alleviate pain. He tearfully said traditional opiates don't work for him any longer. "I've used too many," he said.

At his side were Sens. Jamie Raskin and David Brinkley, both cancer survivors who, though they said they don't use marijuana, can understand why some patients need the drug. They are among several Maryland lawmakers who are sharing personal stories this year to advocate for legislation.

Also sponsoring the medical marijuana proposal is Del. Dan Morhaim, the Assembly's only medical doctor. "I'm convinced that marijuana has a real medical role," he said at the press conference.

The lawmakers who have drafted the plan said it is tightly crafted to limit marijuana use to patients who have been prescribed the drug by their regular doctor, after having tried other remedies.

The legislation is similar to a bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House of Delegates. Morhaim said that he took into account concerns expressed last year by fellow delegates, and this year's bill further tightens how physicians can prescribe it and explicitly prohibits all use in motor vehicles.

The bill is slated to be introduced this week, its sponsors said. It is expected to have bipartisan support: Even new Senate minority leader Nancy Jacobs is signing on as a co-sponsor.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:27 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 23, 2011

Just announced: O'Malley's legislative agenda

Gov. Martin O'Malley this afternoon released his legislative agenda for the year -- a package of 15 or so bills that focus on the economy, health care and the environment. Pension reform, previewed Friday when the governor unveiled his budget, is one major element. O'Malley, a former mayor of Baltimore, also is pursuing gun crime legislation that the city has been after for years.

Summaries of all the governor's bills are available here.

One unanticipated new item would criminalize child neglect. "According to Maryland's child advocacy community, Maryland is the only state without a statute criminalizing child neglect," the governor wrote in his description of the proposed legislation.

Two more familiar ideas also appear on the governor's safety agenda: a bill to reduce the number of "good-time credits" a person convicted of a gun crime can receive in prison and a proposal to "close a loophole" on gun crimes by making the five years without parole penalty apply not just to violent criminals who use a handgun, but also ones who use a shotgun or rifle.

The centerpiece of O'Malley's legislative agenda -- his fifth as governor -- is the creation of a $100 million venture capital fund called Invest Maryland. Sun business reporter Gus Sentementes took a close look at the program in Saturday's Sun, writing: "The state would invest in small businesses and start-up companies — partially through the dormant Maryland Venture Fund — and would reap both the risks and rewards."

Similar program in other states (Louisiana, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Texas and the District of Columbia) have been criticized for "being expensive and ineffective in terms of creating jobs and new businesses," Sentementes wrote. "But O'Malley's plan differs in a few key areas: Maryland would invest in companies with expectations of recouping its entire principal investment, plus 80 percent of the profits."

Another plan O'Malley will push this session requires power companies to buy electricity from offshore wind turbines off Maryland's coast. The idea excites environmentalists who believe it will help make Maryland a center for wind energy. No turbines exist in Maryland waters, but President Obama has pledged to expedite the permitting process.

On pension reform, O'Malley laid out a plan to shore-up the state's sagging system by reducing benefits for new employees and requiring current workers to pay more into the program. It saves the state $100 million next year, but has already sparked outrage from the leadership of state workers' unions.

And Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown once again will lead a health care effort: His role this session will be to push a proposal that creates the framework for insurance exchanges, a prerequisite for enacting the president health care overhaul.

-- By Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:30 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 22, 2011

Rawlings-Blake loses bet, dons Steelers garb

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has honored the bet she lost to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, releasing a YouTube video in which she salutes the Steelers for beating the Ravens in last weekend's playoff game.

In the two-minute video, Rawlings-Blake briefly dons the jersey of Steelers receiver Hines Ward, before moving off camera to change into a black blouse highlighted by a purple scarf, which she declares to be much better.

The tone is mostly conciliatory, as she points to the two cities' shared history:

"Both Baltimore and Pittsburgh have deep roots as blue-collar cities, and the people respect tough, hard-hitting football."

But Rawlings-Blake closes with a small salvo, allowing the clip to end with an outtake in which somebody in the background shouts, "Boo!" to the mayor's concession that the Steelers were the "superior football team."

Here are the terms of the bet, courtesy of Rawlings-Blake's office:

"The mayor of the losing team must send the other mayor some food that is unique to the city. Mayor Rawlings-Blake agreed to send a tray of crab cakes from Faidley’s Seafood in Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market. ... Mayor Ravenstahl agreed to send a plate of delicious sandwiches courtesy of Primanti Bros. Restaurant, Steeler-inspired Smiley cookies from Eat’n Park, and various other Pittsburgh-based goodies.

In addition to the food, the mayor of the losing team must post a social media message stating, “[The Winning Team] are superior to the [Losing Team].” Also, the mayor of the losing team will post a video pronouncing the winning team’s superiority while wearing the winning team’s jersey."

Posted by Andy Rosen at 12:46 PM | | Comments (11)
        

Jacobs as first female Senate minority leader

Sen. Nancy Jacobs appears to have made history Friday when she was chosen as minority leader of the Maryland Senate. No woman has held that post, at least as far back as 1953, according to Johanne Greer, director of library and information services at the Maryland General Assembly.

Jacobs, who represents Cecil and Harford counties and was minority whip for two Assembly sessions, has been in the Senate for a dozen years and replaces Sen. Allan H. Kittleman. The Howard County Republican stepped down this week over a divisive policy issue: civil unions.

Astute readers noted this morning that a woman, Sen. Rosalie Abrams, held the majority leadership position from 1978 to 1982. Born in 1916 in Baltimore, Abrams was a registered nurse and delegate before her 14-year stint in the Senate.

Asked about her place in history as the first female Senate minority leader, Jacobs said she was "just happy the 11 men in my caucus think I'm worthy. That's special."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 21, 2011

Sen. Nancy Jacobs becomes Senate minority leader

* Updated with statements after the jump.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs has been elected the Senate's new minority leader -- a surprising turn of events given that just weeks ago she was voted out of her position as minority whip.

Jacobs, who represents Cecil and Harford counties, assumes the leadership position immediately. She replaces Sen. Allan H. Kittleman of Howard County, who resigned this week -- also a surprise move -- because his push for civil unions was causing friction within the caucus.

The Senate's 12 Republicans held a meeting this afternoon to choose their new leader, also selecting the Eastern Shore's Sen. E.J. Pipkin as minority whip. Pipkin replaces Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican who had been vying for the minority leader position.

From a freshly released GOP statement:

"I am honored and humbled by the support of my colleagues in electing me Minority Leader," said Jacobs. "While there are many difficult issues we need to address during this legislative session, I look forward working with my fellow senators to ensure Maryland's success."

"We have significant budgetary challenges facing us in the 2011 legislative session," Pipkin said, "fortunately I feel that our caucus has a united sense of mission and passion in facing these challenges. I'm ready to get to work."

From Maryland Republican Party Chairman (and former state senator) Alex X. Mooney:

“I want to congratulate newly elected Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs and Senate Minority Whip E.J. Pipkin on their new leadership positions. Senators Jacobs and Pipkin are excellent public servants and I look forward to working with them closely in their new roles. Together, with the new leadership, I am confident we can work diligently toward providing an alternative voice to the calls for tax increases coming from the Democrats in the General Assembly.”

Excerpts from Maryland Democratic Party release:

"Maryland Republicans Take Another Hard Right Turn: Maryland’s Senate Republicans today affirmed that they are out of touch and out of new ideas by choosing Nancy Jacobs to lead their dwindling State Senate caucus. ... Rather than come together to help move Maryland forward, the elections of Jacobs and E.J. Pipkin personify the Republican establishment’s unwillingness to build consensus in Annapolis. Nancy Jacobs is wedded to positions that are far-right, divisive and out of the mainstream."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:41 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Gay marriage legislation filed in General Assembly

Lawmakers have already put together several bills to legalize same-sex unions -- ensuring the topic will see robust debate in the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day session that began last week. Advocates, and even many legislative leaders, believe some form of gay marriage or civil unions will pass this year.

This morning, Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola of Montgomery County introduced the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (SB116), the preferred plan of gay-rights activists. The legislation would permit same-sex couples to marry but would not require churches to perform the unions.

The House version of that bill is scheduled to be introduced next week by House Majority Leader Kumar Barve of Montgomery County. Equality Maryland, the majority leaders and other lawmakers and same-sex couples will promote the twin bills at a press conference Tuesday in Annapolis.  

Also percolating this year is Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons' Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (HB55), which carries the same name as the majority leaders' bill but appears to be slightly different. Simmons is a Montgomery County Democrat and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which will listen to testimony on all of the marriage bills.

The most vocal supporter of an alternative to gay marriage -- civil unions -- this year has been Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican. Kittleman said he believes that gay and straight couples alike should be able to enter civil contracts that solidify their partnerships. He resigned this week as Senate minority leader when it became clear that the 11 other Republicans in his caucus do not share that view. 

Gay-rights activists have praised Kittleman's proposal, which does not appear to have been filed yet, as a step in the right direction. But a civil unions plan falls short, they say, because same-sex couples are treated differently than straight ones.

Opponents are gearing up, as well. This morning, Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel County Republican, was talking to fellow colleagues about a bill he will soon introduce to counteract Maryland's new policy of extending marriage protections to same-sex unions that were lawfully performed in other states.

Last year, Dwyer was the leading opponent of an opinion produced by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler saying the state should recognize those unions even though marriage is defined in Maryland law as between a man and a woman.

Dwyer's coming legislation would establish that marriage between a man and a woman is the only legally valid union in the state. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:33 PM | | Comments (36)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, Families
        

Grim state budget includes good news for some

Environmentalists will have something to cheer in Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget plan for next year: The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund is set to receive slightly more money than in previous years.

O'Malley plans to transfer about $20 million from it -- a large chunk -- but one that is smaller than in previous years.

We have a story in today's Sun outlining some budget highlights along with a few details about the governor's plans to fix the pension system. The governor will formally present  the budget in a news conference this afternoon.

Details include:

* O'Malley closes a $1.35 billion budget hole with about $950 million in cuts and about $400 in transfers;

* The governor freezes funding for K-12 education at last year's levels, which will be painful for schools but is not as tough as the rumored 5 percent cut;

* Health care gets the largest whack, with about $250 million in lower Medicaid payments to hospitals;

* State workers will not see furloughs, relief that could be short lived. O'Malley also will ask them to pay more into their pension plan;

* The governor will again go to the capital budget to backfill operating costs, taking $200 million from a fund meant for construction projects. In the past O'Malley has bonded more of those projects.

The plan will have to be approved by the General Assembly, which has the ability to cut further. The legislative body can also raise taxes -- an option county government might like since they are not set to have their road repair money restored.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 7:19 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 20, 2011

Montel Williams wants medical marijuana legalized

Baltimore-born talk show host Montel Williams will be in Annapolis next week to lend support to an effort to legalize medical marijuana, according to a delegate sponsoring the bill.

Williams is open about his use of medical marijuana to treat pain associated with multiple sclerosis. One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, said his own battle with cancer years ago led him to conclude the drug should be legalized for medical purposes, though he said he did not use it.

Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat and the legislature's only medical doctor, also is sponsoring the bill.

Morhaim said in his release about Williams that the legislation would "allow, under narrow and well-defined circumstances, marijuana to be safely and responsibly obtained and used for bona-fide medical purposes only."

Similar legislation easily passed the Senate last year but was held up by a House of Delegates committee. Williams is scheduled to appear in Annapolis Monday afternoon.

(photo credit: Associated Press)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Rawlings-Blake opens wide fundraising lead

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has $842,000 in her campaign account, putting her far ahead of the fundraising pack for those challenging her for the mayor's seat.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh, who is rumored to be contemplating a run, has $252,000 cash in hand, putting her in second place.

Former city planning director Otis Rolley, whose campaign has generated more buzz than the other challengers, has $106,000 in his account, which, he said yesterday, is better than he had a hoped to raise by this point.

Councilman Carl Stokes, who has been chatting with political consultants about a possible campaign, is lagging far behind on fundraising with just $14,700 in his account.

Reports for other potential challengers, including Clerk of Court Frank Conaway Sr., Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors Vice President Josepth T. "Jody" Landers, and car salesman Scott Donahoo, are not yet available, but we hope to get them later on today. 

 

Posted by Julie Scharper at 12:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall
        

At inaugural ball, O'Malley marches

Gov. Martin O'Malley's inaugural ball last night at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore drew about 2,500 supporters, including at least one in denim -- a departure from his first, a black-tie affair attended by more than 8,000.

The event capped a day of ceremony, with O'Malley's swearing-in and address in Annapolis.

The Saw Doctors, an Irish rock band, gave a repeat performance at the ball. And the usual suspects -- cabinet secretaries, county executives, lawmakers and administration and campaign staples -- made appearances.

In a heavily staged exchange, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake implored O'Malley to play a set with his band, O'Malley's March. The governor faux hemmed and hawed and then, no surprise, rolled up his sleeves and grabbed a guitar. (First lady Katie O'Malley told the crowd, "He's such a showboat.") His first song: Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line."

One surprise attendee: former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, who resigned about a year ago after a conviction and a plea in a gift-card misuse case. She held court at a stand-up table in the middle of the floor, greeting old friends and employees. Also swirling about was "Developer B," Patrick Turner, a star witness at Dixon's trial.

Guests' $75 tickets gave them access to an open bar of beer and wine -- no spirits -- and a buffet. The venue is a training facility for the Maryland National Guard also used an emergency shelter. Ticket sales and sponsors funded the event, said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

Oh, and that guy in denim? Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Rick Binetti. He did pair the jeans with a snappy blazer.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Martin O'Malley
        

January 19, 2011

Rolley trails far behind Rawlings-Blake in fundraising

Former city planning director Otis Rolley has raised $129,500 toward his bid for mayor, a fraction of the more than $800,000 Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has on hand.

But Rolley said in an emailed statement announcing his campaign's financial status that he "could not be more pleased."

"We have a carefully crafted plan to win this election, and our fundraising is going better than expected," Rolley said.

A performance comedian Bill Cosby gave for Rolley supporters last week garnered headlines -- but didn't net a lot of money-- a little more than $42,000.

A competing fundraiser held a few blocks away for Rawlings-Blake drew many of the city's top developers, lobbyists and business leaders and raked in more than $600,000.

Rolley said that his campaign has "received an outpouring of small contributions from hard-working people" some of whom gave as little as $5 or $10.

"In our campaign, small contributions are huge.," Rolley said. "Our supporters have been getting the word out about our movement to take Baltimore to a new level of excellence and people are excited. People who typically do not give are giving."

Full financial disclosure forms for all mayoral candidates -- as many as seven people are contemplating a bid -- will be made public tomorrow.

Conventional wisdom holds that between $1 and $1.5 million is needed to win the city's top office. Candidates have until late early July to register with the state Board of Elections and, in heavily Democrat Baltimore, the race is generally decided by the September primary. 

UPDATE:  Rolley has spent nearly $23,000 on campaign expenses, according his campaign filings.  He has about $106,000 cash on hand, about an eighth of what Rawlings-Blake has.  He spent nearly $12,000 on events, including $5000 for rent and catering for the Tremont Grand Hotel where the Cosby event was held.

 

Posted by Julie Scharper at 2:01 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: City Hall
        

O'Malley takes oath, delivers inaugural remarks

Gov. Martin Joseph O’Malley touched on themes of unity and progress in his inaugural address, delivered this afternoon on the steps of the State House shortly after he was sworn in for a second term.

The governor used the word “forward” a dozen times to express his hope that over the next four years the state will see businesses expand, education increase, crime go down, and the environment improve.

He urged tolerance and respect.

“We need each other just as much as the next generation needs us,” O’Malley said. “We cannot allow our individual sense of entitlement to tear apart our shared sense of community.”

He highlighted what he saw as his greatest achievements from the first term, including investments in bio-tech, renewable energy, lower homicide rates and decreased traffic deaths, and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

The address was short on specifics. O’Malley will unveil his budget Friday and introduce his legislative agenda for the 90-day session next week. Next month, he will deliver a State of the State address.

A festive mood ruled the capital Thursday, with the House and Senate meeting for a joint session to certify the November gubernatorial election results. Uniformed members of the Maryland National Guard milled around the State House hall, which were so slick from a new polish that lawmakers were slipping on the marble.

At noon, lawmakers assembled in the Senate chamber watch Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell administer the oath of office, first to Lt. Gov. Antony Gregory Brown and then to O’Malley.

The governor’s youngest son, Jack, 8, held a bible while O’Malley repeated the oath. Afterward O’Malley bent down, kissed the boy’s head and said, “You did a great job.”

The inaugural address followed on the steps of the State House. Onlookers packed Lawyer’s Mall for the ceremony, which was billed as a toned down affair compared with the pomp and celebration four years ago. An inaugural ball in Baltimore is planned for tonight.

Luminaries in the audience included Washington’s new mayor, Vincent Gray, a Democrat, and Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican who had actively campaigned against O’Malley. Also in the audience were Martin Curran, a cousin of O’Malley’s wife, O’Malley’s campaign manager Tom Russell and campaign volunteers and State House and administration employees.

Fewer state troopers attended; many law enforcement officers instead were in Baltimore for the funeral of city police officer Baltimore Officer William H. Torbit Jr., who was killed by another officer in a friendly fire encounter outside a nightclub. Another man and four others, including another officer, were also shot.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also was absent from the inauguration to be in Baltimore for the funeral.

-- By Annie Linskey.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:40 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Martin O'Malley
        

O'Malley to begin second term today

Lawmakers and VIPs will squeeze into Maryland's state Senate chamber at noon today to observe Gov. Martin O'Malley being sworn in for his second and final term in office. But the highlight occurs outside afterward when the governor takes the stage for his inaugural address.

The governor's been preparing for the speech in part by reading the beginning-of-term addresses given across the country by his fellow governors. "You see a theme emerging of the choices, the investments, the things we need to do" to return the country to a more prosperous path, he said in a recent interview.

O'Malley referred to some GOP governors as the "new secessionists"  who are part of "the make government go away crowd."

"The language is different then the language you are hearing from the Democratic governors," O'Malley said. "The difference between us and them is we're in the fight for our future. We have to make the right decisions today. There is certain urgency."

O'Malley was particularly stuck by a speech given earlier this month by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, another second-term Democrat who presides over a left-of-center state. Patrick stressed that his state leads the country in education and health care, and is creating jobs at a fast clip. Gloucester Times writer Chris Cassidy summarized the speech thusly: "It laid out an agenda of creating jobs, strengthening schools, cutting health care costs and ending urban violence."

O'Malley said it "might have been given in Maryland."

After a 14-point victory in a Republican year, O'Malley enters his second term in a position of enviable strength, a topic we wrote about in today's Sun. He also benefits from a Democratic-controlled state legislature at home and a new national position as the head of the DGA, which could let him reach a wider audience.

But he also faces challenges: He says this year's budget will the the toughest he's ever introduced and he also hopes to tackle the ballooning pension costs this year.

Among the dignitaries expected to attend today's festivities is Virgina Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who worked actively to unseat O'Malley during the recent campaign. In one episode, the Virginia governor made a personal round of phone calls to reporters writing stories about the Republican Governors Association backing away from O'Malley's rival, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich  Jr.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Administration
        

January 18, 2011

Baltimore Co. Council appointments

The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved two interim high-level appointments at Monday's meeting, reports The Sun's Raven Hill.

George Klunk was appointed acting director of the Office of Economic Development. Michael J. Mayhew was named acting director of the Office of Planning.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced the appointments last month as part of his leadership team.

Klunk is now filing the post vacated by David Iannucci, whom Kamenetz did not keep on staff from former executive James T Smith Jr.'s administration.

Posted by baltimoresun.com at 10:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: In The Counties, People
        

Marylanders remember Sargent Shriver

Peace Corps founder Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., who died today at age 95, was born in Westminster and remained a memorable presence in Maryland throughout his life. State elected leaders on Tuesday shared stories about him and praised his legacy, which also includes work on school integration, poverty and the Special Olympics.

In the early 1970s, while Shriver was serving as ambassador to France, supporters led a "come home, Sarge" campaign to recruit him to run for governor. Instead, in 1972, he stepped in as Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern's candidate for vice president.

Shriver and wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver would later become a frequent visitors to Annapolis when their son, Mark K. Shriver, was elected a Montgomery County delegate in 1994, serving two terms. Niece Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was Maryland's lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003 and ran for governor in 2002.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a fellow Montgomery delegate and seatmate of Mark Shriver's, said that in addition to being a national figure, Sargent Shriver was "a great Marylander, and we’re proud him in our state.”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Del. Sheila Hixson share their memories after the jump.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in an interview:

Noting the August 2009 deaths of her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and aunt, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Townsend said the passing of Sargent Shriver marks "the end of an amazing generation."

She described her uncle as the personification of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

"He had a great belief that you can get things done, that if you challenge people, they will respond," she said.

As an uncle, she said, he was "always extremely supportive. He was always right there, wanting to talk with you, to discuss anything with you. He wanted to know what we were thinking, what was going on inside."

She remembered her uncle and aunt inviting people over for dinner to discuss ideas. His deep Catholicism, she said, was at the base of many of those conversations and "certainly influenced his devotion to the Peace Corps and the war on poverty."

She said her cousins, including Mark Shriver and former California first lady Maria Shriver, are a testament to the way Sargent and Eunice raised them: They’re all engaged in public service and "have done extraordinary work."

"What I also find terrific about my cousins is how close they all are as a family and how supportive and loving they have been to each other and to their parents," she said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, in a statement:

"As a Maryland native, Sargent Shriver embodied the ideals we share as One Maryland -- our belief in the dignity of every individual and in our own responsibility to advance the greater good. ... Sargent Shriver’s overwhelming optimism and energy brightened our nation in its darkest times and served to defend the very ideals our country was built upon."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, in an interview:

"He had a great personality, a great wit," said Miller, who came to know Shriver during his 1972 vice-presidential run. "He was a great statesman who added a lot of strength to the Kennedy family."

Miller added that Shriver was "a role model for the whole world in terms of giving back."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, in an interview:

Busch, a legislator since 1987 who served with Mark Shriver, remembered the elder Shriver as "first and foremost a family man, dedicated to the country and serving people."

Sargent Shriver "cared about individuals and people, people who did not have a voice," Busch said. He also noted that Sargent and Eunice both "had a great sense of humor. They laughed with you and at themselves. You could kid with them, tease them. They were a great couple to be around."

Comptroller Peter Franchot, in an interview:

"He’s one of the very few people I’ve met in my life that had such a big impact on our country," Franchot said. Both he and Eunice "left the country a better place."

"I’ll remember him for his joyful demeanor. I love the tone that he struck in public life, which I think is sorely lacking these days. It was rich, substantive."

Del. Sheila Hixson, in an interview:

Hixson, who served with Mark Shriver as a Montgomery County delegate, remembered when Sargent Shriver was ambassador to France and some Democrats launched a "come home, Sarge" campaign to recruit him for a gubernatorial race.

Later she was working at the Democratic National Committee when Shriver was on the vice presidential ticket. "He was a gentleman and very classy," she said.

"In this time now when civility seems to be losing in the political world we need more people like him who can cross lines and cross bridges," she said.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:40 PM | | Comments (0)
        

O'Malley, Sebelius warn of repeal consequences

Obama officials say as many as 2.5 million Marylanders could lose coverage if federal health care reform is repealed, The Sun's Kelly Brewington is reporting on the Picture of Health blog.

In a conference call today, U.S. health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Gov. Martin O'Malley talked to reporters about the consequences of repealing President Barack Obama's health care reform act.

O'Malley said without reform health care costs would continue to rise. Those soaring costs have been a huge drain on businesses, stifling the economy, he said. 

"There is no way our business can expand if we are watching health care costs rise by 50 percent and wages stay stagnant," he said.

O'Malley said Maryland is looking forward to implementing the health care law. In fact, just last week, a state panel gave O'Malley a 16-point plan with recommendations on how to roll out health reform in the state.

"We firmly believe in Maryland that this is important, not only to create more affordable more comprehensive health care for all, but we see this as an opportunity to make our economy more competitive," O'Malley said.

Hop over to Picture of Health to read the full entry.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Martin O'Malley
        

Sex offender registry still not in federal compliance

Despite major efforts last year by Maryland lawmakers to get tough on sex offenders and expand the offender registry, the state still is not in compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act, a public safety official told senators today.

Noncompliance could cost the state more than half a million dollars in federal grant money for law enforcement agencies.

In the wake of the December 2009 killing of an 11-year-old Eastern Shore girl who'd been in contact with a registered sex offender, lawmakers last year made reform of the part of the criminal code a priority. Gov. Martin O'Malley pushed a package of bills that included revamping the registry -- a move that lawmakers believed would bring them into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act.

Changes included adding the names of those who commit sexually motivated acts of indecent exposure or possess child pornography and requiring people who list themselves as "homeless" to provide more information about where they are living. The registry includes nearly 7,000 people now.

The problem, said David P. Wolinski, who administers the registry, is that Maryland does not require lifetime registration of juveniles convicted of the most serious sex crimes, a necessity under the Adam Walsh Act.

"That's the one hang up," Wolinski told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "Otherwise everything else is fine. We've made a lot of progress." 

Only about four states are in compliance with the Adam Walsh Act, Wolinksi said. Still, Maryland's failure to meet its strict standards means the state is set to lose about 10 percent of federal public safety money known as the Edward J. Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program. The state received about $6 million in Byrne money last fiscal year, according to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, which distributes grant money.

Otherwise, Wolinski said, the registry expansion is "going well." Within a month, corrections officials will begin adding a "plain-language" description of the crime for which each offender was convicted, another requirement signed into law last year.

Fewer than 500 of the registrants -- about 6.7 percent -- are listed as "noncompliant" or "absconders," according to data distributed by Wolinski. 

Some lawmakers have suggested that the General Assembly might take another look at the registry this year, but this time with an eye toward removing some kinds of low-level offenders. No bills concerning the registry have been introduced yet this year.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:25 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Crime & Justice, Law and Courts
        

Court rejects Md. challenge to D.C. marriage law

The Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a Maryland pastor and others seeking to overturn the District of Columbia's same-sex marriage law.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, has led the lawsuit against the district's elections board for rejecting a ballot measure defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman on the District of Columbia ballot.

The Supreme Court turned away the appeal on Tuesday without comment. Washington began recognizing sane-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions in 2009, and began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples last year.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:56 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Rawlings-Blake has $800K in the bank

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is starting her mayoral campaign with a pretty penny in the bank-- she has $800,000 cash-in-hand, fundraiser Colleen Martin-Lauer told me last night.

More than $600,000 came through an event Rawlings-Blake held last week at The Hippodrome, at the same time comedian Bill Cosby was stumping for her challenger, Otis Rolley.

We'll get a better sense of how the other candidates stack up on Thursday when campaign finance reports are made public. Other potential challengers include State Sen. Catherine Pugh, Councilman Carl Stokes, Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice president Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, and Clerk of Court Frank Conaway.

Martin-Lauer, who also handles fundraising for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said $800,000 is a "pretty significant number to be at in January before the campaign really starts."

Rawlings-Blake was appointed mayor last February following the resignation of Sheila Dixon to settle criminal charges.

Although Rawlings-Blake was not elected mayor, she benefits from her incumbent status in drawing the donors with deep pockets. Her fundraiser last week boasted a host committee that included many of the city's top developers and business leaders.

Political observers say between $1 and $1.5 million is needed to win mayoral race in Baltimore. With $800,000 in hand in January, Rawlings-Blake could be well on her way to meeting her fundraising goals.


Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: City Hall
        

Kittleman to step aside as minority leader

Senate GOP leader Allan Kittleman told his caucus this morning that he will step aside as minority leader, heeding concerns from other Republican senators who voiced discomfort over his decision to introduce a civil unions bill.

"I'm a social moderate and I wanted to stand up for what I believe in," Kittleman, from Howard County, said in a brief interview this morning before going to the Senate floor. “It is more important for me to stay true to my beliefs than it is for me to be the Minority Leader,” he said.

Speaking on the Senate floor he it was "no secret" that he is left of his caucus on social issues. He said the caucus would "feel more comfortable" with a different leader.

Kittleman said that he was not asked by anyone to leave the leadership position. He has held it for two years. "It is my decision and my decision alone," Kittleman said. 

He said the GOP will select a new leader on Friday and he will continue in his position until then.

A candidate for the position could include Sen. David Brinkley of Frederick, who has led the caucus in the past and was elected minority whip this year.

House Minority Leader Tony O'Donnell said Kittleman's decision was "news to me."

"The senator knows what's best for him and for his constituents," O'Donnell said. He said he has "no preference" on his senate leader counterpart.

Asked to comment on Kittleman's decision, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said: "What happens in the minority stays in the minority."

He called Kittleman "A fine man and a wonderful statesperson."

(Photo by Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz; Kittleman, on the left, consults with Brinkley on the Senate floor.)


Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:14 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Border politics in Maryland

Maryland -- 500 miles from Canada and 1,700 from Mexico -- is far from the country's borders. But that's not stopping state politicians from taking up immigration reform. This morning, The Sun reported on how the federal government's inaction on immigration has left it to Maryland and other states to develop policies.

Estimates of the state's population of illegal immigrants run as high as 250,000. Some lawmakers, including Baltimore County Republican Del. Pat McDonough, believe Maryland's policies have made it a "sanctuary state." He'd like that to change and says he is drafting 16 bills to crack down on illegal immigrants. One piece of legislation would require proof of citizenship to receive public benefits.

Other lawmakers are appealing to their colleagues to allow undocumented students of Maryland public schools to pay in-state tuition, rather than higher rates, at state colleges and universities. Democratic Sens. Victor Ramirez of Prince George's County and Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County will be spearheading that effort. Maryland has already approved in-state tuition once (Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. then vetoed it), and 10 other states have similar policies.

Legislative leaders of the Democrat-heavy General Assembly say the in-state tuition bill is likely to gain the most traction this year. It's sure to inspire heated words on the House and Senate floors, perhaps reminiscent of the tear- and anger-streaked driver's license debate of 2009.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:30 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Immigration
        

January 17, 2011

Maryland lawmakers commemorate MLK

Maryland lawmakers will remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this evening with commemorative speeches in both chambers.

Earlier, many legislators participated in another tradition: a wreath-laying ceremony just outside the State House. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Sen. Catherine Pugh presided over the ceremony. As an icy rain fell, Brown thanked the shivering lawmakers for their service, reminding them that King had said, "Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve."

Other lawmakers shouted famous King quotes, and the group ended by singing "We Shall Overcome."

King-themed speeches will be given by tonight Del. Shawn Tarrant, a Baltimore Democrat, and Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 14, 2011

Bob and Kendel Ehrlich said to be shopping radio show around

Bob and Kendel EhrlichLess than a week after WBAL Radio said Kendel Ehrlich was leaving the station to spend more time at her kids' sporting events, she and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich were said to be shopping their radio show around.

Maybe the Ehrlichs found life on the sidelines wasn't what it was cracked up to be.

The Ehrlichs and longtime aide Greg Massoni were at WCBM Thursday to talk about doing a show there, a source tells me. I called the AM talk station Friday afternoon and told General Manager Bob Pettit what I'd heard. Pettit neither confirmed nor denied the account.

"Where'd you hear that?" was his response.

He then added: "We’d love to have them here. They’re great people." 

My colleague David Zurawik reported last week that Kendel Ehrlich was leaving WBAL. Station officials told him her exit was unrelated to WBAL-TV's Jayne Miller's pressing Bob Ehrlich for comment on deceptive Election Day robocalls made on his behalf. 

WBAL officials said Kendel Ehrlich "was making the move in an effort to spend more time at Saturday sports events involving her family," Zurawik reported.

I tried to reach the Ehrlichs through Massoni but did not hear back from him right away. If he calls back, I'll update this post.

Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam


Posted by Laura Vozzella at 5:51 PM | | Comments (7)
        

Presidential hopefuls, or not, at Republican retreat

Sun colleague Jean Marbella reports:

Another meal -- this time, lunch -- and another feeding for the media beast at the House Republican retreat being held at the Marriott Waterfront hotel in Inner Harbor East. With reporters not actually allowed inside any of the actual sessions, we await members and guests either holding press conferences, or snag them individually in the lobby.

This post-prandial feeding came at the hands of three GOP governors said to be mulling 2012 presidential bids -- Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Rick Perry of Texas and Bob McDonnell of Virginia. Introduced by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, each took the podium in a ballroom here to denounce what they called federal overstepping on states' responsibilities, particularly the new health care mandates and environmental regulations.

"This administration wants to come in and control your state," Perry said.

"This election," Barbour said of the November midterms that tipped the House majority from Democrat to Republican, "undoubtedly was a repudiation of President Obama's policies."

"It's unsustainable," McDonnell said of what he called the unfunded mandates related to the health care reform act.

None, however, admitted to harboring a direct challenge to Obama's presidency in 2012.

"I'm going to get through my day job before looking for my next job," Barbour said.

"That one, no," Perry said as he dashed in an elevator as he was asked if he was running for president.

Cantor said the governors were invited to speak to the House members as an acknowledgment of a central GOP tenet: "We don't believe all good ideas come out of Washington."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:10 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Baltimore mayor betting crab cakes on Ravens win

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is betting the mayor of Pittsburgh crab cakes and more that the Ravens will beat the Steelers in their divisional playoff on Saturday.

If Baltimore wins, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke RAVENstahl will send Rawlings-Blake a plate of sandwiches from Primanti Bros. Restaurant, Smiley cookies from Eat ’n Park and other Steeltown treats.

He’ll also have to post a video of himself in a Baltimore jersey declaring the Ravens’ superiority to the Steelers.

If Pittsburgh wins, Rawlings-Blake will owe Ravenstahl a tray of crab cakes from frin Faidley’s Seafood in Lexington Market. And she’ll be responsible for a video announcement of her own, in black and gold, proclaiming the Steelers’ superiority.

But she doesn’t believe it will come to that.

“Coach Harbaugh and the entire Ravens team are playing their best football right now, and I look forward to watching them win on Saturday,” Rawlings-Blake said in a release. “I am also excited to see how handsome my colleague, Mayor Ravenstahl, looks in purple and black!”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:56 PM | | Comments (3)
        

Bartlett, Harris, hear Gingrich, Gramm

Sun colleague Jean Marbella reports:

The House Republicans' retreat in Baltimore got under way this morning with a breakfast discussion about the federal budget -- but with a side order of electoral politics on the table as well.

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and perhaps future candidate for president, spoke at the breakfast attended by some of the more than 200 members of the new House majority gathered here for their annual winter retreat. He said his presidential ambitions did not come up, officially.

"Not directly," Gingrich said with a smile. "By the end of February, I'll decide whether to have an exploratory committee."

Caught in the main lobby after the breakfast as he was leaving town, Gingrich said the incoming GOP freshman class had some similarities with and some differences from the 1994 wave that he led, armed with their "Contract with America."

"They've arrived with a mission. They're very dedicated," he said. "They may be even more serious about studying and learning. They have a model of what works and what doesn't work."

One of those newly elected Republicans, Rep. Andy Harris, attended the breakfast, at which former Sen. Phil Gramm also spoke. He said he had been particularly interested in hearing the two speakers because of how they handled their own budget crisis during their terms.

"It was great hearing from the two people who were in charge the last time we brought the federal budget under control," Harris said.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland's other House Republican, called Gingrich and Gramm "two of my favorite people." The ten-term congressman from Western Maryland said much of the discussion focused on the coming vote to raise the government's debt ceiling -- something he has never supported.

"I do not think the sky would fall if we lived within our means," he said.

More speakers -- and more potential presidential candidates -- are on tap today. There will be three, actually, speaking at lunch, all governors: Rick Perry of Texas, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:50 AM | | Comments (7)
        

Lawmakers express bipartisan support for Ravens

It's the first Friday of the legislative session and, more importantly, the Ravens are still in the playoffs. The Baltimore team faces arch rival Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Delegates from Baltimore and beyond showed off Ravens jerseys and purple ties and posed for pictures after the brief and largely content-free morning session.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who also sported a jersey, introduced Baltimore Del. Curt Anderson as "chairman of the Ravens caucus." Anderson led the body in chants and remarked, "Baltimore, the city that reads ... Ed Reeds!"

Over in the more sedate Senate chambers, no one was barking like a dog or dressed in sports gear, but Sun colleague Annie Linskey reports there was plenty of purple. Sen. Nancy Jacobs of Harford and Cecil counties donned a fashionable purple suit for the occasion. More photos after the jump.

(iPhone photos by Julie and Annie.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For fun
        

Klausmeier to push table games

Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, a Democrat from Baltimore County, introduced a bill this morning to legalize table games like poker, blackjack and roulette at the state's casinos.

The measure would help Maryland catch up with surrounding states which allow such games, she said. Maryland casinos only contain video lottery machines. "We need everyone to come to our facilities," she said. "The young, the old and the in between."

Klausmeier said the legislative push is in its "infant steps." If the bill passed, the idea would have to be approved by voters on the 2012 ballot before games were permitted.

Last year Sen. Catherine Pugh, a Democrat from Baltimore City, introduced a similar measure to allow table games. It was killed in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Two of the five casinos Maryland voters approved in 2008 are up and running. The Hollywood Casino Perryville earned a banner amount when it opened in September, but since then has had lackluster returns. A second casino near Ocean City opened this month.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he wants to see Maryland's casinos operating before fiddling with the rules.


Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:36 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Dems tout Harris' missed vote, mum on Edwards

Maryland Democratic Party chair Susan Turnbull earned squeals of delight from the state's Dems on Tuesday when she revealed that freshman Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican, missed a vote on his first day on the job in Washington.

His dereliction of duty is one reason, she said, the party must try to replace him in the next cycle. She contrasted Harris' vote-skipping to Democrats who "do the right thing for the right reason."

But Turnbull didn't mention another person missed the exact same vote: Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards, who represents parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties. The congresswoman was at the luncheon at which Turnbull spoke.

Turnbull said later that she was aware that Edwards had missed the vote when she made the quips about Harris. But she distinguished between two because the vote occurred on Harris' first day of being a sworn member. Edwards has already been in office for two years, she explained.

Asked whether it was appropriate to hold Harris to a different standard than Edwards, she said: "Standing in a room full of Dems who are unhappy that he's a new congressman for Maryland? Yes.

"Do I think this is worth a Baltimore Sun article? No," she said. "I think it was a throwaway comment."

The vote was on a procedural motion that came to the floor unexpectedly. Twenty House members missed it.

Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, took some time out of the House Republicans' retreat in Baltimore on Thursday to convey his frustration about not making it to the House floor on time.

He said his pager failed to go off and nobody heard the bells calling the vote. His office called to the floor to ask the vote to be held open, a common request for lawmakers of both parties. He said he burst into the House chamber yelling "one more vote, one more vote." But he was too late.

"I had a good voting record in the [state] Senate and I plan to have a good voting record in the House," he said.

Edwards declined to comment on why she didn't vote, though her press secretary said the congresswoman has an "exemplary" voting record.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:28 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Washington
        

January 13, 2011

A day late if not a dollar short

Otis Rolley, who is challenging Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the Democratic primary, e-mailed "A Call to Action" to supporters Thursday, asking them to donate to his campaign before the "1/13 Midnight Deadline."

"Our first fundraising report to the Maryland Board of Elections will only include money we have raised before midnight tonight, January 13, 2011," it said. "The report itself is due on January 20, 2011, but the deadline for contributions that can be counted in that report is only a few hours away."

The deadline for this reporting period was actually Wednesday, Jan. 12, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. And it looks like the report is due Jan. 19, not Jan. 20, though -- full disclosure -- The Sun has reported Jan. 20 in news stories. 

Read Rolley's entire e-mail below. The part that most stood out for me, besides the deadline flub: He refers to Rawlings-Blake as "interim mayor," a slur not heard in these parts since Sheila Dixon first assumed the office from Martin O'Malley.

Good afternoon.

On Tuesday, Bill Cosby added his voice and clout to our movement. He made us laugh and think. He spoke about Baltimore's rich past and what could be our future. His presence was helpful, not just in the money that he helped to raise, but also in the amount of press and attention that he was able to bring to our campaign. Every Baltimore news channel and press covered the event. We have gone from "unknown" to "top contender" according to the Baltimore Sun.

I'm excited about where we are going, and I'm thankful for your early support. I need your continued support, now more than ever. In particular, I a need a quick favor from you TODAY.

Our first fundraising report to the Maryland Board of Elections will only include money we have raised before midnight tonight, January 13, 2011. The report itself is due on January 20, 2011, but the deadline for contributions that can be counted in that report is only a few hours away.

Will you consider giving? Even if it is just $1 or $10 or $100, it will make a difference.

With your help, I am certain we are going to exceed expectations with this report. The expectations are that a political unknown without money of his own – who did not start raising money until after the 2010 elections – cannot raise the money it takes to run a competitive campaign. When they said we wouldn't be able to raise a penny, they were wrong. What they didn't know was that pennies make dollars and with the combined resources from contributors like you who share my vision of Baltimore as a world class City.

Yesterday's Baltimore Sun yesterday that the interim Mayor has raised over $600,000 in one night from a relatively small group of powerbrokers writing large checks. Her apparently leaked that number in hope of discouraging other candidates. I was encouraged, and here's why. It's proof that the people who have made Baltimore the way you see it today want to keep it that way. And that is just the opposite of why I am running. I don't like what I see, and my campaign is about changing it.

Mac Nachlas in his letter to the Baltimore Sun editor said it best. He called me an antidote to business as usual. I believe that we can and will do better. With your help, we can take back Baltimore and reshape it in the image of its greatest resource, its people.

Please, go to www.otisrolley.com and contribute to this campaign for a new and better Baltimore. Anything that you can give by midnight tonight will be a resounding statement that the status quo is no longer acceptable in Baltimore."

Otis Otis Rolley

P.S. When people ask me what I think about the interim mayor raising $600,000, I have a simple answer: she'll need it. We're going to run a campaign that is just like the way we'll run the city. It will be inventive, efficient, and focus on the things that matter most. But I need your help to get my ideas out to the voters who will decide the direction of our city.

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 7:03 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Gay marriage bill to be introduced by legislative leaders

The majority leaders in both the House and Senate will introduce gay marriage legislation this year, yet another sign that the contentious issue will be a marquee bill this session.

Sen. Rob Garagiola, a Democrat from Montgomery County, will put his name on the Senate version of the bill along with Sen. Rich Madaleno, an openly gay lawmaker who has introduced the measure in the past.

Majority leader Garagiola said that the bill, which would permit same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses, is "something that I think we need to do." He said there's "a lot" of support among his colleagues for a bill. "Two people loving each other, that is not going to change," he said. "I look at this as a civil rights issue."

He said that he'll likely introduce the measure next week.

The House version will be introduced by Majority Leader Kumar Barve, a Democrat from Montgomery County, and Baltimore's Del. Keiffer Mitchell, an African-American who hails from a storied civil rights family.

Mitchell, a freshman in the body, is linking his sponsorship of the legislation to his family's history. On twitter he wrote: "In 1967, my uncle passed the legislation lifting the ban on interracial marriages in Maryland. Today I carry on that legacy."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller opposes gay unions, civil or otherwise, but says he'll cast a vote to cut off a filibuster in the Senate, a procedural hurdle that requires more votes than final passage. He predicted Wednesday that the measure would come up early in the session and guessed that conservatives and African-Americans in the body will oppose it.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:33 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

The state's eye view of county taxes, spending

The refrain leading up to the start of the Maryland General Assembly's 428th session yesterday was consistent: "We're all in this together."

But, as The Sun reported this morning, a new dynamic quickly emerged. Gov. Martin O'Malley says it'll be up to lawmakers to pursue tax increases as a partial solution to the $1.6 billion deficit. And now some leading legislators say they will look to taxes only if county officials push for them.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller also have started making the case that perhaps Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City could be taxing more locally or further snipping their budgets. They point to an appendix in a November fiscal briefing (page 41) as evidence. Here's what it says:   

* Five counties — Cecil, Harford, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s and Somerset — reduced property tax this year, though only slightly. Anne Arundel and Kent counties raised their rates. (Last year, Miller said, seven counties reduced property tax.)

* Baltimore City raised its local income tax this year as much as it possibly could under state law, to 3.2 percent. Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s also charge the maximum rate. Many counties bill far less. For example, Worcester taxes at just 1.25 percent, the lowest in the state.

* On the expense side, the same report shows that several counties and Baltimore had given raises to county employees. Still more gave raises to teachers (those salaries are set by local school boards).

* Workers in nine counties this year have been forced to take unpaid days off of work, and six of those same counties have also laid off employees.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Blame the Jesuits

Pete WelchQuestion: With the addition of William “Pete” Welch to the City Council, fully one-third of council members have:

A. A criminal record

B. Membership in a dubious political dynasty

C. A diploma from Loyola High School

The answer is C (but the criminal numbers are subject to change).

Five of the council’s 15 members are Dons: Welch (class of 1972), Bobby Curran and Carl Stokes (both class of ’68), Bill Henry (class of ’86) and Bill Cole (class of ’90).

“We have enough for our own committee,” Curran said.

Does that mean the Jesuits in general and Loyola in particular can take credit (or blame) for council doings?

“We are pleased to see graduates of Loyola Blakefield serving their community,” said the Rev. Thomas A. Pesci, president of what is now Loyola Blakefield High School. “Part of the tradition of Jesuit education is a dedication to instilling passion to serve others and to embrace leadership roles.”

William "Pete" Welch and his mother, then-Councilwoman Agnes Welch, at an Artscape VIP party in July. Photo by Colby Ware, special to The Sun

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 6:29 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Mayor's spokesman works overtime

After Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's fundraiser at The Hippodrome this week, The Sun reported this: “The mayor raised more than $600,000 at the fundraiser, according to spokesman Ryan O’Doherty."

That line surprised several readers. Not the number — but who disclosed it. O’Doherty is the mayor’s City Hall spokesman, not her campaign spokesman. City taxpayers pay his salary.

“when i commented about anything related to the political process you all raked me over the coals …” Margaret Burns, who was spokeswoman for former city State’s Attorney Pat Jessamy, e-mailed The Sun on Wednesday. “is it ok for the mayor's city paid spokesperson to comment on how much she has raised in her war chest for a re-election bid?”

O’Doherty contacted The Sun with the fundraising total at 9 p.m. Tuesday, so it might be fair to say he’d punched out for the day. But a big-city mayor’s mouthpiece is never really off duty, as many of them can wearily attest. That’s why elected officials have separate campaign staffs, so the taxpayers don’t end up footing the bill for political work.

I asked O’Doherty why he supplied the fundraising total. He declined to comment. No surprise there; it was the middle of the work day, and he was surely too busy serving the public to stoop to politics.

But O’Doherty must have had politics on his mind when he’d sent me this e-mail earlier Wednesday: “The purpose of a fundraiser is to raise money,” it read. “Has otis reported a figure yet?”

O’Doherty did use a private e-mail account — but the time was 11:17 a.m.

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 5:21 AM | | Comments (0)
        

House Republicans coming to Baltimore

Colleague Jean Marbella reports:

More than 200 members of the new Republican House majority begin arriving in Baltimore on Thursday for a three-day retreat that will focus on what GOP members say are their key issues for the coming year: jobs creation and reduced government spending.

The conference, typical of the kind of gathering both parties at the start of a new Congress, comes in the wake of the shootings in Tucson last weekend that killed six people and gravely injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The attack touched off a debate on whether the highly charged political atmosphere of the last several years contributed to the violent act. The House voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a resolution Wednesday honoring Giffords, a Democrat, and the shooting victims, even as lawmakers gingerly try to determine how to proceed with business after such a traumatic event.

The November elections swept 84 new GOP members into the House, tipping the majority from Democratic to Republican. The gathering in Baltimore, called the Congress of Tomorrow Issues Conference, will focus on the House Republicans’ “Pledge to America,” a governing agenda that calls for tax cuts, reduced spending and the repeal of health care reform act.

The Republicans will meet in the district of Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes. House Democrats will meet next week on the Eastern Shore, in the district of Republican Rep. Andy Harris.

Among those who will be speaking to the Republicans are at least two possible 2012 presidential candidates, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Also attending will be Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has raised his national profile enough lately to generate speculation that he, too, is considering a White House run.

Other guests include Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, former Sen. Phil Gramm; former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt, columnist George Will and radio host Dennis Prager.

The representatives will not be cooped up inside conference rooms all day. On Thursday, the group is scheduled to tour of Fort McHenry.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

January 12, 2011

What, no Jell-O pudding pops?

Bill Cosby and Otis RolleyThe funniest part of Bill Cosby’s appearance at a fundraiser for mayoral candidate Otis Rolley this week wasn’t funny-ha-ha but funny-strange.

Cosby held a 15-minute news conference with reporters from TV, newspapers and blogs in between a $4,000-a-head dinner and his stand-up show. In a brown sweater and trousers, Cosby greeted reporters with a jocular “OK?”

Then came the first question, a perfectly polite, normal, opening softball that nonetheless annoyed The Cos.

“I’m Melody Simmons with the Daily Record. Nice to meet you. Could you please talk about why Otis, why now?”

An awkward few seconds of silence passed, so Simmons appended “Mr. Cosby” to her question. To no avail. She might just as well have asked the comedian about that gal who claimed to be his love child.

“You know, I really hate that,” Cosby replied. “‘Why Otis, why now?’ What does that mean? What does that question mean? ‘Why Otis, why now?’ As opposed to what, Coca-Cola?”

Simmons tried again: “We’d like to know about your affiliation with the candidate here tonight at the fundraiser.”

For some reason, the question suited The Cos better that way.

“Good!” he said, going on from there to make his pitch, pleasantly if somewhat ramblingly, for Rolley.

Rolley, incidentally, wasn’t saying how much money his event raised, so politicos will be in suspense until the end of the month, when his first campaign-finance report is due.

Since the crowd numbered about 300 and tickets ranged from $75 for Cosby’s show to $4,000 a head for the show plus dinner and a reception with Cosby, the total should be somewhere between $22,500 and $1.2 million.

About 20 to 30 people were at the dinner, according to one person who attended, so that sounds more like low six figures. About 75 of the show passes were offered free to Johns Hopkins graduate students, according to some who attended.

Rolley would only say this much: “We are on target and last night we very much surpassed what we hoped for -- to have standing room only in a snowstorm.”

 

Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 8:12 PM | | Comments (1)
        

W. Md. senator supports Rocky Gap slots proposal

Sen. George Edwards, a Western Maryland Republican, said this morning that he likes what the state slots commission has in mind for Rocky Gap.

"I think we're all on the same song sheet," Edwards said. He said he'd likely introduce a bill "sooner, rather than later" to get the project moving. Rocky Gap is authorized for up to 1,500 slot machines.

State officials and lawmakers have been unsuccessful in their attempts to lure a slots operator to the state-supported Allegany County golf resort, which struggles financially. Yesterday, the slots panel recommended ways to sweeten the deal for would-be Rocky Gap buyers:

Allow the developer to install slots at Rocky Gap without having to build a separate facility; apply the purchase of the resort to the capital investment requirement of $25 million per 500 machines; waive $3 million of the initial licensing fee; and drop the prohibition on owners having a second Maryland casino.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Slots
        

Miller says increase to alcohol tax is 'nonsense'

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller this morning had sobering words for those advocating a *dime-a-drink* hike on beer, wine and liquor taxes: The proposal is "nonsense," he said.

"It is not going to happen," said Miller, who has instead pushed for a hike in the state's gas tax.

Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Gov. Martin O'Malley participated this morning in an annual legislative issue forum hosted by radio host Marc Steiner.

The conversations were largely dominated by talk of budget cuts.

Busch said that state workers will likely face another year of furloughs. O'Malley again reiterated that he is "open" to tax increases (though he is not proposing any this year). He said he wants any new taxes to be evaluated by how they would affect Maryland's competitiveness with neighboring states.

The forum occurred up hours before the 2011 General Assembly is set to open for the 90 day session. Though the capital is coated in white after a night of snowfall, the weather seems to have had little impact on lobbyists and lawmakers: The halls are abuzz after months of silence.

The House and Senate will both convene at noon to take up largely ceremonial measures.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:15 AM | | Comments (69)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 11, 2011

State slots commissioner steps down

Retired judge James H. Taylor is stepping down from the state slots commission this week, the leader of the panel, Donald C. Fry, said today.

Taylor was one of two appointees to the commission by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Miller's other appointee, former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, stepped down last year. Miller will soon appoint a replacement for Taylor, Fry said.

The slots commission, which is meeting in Annapolis today, received a brief legal update on the Baltimore casino site. The first bidders, the Baltimore City Entertainment Group, have sued over a contract dispute with the city and the state. This morning, The Sun reported on other groups that are lining up for the state's second try at securing a developer for the city site.

Laurel Park is also pursuing a claim that it was wrongly rejected by the slots commission. The sole license for Anne Arundel County was awarded to developer David Cordish for a site at Arundel Mills Mall. Laurel Park's owners submitted a bid, but not the full licensing fee, and was tossed out. A Circuit Court judge is expected to hear arguments in that case later this spring, at attorney general told the slots panel today. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:20 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Slots
        

O'Malley to welcome Congressional Dems to MD

Gov. Martin O’Malley will travel to the Eastern Shore the day after he is inaugurated to address the members of the U.S. House of Representative’s House Democratic Caucus at their annual meeting which is in Cambridge this year.

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic Whip, said O’Malley was invited because of his new role as the head of the Democratic Governors Association, a position he may use in the next year (or two) to expand his national profile. Also, Hoyer noted, Maryland is hosting the event. His role will include welcoming the representatives.

The Cambridge speech will be short, and is set for Jan. 20 at the Democratic Caucus Issues Conference, will give O’Malley a rare chance to rub shoulders with many of the country’s top Congressional Democrats and build relationships that could be helpful down the road. O’Malley is term limited.

Hoyer said that O’Malley is “getting respect around the country” for his 14-point victory in a year where Democrats faired poorly at ballot boxes.

Its the first in a trio of out-of-state nationally focused events O’Malley has planned in the coming weeks. Next month he’ll speak on a panel set up by Governing Magazine in Washington, D.C. and, as DGA head, he plans to address hundreds at the Virginia Democratic party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:06 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Administration
        

Kamenetz asks for cash, ok for department mergers

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz says he is asking lawmakers representing the county in the General Assembly to help him bring in more state aid for school renovation and construction, and infrastructure improvements along the Liberty Road corridor.

He said he is also looking into a merger of the county's health, aging and social services departments, a move that would need state legislative approval.

Kamenetz is hoping the county's legislative delegation can secure $78 million for the school system with $6.5 million specifically going towards renovation and expansion costs at overcrowded Hampton Elementary School. He’s asking for $2 million for the busy Liberty Road commercial corridor.

The county has already received $21 million for school construction costs. Legislators recently asked Superintendent Joe A. Hairston to make Hampton Elementary a priority in next year’s school budget. The county has set aside $12.5 million for the renovations, which are expected to cost about $19 million.

Kamenetz applauded Gov. Martin O’Malley’s announcement last week that teacher pension costs will not be shifted to the county this year. Like his predecessor, former county executive James T. Smith, Jr., he also threw his support behind a bill sponsored by Sen. Delores E. Kelley that would allow law enforcement agencies to seize the illegal profits of identity theft.

Kamenetz announced the legislative priorities Tuesday in Annapolis.

-Raven L. Hill

Posted by Andy Rosen at 11:30 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 legislative session, In The Counties
        

State to begin assessing buyout applicants

Almost 1,400 state workers have asked for the buyout offered by Gov. Martin O'Malley as a way to shed personnel costs. The number, shy of the 1,500 he was seeking, is likely to drop further in the coming days.

Employees have until Friday to rescind their offer. And not all who applied will be granted the buyout. Some employees have grumbled that their superiors have told them they can not participate.

Under the terms of the Voluntary Separation Program, employees who agree to retire by the end of this month would receive a $15,000 payout plus $200 for each year of service. The buyout program is designed to help avoid layoffs in a year in which the state faces a $1.6 billion deficit.

One anonymous employee who contacted The Sun and O'Malley said State Public Defender Paul DeWolfe has forbidden anyone in his office from taking one. DeWolfe said he had not blocked his employees from asking for a buyout.  

Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for the governor, said eligibility vetting will begin after Friday and will take a few weeks.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:00 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Administration
        

January 10, 2011

Tuesday: Two mayoral candidates, two fundraisers

Bill Cosby comes to town Tuesday to stump for Otis Rolley, the former city planning director who is running for mayor.

While Rolley's supporters are paying as much as $4,000 for dinner with the comedian at The Tremont Grand Hotel, backers of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will be gathering just a few blocks away at The Hippodrome for her fundraiser.

Rolley's event will be hosted by former 92Q personality Marc Clarke and speakers include civil rights lawyer Sherilynn Ifill. It will be interesting to see who shows up at Rolley's fundraiser, because the invitation for Rawlings-Blake's event makes it apparent she has lined up a lot of big name donors.

The "Host Committee" includes former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley (a Republican); former Prince George's County executive Wayne Curry; former Baltimore County executive Ted Venetoulis; former head of the state Democratic party, Michael Cryor; and Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. church.

Jay Davidson, head of the team behind the Baltimore Grand Prix; Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank; developer Pless Jones, Sr, who heads the Maryland Minority Contractors Association; and his wife the prominent lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones are among the many other prominent members of the host committee.


Tickets for Rawlings-Blake's event run from $500 to $4,000, the largest donation from an individual allowed by law in a campaign cycle. Tickets for Rolley's event range from $75 to $4,000.

The dueling fundraisers mark the unofficial beginning of the 2011 campaign season. We'll get a better sense of how much the candidates have raised on January 20, when campaign finance reports are due.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 5:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall
        

After attack, Dutch seeks local threat assessment

Following the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has asked the Capitol Police to "conduct a thorough threat assessment" of his Maryland office, and advise him on how to improve security at public events, his staff said Monday.

Giffords was meeting with constituents at a public event on Saturday when a single gunman allegedly launched his attack, shooting 19, including the Arizona Democrat. Six have died.

“I know as a Congressman I am a potential target, but I want to make sure people who come to talk to me at public meeting are safe as well," Ruppersberger said in a statement. "No one should have to think twice about their safety when they go to speak to their Congressman or attend a town hall meeting. That's the real tragedy here. It’s an attack on the democratic process."

The Baltimore County Democrat met with the staff of his Maryland and D.C. offices to discuss ways to beef up security to keep his staff and his constituents safe, according to a spokeswoman.

Spokeswoman Heather Molino said Ruppersberger's staff occasionally receives threatening letters, phone calls, and emails. While Molino said Ruppersberger and his staff have always taken such threats seriously, they are now in the process of creating a better system to track these calls and enhance communication with law enforcement agencies.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:24 PM | | Comments (7)
        

What about redistricting?

Lawmakers will grapple with the state's $13 billion operating budget and an array of policy issues that we outlined in a story this Sunday. But one puzzle the legislature won't take up when its 90-day session begins Wednesday: redistricting.

Results from the 2010 Census will come in later this winter, laying the groundwork for redrawing the state's eight congressional and 188 state legislative districts. Those battles, however, will wait for later, said House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Realigning the congressional districts comes first, with the 2012 elections less than two years away. Legislative leaders expect a brief special session this summer.

Maryland did not lose any congressional seats, but shifting population means some districts will change shape. Some points lawmakers may consider: The Baltimore area, which has three representatives, has experienced almost no population growth in recent years. Other areas, including greater Frederick and the Washington Beltway communities, are growing.

And the Democrat-dominated state government could take aim at one of the two Republican-held districts, roughly the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland.

Miller singled out the Rep. John Sarbanes’ District 3 as a potential area for restructuring. The Democrat’s territory includes pieces of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.

“What we’ll probably do is attempt to make the districts more compact,” he said.

The new congressional map would be introduced by one or more lawmakers — likely the Senate president and House speaker — voted on by the General Assembly and then signed by the governor.

State legislative redistricting will likely wait until next year, as those lawmakers don’t face reelection until 2014.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:41 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 8, 2011

Maryland delegation comments on Giffords attack

Six people are dead, and 12 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, were wounded in a shooting attack today in Tuscon, Ariz., CNN is reporting. The Associated Press reports that Giffords, 40, is in critical condition with a single gunshot wound to the head.

Gifforrds, a Democrat, was meeting with constituents at a public event in her district at the time of the attack, according to media reports. A suspect is in custody.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Republican of Western Maryland:

"I'm shocked and saddened by the horrible attack upon Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 17 other innocent people. Latest reports are that six people including one of her staff members have been killed. I hope her surgery and the treatment of the others who were wounded prove successful. My heart is broken for the tragic, senseless deaths today at a public Congressional meeting. My prayers and thoughts are with her, her husband and all of their families. I am relieved that the man who fired at them at close range is in police custody.

"After such a contentious election, most Americans who don't live in Washington, DC are unaware that among the 435 House members, some of us forge strong bonds across party lines and from different regions because we are dedicated to shared goals. Congresswoman Giffords is a Democrat from Arizona and I am a Republican from Maryland. However, I was privileged to work closely with Congresswoman Giffords on renewable energy initiatives on the Science and Technology Committee. I was impressed from her first day on the committee by her knowledge and passionate commitment to promoting a transition from our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil to renewable, sustainable, domestic sources of energy."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Baltimore:

“Congresswoman Giffords is battling for her life today, and we have lost several Americans in a senseless act of violence. For this to happen today is beyond my comprehension. Part of the pride we all felt this week was due to the peaceful transfer of power that has been a hallmark of our nation. Now, that bedrock has been shaken.

“It was my immense pleasure to sit beside Gabrielle Giffords in the House Armed Services Committee of the 110th Congress. I got to know her, to understand that passion she feels for her family, for her constituents, and for the people of this nation. I am praying for Gabrielle, for her family, for the families of her staff and those killed and for all those who have been touched by Gabby and who join me in prayers for her recovery.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Southern Maryland:

“My prayers are with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her family, her staff, and all the victims of today’s shooting in Tucson, Arizona. Congresswoman Giffords is a devoted and insightful public servant, and a passionate advocate for her constituents—but more than that, she is my dear friend. To all those who are privileged to know Gabby Giffords, who know her spirit and graciousness in public life, today’s cowardly attack is devastating. But it is equally devastating to every American—to everyone who cares about our democracy. Our form of government, like all human things, is imperfect and flawed; but one of its greatest virtues is its power to resolve questions of the greatest import without violence. An attack on a member of that government—of whatever party or whatever views—is an attack on that principle, in which every American has a stake.”

Rep. Donna Edwards, Democrat of Prince George's County:

"I am shocked and saddened to learn of the horrible act of violence committed against Congresswoman Giffords, members of her staff, and her constituents. She is a beloved Member of Congress, a dedicated public servant, and a true friend.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her family, all those who were injured, and those who lost their lives."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland:

"The senseless shooting in Tucson this morning is a tragedy for our nation. My prayers are with everyone who has been affected by this heinous act, including the family, friends and staff of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Judge John Roll, and all of the other innocent victims. The violence witnessed this morning is an affront to our democracy and to all Americans.”

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Montgomery County:

“I am shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic shooting of my friend Gabby Giffords, members of her staff, and some of her constituents – this senseless act of violence is deeply troubling. Gabby is one of our brightest lights – smart, fair, caring, courageous, effective, and considerate of all people and points of view. She is a wonderful friend to many of us and an amazing public servant for all Americans. The people of Arizona could not have a better Representative. Our hearts and thoughts are with Gabby’s family, and the families of all the victims, at this tragic time. We mourn for those who died and pray for the rapid recovery of Gabby and all others who have been injured.”

Rep. Andy Harris, Republican of Baltimore County:

"Over the weekend, I was horrified to learn about the shooting of my colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. My family and I extend our deepest thoughts and prayers to Rep. Giffords, her family, staff and the people of Tucson, Az. We offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the victims of this shooting who did lose their lives. There is no place in a free society for senseless acts of violence like this."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland:

“The shooting Saturday in Arizona was tragic and terrible. Congresswoman Giffords was out doing what members of Congress are supposed to be doing – listening to the people.

“My thoughts and prayers are with all those who were injured and the families of all who died- the 9-year-old girl, born in Maryland on Sept. 11, 2001, who was recently elected to student council and wanted to meet her Congresswoman. The three senior citizens, including a 76-year-old man who died trying to save his wife. The federal judge who went to the ‘Congress on Your Corner’ to greet the Congresswoman. The community outreach director who helped Congresswoman Giffords stay close to all her constituents.

“Yet, even in a time of tragedy, heroes emerged. Many jumped in to help stop the shooting, at the risk of their own lives – the 61-year-old woman who was last in line but first to act, grabbing the shooter’s magazine. The men who jumped on the shooter to subdue him. The young intern who ran toward the sound of gunshots and propped Congresswoman Giffords up, making sure she could breathe and applying pressure to her wound. I am so proud of each of these selfless Americans.

“In the wake of this tragedy, we must all pull together – because we are all in this together. We need to lower the decibel level across all levels of discussion. We need less partisanship and more citizenship. That’s what my constituents want. That’s what our nation needs. And that’s what I’ll keep fighting for.”

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat of Baltimore County:

“First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her family, and the families of everyone involved in this unimaginable tragedy. I wish my friend Gabby a speedy and full recovery. She is a competent, compassionate and courageous public servant just doing her job when she was viciously attacked. My heart also goes out to the families who lost loved ones.

"What happened in Arizona is a senseless tragedy. Every American has a right to express their opinion on whatever issue they choose, but there is no place in our society for this kind of violence. I traveled to Iraq with Gabby several years ago. We walked the streets of Baghdad together and did not face the violence she faced over the weekend in her own country.”

Rep. John Sarbanes, Democrat of Baltimore County:

“Gabby Giffords is a friend and admired colleague. She and I entered Congress the same year and I have come to know her as an effective and steady legislator. This is a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to Gabby's family and to the families of the other individuals who were victims in this senseless act of violence.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington
        

January 7, 2011

O'Malley: Pleased with Thursday's response

Maryland's governor defended his decision to continue his public appearances Thursday after two incendiary devices ignited spewing smoke and a small flame.

“Once we decided it was not the type of thing that would have caused bodily harm I went ahead with my normal schedule," he told reporters at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. "I felt it was inappropriate to call a press conference over what was a sparkler,” O’Malley said.

Pressed by one TV reporter about why he chose not to "calm any fears that the public may have had" O'Malley quipped: "Your question is better directed to CNN and FOX."

He also said he "didn’t want to overplay,” the incident. He said that people "in this age" must always be "vigilant and on guard against acts of terror.”

“Overall I think we responded appropriately.” O’Malley said.

He predicted one consequence will be "a lot more mail scanned in the months and days ahead.”
Posted by Annie Linskey at 5:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration
        

Speaker Busch has Ravens fever

House Speaker Michael E. Busch shows that he is ready for the Ravens playoff game this weekend, welcoming the mascot, cheerleaders and team band to the State House steps.

Busch, an avid sports fan, even did a little Ray Lewis dance (not pictured) and jigged with Poe during the official team fight song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo credit: Julie's iPhone.)

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:55 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: For fun
        

Kendel Ehrlich leaving WBAL radio

WBAL Radio Friday confirmed that Kendel Ehrlich is leaving the station and will be replaced Saturday mornings on air by Clarence Mitchell IV starting tomorrow, Sun colleague David Zurawik is reporting.

From his post, over at his Z on TV blog:

Both general manager Ed Kiernan and news director Mark Miller characterized the move as something Ehrlich had been considering at least since the election in November that saw her husband, Bob, defeated by Martin O'Malley in the governor's race.

Miller and Kiernan said Ehrlich was making the move in an effort to spend more time at Saturday sports events involving their family. Ehrlich, who also regularly appeared on a weekly roundtable show Friday afternoons on the station, will no longer be part of that group either for the immediate future, Miller said.

He added, however, that she had an invitation to be one of several guests who will be involved in the roundtable as the station works to expand the participants and re-brand it as a "stand-alone show."

If she does appear on that show, it would not be until February, according to Miller.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:10 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
        

Worker who opened incendiary package back on job

A man who identified himself as “Hank,” the state employee who opened a package addressed to Gov. Martin O’Malley containing an incendiary device Thursday afternoon, was back at work today in the Jeffery Building – handling packages and in good spirits.

O’Malley identified the employee as Hank on Thursday. When a Baltimore Sun reporter caught up to him today, he declined to give his last name. He was in the lobby of the Jeffrey Building at 1 p.m. carrying a U.S. Postal Service box in his hands.

“Everything’s fine,” said the Eastern Shore native. “I’m fine.”

Wearing a number five Baltimore Ravens jersey, he proclaimed with a smile, “It’s purple Friday!” But the mailroom employee, who has worked there for “a couple of years” said although the governor’s office had given him the go-ahead to talk to the news media, he wanted to stay “private.”

“That’s OK, thanks,” he said, quickening his pace as he walked from the Jeffrey Building onto State Circle with another mail room employee. “I know I can talk. I just don’t want to.”

His gloveless fingers, which the state police said had been “singed” by the flash of fire that ignited when he opened the package, appeared undamaged as he held tight to the postal box.

“I’m fine,” Hank repeated.

-Nicole Fuller

Posted by Andy Rosen at 1:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Administration
        

House and Senate leaders talk taxes

The presiding officers of the Maryland's House and Senate offered their thoughts this morning on the the upcoming legislative session.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch threaded the needle on new taxes saying to local elected leaders: "I don't think the legislature will take up new revenue measures on its own."

But, the door was not slammed shut. He floated the idea that a "consensus" could emerge on new taxes, maybe after the local leaders get a look at cuts Gov. Martin O'Malley presents in his new budget.

And he added this tidbit: Even after O'Malley submits his budget the General Assembly may want to cut even more in order to leave a cushion that would prevent mid-year cuts from occurring at the Board of Public Works where the legislature has no voice.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller was far more blunt on the topic. In recent appearances he has pushed a hike to the gas tax and disparaged recent candidates who'd taken a "no new taxes" stance: "Those people aren't worth the powder you'd blow them up with," Miller said. Some additional points from the talks:

* Busch speculated that the state would again take local roads money from the counties; bond capital projects and make cuts to Medicaid.

* Miller and Busch both took the locals to task for cutting the local property tax and providing COLAs and step increases to employees while state workers have had three years of 10-day furloughs. Both said that 12 counties have lowered the local property taxes. Miller noted that in 2010 teachers in 10 counties received COLAs and this year teacher in five counties are set for COLAs.

* Miller said in-state tuition at some colleges for the children of illegal immigrants will be on the table again. He described legislation that requires the parents to be in the process of obtaining citizenship and is possibly limited to community colleges.

* Miller said he'd vote against gay marriage or civil unions -- but he'd vote to cut off a filibuster for either bill. Senate GOP leader Allan Kittleman just announced that he'll introduce a civil unions bill, surprising many conservatives.

* House GOP leader Tony O'Donnell said he agrees that teacher pension costs should not be shifted to the locals. His stance is important because the idea passed last year in the Senate with GOP support, but stalled in the House in part because the Republican caucus there fought it.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:55 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 6, 2011

O'Malley promises not to shift teacher pensions

Gov. Martin O'Malley assured local leaders gathered at a conference in Cambridge tonight that he will not shift any portion of teacher pension costs to them this year -- defying his budget advisers' recommendation to do so.

Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster had crafted plans to shift 40 percent of the state's $900 million annual burden to local governments, either in an across-the-board fashion or through a wealth-adjusted formula that would have called for places such as Montgomery County to pony up more than other, poorer areas.

"It's my belief that we cannot have a fruitful conversation" about sharing pensions "until we fix the pension system itself," O'Malley said at the winter conference of the Maryland Association of Counties. "I will not propose to pass pension costs this year onto the counties."

The line drew a standing ovation from local leaders who have fretted about the enormous holes the teacher pension costs would blast into their budgets.

O'Malley, a Democrat and former mayor of Baltimore, noted that lawamkers may propose the pension shift anyway.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat and strong proponent of sharing teacher pension costs with local governments, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat and Anne Arundel County parks employee, plan to address the conference tomorrow morning. Their remarks will undoubtedly include forecasting on the teacher pension issue.

A plan passed the Senate last year but died in the House of Delegates.

Still, county executives and other local leaders appeared visibly relieved. Howard County Executive Ken Ulman joked to the crowd that O'Malley's news on pensions "took two pages of my speech out of the way."

There is plenty of pain in the 2012 budget, O'Malley warned, repeatedly referring to it as a Rubik's Cube.

"It is not one that makes me happy," he said. "This is something we're going to have to continue to work on together. The budget when it's submitted is not intended to be the last word. "We're going to work with the General Assembly."

O'Malley gave local leaders no specifics about the "pain." Options presented by his budget advisers include a 5 percent across-the-board cut to education and adjustments to health care, the single largest state government expense.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he was "certainly pleased" and immediately texted his staff upon hearing O'Malley's assurance on teacher pensions.

"If you just transfer the cost, it doesn't help the taxpayer," he said. Most city and county leaders say they would be forced to increase local taxes to pay for the new cost.

In a release, O'Malley said he will "propose ways to make the [public employee pension] system more sustainable." Options could incllude raising the retirement age, both for teachers and state employees, requiring employees to contribute more and scaling back on some benefits.

The governor opposes moving to a 401(k)-style system.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:45 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

City faces $81 million budget gap

Despite two years of budget cuts and a $50 million in new taxes, Baltimore faces an $81 million gap in its $1.2 billion budget, finance officials said at a City Council hearing Thursday.

City budget chief Andrew W. Kleine said the gap was equal to the cost of keeping more than 1,000 police officers or 1,200 firefighters on duty, prompting an outcry from council members still bitter from a rancorous budget process last year.

"We went through this last year," said Councilman James B. Kraft. "What this does is really create an atmosphere of fear."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake unveiled a doomsday budget in March that plugged a $120 million hole by laying off police officers and firefighters, shuttering recreation centers and eliminating popular services. Several weeks later, she rolled out a package of $50 million new or increased taxes and fees that mitigated the worst cuts.

Council members were barraged with calls and emails from dueling interest groups. Some wanted the council to prevent the cuts; others opposed the new taxes.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke bristled at a slide Kleine presented that showed the impact $81 million in cuts could have on a single department.

"We do not want our fiscal situation equated with firefighters and police any more," she said.

Councilman Robert W. Curran chimed in. "We don't balance these shortcomings on the backs of public safety," he said. "Statistics don't lie. Statisticians do."

He also criticized officials for not funding pools for the duration of the summer. Business leaders and private donors gave more than $400,000 to keep pools open until classes began in late August.

"We can't go out with our hats in our hands for money to keep our pools open," Curran said. "Recreation and Parks is also a public safety issue."

A complete budget -- including cuts and possible new or increased taxes -- is slated to be released in March.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 8:07 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: City Hall
        

Council picks Pete Welch, despite concerns

A Baltimore City Council committee chose William A. "Pete" Welch Jr. to replace his mother on the Baltimore City Council, despite concerns about his past criminal offenses.

Nine of the 12 council members on the committee voted for Welch, who had worked for nearly 30 years as a legislative aide to his mother, Agnes Welch, who retired from the council last month.

Welch's candidacy sparked outcry from community leaders and political observers, who pointed to his criminal record. He pleaded guilty to handgun violations in 1999 for firing at a group of angry poll workers and, the following year, was convicted of paying poll workers -- a process that is now legal. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file campaign finance reports while treasurer of his mother's campaign.

Councilman Robert W. Curran nominated Welch, saying that his "long-time relationship" with the Ninth District, made him best-qualified for the job. Nicholas D'Adamo seconded the nomination.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, and council members Warren Branch, William H. Cole IV, Belinda Conaway, Sharon Green Middleton and Carl Stokes voted for Welch.

After a lengthy pause, Councilman James B. Kraft nominated Abigail Breiseth, a teacher who helped found a charter school. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke seconded the nomination and Councilman Bill Henry also voted for Breiseth.

Clarke said that she had decided against voting for Welch because of his record.

"With all due respect for years of service, I was very impressed with the other candidates," she said.

Young declined to answer questions after the vote and called to a spokesman, "Where's the statement? Get the statement."

In the statement, Young said that "Welch's criminal past is well-documented and much discussed."

"The fact of the matter is he has long since paid his debt to society and should not continuously be penalized for his past lapses in judgment," he said in the statement.

Welch shook the hands of council members after the vote and said, "Thank you for having faith in me."

"I'm a different person now than I was then," he said in an interview. "I'll prove it in the way I approach the residents of the Ninth District."

Posted by Julie Scharper at 6:50 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: City Hall
        

Cummings questions House reading of Constitution

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is questioning what he called the “unilateral” decision of House Republicans to eliminate passages of the Constitution that were later amended in their session-opening reading of the document today.

Those passages included the clause in Article I, Section 2, that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of taxation and congressional representation.

“The Constitution is the basis of our laws, but it is also a historical document whose text demonstrates the potential for growth present from the beginnings of our nation,” Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a statement. “While portions of the Constitution have been amended, those portions have not been deleted, nor have they been excised from history.”

Republican and Democratic House members took turns reading the Constitution and its amendments, an exercise that took about an hour and a half. They included Rep. Donna Edwards, a Prince George’s County Democrat.

“I was proud to join colleagues from both sides of the aisle to read the U.S. Constitution,” Edwards said in a statement. “Each of us benefits when reminded of the incredible depth, enormous complexities, and flexibility captured in this extraordinary document."

Complete statements of Cummings and Edwards follow, after the jump.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings:

“The Constitution is the basis of our laws, but it is also a historical document whose text demonstrates the potential for growth present from the beginnings of our nation. While portions of the Constitution have been amended, those portions have not been deleted, nor have they been excised from history. Our Founders provided for amendment because they understood that times would change and that our laws should be able to be amended to respond to emergent situations. They understood that their work would not be finished in their lifetimes, or in the lifetime of any American. It is work we continue today. Benjamin Franklin acknowledged as much when he remarked that Americans had been given, ‘A Republic, if you can keep it.’

“The adoption of the U.S. Constitution marked the birth of the greatest experiment in government known to man. To not read the full document, including all text that was later amended, is to fail to acknowledge the struggle our nation has constantly fought, within and without, to ‘keep’ our Republic. It is a failure to show Americans that while we seek a more perfect union, we do so from imperfect beginnings, through an imperfect history, with an imperfect government created by an imperfect document. We fail to show the American people that imperfection is not to be feared and that our ability to constantly improve on what the Founders gave us is a blessing, not a reason for divisiveness.

“We have the ability to change laws made at the time of our founding and to rectify unintended consequences of those laws as we work to continuously improve the lives and futures of the American people. Our nation and our lawmakers are not, and have never been, perfect. But we must never shy away from pride in the journey we have all taken, as a nation, toward our more perfect union.”

Rep. Donna Edwards:

“I was proud to join colleagues from both sides of the aisle to read the U.S. Constitution. Each of us benefits when reminded of the incredible depth, enormous complexities, and flexibility captured in this extraordinary document. Our Constitution ensures our civil liberties, empowers Congress to act for the common good, and guarantees that all Americans have equal opportunity under the law.

“Our Constitution is both a strong foundation and a living document that has changed as our times and understandings have changed. I am disappointed that we did not come together to read the Constitution in its entirety to embrace both the full vision of our founders and their fallibility as reflected in the original content and the amendments that have strengthened this great nation. As an African American woman, it is through these amendments and this history that my experience is captured in its entirety. It is imperative that we remember the purpose and interpretation enshrined to a government by the people, for the people.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:07 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Washington
        

Pete Welch, the gun and "long-term relationships"

The City Council's nominating committee meets this afternoon to vote on a replacement to fill the seat vacated by Agnes Welch's retirement.

The forerunner for the seat is her son and longtime aide, William A. "Pete" Welch Jr. That has triggered a lot of controversy from those who say his record -- which includes guilty pleas to handgun charges for firing a pistol to disburse angry campaign workers and for failing to file his mother's campaign finance reports.

At a hearing Tuesday, Welch said that he fired the gun by accident. But my colleague Laura Vozzella reports today that Welch told the police a different story in 1999 -- at that time, he said "I shot at the ground to restore order," according to court documents.

Yet most council members told Vozzella that they were leaning toward voting for Pete Welch. Their explanations were interesting, to say the least.

Council Vice-Presidend Ed Reisinger said, ""Anyone who's been arrested, especially when you're in the city of Baltimore — you know what I mean — are we going to disqualify them from employment?"

And Councilman Bobby Curran said his "long-term relationship with Agnes" would make it tough to not vote for Pete.

"You very rarely get to pay back people in politics for what they've done for you," Curran said.

Only Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said that she definitely planned to vote for one of Welch's challengers, who include a political science professor, a teacher and the head of a progressive nonprofit.

It will be interesting to see how council members vote this afternoon-- and what kind of response they will receive from their constituents.

Former Baltimore NAACP branch president Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham, community leaders Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon and Rev. Kinji Scott have all asked the council to change their procedures for appointing candidates to vacant seats.

I'll be at today's voting session. Jessica Anderson reported on Tuesday's hearing (I was home with the flu) and blogger and former City Council candidate Adam Meister wrote up interesting play-by-plays of the proceedings.

Incidentally, the nominating committee is comprised of the heads of all council committees and two appointees by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. The members are: Warren Branch, Mary Pat Clarke, Bill Cole, Belinda Conaway, Bobby Curran, Nick D'Adamo, Bill Henry, Jim Kraft, Sharon Middleton, Ed Reisinger and Carl Stokes.

The full council will vote on the nominee for the seat Monday.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: City Hall
        

Top 10 highest-paid lobbyists in Annapolis

Influence with the top decision makers in Maryland government is a valuable thing. Just how valuable? About $1.3 million per year.

That's what Joel Rozner, a lawyer with Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, reported in 2010 payments in the State Ethics Commission's annual list of highest-paid lobbyists. That gives him the top spot for the second-straight year.

Rozner is among the 10 highest-paid Maryland lobbyists in our online photo gallery, which you can check out here. You'll also find out who other lobbyists have worked for and what they're signed up to advocate for in the coming legislative session. We've gone through all of the top lobbyists' ethics reports to find out who they're working for.

Before he became a lobbyist, Rozner was chief of staff to Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, who of course later became governor. He was also people’s zoning counsel in Prince George’s County.

Among Rozner's clients are the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns the troubled Laurel Park race track, and the Maryland Wineries Association, which will play a big role in the debate over legalizing the direct shipment of wine to consumers in Maryland.

Also notable in the top list: Gerry Evans, a well-known lobbyist who was once an aide to now-Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Evans later became one of the most handsomely-paid advocates in Annapolis. In 2000, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for defrauding clients. He's back in the top three with about $1 million this year after a down 2009.

Michael Johansen, also of Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, is at number two. He reported about $1.1 million

Lisa Harris Jones of Harris Jones & Malone, cracked the top 10 this year, with $776,750. Harris Jones is the only new name in the top 10 (she's No. 9) this year. She replaces Robin Shaivitz, who dropped to 11 with $757,380.

By way of explanation, here's how we came up with this: Payments are based on "compensation" data, which reflects both reported payments and salary calculations based on time spent on lobbying. Reporting dates for compensation are Nov. 1, 2009 through Oct. 31, 2010.

A previous version of this post had an incorrect reference to Parris Glendening's old job.

Posted by Andy Rosen at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

Baltimore: broke again

Baltimore faces a significant budget shortfall for the second consecutive year, necessitating another round of service cuts and tax increases, officials said Wednesday.

Fixed expenses are expected to increase sharply, while revenues are projected to decrease slightly, finance officials said.

Finance officials declined to state publicly the precise amount of the shortfall Wednesday, but said it is considerably less than the $121 million gap last year.

Nonetheless, budget director Andrew W. Kleine warned that closing the current gap could prove more painful, because some taxes are at peak levels and nonessential expenses have already been whittled away.

"This could be just as difficult, if not more, to deal with because of the cuts we have already made and revenue we have already raised," Kleine said.

Officials are slated to brief the City Council on the budget Thursday.

The city's budget gap could grow if state and federal aid are further decreased. Officials anticipate losing at least $5 million in state aid, but that figure could mushroom to as much as $45 million if highway user revenue fees and homeowner's tax credits are cut, Kleine said.

As state officials grapple with a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall, additional costs could be pushed onto local governments, including teacher pension costs.

And it is unclear how the Republican-dominated Congress could affect appropriations to the city.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake remains opposed to raising the city's property tax rate, which is nearly twice that of the surrounding counties.

Rawlings-Blake sliced $70 million from the city's budget last year by furloughs, layoffs, consolidating offices and requiring employees to pay a portion of prescription drug costs.

She raised $50 million in revenue by increasing new parking fees and fines, raising taxes on hotel rooms, telecommunications, energy and income, and imposing a new 2-cent bottle tax.

She also pushed through an overhaul of the fire and police pension system, which is expected to save the city $106 million this year but prompted a federal lawsuit from the public safety unions.

The full budget, including proposed cuts to agencies and suggestions for new revenue sources, will be presented to the council in late March, Kleine said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 8:34 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: City Hall
        

Same-sex wars begin before session opens

The head of gay rights group Equality Maryland declared that a proposal floated by GOP Senate leader Allan Kittleman to establish civil unions "falls short" of the group's goal to establish a same-sex marriage law.

Kittleman's proposal would give same-sex couples the full menu of legal rights available to traditional married couples, while distinguishing marriage as a separate religious union.

Morgan Meneses-Sheets, the Executive Director of Equality Maryland said that the creation of a civil union rule would be "a blanket invitation" for discrimination against gay and lesbians in other areas.

The Senate became slightly more liberal this year, a development that gay advocacy groups believe could provide an opening to pass a law extending full marriage rights.

But the House became more conservative. O'Malley says he'll sign a gay marriage bill.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 7:58 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
        

January 5, 2011

Andy Harris casts first vote in Congress, for Boehner

Baltimore Sun colleague June Torbati reports from Washington:

New Rep. Andy Harris, the Baltimore County Republican now representing Maryland's First Congressional District, has cast his first vote in the House, joining his Republican colleagues in electing John Boehner speaker.

In the minutes leading up to the vote, Harris' new colleagues made their way around the chamber, posing for pictures with children and grandchildren and lingering in the House's aisles. Harris, instead, sat quietly chatting with his son in the far right of the chamber, occasionally pointing out the room's features and looking into the press gallery.

While some Republicans leapt to their feet and cheered loudly when Boehner was announced as the GOP candidate for speaker, Harris clapped politely, showing about as much enthusiasm just a few minutes later when outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi was called as the Democratic candidate for the position.

Though most of her colleagues supported the Baltimore-born Pelosi for speaker, a handful of Democrats voted for North Carolina's Heath Shuler instead, prompting murmurs from the gathered crowd.

But otgoing Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the Southern Maryland Democrat who has had a long and sometimes difficulty relationship with Pelosi dating to their days as aides to Republican Sen. Charles McC. "Mac" Mathias Jr., stood up and cast his vote with a flourish for "Maryland's favorite daughter, Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi."

In his first address as Speaker, Boehner pledged new House rules -- to be voted on today -- that he said would increase transparency and accountability in the lower chamber. Committees would get smaller and more focused on government oversight, while new procedures would make it harder to propose increased spending and easier to propose spending cuts.

"We will start by cutting Congress's own budget," Boehner announced, prompting a standing ovation from Harris and the Republican side of the House.

Boehner pledged to be an approachable leader for both sides of the House, and promised Democrats a "robust debate" on all legislation.

"We can disagree without being disagreeable," he said.

At the other end of the Capitol, Barbara A. Mikulski was sworn in for a fifth term in the Senate, making the Maryland Democrat the longest-serving woman in the upper chamber. If she completes her term, she will tie former colleague Paul Sarbanes as the longest-serving Marylander in the Senate.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:25 PM | | Comments (4)
        

Changing of the guard at MD health department

Outgoing Maryland health secretary John Colmers was smiling broadly this afternoon as Gov. Martin O'Malley made the official announcement that his job would go to Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the No. 2 official a the Food and Drug Administration and long-time ally of the governor.

O'Malley heaped praise on Colmers, saying he did an "outstanding job" and the four years he held the position "flew by." Colmers showed no regrets about his decision to leave, though said leading Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is "the best health job in Maryland."

Colmers plans to stay in Maryland and focus on health care reform. He told us he's "talking" to a few groups but won't say who.

O'Malley also introduced Sharfstein, 41, a man he first hired five years ago to be Baltimore's Health Commissioner. The two clearly like each other: O'Malley joked that Sharfstein is leaving his federal job to "round out his resume" with a state position. The governor also punted questions about potential cuts to agency's budget to Sharfstein who didn't say much about what could be sliced.

Plus the governor prompted Sharfstein to thank his wife and two young boys, who came to the Annapolis news conference. Sharfstein's parents, both doctors, also attended. 
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Administration
        

Stokes plotting mayoral bid

Outspoken City Councilman and charter school leader Carl Stokes is interviewing political consultants and planning a poll, as he considers a run for mayor.

"We're weighing the reaction we receive," said Stokes, who served in the council in the 1990s and lost the 1999 mayor's race to Martin O'Malley. "I think people remember some of the things we were saying 11, 12 years ago. People have not seen the neighborhood revitalization in many our neighborhoods they way they thought it would happen."

Stokes, who served on the council in the 1990s and was appointed to represent Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young's former East Baltimore district last year, has been contemplating a run for the city's highest office for several months.

The web site The Investigative Voice first reported Wednesday that Stokes had met with political consultants.

Stokes is scheduled to be a guest on Midday with Dan Rodricks Thursday at 12:30 and to talk about the city's high property tax rates along with Jody Landers, a former councilman who has also launched a mayoral bid.

Stokes says that he has drafted a plan to cut property taxes in half over five years, but the specifics of his plan are unclear.

Since returning to City Hall in February, Stokes has taken independent stances on several issues, voting against zoning changes for Remington's 25th Street Station Walmart shopping center and not supporting two of the tax hikes proposed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Recently, as chair of the taxation and finance committee, he has voted against tax breaks for an Inner Harbor development project backed by developer John Paterakis Sr. and signaled that he would also vote against tax breaks for the State Center project in Northwest Baltimore.


Last month, he formed a committee to examine the way the city gives tax breaks to developers and consider alternatives.

"Why are the big ticket items in front of us Harbor Point and State Center and not Greenmount West or Rosemont or Oliver?" said Stokes. "At a minimum, give dollar for dollar for neighborhood development as opposed to putting all the city's tax payer money on large commercial developments."

Stokes polled strong in the 1999 election, but his campaign was derailed after a series of gaffes, including driving with a suspended license, a $13,800 federal tax lien and false claims of a Loyola College degree on his campaign literature, led to his defeat to O'Malley in the Democratic primary.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 2:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: City Hall
        

Death penalty in limbo, Sen. pres. calls for action

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said this morning that he will call for a committee vote on death penalty regulations that have been in limbo for more than a year, effectively giving the state a moratorium on capital punishment.

Earlier this week, Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and death penalty opponent, told WBAL's Robert Lang that his administrative panel of senators and delegates needs more time to review regulations that were rewritten by the prison system after being struck down in 2006 by the state's highest court.

Pinsky told WBAL that there are unanswered questions about the lethal injection procedure including, " the mixture of the (lethal injection) chemicals and assurances that (the chemicals) would do what it is intended to do."

But Pinsky did not bring the issue to a vote by the entire Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, of which he is co-chair with Del. Anne Healy, a Prince George's Democrat. (Read the entire list of committee members after the jump.)

Miller, a Democrat who favors limited use of the death penalty, said it's only fair to "have an up or down vote" on the regulations, and he predicted Pinsky would be amenable to that plan.

The state has not executed anyone since December 2005. In 2009, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley pushed for a full repeal of the death penalty. The Senate rejected that idea, instead placing more stringent rules on when prosecutors can seek capital punishment.

AELR committee members:

Sen. David Brinkley, Republican
Sen. James Brochin, Democrat
Sen. Richard Colburn, Republican
Sen. Jennie Forehand, Democrat
Sen. Lisa Gladden, Democrat
Sen. Allan Kittleman, Republican
Sen. Richard Madaleno, Democrat
Sen. Norman Stone, Democrat
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Democrat

Del. Eric Bromwell, Democrat
Del. Adelaide Eckardt, Republican
Del. Brian Feldman, Democrat
Del. Keith Haynes, Democrat
Del. Dan Morhaim, Democrat
Del. Justin Ross, Democrat
Del. Michael Smigiel, Republican
vacancy
vacancy

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:53 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Crime & Justice
        

Angelos wants Rosecroft -- and slots

As Maryland opened its second casino yesterday, at a horse track on the Eastern Shore, word spread about a proposal by Orioles owner Peter Angelos to bring gaming to Rosecroft, a Prince George's County race track he is bidding to purchase.

The Sun's Hanah Cho reported the details of Angelos' plan in this morning's paper:

Under Angelos' proposal, supported by Rosecroft Raceway's owner and the bankruptcy trustee, he would pay $9 million in cash plus another $5 million if slots are permitted in Prince George's County and a casino is operational at the harness-racing track by Dec. 1, 2012. The purchase agreement, outlined in court documents filed this week, needs to be approved by the bankruptcy court.

Many uncertainties hang over the proposal. Legalizing slots at any new location requires a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution. And Angelos, a top Baltimore lawyer and avid owner of thoroughbred horses, is prohibited from having a direct ownership stake in a gambling enterprise under Major League Baseball rules. The ownership and management structure under Angelos at Rosecroft was unclear in court documents.

One avid suppporter of the bid is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat and longtime advocate of bringing slots to Maryland, who said he would "absolutely" support a bill that would allow voters to approve a gaming expansion.

Cho caught up with Miller at the Ocean Downs opening:

Miller called Rosecroft a prime location to draw gamblers from Washington and Virginia.

"You could take this facility right now and put it in Rosecroft," Miller said, referring to the Ocean Downs casino. "You could market it, you could reap money for education, reap money for racing and save taxpayers a bundle of money."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Slots
        

January 4, 2011

Campaign finance report takes aim at slates, LLCs

A report out today calls for tighter regulations on how political slates and LLCs participate in elections, among other suggested fixes to Maryland's campaign finance system.

In the fall, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler convened a group of lawmakers and elections lawyers and officials to study campaign finance. The report released today in Baltimore makes 25 recommendations, many of which could only be implemented if the Maryland General Assembly approves.

Gansler, a Democrat who did not participate in the committee's work, called the 53-page report "more than food for thought for legislators," though he said it would be up to the Assembly to decide whether to move on any of the recommendations.

The attorney general said political slates, which can transfer unlimited amounts of money to and from anyone on them -- in effect circumventing the $4,000 per four-year-cycle donation limits -- are "particularly crying out for reform."

The report also suggests changes to laws affecting contributions by limited-liability corporations. An "LLC loophole" treats each LLC, even if owned and operated by a common person, as a separate donor, enabling politically savvy givers to avoid donation limits.

The Gansler group also recommended that lawmakers take a look at the limits of $4,000 per candidate per cycle and $10,000 per donor per cycle, though it made no specific suggestion about what the new limits should be.

The committee saw that issue as "something that should be addressed by the larger body" of legislators, said Del. Jay Walker, one of four lawmakers who worked on the report.

The committee also included another Democrat, two Republican lawmakers, Board of Elections representatives and lawyers for the Maryland Democratic Party and Maryland Republican Party.

The Sun reported on common complaints about the state's campaign finance system in November, shortly after the gubernatorial election.

Some recommendations in the committee's report: 

* Require candidates and political committees to report employer and occupation information from donors over a certain amount.
* Close an "LLC loophole" by treating different LLCs with a common owner as a single entity.
* Require slates to disclose which slate members benefit directly from slate expenses and transfers.
* Terminate slate members when they retire.
* Limit the amount that can be transferred among slate members.
* Require candidates to notify the Board of Elections about loans within 24 hours.
* Limit the amount of money transferred to candidates by out-of-state political committees.
* Review campaign finance limits, which have not changed since 1991.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, both Democrats, have chafed at Gansler's inclusion of lawmakers on the committee without first talking to legislative leaders.

Gansler said the State Board of Elections, which his office represents, might request specific legislation this year.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:00 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Campaign finance
        

Report: Sharfstein to head Health and Mental Hygiene

The number two official at the Food and Drug Administration will join the O'Malley administration.

Josh Sharfstein, the agency's Principal Deputy Commissioner would lead the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, according to a source familiar with the transition. That bureaucracy is now headed by Secretary John M. Colmers. The news was first reported by CQ's John Reichard.

A spokesman for Colmers referred calls to the governor's office, as did Sharfstein. O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said O'Malley is planning a press conference concerning DHMH in Annapolis Wednesday morning.

The state's health secretary oversees a $9 billion budget which includes the sprawling Medicaid program. The new secretary will have a significant role in implementing the Obama health care overhaul, an issue that O'Malley is prioritizing.

The change would bring Sharfstein much closer to home: The 41-year-old is a resident of Baltimore's Mount Washington neighborhood. Plus he's  familiar with Maryland politics -- before President Barack Obama tapped him for the FDA, Sharfstein was Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's health commissioner.

Most recently Sharfstein was the FDA's front man in its efforts to ban alcohol infused energy drinks like Four Loko. His name is frequently mentioned in the national press, where he's been closely associated with with the federal agency's new tougher stance on enforcement including recalls of pediatric medications and pistachios.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:20 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Administration, People, Washington
        

January 3, 2011

Welch looking to succeed mother on City Council

Sun colleague Julie Scharper reports:

When Baltimore City Council members convene Tuesday to consider applicants for the seat left open by long-time councilwoman’s retirement last month, at least one will be very familiar to them: The councilwoman’s son, who served as her aide for nearly three decades.

William A. “Pete” Welch Jr., 57, is running to replace his mother, Agnes Welch. He says his experience working with the residents and businesses of West Baltimore qualify him for the job.

But Welch’s three challengers — who include a political science professor, a teacher who helped found a charter school and the director of a nonprofit — say it’s time for a change in the Ninth District, which includes many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

They point to Welch’s past brushes with law, which stem from his work on his mother’s campaigns. He pleaded guilty in 2000 to second-degree assault and gun violations for firing a pistol to disburse a group of angry poll workers demanding promised payments, and pleaded guilty in 2004 to three misdemeanor charges for failing to file campaign finance reports.

Welch also was found guilty of paying poll workers in 1999, a practice that was outlawed but is now legal.

“If we’re going to be serious about improving our city and our neighborhoods, we need to get people in office who are qualified to do those jobs,” said John T. Bullock, a political scientist at Towson University who is running for the council seat. “Other than being her son, what qualifications does he bring?”

Welch describes the gun incident as a “life-changing event” that prompted him to learn anger management techniques and obtain a certificate in mediation. He says the failure to update campaign finance reports was a mistake.

A certified public accountant, he says that his tenure as a legislative aide can ensure a smooth transition for the district.

“I know the agencies. I know the policy and procedure,” he said. “It makes it that much easier to move forward from day one.”

The council will selected a successor to complete the term of Agnes Welch — and reap the benefits of incumbency in the regular election this fall.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young says the council will make a decision based on each candidate’s merits. But privately, council members say that Welch’s selection is all but guaranteed. The council is not expected to vote Tuesday.

Michael E. Johnson, 55, who garnered about a quarter of the vote when he ran against Agnes Welch in 2007, says that he is running to make a statement to the ninth district’s residents.

“The council is not going to make a change. They’re going to elect Agnes’ son,” said Johnson, director of the Paul Robeson Institute, which advocates for progressive causes.

A former employee of the city housing department and the Baltimore Development Corporation, the city’s quasi-public development arm, Johnson aims to draw more busineses and grocery stores to the district and boost job opportunities.

“We need a comprehensive plan of how to get jobs and how to get people off the corners,” he said.

A spokesman for Young said that Johnson’s application could be disqualified because he has not yet submitted a copy of his voter registration card.

Abigail Breiseth, another candidate, helped found the Southwest Baltimore Charter School in the district and currently teaches special needs students at the Baltimore Lab School.

A call to Breiseth was not immediately returned. According to her website, she hopes to foster the creation of new jobs, increase tourism in the district and boost development that makes the area an easier place to walk and live.

Bullock, the Towson University professor, earned a doctorate in political science with an emphasis on local government from the University of Maryland College Park last year. He worked in the District of Columbia’s transportation department and completed several fellowships with both Baltimore and district government agencies.

A native of Philadelphia, Bullock and his wife settled in the Evergreen neighborhood five years ago. He is vice president of the Evergreen Protective Association and serves on an umbrella community group, the Alliance of Rosemont Community Organizations.

“When you look around the Ninth District, you see abandoned houses, people out of work, trash, debris, litter,” he said. “We need someone who has the energy to make the relationships with the agencies to get problems fixed.”

Bullock believes that his expertise in transportation in particular will aid the district, because the proposed Red Line light rail service will run through the district — prompting hopes for development near rail stops.

“I think there’s really something to be said for returning to neighborhoods like this and being an agent of change,” he said. “I could write about it, but I’d rather be on the ground living it and doing it.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:20 PM | | Comments (1)
        

How Maryland's deficit stacks up with other states

Maryland's lawmakers face a $1.6 billion deficit challenge when they return to Annapolis. As tricky as that might be, other states are in far more of a quagmire -- and are contemplating extreme decisions that would make many Marylanders queasy.

This weekend, we wrote about some of the budget-nipping options that Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley is pondering as he puts together the fiscal 2012 budget, which lawmakers will then adjust in the three-month legislative session that begins next week. The possibilities in Maryland:

* A 5 percent across-the-board cut to K-12 education.
* Increased hospital fees to support Medicaid.
* State worker buyouts and layoffs to decrease state work force by at least 1,500.
* Folding state agencies, including the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
* Rethinking state worker pensions and health benefits.
* Offloading 40 percent of teacher pensions to Baltimore City and counties.

Policy experts who track state budgets say Maryland is about in the middle of the pack when it comes to financial woes. Which states are worse off? The New York Times recently published a story about what it calls "the looming crisis."

"Some of the same people who warned of the looming subprime crisis two years ago are ringing alarm bells again. Their message: Not just small towns or dying Rust Belt cities, but also large states like Illinois and California are increasingly at risk."

Illinois and California top many analysts' lists of most imperiled states, with Nevada, New Jersey and Michigan right up there.

Officials in Illinois and other states have sold billions in bonds to help pay for unfunded worker pensions. California, Illinois, New York and other states have delayed payments to vendors -- IOUs with no end date in sight.

California has laid off thousands of teachers. New Gov. Jerry Brown recently told school officials: "Fasten your seatbelt; it's going to be a rough ride."

Arizona has sold off state property, including the building where the governor has her offices. The state is leasing those buildings back from the new owners. This budget "solution" will end up costing state taxpayers hundreds of millions more over the long haul. California is considering a similar leaseback plan.

The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently summarized the woes this way: "The worst recession since the 1930s has caused the steepest decline in state tax receipts on record. State tax collections, adjusted for inflation, are now 12 percent below pre-recession levels... At least 46 states struggled to close shortfalls when adopting budgets for the current fiscal year."

A chart compiled by the center shows projected fiscal 2012 deficits as a percentage of the total budget. Maryland's $1.6 billion shortfall is about 12 percent of its budget. Illinois' $17 billion is more than 50 percent. In total, state deficits amount to $112.7 billion -- about 19 percent of total state spending.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 9:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Tax & Spend
        
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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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