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July 31, 2011

MD to watch abortion clinics more closely

Abortion clinics in Maryland will have to apply for a state license, provide a 24-hour hotline for patients, show that they have qualified anesthesia providers and develop emergency plans should procedures go awry according to new draft regulations the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released Friday.

Clinics failing to comply would face a $1,000 penalty -- or have their license revoked. The department is seeking public comment on the regulations until mid-August.

In a statement, the health department said the draft regs "reflect the right balance of preserving both safety and access."

The regulations were issued in response to a high-profile incident last fall when a woman was critically injured at an Elkton clinic run by Steven C. Brigham, a man who did not have a license to practice medicine in Maryland. His unorthodox approach involved initiating abortions in New Jersey and instructing patients to drive to Maryland where he completed the surgery.

Revelations about the Elkton clinic led lawmakers and religious groups to call for tighter rules governing the state's approximately 40 abortion providers. But abortion rights activists worried that that overly onerous regulations could shut down most or all clinics in the state.

Both sides are expected to comment on the draft rules.

In drafting the regulations, Maryland's health department researched other times when abortions have gone awry. They found that in the past 20 years the five doctors have been disciplined for harming patients. Three of the 5 incidents stemmed from poor administration of anesthesia.  
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:11 PM | | Comments (1)

July 29, 2011

Md. GOP lawmakers to support debt plan

Updated with roll call and reaction.

Maryland’s two Republican lawmakers backed a plan in the House of Representatives on Friday to raise the nation’s debt ceiling as the state's Democrats voted unanimously against it.

Western Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett and Baltimore County Rep. Andy Harris were among the last holdouts on the proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner. Specifically, the two came on board after Republican leaders agreed to include a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Congress to balance the budget.

“I didn’t come to Washington to put off making the tough decisions necessary to deal with our crippling debt and deficits,” Harris said. “I came to Washington to end budget tricks, accounting gimmicks and empty promises. A balanced budget amendment will provide the permanent accountability that America needs in Washington.”

The House voted 218-210 to support the Boehner plan, which would raise the debt ceiling through the end of the year while cutting more than $900 billion in federal spending. Hours later, the Democratic-controlled Senate moved to table the measure on 59-41 vote.

House Democrats had already vowed to vote against the plan en masse, so it was conservative Republicans who held the most leverage over the past several days. On Thursday night, both Bartlett and Harris were still undecided, and Republican leaders announced at the last minute that they would delay a vote on their plan.

"Americans can’t afford to wait until after the next election to reduce the federal government’s exploding debt," Bartlett said. The proposal, he said, would "prevent default, cut government spending more than it increases our debt ceiling without tax increases and compels this Congress and this president to reduce the federal government’s exploding debt and vote on a balanced budget amendment.”

House Democrats panned the measure. Rep. Donna F. Edwards said the bill "is nothing short of reckless, potentially sending our economy on a downward spiral.”

Senate Democrats threatened to table the plan and they carried through on that threat late Friday. Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin both voted to table the bill.

Lawmakers will work through the weekend to find a compromise on raising the debt ceiling by Tuesday. The Obama administration has warned that the government will have to forgo making some payments unless the ceiling is raised by then.

“Now is the time to do what is best for America,” said Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore. “We must practice the art of politics, which is to say the art of compromise."

Posted by John Fritze at 2:16 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

Cardin less confident on Aug. 2 deadline

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Friday that he is less confident than he was a day ago that Congress can agree on a deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2 and he warned that whatever agreement ultimately emerges will likely have a disproportionate effect on Maryland.

“Every day, until we have a deal, I get less confident. We’ve cut this too close. We’ve already caused damage to this country. Our reputation has been affected. Our credit has been affected,” the Maryland Democrat told The Sun. “I’m less confident today than I was yesterday. I still believe we’ll get it done but I think there is a significant risk that we won’t. And that is very troublesome to me.”

After delaying action Thursday night, the House of Representatives is moving toward a vote Friday on a proposal championed by Republican Speaker John Boehner. The Democratic-led Senate is poised to table that measure as soon as the House votes and bring up its own proposal. Cardin said he is reaching out to Republican colleagues in the Senate in the hunt for middle ground.

Although there is deep disagreement about the timeline for extending the limit – Republicans want a shorter-term extension than Democrats – there appears to be consensus that the actual budget cuts included in the Senate plan will hew closely to those called for by the House. Cardin said he is concerned those reductions will have a big impact on Maryland, given the state’s geographic and economic ties to Washington.

The cuts called for by Boehner’s plan -- as it was written Thursday night -- are “in the same general areas as” the Senate plan, Cardin said. “So there is no disagreement on the cuts.”

“I have lots of problems with it, but I will support it," Cardin said of those budget cuts.

"I do think that we are cutting areas that are further than I would like to see cut,” he said. “I do think these cuts are manageable. We can do it. But it’s not part of a balanced, comprehensive plan and that I find very, very disappointing.”

Posted by John Fritze at 1:09 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Washington

July 28, 2011

McDonough: Possibly in for Senate

Del. Patrick McDonough, the conservative Baltimore County Republican who helped to lead the petition drive opposing the Maryland Dream Act, may be “taking a serious look” at a run for U.S. Senate in Maryland in an effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin next year.

Then again, maybe not.

In an unusually timed statement released Wednesday night, McDonough said he would either run for Senate or for the House of Representatives from the 2nd Congressional District, which is currently represented by Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

The determining factor: The state’s redistricting process.

“As you may know, I have been testing the waters for a possible campaign against Dutch Ruppersberger for a seat in the 2nd Congressional District,” the statement began. “Of course, the re-districting and the new district will not be revealed until October. At that time, if the 2nd Congressional District transforms from ‘uphill to impossible,’ my personal decision will become clear.

“I have decided that if the 2nd Congressional District is gerrymandered rendering it impossible to win, I will take a serious look at seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland.”

McDonough could not be reached for comment after the statement was released at 10:30 on Wednesday. On Thursday, in an interview with The Sun, he was more direct than his statement: “I am going to be on the ballot one way or the other.” He noted that he has no control over redistricting, a process that will be handled solely by Democrats.

McDonough said he is not concerned about the possible fundraising challenge of jumping into a statewide race in October, arguing he has already expanded his base of supporters through the successful petition drive and other efforts. Cardin, considered a safe bet by non-partisan political observers such as the Cook Political Report, raised $1 million in the second quarter of this year and has $1.8 million in the bank.

“My decision to consider a run for Congress is based on two simple conclusions: 1) Washington is a mess. 2) I believe I can help make a difference,” his statement read. “My top priority is to serve in Washington as a representative of the people.”

One of McDonough’s competitors for the GOP nomination, Daniel Bongino, said that McDonough’s decision would not affect his campaign strategy.

“While we respect Delegate McDonough for the work he has done for the Republican Party, our campaign is not waiting on his decision (of) which office he wishes to run for,” Bongino said in a statement. “Washington has failed us and there is no time to sit back and watch the game, we will remain on the field and continue this fight.”

Update: McDonough's statement on Wednesday came late because it followed an item that appeared on the blog Red Maryland, which was the first to report that he was considering a run.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:17 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Washington

July 26, 2011

Rolley rolls out plan to cut property taxes

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley unveiled a plan Tuesday that he says would cut property tax rates for most homeowners by more than half in a decade.

Rolley's plan would keep property tax rates at current levels for commercial properties, including rental homes and apartments, and dramatically increase rates for vacant plots and buildings. He would also tax homes worth more than $200,000 at a slightly higher rate-- but only on the portion of the home's value that exceeds $200,000.

Rolley said that the increased revenue from blighted buildings would compensate for some of the revenue lost by the tax cuts to residential properties. He said he would also trim to city government, but did not specify which cuts he would make.

"There is enough fat within [city government] to enable us to do what we need to do," he said.

Rolley, the city's former planning director, is the third candidate to release a detailed plan to cut property taxes.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake introduced a proposal last week that would reduce property tax rates for homeowners by 9 percent over nine years.

Former Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors vice president Joseph T. "Jody" Landers has unveiled a plan that would model Baltimore's tax structure after the District of Columbia, where vacant and blighted properties are taxed at much higher rates.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh has pledged to cut the rate in half in four years, but has not detailed the specifics of her plan.

The city's property tax rate, which is more than twice that of surrounding counties, has become a key issue in the mayor's race, which, in heavily Democratic Baltimore, is all but decided by the September primary.

Rolley said that he would put his plan on the city's ballot, so that it could not be discontinued at the whim of a future mayor. He hopes that new residents will be drawn to the city with the promise of forthcoming tax cuts.

Rolley would create five different rates at which properties would be taxed. Owner-occupied homes worth less than $200,000 would be taxed at $1.10 per hundred dollars of assessed value, after a decade of gradual reductions. .

Homes worth more than $200,000 would be taxed at $1.75, but only on the portion of the value that exceeds $200,000.

Commercial properties and vacant, but well-tended homes, would be taxed at the city's current rate for all properties-- $2.268. Blighted vacant lots would be taxed at $5 and blighted homes would be taxed at $10.

Rolley said he would lobby General Assembly to allow the city to tax different classes of properties at different rates; Rawlings-Blake would also need the state legislators to do the same.

But Rolley's plan to tax homes at $200,000 at a higher rate could be complicated by a provision of the state constitution called the "uniformity provision."

In 1977, then- Attorney General Francis Burch issued an opinion in response to a proposal from Gov. Marvin Mandel to tax properties at various rates. Burch wrote that the varied tax rates could cause a "uniformity problem," and that "an argument might be made that the tax liability is not uniform with respect to property value."

Dan Friedman, the attorney general for the general assembly, said that this portion of Rolley's proposal could require a state or city referendum.

Rolley's campaign manager Dan Fee said Rolley planned to advocate for the laws to be changed.

"Otis believes that the toughest change isn't a change in the law, but a change in people's belief that Baltimore's best days are behind it," he said.

Steve Hanke, a Johns Hopkins University economics professor, praised Rolley's dramatic cuts, but said that the plan was overly complex.

"His program is way too complicated," he said. "If you do economic reforms, this is not the way to redesign them."

But, Hanke, who has advocated for sharply dropping the city's overall property tax rate, said he preferred Rolley's proposal to Rawlings-Blake's.

"Rolley has clearly diagnosed the problem correctly," he said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 7:12 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Balto. County school board task force chair looking ahead

A task force on the structure of the Baltimore County school board will begin developing its recommendations in the coming weeks, Sen. Kathy Klausmeier said.

Klausmeier, who chairs the task force, said she will be working with co-chairman Del. Steve Lafferty to gather input from other members based on the recent public hearings.

"I want to see if we can find a common thread," she said.

The final public hearing was held last night at the Towson Library. Many in attendance expressed support for an elected board, the structure that exists in more than 90 percent of school districts nationwide, or hybrid form that includes some appointed members to address diversity concerns. Currently, all county board members are appointed by the governor. Most Maryland school districts have elected boards.

Several attendees were skeptical that changes were needed in the board structure, pointing to the school district’s successes – from elementary and middle school test scores to high school graduation rates – and questioning whether research shows any link between school board structure and student achievement.

New school board president Lawrence Schmidt appeared before the committee last night. Schmidt said board members plan to discuss changing speaker time limits – only 10 randomly selected speakers are permitted at meetings – and possibly moving up the time allotted for public comment on the agenda.

Klausmeier said she is willing to meet with anyone who was not able to attend the three forums held this month in Reisterstown, Essex and Towson.

Klausmeier's district office is also accepting testimony by mail (ATTN: Baltimore County School Board Task Force). Submissions may also be emailed over the next two weeks to The task force will issue a report by October.

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Harris threatens ‘no’ vote on GOP debt proposal

Rep. Andy Harris, who as a first-term Republican is part of a block of lawmakers who may ultimately decide the fate of the debt ceiling debate, reiterated Tuesday that he will not support raising the limit unless a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget is included.

And as it stands now, the proposal put forward by Republican House Speaker John Boehner does not include a balanced budget amendment.

"By an overwhelming amount, Maryland families and businesses have contacted me to demand that the federal government get its fiscal house in order, stop spending more than it takes in, and balance the budget,” Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, said in a statement. “I disagree with the president -- we need a balanced budget amendment, and I won't vote to raise the debt ceiling unless a balanced budget amendment is part of the deal."

Western Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the state's other GOP member of Congress, is undecided on the legislation.

Freshmen GOP lawmakers such as Harris could make or break the proposal put forward this week by Boehner, an Ohio Republican, that would cut budget deficits by roughly $1.2 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling for about six months. The current proposal, headed toward a vote as early as Wednesday, only calls for a vote on a balanced budget amendment.

Because of that, several conservative Republicans balked at the measure Tuesday. Democrats, meanwhile, have also opposed the Boehner plan because it extends the debt limit for six months rather than the 17 months sought by President Barack Obama. The White House threatened to veto the Boehner plan on Tuesday.

Bartlett, meanwhile, is still studying the plan, said spokeswoman Lisa Lyons Wright, which is significant in itself. Bartlett opposed raising the debt ceiling long before it was fashionable to do so, voting 'no' on every such vote that has come up during his 10-term tenure. He did, however, support a GOP plan earlier this month that called for deep cuts, a cap on spending and a balanced budget amendment. The measure failed to advance in the Democratic-led Senate.

His spokeswoman said that Bartlett is "studying the details closely" to ensure that there are "spending cuts and budget reforms and no tax increases" in the effort to "avert a fiscal catastrophe."

Congress is scrambling to find a way to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling while also addressing calls to lower budget deficits. U.S. Treasury Department officials have said the limit must be raised by Aug. 2 to avoid a potential default of the country's obligations.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:38 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Washington

Senate committee gets sales tax lesson

A Senate committee today listened to the pros and cons of expanding Maryland's sales tax base to include more services, as well as goods purchased over the Internet.

Tangible products, but few services, sold by Maryland retailers are taxed at 6 percent. This year, the sales tax is predicted to generate $4.2 billion, about 30 percent of the state's general fund revenues, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

Legislative services analysts prepared a chart to show how much additional revenue the state could make by taxing engineering services, cable television, automobile repair, golf and other matters. If the state imposed a 6 percent tax on those and a dozen other services, it could bring in at least $1 billion more each year, the department estimated.

Taxing goods purchased over the Internet -- remote sales -- would bring Maryland another $184 million annually, one University of Tennessee study cited by legislative services showed. But an Internet sales tax is far more complicated, possibly involving federal approval.

Members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hastened to say they are not considering expanding the sales tax base at the time, but they spent more than two hours on the topic at a hearing in Annapolis.

"This is just a discussion," said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat on the committee. "There's nothing being considered. We're just here to hear comments."

Yet tax talk has been pervasive for the past year, as the General Assembly struggles with budget holes deepened by the recession and slow economic recovery. This year, the legislature signed off on a hike of the sales tax on alcohol, bumping it from 6 percent to 9 percent.

The same committee received a dire update this morning about the loss of federal money -- and possibly its top bond rating -- that could result from the debt ceilings talks in Washington.

Maryland Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen T. Snyder and other business advocates warned lawmakers that any decision to expand the sales tax base could drive companies out of Maryland.

Taxes and regulations have already caused a "competitiveness issue" in Maryland, Snyder said.

The Democrat-led General Assembly meets in October for a special session to approve a congressional redistricting plan. Although some legislative leaders had talked this spring about expanding the session to include revenue and other issues, recent Annapolis chatter has been that it'll be tightly focused on redistricting.

The legislature convenes for its next regular 90-day session in January.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Tax & Spend

State senators briefed on implications of federal action

(or inaction)

The Maryland Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee received a bleak update this morning about how the state's top bond rating is tied to what their counterparts in Washington might do -- or not do -- in the coming days as they debate raising the federal debt ceiling.

Last week, Moody's Investors Service included Maryland among five states it views as most vulnerable to changes in the U.S. government's bond rating, which would be affected by failure to increase the debt ceiling. But as noted at this morning's briefing, Maryland is likely to be impacted not only by that catastrophic possibility, but also by any deal struck to raise the ceiling.

Warren G. Deschenaux, director of the Department of Legislative Services, kept his message simple: "The bottom line is states are likely to lose under almost any scenario." 

That's because any federal debt deal probably would include cuts to state Medicaid funds and/or discretionary funds, Deschenaux predicted. He said federal highway funds were likely to be clipped.

Senators asked what, if anything, the state can do to insulate itself from what happens federally. Deschenaux urged them to keep the state budget balanced and to maintain -- and increase, if possible -- their rainy day fund. 

If the state does lose its coveted AAA rating, Deschenaux said, it's not terribly difficult to earn it back after addressing the problem that prompted the downgrade. Another small plus: the next bond sale isn't scheduled until February. By then, Maryland will know what's in store in terms of federal cuts and can adjust its budget accordingly.

"I hope the rest of your day goes better," Deschenaux said as he concluded his presentation.  

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Prince George's pols seek compact district

A boisterous roomful of Prince George's County political junkies and activists asked for a compact and contiguous congressional district when mapmakers redraw lines in October.

Though nuances differed -- a group with backing from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund is making a push for three majority black congressional districts -- all speakers sought maps that keep Prince George's county represented by politicians on the western shore.

Sharon Taylor of Bowie Maryland said she does not want African Americans to be used as "filler" to help elect far flung congressional representatives. "Prince George's County can not be the sacrificial lamb," she said.

The sentiment was in step with Prince George's Republicans who argued for a member of congress who would live nearby. "I don't want to travel down yonder" to meet with a member of Congress, said Mykel Harris, the chair of the Prince George's GOP Central Committee.

Nobody testified in favor of a plan to stretch the Republican held first congressional district across the Chesapeake Bay to Prince George's -- and idea that could dilute the GOP support and make the district easier for a Democratic gain.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 9:27 AM | | Comments (0)

July 25, 2011

In-state tuition petition attracts tens of thousands of Democrats

Nearly one out of every three people who signed a petition opposing the Maryland Dream Act are registered Democrats, according to data from the state board of elections.

The information backs up contentions by GOP Del. Neil Parrott and others that the Republican-led effort to repeal the law has bipartisan support. The state board of elections on Friday said that enough valid signatures were collected to trigger a referendum on the law in 2012.

The party identification data tracks with figures from an initial batch of petitions due at the end of May. The opponents of the new law turned in a total of 108,923 valid signatures. Just over 32,000 came from Democrats.

The law would allow illegal immigrants access to the same discounted in-state tuition at Maryland's colleges and universities that legal residents pay. Undocumented students would have to prove their parents filed tax returns and show that they'd attend a Maryland high school for three years. It was supposed to be enacted in July, but has been suspended because of the referendum.

There's been no polling (that I'm aware of) on the in-state tuition law. But, if the voter registration trends from the petition hold, the law could be in trouble. Should the GOP vote en mass against the bill and pick up one third of the state's Democrats, the law would theoretically lose by about 140,000 votes. (Of course, that assumes perfect turnout. Email me if you are dying to see the math.)
It was also noteworthy that Democrats were slightly less likely to go a sophisticated new website that Parrott created to generate petitions. The website caught the attention of the Maryland ACLU, which raised questions about whether the method would pass constitutional muster.

According to the state board, one in four internet generated petitions came from Democrats. Sixty percent were Republicans. He is saving his list of names and re-purpose the site for other repeal efforts.

Parrott's website can be credited with collecting one third of the valid signatures for the effort. It's a big number, but as it turns out so many people signed the petition that opponents would have been successful even without it.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:50 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Immigration

Balto. County GOP to hold legislative redistricting hearing

The Baltimore County Republican Central Committee will gather input on state redistricting issues at a community hearing on Aug. 4 at the Holiday Inn in Timonium

The hearing will start at 7 p.m., and provide residents and communities with an opportunity to discuss legislative district preferences as state public redistricting hearings get underway, said Tom Henry, the committee's second vice chair.

UPDATE: Attendees are encouraged to register online at Baltimore County United for Fair Redistricting or on the night of the hearing. Electronic copies of testimony may also be posted on the site.

“Our hearing is an important part of our work to develop an independent, sensible, good-government alternative to redistricting in Baltimore County,” Henry said in a press release. “We believe that the people of Baltimore County know their communities best. We also believe that an electoral map should put our communities and the people that live within them first. The citizens of Baltimore County deserve a sensible solution. We will develop one.”

The committee’s redistricting initiative is an independent commission not affiliated with Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Posted by Raven Hill at 9:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 23, 2011

Western MD Dems make pitch for bluer congressional district

A series of Democrats from Maryland's westernmost corner sent a clear message to legislative map makers at a meeting this afternoon: Give us a chance to take this congressional seat.

"My job is to turn Frederick blue," said Myrna Whitworth, a self-described partisan who testified at the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee in Frederick.  She said that the overwhelming number of Republicans packed into the district means state and national parties ignore the area, assuming it would be impossible to win.

Don DeArmon, a former Democratic candidate for Congress, declared: "We have a chance to create competitive districts."

The sentiment is at odds with a view pushed by U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, who has repeatly talked about using the redistricting process to pour Democrats into the 1st congressional district on the Eastern Shore. It is held by freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Harris.

The Western Maryland congressional seat is occupied by U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Jr., a founding member of the Tea Party Caucus. He's held it since 1993 and is wildly popular, taking 61 percent of the vote last year. But at 85 years old and displaying lackluster fundraising, some Democrats in Annapolis privately wonder if he's the easier target.

Bartlett's district now includes eight counties, seven of which stretch along the Mason-Dixon line. It was designed 10 years ago by Gov. Parris Glendening to contain as many GOP voters as possible.

But those testifying Saturday repeatedly argued that Frederick tilts toward Washington, D.C. and suggested lopping off the eastern chunk of the district. That would mean losing Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties. Instead the new district would jut further into northern Montgomery County where they could pick up Democrats.

Several argued that transit lines and commuting patterns flow from Western Maryland to Washington, D.C. They said the population from Fredrick out the Garrett has little in common with Baltimore County, which is more oriented toward Charm City.

But a handful of Republicans, including Sens. David Brinkley and Joe Getty, asked to keep the district mostly the same. They argued that the eight rural counties have more in common than not and should stay together.

The five-member redistricting panel will meet again Monday evening in Prince George's County. The congressional map will have to be approved by the General Assembly, which is set to meet again for special session in October.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:56 PM | | Comments (3)

July 22, 2011

O'Malley to sponsor same-sex marriage bill

Standing with House and Senate supporters, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced this afternoon that he will lead the charge for gay marriage in Maryland and put his name on a bill that allows same-sex couples to wed.

"Marylanders of all walks of life want their children to live in a loving, stable, committed home protected under the law," O'Malley said. He said it would be one of "a small handful" of legislative priorities.

The governor was supportive of same-sex marriage last year, but stayed mostly in the background. Today's announcement was rumored for weeks, with chatter increasing after a gay marriage bill was signed into law in New York.

O'Malley said he hopes to learn from the New York effort and spoke admiringly about the religious protections offered by that law, though he did not offer any specific changes that he might make.

The Maryland Catholic Conference immediately issued a statement calling the governor's decision "regrettable." "The moral and social impacts of redefining marriage would be pervasive and severe," according to the statement.

A same-sex marriage bill passed out of Maryland's Senate last session. But it was withdrawn from the House of Delegates when leaders determined it was a few votes shy of passage.

O'Malley tasked his top lobbyist, Joseph C. Bryce, with spearheading the effort to move the bill in 2012. Bryce, a well respected Annapolis aide, will coordinate the new Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition and develop a strategy to garner additional votes.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:58 PM | | Comments (47)
Categories: General Assembly 2010

Maryland leaders react to Obama town hall

Includes reporting by John Fritze and Rebekah Brown

President Barack Obama's town hall drew many state elected Democratic officials to College Park on Friday while others watched on television. Here is some reaction to the hour long question-and-answer session. Some comments are from interviews conducted at the University of Maryland and others are from prepared statements.

Gov. Martin O'Malley: “As the president said, Americans ‘didn’t choose a dysfunctional government.’ As a nation, we must pay our bills on time, and we must find a fiscally responsible way forward that balances revenues and cuts, so that we can continue to create jobs and compete to win in the new global economy."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin: "The Republicans can maintain their values, Democrats can retain their values and we can reach a compromise that raises the debt ceiling and brings about a balanced approach to deal with the deficit...(but) you cannot enact a comprehensive, $4 trillion deal by Aug. 2 or by Aug. 15, so it can't be done in this time frame. The best we can do would be raise the debt ceiling, provide a down payment on the spending side and a mechanism that could get us to a more comprehensive approach."

Maryland Republican Party Interim Executive Director, Del. Justin Ready: "The fundamental issue is the idea that it's fair to raise taxes -- that that's going to be the fair way to deal with what is essentially a problem with the government over spending and spending beyond its means... Increased taxes are going to hurt the economy. We've got to get our spending under control."

Maryland state Comptroller Peter Franchot: "I would urge him to be strong. The state of Maryland is going to suffer, frankly, whatever happens. If they don't reach an agreement, we lose our AAA bond rating. If they do reach an agreement, we have huge cuts that are headed toward our state. I think he needs to show a lot more muscle and get this debt issue resolved."

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski: “Stuck in their Washington bubble, Team Obama believes the economy has improved under his watch despite losing 2.5 million jobs and adding 3.7 trillion to the debt. It’s become painfully clear that President Obama and his advisors are vastly out of touch with reality. Just today Obama called Governor O’Malley one of the best governors in the country – yes, the leader of the state that is dead last in job creation.”

Senior Vice President of the University of Maryland Student Government Association Matthew Popkin: "Overall, I think it’s great the president wanted to include the student voice -- and not just from students at the University of Maryland -- on a decision that will impact all of our futures, whether we are leaders or whether we are just citizens."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 2:41 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

Obama calls out Kratovil

Democrat Frank Kratovil hasn't decided whether to run for his old seat in Congress next year, but he nevertheless made an interesting play Friday by showing up to President Barack Obama's town hall at the University of Maryland. The move appeared to pay off.

Obama, speaking to 1,000 students on the College Park campus -- not to mention a national television audience -- shouted out to the former Eastern Shore congressman three times during the event, which was focused on the economy and the debt ceiling negotiations.

"Former congressman Frank Kratovil is here," Obama said, as he thanked several currently elected Maryland officials in the audience for attending, such as Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin. "You wouldn't know it looking at him, but Frank is an outstanding basketball player. The Terps might be able to use him, even at this age...He's got all kinds of moves."

Kratovil, a lawyer, was one of dozens of Democrats who were swept into the House of Representatives in the 2008 election that sent Obama to the White House. He was swept right back out in 2010 by Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican anesthesiologist. Despite a fair amount of speculation, Kratovil hasn't said whether he'll run again.

"A lot of his talk is very much where I am philosophically," Kratovil said of Obama's address. "We are very good at getting people elected, but we're not very good at electing people who can lead."

Posted by John Fritze at 1:34 PM | | Comments (7)

Immigrant tuition referendum officially makes ballot

The State Board of Elections today notified petitioners that they have succeeded in their effort to have Maryland voters weigh in on a new law enabling illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

But advocates of the tuition bill have until Aug. 1 to file a lawsuit challenging the referendum.

Elections officials have been counting and validated signatures over the past few weeks. In all, the board accepted 108,923 signatures, nearly double the 55,000 or so needed to secure the referendum a spot on the November 2012 ballot.

“Today the voters of Maryland have achieved a huge victory,“ Del. Neil Parrott said in a statement. The Washington County Republican led the petition effort.

“When we started this petition drive, we knew that Maryland voters wanted more financial responsibility in Annapolis and wanted the enforcement of our immigration laws, not ways to skirt around the law. Today marks the beginning of the end for an illegal alien benefits bill that simply does not make sense.”

Kim Propeack of immigrant advocacy group Casa de Maryland said Casa and other groups are eyeing a lawsuit.

“We don't agree with the State Board of Elections on a lot of their decisions,” she said.

Specifically, Casa and the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union believe it is illegal for petitioners to have used a website that links with the state voter registration database to fill in names — citing the potential for fraud.

Also, Casa officials believe the board should not have accepted petitions that were stapled to the full text of the law; the board required petitioners to sign a form with the law printed on the back.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:56 AM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Immigration

Maryland State Police superintendent to retire

Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, who has led the state police throughout nearly all of Gov. Martin O'Malley's tenure, will retire at the end of the month.

Sheridan (top picture, Maryland State Archives) chief of the Baltimore County Police for 11 years before O'Malley appointed him to the superintendent post in June 2007. He has spent nearly five decades in law enforcement.

O'Malley has tapped Marcus L. Brown, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, to lead the Maryland State Police. 

"Colonel Sheridan has done a tremendous job leading the more than 2,500 employees of the Maryland State Police," O'Malley said in a statement. "With 46 years of law enforcement experience, Colonel Sheridan helped strengthened our relationship with local, state and federal law enforcement to improve public safety and homeland security."

Early on in his new post, Sheridan had to shepherd the state police through a spying scandal that unfolded in 2005-2006, when Robert. L. Ehrlich was governor and Col. Tim Hutchins was police superintendent.  

Sheridan said in a statement: "Working with our federal, state and local partners, we have made important strides in improving public safety during these challenging times. I look forward to spending more time with my family and pursuing other career opportunities.”

Brown, a former member of the Baltimore City command staff, has been in charge of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police since 2007.

"Colonel Sheridan has made significant achievements over the last several years and I look forward to building on those accomplishments and continuing to serve the citizens of Maryland with professionalism,” Brown said in a statement.
Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Crime & Justice

Obama continues push for large deal on debt limit

Includes reporting from John Fritze and Childs Walker.

President Barack Obama, speaking to students at the University of Maryland on Friday, reiterated his desire for a broad agreement to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit, even as the latest attempt at a "grand plan" took fire from all sides and the clock began to run out.

In an hour long town hall on the College Park campus, Obama repeated calls for a "balanced approach," arguing that the only fair path forward is for wealthy Americans to pay more in taxes if cuts are made to safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Lawmakers have until Aug. 2 to raise the debt ceiling or risk a default of U.S. obligations.

"This isn't about punishing wealth," the president told the crowd at Ritchie Coliseum. "This is about asking the people who have benefited the most during the past decade to share in the sacrifices. We can pass a balanced plan like this. It's not going to make everyone happy."

Obama, who has been meeting for weeks with congressional leaders at the White House, said he is still working to convince House Republicans of that vision. As he spoke, the Democratic-led Senate, as expected, failed to advance a conservative GOP plan that would have made raising the debt ceiling contingent on passing a constitutional amendment to require Congress to balance future budgets.

Senate leaders also announced that the chamber would not work through the weekend, as had been planned.

"In 2010, Americans chose a divided government," Obama said, "but they didn't chose a dysfunctional government."

Friday's town hall, in which Obama took questions from students and faculty, marks his fourth visit to the campus -- his second as president. He came to College Park in 2009, during the battle over health care, campaigned at the school for president in 2008 and stumped for then-Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's Senate bid in 2006.

All three of those efforts were ultimately successful.

In a statement, the Republican National Committee argued that Obama and his advisors are "vastly out of touch with reality."

"Stuck in their Washington bubble, Team Obama believes the economy has improved under his watch despite losing 2.5 million jobs and adding 3.7 trillion to the debt," RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.

Though his opening remarks focused on the debt issue, Obama took a range of questions from students, including on the nation's drug policy and whether he had any regrets since taking office.

Aaron Kaufman, a University of Maryland senior with cerebral palsy, implored the president to protect disability funding in negotiations with Congress.

After the speech, Kaufman said he was reassured by Obama’s response. “I could see in the president’s face that he connected with the question,” Kaufman said. “He made the argument that I wanted him to make, which is that we can’t be pennywise and pound foolish.”

Kaufman, a Silver Spring native, shook the president’s hand after the speech and said the president thanked him for spotlighting the needs of the disabled.

“I really felt that he got it,” Kaufman said. “It’s not appropriate to balance the budget on the backs of the disabled. And I thought it was important for him to see the human face of it as he approaches the deadline on the debt ceiling.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Attorney General Douglas Gansler also attended the event.

"People don't expect Congress always to agree but on fundamental responsibilities, people do expect agreement," said O'Malley, who has increasingly engaged in the debate, including with an address to Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week. "I think the president's instinct to make this case in public is the right one."

Students and other members of the public had camped out overnight for tickets for the event. On Friday, in an effort to beat the sweltering weather, the university set up portable air-conditioners to cool the crowd that lined up outside on the way into Ritchie.

“I liked that he spoke to us directly,” said Della Cheremoshnyk, a rising sophomore at Baltimore’s Carver Vocational-Technical High School. “He made me feel more assured.”

“I am a little worried about how things are going to be when I get out of college,” said Erica Lamberson, a Washington resident who will begin her freshman year at Emory University next month. “He gave me some hope. That’s what he’s good at.”

Posted by John Fritze at 11:07 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Washington

July 21, 2011

O'Malley announcement on gay marriage set for Friday

** Update: O'Malley will make his announcement on gay marriage Friday in Annapolis. **

Gov. Martin O'Malley said this morning that he will reveal his strategy on same-sex marriage at an event either tomorrow or Monday.

Activists have been working for months to persuade him to put his name on the controversial bill and include it in his legislative agenda. "I supported it last year," he said to colleague John Fritze. "I support it now."

The governor made his remarks in Washington, D.C. after addressing Democratic members of Congress at a closed door meeting.

O'Malley has told The Sun that he would have sponsored the bill this year if he thought it would be helpful for passage. The measure cleared the Senate this year, but was pulled from the House floor when it became clear that supporters were a few votes shy. The governor made phone calls to wavering members, but never made a full court push for the bill. 

O'Malley this morning noted that the recently enacted gay marriage law in New York shows "that we can protect religious freedoms and equality of civil marital rights at the same time."

Much of the lengthy debate on the issue in Maryland centered on ensuring that churches, synagogues and other religious institutions could opt-out of performing ceremonies their faith does not condone. Supporters accepted amendments in committee and on the Senate floor to beef up that section of the bill -- making it clear that churches would not have to change their practices to accommodate gay members. 

But opponents never believed the changes were sufficient -- in particular they wanted to enable religious institutions to deny gay couples services offered to the wider public, like adoptions.

Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this blog post.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 12:51 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Same-Sex Marriage

O’Malley blames GOP for gridlock

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has ratcheted up his rhetoric in recent days over the ongoing talks on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, told Democrats in Congress Thursday that not reaching an agreement would have a significant impact on Maryland and other states.

Calling the debate a “defining moment in our country’s history,” O’Malley blamed “extreme members of the Republican Party” for the gridlock on raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Naming names, O’Malley reiterated a line he has used in recent days, pointing at House Majority Leader “Eric Cantor and the dinosaur wing of the Republican Party.”

But O'Malley, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, also said he believes some GOP moderates are negotiating in good faith.

“I believe that a majority of public servants in the proud party of Lincoln want what’s best for our country and would like to see our country move forward,” O'Malley said during a news conference that followed the closed-door meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “That’s really the resonant space that we need to find.”

O’Malley noted a threat made this week by Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade the state’s AAA bond rating, a move that would increase the cost of borrowing. Following that threat, state officials decided Wednesday to hold off by one business day the start of a sale of $718 million in state bonds.

“On both sides of the Potomac, Maryland’s triple-a bond rating and Virginia’s triple-a bond rating is threatened by our potential inability to pay the bills of the United States, the wealthiest republic on the planet,” he said.

Because of its proximity to Washington and its close ties to the federal government, Maryland could also be adversely affected by whatever agreement Congress and the White House ultimately reach. Federal government employees, for instance, will likely take a hit in compensation. Spending cuts could also have an impact on the state’s federal contractors.

Both O’Malley and Rep. Steny Hoyer, who invited the governor to speak to the Democratic caucus, stressed their preference that the agreement to raise the debt ceiling include new revenues. Republican leaders in the House have steadfastly opposed that idea.

Posted by John Fritze at 11:40 AM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Washington

July 20, 2011

Feds to close more than 20 data centers in Md.

Washington correspondent John Fritze reports:

The federal government plans to close more than 20 data centers in Maryland by the end of 2012, part of a nationwide effort to reduce redundancy and save money on electricity-hungry computer servers, the White House said Wednesday.

Officials expect to close 373 centers nationwide by the end of next year and 800 by 2025, an effort the Office of Management and Budget estimates will save taxpayers more than $3 billion.

The centers, which typically house computer equipment, can be as large as a building or as small as a closet.

In one example cited by the White House, the Treasury Department will close a roughly 13,000-square-foot facility in Lanham.

According to OMB, that data center hosts 250 servers and costs taxpayers more than $400,000 a year in leasing and electricity costs. In addition to the cost of powering the servers themselves, the equipment usually requires round-the-clock air conditioning and heating.

“With data centers that run as large as three and a half football fields, shutting down excess datacenters will save taxpayers billions of dollars by cutting costs for infrastructure, real estate and energy,” U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said in a statement.

The number of data centers managed by the federal government has increased from 432 to more than 2,000 since 1998, according to the OMB. Those facilities have been using only 27 percent of their computing capacity.

There typically are few jobs associated with the centers.

Data provided by OMB show that the federal government has already closed 13 sites in Maryland, most in Greenbelt and Bethesda. Those that remain to be closed include a Department of Transportation facility in Baltimore and a Department of Homeland Security center in Abingdon.

The government’s effort to cut down on server farms follows similar moves in the private sector, which has relied increasingly on cloud servers to store certain data on the internet.

It also comes after OMB announced in May that it would sell off or demolish 320 industrial buildings in Maryland.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:20 PM | | Comments (7)

Kopp: Maryland will delay bond sale

Maryland will delay borrowing more than $700 million to give investors time to digest the debate over raising the federal debt ceiling, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said Wednesday.

The move, which will push back the first day of the state bond sale from Friday to Monday, comes a day after Moody’s Investors Service said it would review “for possible downgrade” the credit ratings of Maryland and four other states.

Kopp stressed that the decision to delay the sale did not come in response to concern from the bond market or changes in interest rates based on the Moody's report.

“It seemed to be a good idea to give it the weekend to clear things out,” Kopp said, suggesting that the extra time would give potential buyers a chance to review the state’s AAA credit score and also read the report from Moody’s. “In the end, we don’t think it should make much difference.”

The bonds are to be used for school construction and refinancing old debt.

If the rating agencies ultimately downgrade the state’s credit score, it could have a significant impact on the cost of borrowing. But Moody’s has said only that it would review Maryland’s creditworthiness. The influential service has said that it would not change the rating unless it first downgraded the federal government’s score.

Both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have threatened to downgrade the nation’s rating as the battle over raising the federal government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling has dragged on. Treasury officials say the country risks defaulting on its obligations for the first time in history if the debt limit is not increased by Aug. 2.

The Moody’s announcement focused on states that have close ties to the federal government, such as those with a high concentration of federal employees. The list of states under review also includes New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

But the timing of the Moody’s report was particularly bad for Maryland, which was preparing to begin selling $718 million in bonds on Friday to the general public. That sale now will begin on Monday, Kopp said.

A separate, competitive bond sale targeted at institutional investors will continue on schedule, she said.

About $500 million of the money is to be used for school construction and other capital costs. Roughly another $200 million is to be used to refinance previous debt.

Kopp has stressed that Maryland does not need to borrow the money immediately. Unlike the federal government, the state is borrowing money to pay for construction costs, not operating expenses.

In Washington, congressional leaders met with President Barack Obama again Wednesday. They are considering several proposals to raise the debt ceiling and also make significant cuts in federal spending.

Posted by John Fritze at 4:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Washington

State to extend bid deadline for city slots license

** Update - Slots commission extended Baltimore deadline by 2 months **

Maryland's slots commission convened a meeting on short notice to decide whether to give Baltimore developers an additional two months to hand in their casino proposals, adding yet another twist to the long-delayed project.

The commissioners are discussing the matter in closed session now.

The idea is under consideration on the same day that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is rolling out her plans to spend the slots revenue. She wants to put most of the money toward reducing city property taxes by nine percent. It is unclear how much the delay -- it if occurs -- will impact her plan.

Robert Howells, with the State Lottery Agency, said during the meeting that his office needs more time to answer questions from potential Baltimore casino developers. He characterized their inquiries as "very technical" and "very thoughtful."

"It is difficult to cut off questions," Howells said, noting that he is aware that is answers may affect whether some groups decide to bid.

Developers for the Baltimore project are supposed to turn in their plans by next Thursday. A delay would likely put the due date after the Baltimore mayoral primary, eliminating any potential embarrassment should bids fail to materialize.

Baltimore developer Patrick Turner attended the meeting with his business partner Jim Seay, who owns Premier Rides and recently traveled to Asia with Gov. Martin O'Malley. The pair declined to comment.
Separately, potential bidders for the Rocky Gap casino in Western Maryland met this morning. Howells said there were about a dozen entities represented at the meeting.  
Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:21 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Slots

Bongino to attend Beck rally in Israel

Daniel Bongino, the former U.S. Secret Service agent who is running for Senate, will travel to Israel next month to attend a rally being organized by the outgoing Fox commentator and conservative icon Glenn Beck, his campaign said.

Beck, who told a Christians United for Israel summit this week that defending Israel may be "the cause of our lifetime," is planning the rally for Aug. 24. Beck invited Bongino, a Republican running against Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, to attend the event.

"Israel is one of our staunchest allies in an increasingly volatile world," Bongino said in a statement. "From Israel's inception it has promoted freedom and democracy for all of its citizens and stands as a beacon of freedom in a region of the world that cries out for such.”

Conservative Republicans have been particularly vocal on Israel since President Barack Obama suggested during a speech in May that the boundaries in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war should serve as a starting point for peace negotiations – a position that angered Israeli leaders.

But it’s not clear whether Bongino can distinguish himself from Cardin on the issue. Cardin is a long-established defender of Israel who has enjoyed support from groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The group recently praised Cardin for co-sponsoring a non-binding resolution approved by the Senate that threatens to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority if its leaders try to circumvent direct negotiations with Israel.

“We should never let the international community divide the strength between the United States and Israel,” Cardin said during an address to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs on June 27. “We need to help Israel from so many countries that want to isolate it."

Asked whether Bongino would use campaign money to pay for the trip, a campaign spokeswoman said details are still being worked out with Beck's staff.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:57 PM | | Comments (47)
Categories: Washington

July 19, 2011

Md. lawmakers split vote on GOP plan

Maryland lawmakers in the House of Representatives split their vote along party lines Tuesday on a Republican proposal to lift the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling in exchange for deep budget cuts and a constitutional amendment that would require Congress to balance the budget.

The measure, which has no chance of passing in the Democratic-led Senate, cleared the House on a 234-190 vote. Five Democrats joined all but nine Republicans to support the measure. Maryland’s two Republicans – Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland and Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County – both supported the bill while the state’s six Democrats did not.

“This bill will force the government to do what hard working Maryland families and businesses do every single day: balance their budget,” Harris, an early supporter of the "cut, cap and balance" proposal, said in a statement following the vote.

The proposal would require $111 billion in budget cuts next year and would cap federal spending at under 20 percent of gross domestic product, compared with the current 24 percent. It would also require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to approve tax increases.

House Democrats balked at the GOP proposal, arguing that it threatens safety net programs such as Medicare.

“This is not your garden variety balanced budget amendment,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “You can have a debate on a balanced budget amendment. What this is is an attempt to manipulate the Constitution of the United States to make it easier to end the Medicare guarantee than to close corporate tax loopholes.”

Several proposals for breaking the impasse over the debt ceiling have emerged in recent days. Republican House leaders held an unannounced meeting with President Barack Obama on Sunday, an indication that they are still in the hunt for an agreement.

Failing that, Senate leaders are working on a fall-back plan that would allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling through next year without the express approval of Congress. Although that measure has been criticized by some House conservatives, it has gained momentum in recent days as the Aug. 2 deadline to address the debt issue draws near.

Finally, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a broad, $3.7 trillion deficit reduction plan on Tuesday that would make significant cuts while also raising about $1 trillion in new revenue. It is unclear, though, whether there is enough time to advance that complex legislation through Congress by Aug. 2.

Posted by John Fritze at 9:10 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Washington

Bartlett's fundraising prompts retirement speculation

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett’s relatively low fundraising take in the second quarter of this year landed him in a story in a Capitol Hill newspaper Tuesday focused on potential House retirees.

The story, which appeared in Roll Call, listed about a dozen House members across the country, including some in competitive districts, who raised less than $50,000 from April through the end of the June. Bartlett was the third example in the story.

The 10-term Republican, whose Western Maryland district is a potential target of the state’s redistricting process, raised $28,300 in the second quarter of this year, making his the lowest haul of any member of the state’s delegation, The Sun reported Tuesday.

It’s worth noting, though, that Bartlett has never been a particularly prolific fundraiser but has nevertheless won elections with wide margins. At this same point in the 2008 election cycle, for instance, Bartlett raised $20,676 -- less than this year. He went on to win the election with 58 percent of the vote in a wave year for Democrats.

At that time, Bartlett reported having $217,134 in the bank. So far this year, he has slightly more: $262,765.

The main difference this year, however, is redistricting. That process, which takes place once a decade, is controlled by Democrats in Annapolis. There has been copious chatter about whether Gov. Martin O’Malley and legislative leaders will make an attempt to draw one of the state’s two GOP lawmakers -- Bartlett or Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County -- into a less favorable district for the 2012 election.

Bartlett announced plans to run for re-election July 5 and he is the only incumbent member of Congress who has already filed with the State Board of Elections.

"I am humbled by the continuing strong support by the voters in central and western Maryland,” he said in a statement at the time. “My advocacy to create the conditions for economic recovery by reducing spending, the tax burden on working, and the maze of regulations by the federal government resonate with my constituents as a common sense agenda."

Bartlett’s campaign has not responded to requests for comment on his fundraising.

Posted by John Fritze at 5:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Washington

Moody’s threatens state’s credit rating

A national rating agency threatened Tuesday to take a second look at Maryland’s gold-plated credit status because of the protracted debate in Washington over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Moody’s Investors Service said it would review “for possible downgrade” the credit ratings of five states: Maryland, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The announcement comes days before Maryland is expected to begin selling $718 million in bonds.

Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have both threatened to downgrade the nation’s credit rating in recent weeks – a move that, if carried out, would have a dramatic impact on interest rates. But so far the threats appear to be aimed more at the political process than the bond market.

Under the subject line “a very real threat,” Gov. Martin O’Malley’s political campaign sent an e-mail arguing that over the past few weeks the country has “seen divisiveness and political gamesmanship like we've never seen before.” The Democratic governor blamed conservative Republicans, suggesting their real mission is to defeat President Barack Obama in the 2012 election “even if it means killing the jobs recovery and risking our country's financial stability.”

With an Aug. 2 deadline fast approaching, lawmakers in both parties are wrestling over how to increase the debt limit without facing political fallout. House Republicans are poised to approve a measure that would raise the limit in tandem with significant budget cuts and a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget.

Obama has threatened to veto that measure, which would cut spending to levels not seen since 1966.

Senate leaders, meanwhile, are working on a separate proposal that would allow the White House to raise the debt ceiling through next year without the express permission of Congress.
That measure, once viewed as a backup plan, is gaining momentum as one of the last remaining options.

"The problem we have now is we're in the 11th hour and we don't have a lot more time left," Obama said at the White House Tuesday.

The president praised a more comprehensive plan put forward by a by a bipartisan group of senators that would cut $3.7 trillion over 10 years. But the measure includes $1 trillion in new revenues, which House Republicans have strongly opposed. It also is not clear whether there is enough time to advance such a significant package through Congress in such a short time.

The Moody’s announcement was directed at states with close ties to the federal government, either because of their high concentration of federal employees or contractors. The rating agency said it would announce any change to the state’s credit rating within seven to ten days of downgrading the nation’s rating.

The announcement "underscores the urgency of our ongoing debt negotiations at the federal level," Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House, said in a statement. "We must continue working to ensure a meaningful outcome that protects our communities and families, while bringing down the deficit and ensuring America pays its bills.”

Sue Walitsky, a spokeswoman for Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, said the threat was "yet another reason why Senator Cardin believes that default is not an option because it’s too great a risk to our nation.

"He has said repeatedly that our deficits are not sustainable, but the responsible course of action is to increase the debt ceiling and develop a credible, balanced plan that will enable us to manage our deficits," she said.

Maryland State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, who will oversee the state’s bond sales, said that at this point she intends to go through with the borrowing, which will begin Friday. But, she said state officials are watching closely for any change in interest rates.

The money will be used for school construction and also refinancing older debt.

“We are a strong state…but there is no doubt that on a macro-economic level we are impacted by serious problems in the federal government,” Kopp told The Sun. “I think, in the end, they will come to the conclusion that we will stand on our own legs.”

Posted by John Fritze at 4:14 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Washington

Comptroller won't support State Center project

Comptroller Peter Franchot told state agencies this week that he will not support the mega State Center project in its current form, citing concerns about the above-market rents the state has committed to paying and other issues.

The $1.5 billion project would redevelop the state government complex near Martin Luther King Jr. in midtown Baltimore over many years and several phases. A recent report by the Maryland Public Policy Institute calculated the redevelopment will cost more than $100 million in public subsidies -- a cost supporters say is outweighed by the benefits of redeveloping that part of town.

In a letter dated July 15, to General Services Secretary Alvin Collins and Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley, Franchot writes: 

"... I have voiced concern about the pragmatism of undertaking a commercial real estate venture of this magnitude in the midst of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. I have questioned the efficacy of a project that has been billed as a model public-private partnership, but which could not survive in the absence of Maryland’s state government as the largest occupant, by far, of leased office space."

The Democratic comptroller, who won a second term in November, sits on the Board of Public Works with Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp. He has voted in favor of State Center spending in the past but objected last year to selling bonds for a parking garage on the site.

Sun business columnist Jay Hancock has an extended take, and the full letter, on his blog. The State Center project also faces a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court, filed by downtown commercial property owners who say the state failed to comply with procurement laws.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Tax & Spend

Obama to visit College Park

With the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling fast approaching, President Barack Obama will visit Maryland on Friday to deliver his message to college students at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The White House announced Tuesday that Obama will hold a town hall meeting at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus. It marks the first time the president has visited Maryland since April.

Though White House officials did not say what the focus of the town hall will be, the visit will come as Congress heads into what is expected to be a weekend of work on raising the debt ceiling -- an issue that has dominated Washington for weeks.

The town hall will begin at 11 a.m.

Millree Williams, a spokesman for the University of Maryland, said a "limited number" of tickets would be available to the public, though he said he did not know how many. Williams said the university first found out about the meeting from a phone call from the White House on Monday morning.

"This all came together in less than 24 hours," he said.

Obama last came to Maryland in early April for an event in Landover to tout an effort by private companies to purchase electric vehicles for their fleets.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:20 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

July 18, 2011

All 12 redistricting hearings scheduled

The Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee today announced it has scheduled all 12 of its public hearings on reshaping congressional and state legislative districts.

The first two hearings -- set last week -- will be in Western Maryland, one of the places that grew the most, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. (Entire schedule after the jump.)

On Aug. 12, the redistricting roadshow comes to Baltimore, with a hearing planned for 7 p.m. at the Morgan State University student center. The city suffered a significant population loss over the past decade and is likely to cede at least a few state lawmakers to growing areas, such as Frederick or Charles counties.

Fittingly, the very next hearing is Aug. 24 at the College of Southern Maryland in La Plata.

Following the public hearings, the five-member redistricting committee will complete a congressional redistricting map to submit to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley for review. The Democrat-led General Assembly plans to meet for a special session Oct. 17 to vote on the map. The state legislative map vote will take place in the regular 2012 session, which begins in January. 

• Saturday, July 23, 11 a.m., 11 a.m., Hancock High School (auditorium), 289 W. Main St., Hancock, Washington County
• Saturday, July 23, 2 p.m., Hood College (Rosenstock Hall-Hodson Auditorium), 401 Rosemont Ave., Frederick
• Monday, July 25, 7 p.m., Prince George's Community College (Largo Student Center- Rennie Forum), 301 Largo Road, Largo, Prince George's County
• Wednesday, August 10, 7 p.m., The Universities at Shady Grove (Building #1 Auditorium), 9630 Gudelsky Drive, Rockville, Montgomery County
• Friday, August 12, 7 p.m., Morgan State University, Student Center (Calvin & Tina Tyler Ballroom #4), 1700 East Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore City
• Wednesday, August 24, 7 p.m., The College of Southern Maryland (Center for Business and Industry, Room BI-113), 8730 Mitchell Road, La Plata, Charles County
• Saturday, August 27, 11 a.m., Harford Community College (Amoss Center), 200 Thomas Run Road, Bel Air, Harford County
• Saturday, August 27, 2 p.m., Towson University (Stephens Hall Theater), 8000 York Road, Towson, Baltimore County
• Tuesday, August 30, 4 p.m., Anne Arundel County (Location to be announced)
• Tuesday, August 30, 7 p.m., Howard County (Location to be announced)
• Saturday, September 10, 12:30 p.m., Salisbury University, 1101 Camden Avenue, Salisbury, Wicomico County
• Saturday, September 10, 4 p.m., Chesapeake College (Todd Performing Arts Center), Routes 50 and 213, Wye Mills, Talbot County
Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:09 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Elections

Rolley would reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley said he would seek to reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, create a dollar tax on bullets and increase funding for youth recreation and jobs, as part of his plan to fight crime.

Rolley, who is slated to unveil his public safety platform Tuesday, said the city needs a "multi-faceted approach" to cutting cutting.

Rolley said he would increase police hiring and fitness standards and bolster police training, but not increase the size of the force.

"We don't need more cops. We need screened, well-trained, reasonably-compensated police," he said, adding that standards much be increased to prevent some more police department scandals.

Rolley said he would push for state legislation to make carrying a small quantity of marijuana a summary offense -- subject to a citation and fine, but no jail time. Philadelphia and Seattle have similar policies, he said.

"It takes a lot of the burden off of the court system," he said.

"I'm not trying to turn this into Hamsterdam," said Rolley, referring to a neighborhood on The Wire where drugs were legalized. "But I think we can all admit the war on drugs isn't working."

Rolley also plans to lobby state lawmakers to allow the city to impose a one dollar tax on bullets, which he hopes would ultimately lead to a reduction in gun crime.

He said he supports the police department's current approach of targeting the worst offenders and high-level drug dealers, a policy put in place during Sheila Dixon's administration and continued under the tenure of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Rolley says he plans to create incentives for businesses to hire ex-offenders, in an effort to reduce recidivism rates.

Rolley said he hopes to pull churches into the fight against crime, organizing mediation programs, education, recreation and social service program.

"The only thing that outnumbers the liquor stores in the city are the churches," Rolley said.

He says he would pilot a program -- modeled after a similar initiative in Boston -- in two police districts with the highest levels of crime.

The program would cost "a couple of million dollars" to begin with, with additional assistance coming from the churches, Rolley said.

Rolley said he would double funding for after school programs and increase the number of students hired by the city's summer jobs program to 10,000. About 5,000 students are employed this summer, down from a high of 7,000 in 2009.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:18 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

July 15, 2011

Balto. County Councilman Ken Oliver gets support from state lawmakers

Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver said he’s secured support from Randallstown and Woodlawn area legislators in opposing a plan to shift the council boundary lines surrounding the Social Security Administration headquarters.

Delegates Adrienne A. Jones, speaker pro tem; Emmett C. Burns, Jr.; and Shirley Nathan- Pulliam have expressed support, he said. Jones, who works as the county’s deputy human resources director, attended a meeting in Woodlawn last night with more than 80 other residents, elected officials and community association representatives.

State Sen. Delores Kelley, however, has previously said she supports the move for economic and political reasons. In a July 5 article, she said:

Quirk is a businessman in the district and really has great ideas for working with the community, government and business. I don't think we will lose in that regard. The advantage I see is making [District 1] more Democratic. To put that precinct into the 1st District would actually make sure for us that we would get a good general outcome for Democrats.

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 14, 2011

Cardin raises $1 million

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin will report raising more than $1 million in the second quarter of this year for his 2012 reelection effort, a roughly 32 percent uptick in fundraising from the first quarter, his campaign said Thursday.

More than 1,300 individuals gave to the campaign, according to the announcement, and the Maryland Democrat received the majority of his donations from state residents. Cardin will report having $1.8 million in the bank.

Cardin, who is considered a safe bet for reelection by nonpartisan political observers such as the Cook Political Report, had $1 million on hand at the end of April. The latest figures suggest he spent around $200,000 in the second quarter.

“Helping to create and protect quality jobs, keeping our bay healthy and our drinking water clean, and protecting seniors from efforts to slash Medicare and Social Security are at the top of my daily agenda,” Cardin said in a statement. “It’s humbling to receive such an outpouring of support as I prepare for the 2012 campaign.”

Detailed campaign finance reports for congressional candidates are due to the Federal Election Commission on Friday. Cardin reported raising $756,000 in the first quarter of 2011.

Republican Daniel Bongino, the former U.S. Secret Service agent, will report raising about $11,000, according to his campaign. Bongino created his campaign account June 29, days before the reporting period ended, FEC documents show.

"Senator Cardin's early money advantage will not buy him a winning message with struggling Marylanders who are looking for real answers not political games,” he said in a statement.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:23 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Washington

Less than $14,000 spent on petition drive

The latest campaign finance filings show that freshman Del. Neil C. Parrott spent just under $14,000 on his successful drive to put the Maryland Dream Act on the 2012 ballot.

Parrott, a Washington County Republican, kicked off a signature gathering effort in mid-April with $4,800 of his own money. As cash trickled in, he paid himself back. The campaign reported a balance of $11,095, funds Parrott can use to fight any legal challenge.

"We ran a really clean tight campaign and used the money very effectively," Parrott said.

More than 130,000 Marylanders signed the petition, and as of this afternoon 104,728 signatures had been validated by the state board of elections. Local boards must finish counting next week

Money came mostly from donations of $50 or less, and the group received little direct financial support from other Maryland elected officials. Exceptions include Del. Kathy Afzali, a fellow freshman Republican, who contributed $300 from her campaign account. Del. Michael Hough, another freshman GOP, sent $150.

Unlike campaign finance forms for elected officials, the referendum filings are not submitted electronically.

The shoestring budget does not include a $15,000 in-kind donation from David Dan, a project manager with Hagerstown-based High Rock Studios. Dan used his computer programming skill to help create a sophisticated website where Marylanders who opposed to the law could download their own petition forms.

The web tool walks users though the multistep process of filling out and submitting a petition form. It also allows Marylanders to check their names against the voter registration database, reducing errors since names must match perfectly inorder to be valid.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Immigration

Roger Clemens case folds on Cummings video

Without ever stepping into the courtroom, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, it turns out, was inadvertently at the center of U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton’s decision to declare a mistrial Thursday in Roger Clemens' perjury trial. Or, at least, it was the use by prosecutors of a 2008 video of Cummings that was to blame.

During the baseball star's trial prosecutors played a video of the Baltimore Democrat in a congressional hearing in which he quotes from an affidavit provided by Laura Pettitte. Pettitte, the wife of Clemens’ teammate Andy Pettitte, testified that her husband told her that Clemens admitted to using a human growth hormone.

The problem is Walton had prohibited Laura Pettitte’s testimony from being used in the trial.

“There are rules that we play by and those rules are designed to make sure both sides receive a fair trial,” Walton told the jury, according to the Associated Press. Because prosecutors broke those rules, the ability for Clemens to get a fair trial “with this jury would be very difficult if not impossible.”

Clemens had been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. The former all-star pitcher for the New York Yankees testified under oath before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2008 that he never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Cummings served on the committee at that time and is now its top-ranking Democrat.

A spokesman for Cummings declined to comment on the mistrial.

Posted by John Fritze at 1:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Washington

Balto. Co. releases 911 recordings of Homan's injury

UPDATE: Baltimore County budget and finance director Keith Dorsey will serve as acting county administrative officer during Fred Homan's absence, according to spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

Emergency dispatch recordings made Saturday afternoon, when County Administrative Officer Fred Homan was hurt in a fall from a horse on the North Central Railroad Trail, show that he was getting help from a medical doctor who happened to be on the trail at the time, and that his helmet fell off at some point during the accident. Listen to the recording of the 911 call here.

In the longer of the two recordings released by the county police today, the caller, Karen Buck, who sounds breathless and nervous as she gives information about their location and the accident, can be heard talking to the dispatcher and to people at the scene in northern Baltimore County, including Homan. She says "I barely know this gentleman," and only met him that morning.

"Don't move, we're getting you help, OK, Fred? Fred, no no, don't move," says Buck, who tells the dispatcher that Homan's helmet fell off during the accident that occurred at about 12:30. She tells the dispatcher that she was in the front of the group and Homan was in the back and she did not see how the accident happened.

Buck tells the dispatcher that a medical doctor had stopped to help. The doctor recommended that a helicopter be called to get Homan to a hospital. The county announced on Tuesday that he had been released from the hospital.

Homan, who has worked for the county since 1978, was taken by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The nature of his injuries has not been released, and all information relating to his condition was edited out of the two recordings before they were released today.

The longer recording runs just over 10 minutes. In the shorter of the two recordings, less than 40 seconds, a different dispatcher is heard directing emergency crews to the scene in Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Homan has worked for the county since 1978. Former County Executive James T. Smith Jr. appointed him to administrative officer in 2007, after he’d served for almost 20 years as budget director.

-Arthur Hirsch

Posted by Andy Rosen at 12:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

Western Maryland first up in redistricting schedule

Residents in Washington and Frederick counties will be the first to weigh in on congressional and legislative redistricting with hearings later this month.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's redistricting committee released a schedule yesterday detailing the first three meetings:

11 a.m. Saturday, July 23: Hancock High School, Hancock, Washington County
2 p.m. Saturday, July 23: Hood College, Frederick
7 p.m. Monday, July 25: Prince George's Community College, Largo, Prince George's County

In all, 12 hearings are planned. The redistricting committee is charged with developing a congressional map to present to the Democratic governor before a special legislative session planned for Oct. 17. The state legislative map will be vetted in the regular session that begins in January.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 10:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Elections

July 13, 2011

Tuition referendum tops 100K signatures

* Updated with Wednesday afternoon numbers from Board of Elections.

State officials sifting through thousands of pages of petitions reported this afternoon that a group trying to repeal the in-state tuition law have 102,338 valid signatures, nearly twice the number needed to trigger a referendum.

Today's report, which notes that 21,170 signatures have been rejected for various reasons, indicates elections officials are nearly done with the validation process. Petitioners submitted roughly 132,000 signatures.

The group surpassed the needed 55,736 signatures last week, but the surplus gives them a healthy cushion in case a court throws out some of the signatures. Casa de Maryland and the ACLU have both raised legal questions about methods used to gather signatures.

The controversial law allows illegal immigrants to pay the same discounted in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities available to legal residents. To qualify, the undocumented students must show that their families filed tax returns and attended three years of high school in Maryland.  

For links to the law in question and Senate and House roll call votes, see this earlier blog post.

-- Julie Bykowicz added to this post.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:56 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Immigration

July 12, 2011

Balto. County official released from hospital

Baltimore County Administrative Officer Fred Homan has been released from the hospital after being injured in a fall from a horse over the weekend.

A top aide to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Homan was injured Saturday while riding a horse on the NCR Trail and taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center with serious injuries. The extent of his injuries has not been released, although Kamenetz issued a statement Tuesday noting that Homan is making “excellent progress.”

“Fred is expected to make a full and speedy recovery,” Kamenetz said in the release.

Homan has worked for the county since 1978. Former County Executive James T. Smith Jr. appointed him to administrative officer in 2007, after he’d served for almost 20 years as budget director.

Homan often receives credit for the county’s cautious fiscal approach.

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Where is long-delayed plan to fix school buildings, Rolley asks Rawlings-Blake

Mayoral challenger Otis Rolley prodded Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to release her long-delayed plan to rehabilitate the city's dilapidated schools.

Rawlings-Blake announced in November that she was forming a task force to draft strategies to pay for $2.8 billion in needed repairs and construction on school buildings. The announcement followed an ACLU report detailing broken windows, overburdened electrical systems and water contaminated by high levels of lead.

Rawlings-Blake said at the time that the task force -- comprised almost entirely of city and school system employees -- would issue a report in February. A spokesman later said the report would come in June.

“As bizarre as it was that she proclaimed we had to ‘stick with what works’ even as new test scores revealed our schools are falling further behind, what is simply outrageous is that she simply has not kept her word to release a plan to address our schools’ crumbling infrastructure,” Rolley said in a statement.

“Last year she said she’d have it by February, then it slipped to the end of June, and now it’s July with no plan. Where is it?” Rolley said.

Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlngs-Blake, said in an email that the task force was continuing to work on the report.

He said that changes to the formula by which the state calculates the city's contribution to the school system caused the delay. Those changes went into effect during the General Assembly session this spring.

When city schools CEO Andres Alonso joined Rawlings-Blake to announce the task force in November, he said, "We have an obligation to transcend all barriers, financial and legal, to improve the condition of our schools."

Rawlings-Blake said, "While we don't have a solution to address this shortfall today, one thing is clear - we can't do nothing."

Posted by Julie Scharper at 4:48 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Republican delegate to direct state GOP

Maryland Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney announced today that he has tapped freshman Del. Justin Ready to serve as the organization's interim executive director.

This will be Ready's second go at the job: The 29-year-old served in the position from April 2008 to July 2009, when he was fired by embattled GOP Chairman Jim Pelura (who resigned after receiving a no-confidence vote by the state board).

"Justin's experience as a former MDGOP Executive Director makes him the right choice to serve as the interim executive director through the end of 2011," Mooney said in a statement. Maryland Republcians are searching for a permanent executive director, Mooney said.

The main role of the executive director is to raise money -- which could be a problem for Ready, who represents Carroll County and is a member of the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

Ethics rules prohibit state lawmakers from raising money during legislative sessions. In addition to the regular 90-day session in January, a special session for congressional redistricting is planned for October. There's no word yet on how long that session will last.

Apart from the fundraising restriction, there's no ethical issue with a lawmaker working for a political party, said William Somerville of the Department of Legislative Services. Somerville said Ready checked with DLS before accepting Mooney's appointment. 

Ready said he would "be very mindful" of the fundraising restrictions and would avoid any involvement with that aspect of the executive director position while the legislature is in session.

Mooney, who called Ready the "perfect person" for the interim job, said he does not anticipate special session will last long enough to have much of an impact on Ready's fundraising ability. He said having an interim director buys the party time to look far and wide for a new leader.

Ready replaces Kim Jorns, who is returning to her native Michigan to serve as executive director of its Republican Party.

Ready also was a legislative aide to former Del. J.B. Jennings (now a state senator) and a chief of staff to former Sen. Janet Greenip, according to his legislative biography.

He said the interim executive director position is "a natural fit."

"I've got a good range of experience, and I have already worked with a lot of the folks in the party," he said. "My goal will be to continue to make progress for the party, and to keep the train running on time."

Maryland's GOP also recently lost its communications director, Ryan Mahoney, who took a position with the Republican National Committee.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:05 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Republicans

New group promises vocal support for gay marriage

Progressive advocates pledged to dial up the volume in favor of a state same-sex marriage bill after falling a few votes short last session and launched a new group aimed at making Maryland the seventh state to pass the law.

Marylanders for Marriage Equality pulls together a collection of unions, churches and progressive groups. The goal: Show wavering delegates that there's support for the controversial measure and pick up the handful of new votes needed to pass it in the state's general assembly.

The group didn't include any surprises -- it's made up of the same organizations that have backed the issue in the past -- but gay advocates said the various groups will play more active roles this time generating support in their communities.

"We didn't ask for it [support] as much as we should have," said Del. Maggie McIntosh, a powerful Baltimore Democrat who is openly gay but until recently kept a low profile on the bill.

The group was launched during a sweltering news conference in front of Baltimore's City Hall and included remarks from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake who said she was "grateful" that Baltimore is "ground zero" for the new coalition.

Missing was one of Rawlings-Blake's predecessors and a person who many believe has the clout to tip the balance: Gov. Martin O'Malley. Members of the coalition have repeatedly asked O'Malley to introduce same-sex marriage as part of his legislative package this year. He has not yet said whether he will do it.

Last month, after New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a same-sex bill, O'Malley told The Sun that he would have included the measure in his 2011 legislative package if he thought his name would have helped. And next year? "We'll certainly be looking very seriously at that as we put together our legislative agenda," O'Malley said.

The new group includes the Service Employees Union International, the Communication Workers of America, the Human Rights Campaign, Catholics for Equality, the Maryland Black Family Alliance and Pride in Faith, the ACLU and Equality Maryland.

McIntosh said they have targeted about half a dozen delegates across the state, including at least one GOP member they think could be persuaded to vote for the measure. But the organization is still coming into focus. There's no single person in charge and there's no staff.

Nevertheless opponents of gay marriage are paying attention. An hour after the news conference ended, the Maryland Catholic Conference issued a statement reminding lawmakers that they too have a group, and one with a proven track record.

"The coalition that upheld the time honored tradition of marriage in Maryland remains intact and will continue to be involved," according to a statement from the MCC.  

Posted by Annie Linskey at 2:16 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: 2011 legislative session

Balto. County GOP elects new chairman

Steve Kolbe will replace Tony Campbell as chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee as members seek to present a unified front.

Kolbe, who joined the committee in March, called it a “new day for Republican politics in Baltimore County.”

“I truly believe that is what our committee is yearning for as we move forward into the future,” he said. Kolbe ran on a platform that included stronger communication with the public, party members and elected officials, better grassroots organization and registration efforts, and a plan to contest all races in the county.

Kolbe, 34, was elected chairman over Al Mendelsohn at a meeting on Monday, the culmination of months of squabbling with Campbell over a range of issues. Campbell agreed last month to step down after members demanded his resignation, citing leadership gaffes, poor fundraising and growing isolation from elected officials.

A technology executive, Kolbe said he’s frequently attended committee meetings since 2009. He was involved in a lawsuit against the county last year regulating the size of political campaign signs.

Kolbe claimed that his free-speech and equal-protection rights were violated by a county order that he remove a sign supporting Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The county cited Kolbe for putting up a 32-square-foot sign in a zone where only 8-square-foot signs are allowed. Kolbe claimed that the rules inhibit political debate and discriminate against homeowners, because larger signs are allowed on vacant land.

He eventually dropped the suit.

Kolbe picked up endorsements from state House Delegates Susan Aumann, Joe Boteler, Bill Frank, Wade Kach, Pat McDonough and Kathy Szeliga, and Sen. Joseph M. Getty.

Mendelsohn said he's optimistic about the committee's future. "Good things are going to happen with Steve and good things would've happened with me."

Posted by Raven Hill at 12:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 11, 2011

Tuition petition: Signature count climbs past 87,000

* Updated throughout the day with Monday counts. 

The number of valid signatures on a petition to stop in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants climbed rapidly Monday, topping reached 87,000 by about 4 p.m., according to the most recent report posted by the Board of Elections.

Counting is to continue this week; several thousand signatures are left to be validated.

The tutition petition has already crossed the threshhold needed to put it on the November 2012 ballot. The controversial new law, called the Maryland Dream Act, will be suspended until voters have their say, though supporters have vowed court action over the referendumeffort.

The latest elections board report shows that 17,938 signatures have been tossed for various reasons, including signing with a name that did not closely match the person's voter registration information. Baltimore County, where Republican Del. Patrick McDonough is an outspoken opponent of illegal immigrants, has so far supplied more than 17,000 valid signatures.

Petitioners submitted 74,980 signatures on June 30. Round One, which was due at the end of May, yielded 47,288 valid signatures.

It takes just over 55,000 valid signatures -- an amount equal to 3 percent of voters in the most recent gubernatorial election -- to trigger a referendum.

Such petition efforts have rarely been successful. Perhaps the best-known, concerning abortion laws, was on the ballot about 20 years ago. Voters upheld the bill in question. 

In this case, Maryland lawmakers approved giving in-state higher education tuition rates to undocumented students who have attended at least three years of Maryland high schools and whose families have filed tax documents.

Qualified students would pay in-state tuition at community colleges and would be eligible to transfer to four-year Maryland colleges and univerisities, again at the lower tuition rates, after completing 60 credit hours.

The law passed largely on a party-line vote, though many Democrats in conservative areas voted no. The Senate approved it by a vote of 27-19. The House voted 74-65 in favor of it.

The repeal drive is spearheaded by Del. Neil Parrott, a Washington County Republican who won his seat last fall on a tea party platform. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 5:15 PM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Immigration

Frederick delegate to retire, weigh comptroller bid

Del. Galen Clagett announced over the weekend that he will retire from the legislature at the end of his four-year term -- a move prompted in part by his desire to weigh a run for state comptroller.

The Frederick County Democrat will have served 12 years as a delegate and eight years as a county commissioner. In both posts, he focused on budget issues. Clagett has run a property management and commercial sales company in Frederick for 25 years, experience that he says makes him a good candidate to be the state's tax collector.

Clagett joins a broad field of Democrats who say they might run for comptroller if Peter Franchot, who was uncontested in last year's Democratic primary, decides to seek the governor's office. Dels. Kumar Barve and Brian Feldman of Montgomery County and Sen. Jim Rosapepe of Prince George's County also are said to be pondering bids.

There's another reason Clagett, 69, says he will be ready to move on from the General Assembly come January 2015: "Even a dog needs a new fire hydrant once in a while."

The plain-spoken lawmaker is popular with his colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee but says he is ready for a new challenge.

(2010 photo by Amy Davis, The Baltimore Sun.)

"You can get stale in one role," he says.  

If Franchot decides to run for a third term as comptroller, Clagett says he'll support his friend and turn his attention full-time to his business, Clagett Enterprises. His son and daughter work with him at the 40-person company, which has business in four states. Clagett says they would lead the company if he pursues the comptroller's office.

Clagett recently launched a "Blue Dog Democrats" caucus for fiscally conservative members of his party. Years ago, he tried to form a caucus for business owners in the legislature, but so few lawmakers have business experience that it never really got off the ground.

Clagett announced his retirement plans over the weekend, in a Frederick News-Post story published Saturday.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 4:48 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Elections

July 8, 2011

Hoyer: Don't cut Goddard telescope

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, sent a letter Friday to members of the House Appropriations Committee asking them to reconsider the decision to strip funding for the James Webb Space Telescope at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

A House appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA and other agencies approved a spending bill Thursday that would cut funding for the project, which is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The program is more than $1.5 billion over budget and its launch has been delayed to 2018 at the earliest. Maryland lawmakers have been pushing back on the cuts.

“The telescope is in fabrication with the mirror finished and other components nearly complete,” the Southern Maryland lawmaker, whose district includes Goddard, wrote in the letter. “It would be devastating to lose the project at this juncture.”

The full letter, addressed to Rep. Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, is available after the jump:

Dear Chairman Rogers:

The Subcommittee-reported FY2012 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill eliminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The JWST is of critical importance to the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center in my district and is an investment of national and global significance in the future of space astronomy and astrophysics. The full Committee will consider this bill next week, and I urge the Committee to continue to provide funds for this critical project. Among its merits:

• Scientific Discovery. The JWST is designed to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope which is presently used by more than 8,000 scientists. Its observational capabilities will allow those scientists to continue their work and support the next generation of discovery.

• Job Creation. In addition to supporting researchers, JWST is supporting 2000 full time private sector jobs in 22 states. 500 of these jobs are in Maryland, and 250 at Goddard.

• U.S. Prominence and Leadership. JWST technologies are unique to the United States, and will ensure American dominance in space observation.

The Committee has already provided $3 billion for JWST. The telescope is in fabrication with the mirror finished and other components nearly complete. It would be devastating to lose the project at this juncture. It is my hope the Committee can rectify the situation for the benefit of the country.

Posted by John Fritze at 6:37 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

California Wine Club wrongly woos Marylanders

* Updated to explain possible penalties.

"Congratulations Maryland Wine Lovers!" a postcard from the popular California Wine Club gushes. "Due to a recent change in your state law, as of July 1st we can now ship wine to you." 

The advertisements landed in at least a few Baltimore-area mailboxes last week, inviting consumers to "experience California's best small 'mom & pop' wineries from the comfort of home!"

One problem: Taking them up on their offer is a violation of Maryland law. (* See jump.)

The behemoth wine club appears confused about Maryland's new direct-shipping law. Only wineries can apply for a shipping permit. It remains illegal for web- and retail-based wine clubs to ship -- something consumer advocates have vowed to try to change next year.

Several messages left this week for the California Wine Club have not been returned. The Maryland comptroller's office, which issues direct-shipping permits, reiterated recently that only wineries may ship.

Several dozen wineries have applied for and received shipping permits after submitting paperwork, paying a $200 annual fee and posting a $1,000 bond.

Comptroller Peter Franchot visited Boordy Vineyards in Baltimore County on July 1 in the hopes of being the first Marylander to receive a wine delivery at home. No word on whether it has arrived yet.

* Updated July 12
According to the comptroller's office, a vendors who ships without a permit could face a felony conviction that carries a $1,000 fine and up to two years behind bars. Consumers who have goods delivered by a vendor without a shipping permit would have to pay taxes on the goods and also could face fines and possible imprisonment, the comptroller's office says.

Here's a list of the early adopters of wine shipping.  

Wine shipping applications received (* denotes permit granted)

Maryland wineries:

(*) Black Ankle, Frederick County

(*) Boordy Vineyards, Baltimore County

(*) Elk Run Vineyards, Carroll County

(*) Far Eastern Shore Winery, Talbot County (Mesozoic Technologies)

(*) Fiore Winery, Harford County

(*) Knob Hall Winery, Washington County

(*) Layton's Chance Vineyard & Winery, Dorchester County

(*) Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Frederick County

(*) Terrapin Station Winery, Montgomery County (Diamondback Wine)

(*) Tilmon's Island Winery, Queen Anne's County

Out-of-state wineries:

(*) Abeja, Washington

(*) Bell Wine Cellars (Spanos-Berberian)

(*) Bookwalter Winery, Washington

(*) Chateau Julien, California

(*) Chateau Morrisette, Virginia

(*) Clos Pegase Winery, California

(*) Cristom Vineyards, Oregon

(*) Dolce, California

(*) Far Niente Winery, California

(*) Frog's Leap Winery, California

(*) Nickel & Nickel, California

(*) Pride Mountain Vineyards, California

(*) Robert Craig Winery, California

Robert Sinskey Vineyards, California

(*) St. Supery Vineyard & Winery (Skalli), California

(*) Thomas Fogarty Winery, California

(*) Trefethen Vineyards Winery, California

(*) Westport Winery, Washington

(*) Wine Group, California (two locations ... known for Franzia, wine in a box)

(*) ZD Wines, California

Winery names provided July 1 by the comptroller's office.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 12:48 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: 2011 legislative session

AFSCME to charge nonmembers $360 per year

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest union of state workers, has set its nonmember fee at $13.84 per biweekly pay period -- roughly a dollar less than full-fledged members pay, an official said this morning.

Beginning this month, thousands of non-union state workers will see their paychecks reduced by $10.80 to $14.96, thanks to The Fair Share Act. Passed in 2009 by the General Assembly, the Gov. Martin O'Malley-backed bill kicked into gear after state workers this year approved broad contracts containing the nonmember union fee provision. 

Sue Esty, AFSCME's assistant director, said the nonmember fee is based on a union expense amount that auditors have determined is "chargeable," meaning that it doesn't directly relate to political activities.

Unions like AFSCME say charging nonmembers is a matter of fairness because the contracts they negotiate with the state apply to dues-paying members and nonmembers alike. But some of the state workers who don't want to be part of a union but must now pay anyway say the fees are tantamount to stealing. 

AFSCME bargains on behalf of about 21,000 state workers and only about 8,000 pay dues. This new fees mean the union stands to gain as much as $4.7 million over the next fiscal year, about double what it takes in now. Maryland is one of about two dozen states with "fair share" laws.

AFSCME notified employees of the new fees last month, and more than 1,000 workers have decided to sign up for the union, paying about $389 per year.

Those who decline to be members but haven't objected in writing will pay $360 per year. And those who have objected in writing -- "political objectors" -- will pay about $280 annually. Last week, AFSCME reported that about 610 workers have asked to be political objectors.

The Fair Share Act also enables those with a religious objection to refrain from paying any union dues or fees -- but those workers must provide proof of their religious objection and must donate an equal amount to a qualified charity.

Many state workers who are in bargaining units represented by other unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, also are now subject to nonmember fees.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 11:53 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Money and Business

July 7, 2011

Robocalls civil and criminal cases to proceed

A federal judge ruled today that a civil complaint about allegedly fraudulent robocalls made on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign may proceed at the same time as state criminal cases.

Political operative Julius Henson, a consultant to the Republican former governor, ordered a batch of Election Day robocalls that urged Democratic voters in Baltimore and Prince George's County to "relax" and stay home because Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and President Barack Obama "have already been successful." In fact, the polls were still open.

Henson and Rhonda Russell, an employee at his Universal Elections company, are defendants in a federal civil case brought late last year by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler. The defendants' attorney, Edward Smith Jr., had sought to stay the civil proceedings because Henson also is a defendant in a new criminal case.

Last month, State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt secured grand jury indictments against Henson and top Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick. An arraignment is scheduled for July 18.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake today denied the defense motion to stay the civil case. "Other than unfounded attacks on the motives of the Attorney General, the defendants have not explained why a blanket stay of this action is warranted by the existence of a partially parallel criminal indictment brought by the State Prosecutor," she wrote.

Smith, in his motion to stay, argued that Gansler had "political" reasons to pursue the civil complaint, though he did not elaborate. He also said the witnesses in both cases could be put in a position to violate their right against self-incrimination.

Gansler, a Democrat who was uncontested last year in his bid for a second term as attorney general, is discussed as a potential 2014 gubernatorial contender.

Attorney general spokesman David Paulson said the office is "pleased that we'll proceed as planned" with the civil complaint.

If convicted, Henson and Russell could face million of dollars in fines. Gansler alleges 112,000 robocalls went out on election night, and each carries a possible penalty of $500. 

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 6:07 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Elections board: Opponents have signatures to challenge illegal immigrant tuition break

The state Board of Elections has validated 63,118 signatures on a petition drive against a new law that would extend in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants, giving opponents enough names to trigger a referendum.

The state board will continue counting signatures until they've sifted through all 132,157 that were submitted as of the deadline last week. Some of the accepted petition forms will undoubtedly be challenged by groups that lobbied for the law during session. Some have already raised legal questions about the petitioners methods.

The Maryland Dream Act, which is now suspended, would allow illegal immigrants to pay the discounted tuition at state colleges and universities that available only to Maryland residents. To qualify, students must show that they've attended three years of high school in Maryland and their parents must have filed tax returns with the state.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 4:26 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: 2011 legislative session

Pugh shakes up Rawlings-Blake endorsement

A quiet luncheon at which a group of ministers endorsed Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Thursday afternoon became a lot more interesting when state Sen Catherine Pugh arrived.

Pugh, one of Rawlings-Blake's leading challengers, entered the church hall silently as the minsters were wrapping up their remarks.

Rawlings-Blake and campaign staffers turned to their phones, rapidly tapping messages. Several of the ministers embraced Pugh, who shares much of her West Baltimore base with Rawlings-Blake. The incident could presage a summer of tough campaigning by Pugh, who as a former City Council member and state delegate, has considerable political clout.

Pugh questioned the process by which the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance chose to endorse Rawlings-Blake. The group has held candidates' forums in past elections before choosing a candidate to back.

"Never in the history of the IMA have they not had a candidates' forum," said Pugh. "We were waiting for an invitation to be heard."

Rev. Alvin J. Gwynn Sr., president of the group and pastor of Northeast Baltimore's Friendship Baptist Church, acknowledged that the group had traditionally held forums. But, he said, the group decided to "support" Rawlings-Blake on June 1, 2010.

"She was coming in behind the former mayor, Sheila Dixon, so we were backing her," he said.

When asked when the group decided to formally endorse Rawlings-Blake, Gwynn said the decision was made "during the course of the year."

When pressed for specifics, Gwynn said the group's decision to support Rawlings-Blake in June 2010 was tantamount to an endorsement.

"It would have been hypocritical for us to interview the other candidates," he said. "We've been working with [Rawlings-Blake] for the whole year."

Gwynn said the "short time frame" and volume of candidates also prompted the group to make an endorsement without a forum.

"We've never had six or seven candidates before," he said. However, in 1999, 15 candidates vied for the Democratic nomination. In 2007, seven candidates filed for the mayor's race.

Gwynn was joined by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and about a dozen ministers for the endorsement, which followed a luncheon meeting in a hall at Friendship Baptist. Fewer than ten others, including a pair of Rawlings-Blake campaign staffers, attended the event.

At least three of the ministers said that they had not made up their minds which candidate to support, but joined the other ministers to show solidarity with the organization.

Bishop William E. Gaines Jr. of United Brethren Church of the Living God said that he had expected a regular meeting today and had not learned until this morning that the endorsement would be taking place.

"I didn't come here to endorse," he said. "I came to be with the pastors here. I haven't personally made up my mind. I think [Rawlings-Blake] has a lot to offer and so does Sen. Pugh."

Pastor Macie Tillman of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church said he "didn't really decide to endorse Rawlings-Blake," but felt obligated to join the others because he is an IMA board member.

Among those in attendance was Rev. Sheridan Todd Yeary, pastor of Douglas Memorial Church, where Rawlings-Blake is a member. Yeary made several comments to Pugh, admiring her gray high-heeled shoes.

Gwynn, the groups' leader, said in his remarks that the IMA is an "advocate for citizens who can't advocate for themselves" and touted the high percentage of candidates that the group has endorsed who have been elected.

But in an interview afterwards, Gwynn downplayed the importance of the endorsement. "The vote is in the hands of the people," he said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:09 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Lawmakers resist telescope cuts

Maryland lawmakers are pushing back on a proposal advanced Thursday in the Republican-led House of Representatives to cut funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which supports hundreds of jobs at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

A House appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA and other federal agencies approved by voice vote a spending bill that would strip funding for the project, which is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The program is more than $1.5 billion over budget and its launch has been delayed to 2018 at the earliest.

The spending legislation demonstrates "our commitment to restoring austerity, restraint and thoughtfulness to the" spending process, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement. Without mentioning the telescope directly, Rogers said the legislation eliminates "extraneous, duplicative and unnecessary programs."

Maryland Democrats called the move shortsighted. Rep. Donna F. Edwards argued that the project is 75 percent complete and said it supports 2,000 jobs, including 500 in Maryland.

"While there is reasonable cause for concern regarding NASA’s management of the project, eliminating this important and ambitious project is truly short-sighted," the Prince George's County Democrat said in a statement. "I worry about the message we send to our students to reach for the stars and pursue careers in the sciences while simultaneously eliminating projects that further research and technology and keep us on the cutting edge of competitiveness.”

If the bill is approved by the full committee and the House, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski will play a key role in determining the fate of the project when the legislation arrives in the Senate. The Maryland Democrat is the chairwoman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees science.

In a tweet on Thursday, Mikulski called the House subcommittee's vote "shortsighted and misguided."

"The Webb Telescope will lead to the kind of innovation and discovery that have made America great," Mikulski said in a statement. "It will inspire America's next generation of scientists and innovators that will have the new ideas that lead to the new jobs in our new economy."

Rep. Steny Hoyer, whose district includes Goddard, said he spoke with the chairman and ranking Democrat on the subcommittee about the issue. "This cut will have a dramatic impact on local jobs here in the Fifth District and threatens the future of science research," he said.

An earlier version of this post misidentified the House district Goddard is located in.

Posted by John Fritze at 2:34 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Washington

Casey Anthony case inspires Md. legislation

Stunned by the not-guilty verdicts this week in Florida's Casey Anthony murder case, Maryland Sen. Nancy Jacobs wants to make it a felony for a parent not to report the death of a child.

Jacobs said dozens of outraged constituents have contacted her and asked her to do something. The Senate minority leader said she is drafting a bill to present in the next legislative session.

She's now examining criminalizing the failure of a parent, guardian or legal caretaker to inform authorities that a child has gone missing or has died -- new crime categories that several local top prosecutors said could prove helpful to them.

A Florida jury acquitted Anthony of murder and child abuse in the death of 2-year-old Caylee, convicting her only of less-serious charges related to lying to the police. A judge today sentenced the 25-year-old to four years, the maximum sentence under the law. Because of the time she served while awaiting trial, she is set to be released July 13.

While jurors who have talked to the media said prosecutors did not present enough evidence to prove murder or abuse beyond a reasonable doubt, those involved with the case, including Anthony's defense attorneys, agree the young mother did not report her child's death in a timely manner.

That's where Jacobs hopes to step in if a similar Maryland case ever were to arise.

"People are saying to me, 'Good grief, that woman's as guilty as can be, and they're not doing anything,'" said Jacobs, a Republican representing Harford and Cecil counties.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger says making it illegal for parents to leave a child's death unreported is a good idea -- and would be another tool for prosecutors in the event of an Anthony-style situation.

"I think under the right, unique circumstances it would be very helpful," Shellenberger said.

Harford County States Attorney Joseph Casilly said Jacobs' idea appears to close a loophole.

"You wouldn't think that you would actually have to require a parent or guardian to report a child missing or dead, but we're in an age where there is a need here," Casilly said.

High-profile crimes -- even those that occur far from Maryland -- frequently inspire local legislators to take action.

Reacting to the December 2009 kidnapping and death of Sarah Foxwell on the Eastern Shore, to which a registered sex offender later pleaded guilty, state lawmakers proposed dozens of sex offender bills.

Jacobs, Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and scores of other lawmakers backed those efforts, leading to, among other laws, new reporting provisions about when a child is in regular contact with a known sex offender. Foxwell's guardian was dating Thomas Leggs Jr., who now is serving a life sentence for killing the 11-year-old.

Although some lawmakers and defense attorneys have warned against legislating in reaction to an emotional, headline-grabbing crime, Shellenberger said he knows from experience that it can have practical implications in the courtroom -- even if they come years later.

One striking example: Baltimore County was able to prosecute and convict David Miller not only for the first-degree murder of Elizabeth Walters, but also for the death of her unborn baby. The 24-year-old had been pregnant when Miller shot her outside of a shopping plaza.

Medical examiners determined that Walters' fetus would have been viable outside of the womb, triggering a seldom-used Maryland law that had been on the books since the early 1990s. Lawmakers had passed it after being inspired by a controversial case in California.

"It's a good example of a law where, eventually, the facts were there to use it," Shellenberger said.

Jacobs said she is researching Maryland law as it regards to duty of a parent, guardian or caretaker to report a missing or dead child and is in the process of having a bill drafted.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 1:37 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Crime & Justice

Help wanted: Slots commissioner

Maryland's high profile slots commission isn't for everyone: New member Gloria Lawlah resigned last month after attending a single meeting.

Lawlah said that her day job as Gov. Martin O'Malley's Secretary of Aging is keeping her too busy to keep up with the commission's packed meeting schedule.

The seven-member panel issues slots licenses to casino operators and will be in the news quite a bit in coming months: They expect to be weighing bids for new casinos in Baltimore in July and Rocky Gap in September.

In an interview, Lawlah described her brief tenure on the commission as a "flash in and out process." She said she was "thrilled" to be named but had not anticipated the "tough" schedule.

Lawlah said that she believes seniors need a voice on the commission because so many of them play slots. "I'm sorry I couldn't do both," she said.

Lawlah was a senator from Prince George's County for 16 years before joining O'Malley's administration in 2007. She was Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's pick on the commission.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 11:51 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Administration

DGA raises $11 million in six months

The Democratic Governors Association fundraising figures don't become public until July 15, but the group is thrilled with their efforts and released numbers early. The group says they raised $11 million so far this year -- they compare that to 2007 when they raised $5.3 million. They will report $8.6 million in the bank.

No detail about big donors is available yet, but the figure is the first measure of Gov. Martin O'Malley's leadership of the organization. He took the helm in December and installed a loyal aide, Colm O'Comartun to run the group.

The Democratic group lags behind its Republican counterpart. The RGA released figures showing they've raised $22 million in the same time period, Politico has reported.

O'Malley has used the position at the DGA to raise his national profile, tangling on cable news shows with Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. He has racked up mileage and keynoted annual party dinners in Virginia, New Jersey and Kentucky. Next weekend he'll address the Utah Democrats when he's in Salt Lake City for the National Governors Association meeting. Their are only four gubernatorial races this year -- though the DGA combines 2011 and 2012 on its website and counts 14 races "this cycle." This year the DGA defends seats in West Virginia and Kentucky and plays offense in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Posted by Annie Linskey at 8:37 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: DGA

Elections board to resume tuition petition tally

Annie Linskey reports:

State elections officials on Thursday plan to resume reporting the tally of verified signatures for their petition against the new law that would extend in-state tuition breaks at state colleges and universities to illegal immigrants.

The first batch of signatures, submitted in May, brought petition organizers within less than 8,500 verified names of getting the controversial law suspended and put on the 2012 ballot, where voters would have the final say.

After submitting nearly 75,000 more signatures before the final deadline last week, they are expected to soar past that goal.

“It probably won’t take them long” to get to the threshold, predicted Del. Neil Parrott, the Washington County Republican who has led the effort.

A lawyer from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General told the elections board Wednesday that officials must review all of the petitions submitted, and not simply enough to reach the 55,736 valid signatures needed to trigger the referendum.

The directive reversed advice the attorney general’s office provided for a petition drive against an abortion law. In that effort, the elections board stopped counting once they reached the number required to trigger a referendum.

“We are going to count them,” said David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. “It is the law. All the signatures will be counted.”

Paulson said that the law has changed since the abortion petition was submitted.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signed the in-state tuition law in May after it was approved by narrow majorities in the Democratic General Assembly.

To qualify for the in-state tutition rate, an illegal immigrant would have to attend high school in Maryland for three years and show that his or her family had filed state tax returns.

The student then could attend a community college at the in-state rate. After completing 60 credits, he or she could transfer to a four-year college, again at the residential discount.

Children of military members stationed in Maryland would also benefit from the new law.

The legislation would save eligible students $4,000 to $6,000 per year at community college, according to a legislative analysis. At a four-year institution, the savings would increase: In-state tuition at the University of Maryland, College Park this year is $8,655; nonresidents pay $25,795.

Legislative analysts estimate that the measure would cost the state about $800,000 in the first year, rising to $3.5 million annually by 2016. Opponents say the cost could be far higher.

Staff and attorneys with Casa de Maryland, a group that lobbied for the law, have requested copies of all of the petitions with plans to review and possibly challenge signatures.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has raised questions about the legality of petitions generated through a website set up by petition organizers.

The 75,000 signatures turned last week in to the Office of the Secretary of State were divided up by county and transferred to local election boards. The boards have until July 20 to finish counting.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (9)

July 6, 2011

Redistricting commission may hold fewer meetings

The governor's redistricting commission is considering a truncated public hearing schedule this year, with eight or nine meetings around the state instead of the traditional 12.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller suggested the change during the group's first meeting in Annapolis this afternoon. He's one of five members of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee, which will travel around the state to seek input from Marylanders about how congressional and legislative maps should be re-drawn.

Miller said the hearing process should have "as much openness as possible" but added that time constraints make a 12 meeting schedule difficult. House Speaker Michael E. Busch agreed. The commission was just named Monday. Members said they want to make recommendations on the congressional map by September, giving them about two months to hold their meetings.

The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene on the week of October 17 to approve the new congressional lines and could also take up other measures (rumors abound that there could be a transportation tax package). The legislature will debate their own map later, when they meet for regular session in January 2012.

The 2010 census figures showed that Maryland's population grew by 9 percent -- so the state will not lose a member of congress like other northeastern states.

But the numbers shifted considerably during the past 10 years. Population surged in the Washington suburbs and dropped in Baltimore City, which could lose a senator in the rejiggering. 

Posted by Annie Linskey at 3:08 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Administration

O'Malley: SHA employees 'let us down'

Gov. Martin O'Malley said Wednesday he is "very, very disappointed that two long-term employees let us down," his first comments since the Friday release of a scathing report about activities in the upper ranks of the State Highway Administration.

The Office of Legislative Audits examined the revolving door between SHA, which has nearly a $1 billion annual budget, and private contractors after a tipster called a fraud hotline to report questionable activities. The Democratic governor said his administration is cooperating with the auditor -- who is poised to release more details in the weeks to come.

Among the auditor's initial findings: A high-level employee in SHA's Office of Construction apparently solicited funds from contractors for a golf tournament in which he had a financial stake, and then expedited awards to some of the same companies. In another instance, an SHA manager retired and 12 days later began a job with an engineering firm that benefited from a $16 million procurement he helped arrange while he was still with the highway administration.

Neither employee works for the agency any longer, and neither is named in the report.

O'Malley appeared to view the findings as isolated rather than systemic.

The two employees, he said, "fell short of what we expect in the administration." He said employees with private experience are valuable "but not if it leads to cutting corners."

Longtime State Highway Administrator Neil Pedersen announced his retirement several weeks ago, making comments similar to O'Malley's that employees had disappointed him. His retirement became official June 30, the day before the audit was released, but he will continue to work through the fall for the state as an SHA consultant.

O'Malley said Wednesday that he did not fire Pedersen or ask him to retire.

"He served at the State Highway Administration for many, many years, and for the most part did a very, very good job," O'Malley said.

Darrell Mobley, who had been a deputy secretary at the Maryland Department of Transportation -- SHA's parent agency -- since January has been tapped as the highway administration's interim chief. 

O'Malley said he will support Mobley and Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley "if they determine further discipline needs to happen."

As The Sun's Michael Dresser reported Saturday, former SHA employee James Hagerty said he brought the golf tournament sponsorships to the attention of the auditors several years ago. He said that after raising concerns about the supervisor's activities, he was the target of job retaliation.

Asked whether SHA officials had responded adequately to reports of questionable behavior, O'Malley said he wasn't aware of any specific examples of problems. But, he added, "if that's another shortcoming that needs to be addressed, we will do so."

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 2:31 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Administration

Rawlings-Blake agrees to mayoral debates

With the field of candidates now set for Baltimore’s Democratic primary, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday agreed to participate in four public debates with her challengers in August.

In a release, the Rawlings-Blake campaign said it had secured the commitment of the Larry Young Morning Show to broadcast a radio debate on WOLB 1010 AM and was in talks with Maryland Public Television to broadcast a televised debate.

The campaign said Rawlings-Blake also would participate in two candidates’ forums, including one focused on issues affecting people with disabilities.

“Now that the field is set, I am excited to debate those who are seeking the privilege of the serving the people of Baltimore as Mayor,” Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. “This is an important election about important issues and I look forward to sharing my vision for a better, safer and stronger Baltimore.”

"It's about time," said challenger and former city planning director Otis Rolley, who has been calling for Rawlings-Blake to join debates and candidates forums for weeks.

"Everybody else has been," said challenger state Sen. Catherine Pugh. "Those of us who care about the community have been coming out."

"Part of the reason I've been pushing so hard for these debates is that I have pretty high expectations for the citizens of Baltimore," Rolley said. "Without those debates, it's hard for them to hear real substantive discussions of who has a plan and who doesn’t."

Pugh questioned why Rawlings-Blake would only agree to four debates. "People in the community have already decided they want to hear debates," she said.

Rolley said he wanted to debate education, crime, youth and jobs and economic development with the other candidates.

Pugh said she would like to debate solutions for lead paint poisoning, drug abuse and moving Baltimore "away from being a developer-driven city to a community-driven city."

Rolley, Pugh, Clerk of Court Frank M. Conaway Sr., former City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers, City Councilman Carl Stokes and activist Wilton Wilson appeared last month at a forum sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League and the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The challengers have appeared at about four forums sponsored by community and civil rights groups over the past few months.

Stokes has since dropped out of the mayoral race to run for reelection to his City Council seat.

The Rawlings-Blake campaign said it would work with challengers in the next week to schedule the debates.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:17 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Perryville parlor sees summer doldrums

Gaming revenues dipped for second straight month due to lackluster returns at the state's largest casino in Perryville, The Sun reported today.

Revenues were up slightly at the Ocean Downs casino -- summer is supposed to be their best season -- but the bump on the shore wasn't enough to buoy overall revenues, according to a story by colleague Hanah Cho. The combined VLT program brought in $13.3 million in May. In June the total dropped to $12.6 million.

Maryland voters approved five casinos in 2008, but only two are operational. Late last month officials issued an RFP for Rocky Gap -- the third attempt to find a developer willing to turn the failing resort into a casino. The state is also awaiting a second round of bidding on a proposed project in Baltimore City.

A fifth casino is under construction at the Arundel Mills shopping mall.
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Slots

July 5, 2011

City election candidates-- the final list

The list of candidates for Baltimore's mayor, city council president, comptroller and city council races is now final.

A small group of candidates and politicians gathered at the Board of Elections this evening at the 9 p.m. deadline. Among today's surprises-- City Councilman Carl Stokes has doffed his mayoal campaign and launched a bid to retain his seat.

Former Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber also filed today to run for City Council President.

The complete list of candidates is after the jump. Incumbents are marked with an asterisk.


Frank M. Conaway
Joseph T. "Jody" Landers
Catherine Pugh
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake*
Otis Rolley
Wilton Wilson

Alfred V. Griffin
Vicki Ann Harding

Catalina Byrd
Charlene Tamara Gaskins
Craig Williams

Council President

Leon Hector Sr.
Tom Kiefaber
Charles U. Smith
Renold Smith
Bernard C. "Jack" Young*

Armand F. Girard
David Anthony Wiggins

Lorenzo Gaztanaga

Joan M. Pratt*

First District:

Jason Kahler
James B. Kraft*
Helene J. Luce

Mathew Brian Libber

District 2:

Sharita Daniels
Cynthia Gross
Emmett Guyton
Anthony Hamilton
Brandon Scott
Jamaal Simpson

Shereese Maynard-Tucker

District 3:

Jerome A. Bivens
Robert W. Curran*
George M. Vanhook Sr.

Gary M. Collins

Bill Barry

District 4:

Scherod Barnes
Bill Henry*

Urcille Goddard

District 5:

Scott M. Carberry
Luke Durant Jr.
Curtis Jones
Derrick Lennon
Rochelle "Rikki" Spector*

Ari Winokur

District 6:

Mark E. Hughes
Sharon Green Middleton*
Rhonda Wimbish

District 7:

Henry W. Brim Jr.
Belinda K. Conaway*
Allen Hicks
Timothy Mercer
Nick Mosby

Michael John Bradley

District 8:
Haki Shakur Ammi
Helen Holton*
Dayvon Love
David Maurice Smallwood

Dennis Betzel

District 9:

Janet Bailey
Abigail Breiseth
John T. Bullock
Quianna M. Cooke
Derwin Hannah
Michael Eugene Johnson
Waymon E. LeFall
Chris Taylor
William "Pete" Welch*

District 10:

Bill Marker
Edward L. Reisinger*
Erica S. White

Adam Van Bavel

District 11:

William H. Cole IV*

Doug McNeil

District 12:

De'Von Brown
Jason Curtis
Ertha Harris
Jermaine Jones
Odette Ramos
Frank W. Richardson
Carl Stokes*
Robert R. Stokes

Scott James Spencer

District 13:

Kimberly M. Armstrong
Warren Maurice Branch*
Antonio "Tony" Glover
Gamaliel Harris Jr.
Shannon Sneed

Ronald M. Owens-Bey

District 14:

Mary Pat Clarke*

Douglas Armstrong

Posted by Julie Scharper at 10:13 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Carl Stokes files for 12th District seat

City Councilman Carl Stokes filed this evening to run for his current 12th District seat, after months of saying he planned to run for mayor.

"There are too many people in the race," said Stokes. "The message gets muddled."

As Stokes told The Baltimore Sun earlier today, he does not support Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and he feels that by stepping back, he can give other candidates a chance.

Stokes said that he decided to run for his council seat because supporters have told him he is one of the few independent voices in the legislative body.

"My experience is important on the council. I'm hoping we can become a more independent council," he said.

Stokes' decision throws a wrench into the other candidates' plans -- many of which he had encouraged to run for office. The 12th District had been one of only two council seats without an incumbent candidate; there are currently more candidates in that seat than any other.

The other candidates include community activist Odette Ramos, Mt. Vernon-
Belvedere Association president Jason Curtis, Robert Stokes, a staffer for Carl Stokes (and no relation, De'Von Brown, a senior at Maryland Institute College of Art who was featured in The Boys of Baraka documentary, Jermaine Jones, whose family is rehabbing dozens of homes in Oliver, and longtime community leaders Ertha Harris and Frank Richardson.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 9:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

GOP proposes drawing Harris out of district

Rep. Andy Harris, the Republican lawmaker who captured Maryland’s 1st Congressional District in last year’s midterm election, would have his primary residence drawn out of his district under congressional boundaries proposed Tuesday by his own state party.

The redistricting proposal released by Maryland Republicans would limit the 1st District to the Eastern Shore, Harford County and a small portion of Anne Arundel County. The congressman's Cockeysville home would wind up inside a district represented by Democratic Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Ryan Nawrocki, a spokesman for Harris, said that scenario – even if it was approved by the General Assembly -- wouldn’t necessarily force Ruppersberger and Harris to face off against each other in the 2012 election. Harris owns a home in Cambridge where he spends about half his time, Nawrocki said.

“The party was attempting to draw a map that is compact and doesn’t really take partisanship into consideration,” Nawrocki said. “The congressman does have a place in Cambridge. He’s had a home there for a long time.”

The GOP map is one of the first redistricting proposals to emerge publicly even as lawmakers are working on maps behind the scenes. GOP leaders, who will have little to no influence on the redistricting process, touted their proposal as more fair than the current meandering boundaries drawn by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

The proposal calls for compact districts that intersect less often with county and city boundaries. Baltimore, for instance, would have a single House member, instead of the three who represent it now. Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s district would no longer include Harford County – but would otherwise remain about the same. Ruppersberger’s seat would include only portions of Baltimore and Howard counties.

“For ten years we have lived with some of the worst gerrymandered congressional districts in the country, purely because one political party chose to put their electoral interests over what’s best for Maryland voters,” the state’s GOP chairman, Alex X. Mooney, said in a statement. “The Maryland GOP has taken the first step forward to show Maryland voters that fair congressional districts are possible.”

State law grants elected officials wide latitude in declaring an official address – they do not have to primarily live in the district they represent – but candidates who do not live among voters generally face pointed criticism from opponents. Harris purchased the Cambridge home in 2008, state records show, but lists his Cockeysville home as his primary address for tax purposes.

The Maryland GOP plan comes a day after Gov. Martin O’Malley named a five-member advisory panel on redistricting. The General Assembly is expected to consider whatever proposal emerges from that process in a special session later this year.

“We are confident that they will review plans submitted by all Marylanders -- including the Republican Party-- and develop recommendations that will reflect the growing diversity of our state and comply with all legal standards,” Matthew Verghese of the state Democratic Party said in a statement.

“The party will win elections in every corner of our state at the conclusion of the congressional and legislative redistricting process,” he said. “Maryland voters have consistently sided with Democratic values and leaders, and we are confident that they will continue to do so.”

In other redistricting news: A map of proposed congressional districts posted on Fox 45’s website created some buzz over the weekend but it turns out to be nothing more than an image meant to illustrate the station’s story on O’Malley’s advisory commission. In fact, the map came from an item first published on the political blog Maryland Politics Watch.

Posted by John Fritze at 7:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Washington

Balto. County to merge two agencies

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is moving forward with plans to merge the departments of health and social services.

Earlier this year, Kamenetz said he was exploring a potential merger of three departments -- health, aging and social services -- into a single agency depending on the results of a cost and productivity analysis. As proposed, only two departments would be combined. A bill authorizing the merger will be introduced at tonight's County Council meeting.

The council will discuss the plan at its July 26 work-session meeting and vote on the bill Aug. 1.

Posted by Raven Hill at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

As deadline looms, Stokes undecided on mayoral bid

City Councilman Carl Stokes said Tuesday afternoon that he still had not decided whether to run for mayor, as the deadline to file for city office looms this evening.

"I still haven't made up my mind," said Stokes. "There are a lot of people in the race."

Five candidates have filed to challenge Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the Democratic primary in September: former city planning director Otis Rolley, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, Clerk of Courts Frank M. Conaway, former city councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers and Wilton Wilson, a home health care nurse. Vicki Ann Harding is the lone Republican to file.

The deadline to file for all city campaigns is 9 p.m. this evening.

Stokes said the plethora of challengers could stymie efforts to unseat Rawlings-Blake, which he said was paramount.

"We need to have a unified voice vis a vis the present administration, the present direction we're going in," he said. "It's better if there is one voice of opposition."

Stokes said he was contemplating running for his seat representing the council's 12th District or devoting himself to opening more charter schools. Stokes was part of a team that founded the Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy a few years ago.

Stokes dismissed rumors that he might run for the council presidency.
"I would never do that," he said. "[Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young] is my friend."

Stokes said he would continue weighing his options throughout the afternoon.

"What's the best win for the city, not just Carl?" he said.

Posted by Julie Scharper at 3:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: 2011 City Campaigns

Md. redistricting team meets tomorrow

Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday announced he has appointed a five-member team to supervise Congressional and state redistricting prompted by the 2010 Census.

The Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee meets tomorrow in Annapolis to set a series of public hearings. The Democratic governor's appointments secretary, Jeanne Hitchcock will lead the committee, which is charged with recommending a redistricting plan to the governor, who then must seek approval from the state legislature.

The General Assembly is expected to call a special session in mid-October to approve the governor's Congressional map, in time for the 2012 presidential election; state legislative districts will take shape early next year. The state's 188 lawmakers won four-year seats in November 2010.

Other redistricting members are: Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, House Speaker Michael Busch, mechanical contractor and Stadium Authority member Richard Stewart and Republican former Del. James King, an Annapolis restaurant owner. (Extended bios after the jump.)

The Sun's John Fritze wrote this morning that national political groups are waiting to see Maryland's redistricting results before deciding whether to jump into any races here. Closely watched will be U.S. Rep. Andy Harris' Eastern Shore district, which also includes portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties. The freshman Republican won wrested the seat from Democrat Frank Kratovil.

Bios provided by O'Malley's office.

Jeanne D. Hitchcock, Esq. - Will serve as chair of GRAC. Presently serves as Governor O'Malley's Secretary of Appointments. Prior to joining the Governor's Office, she served as Deputy Mayor to then-Mayor Martin O'Malley. While Deputy Mayor, Ms. Hitchcock was instrumental in the redistricting process that, for the first time, created single member districts in Baltimore City. She also served as an Assistant Attorney General from 1980 to 1987.

Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. - Senate President since 1987, member of the Senate since 1975. President Miller also served on the GRAC in 1991 and 2001.

Michael E. Busch - Speaker of the House since 2003, member of the House of Delegates since 1987.

James King - Served as a member of the House of Delegates from 2007 to 2011 representing District 33A, Anne Arundel County. Small business owner who employs more than 100 Maryland residents. Recently named Business Owner of the Year by the West County Chamber of Commerce and in 2008, named Taxpayers Advocate of the Year by the Maryland Taxpayers Association.

Richard Stewart - Presently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Montgomery Mechanical Services Incorporated. A member of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, Mr. Stewart also has held positions as a board member, director and past president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Metropolitan Washington. Member of the Maryland Stadium Authority since July 2007.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:27 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Elections

July 1, 2011

In-state tuition petition by the numbers

A giddy group of mostly freshman Republican delegates and their staff and spouses turned in 74,980 signatures to the secretary of state's office last night -- filling thirteen boxes with petitions from Marylanders who oppose The Dream Act.

Last night's haul brings the total number of signatures gathered to 132,485. The group needs 55,736 valid signatures to bring The Dream Act to referendum. As a fun contrast, 101 senators and delegates voted for the law, which would give illegal immigrants the same college tuition discounts available to properly documented Marylanders. For more background read The Sun's story today.

Last month the group trying to repeal the law turned in 57,505 signatures, and of those 47,288 were valid. That means to succeed the group only needs 8,448 of the 74,980 signatures handed in last night to be valid -- or an 11 percent acceptance rate.

More remarkable: The group gathering petitions,, reported that they spent $7,500 on their effort. They reported having $12,000 left over. So, in essence, they spent about six cents per signature. (This does not account for volunteer time, which was considerable in this effort.)

And they were getting attaboys until the end. One couple strolling in downtown Annapolis last night stopped because they saw the boxes. The man asked if the boxes contained the first legal shipment of wine (wine by mail became legal today), when he learned the boxes were full of signatures he excitedly explained that he'd signed a petition too.

Del. Neil Parrott, who was the leader of the signature gathering effort, provided a county by county breakdown showing where signatures were gathered. Baltimore County was the hotbed of opposition with Anne Arundel County a close second (full data after the jump.)

* Photos: Top, Del. Kathy Afzali sits atop boxes of signatures; Bottom, final scramble to organize petitions before turning them in Thursday night 


The counties by the numbers (most recent signatures)

Allegany: 737
AA: 12,690
Balt City: 1,744
Balt County: 14,119
Calvert: 1,425
Caroline: 871
Carroll: 7,254
Cecil: 2,381
Charles: 517
Dorchester: 527
Frederick: 5,597
Garrett: 250
Harford: 8,547
Howard: 3,315
Kent: 347
Montgomery: 3,335
Prince George's: 1,660
Queen Anne's: 1,321
St. Mary's: 1,434
Somerset: 327
Talbot: 834
Washington: 4,021
Wicomico: 4,021
Worcester: 665
Posted by Annie Linskey at 10:35 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Immigration

Baltimore County salaries online

Baltimore County employee salaries are now online, accessible via a spreadsheet provided by the county or searchable database on The Baltimore Sun's website.

The county's spreadsheet is pretty straightforward -- an alphabetical listing of employee salaries as of June 30. The Sun's database includes three years of information by individual names and agency.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans earlier this week to post salaries online starting today, just as The Sun was preparing to unveil its database.

Posted by Raven Hill at 10:24 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

Wine shipping, legal today, entices 30-plus wineries

*** Updated list. 

Wine shipping becomes legal today, and the prospect of delivering bottles to Maryland homes has prompted at least 30 wineries to sign up for permits.

The number of interested wineries has nearly tripled since last week, when we reported that just 11 had filled out the necessary paperwork. Wine fans predict dozens more will begin shipping by the end of the year.

Comptroller Peter Franchot's office said nearly two dozen of the wineries -- many of them in-state -- have been granted shipping permits. The rest are awaiting approval, which takes about 7-10 business days. (See jump for list of applicants as of Thursday.)

Only wineries -- not retailers -- may apply to ship to Maryland residences. Wine lovers have vowed to lobby the General Assembly next year to extend shipping rights to retailers, which would open up popular wine-of-the-month clubs.

This morning, Franchot heads to Boordy Vineyards in Baltimore County to promote Maryland's new law. Until today, it was a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to have delivered at home. Franchot plans to be among the first to take advantage of wine shipping.

Wineries must submit an application, pay $200 per year to the state and post a $1,000 bond to ship to residences in Maryland.  

Wine shipping applications received (* denotes permit granted)

Maryland wineries:

(*) Black Ankle, Frederick County

(*) Boordy Vineyards, Baltimore County

(*) Elk Run Vineyards, Carroll County

(*) Far Eastern Shore Winery, Talbot County (Mesozoic Technologies)

(*) Fiore Winery, Harford County

(*) Knob Hall Winery, Washington County

(*) Layton's Chance Vineyard & Winery, Dorchester County

(*) Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Frederick County

(*) Terrapin Station Winery, Montgomery County (Diamondback Wine)

(*) Tilmon's Island Winery, Queen Anne's County

Out-of-state wineries:

(*) Abeja, Washington

(*) Bell Wine Cellars (Spanos-Berberian)

(*) Bookwalter Winery, Washington

(*) Chateau Julien, California

(*) Chateau Morrisette, Virginia

(*) Clos Pegase Winery, California

(*) Cristom Vineyards, Oregon

(*) Dolce, California

(*) Far Niente Winery, California

(*) Frog's Leap Winery, California

(*) Nickel & Nickel, California

(*) Pride Mountain Vineyards, California

(*) Robert Craig Winery, California

Robert Sinskey Vineyards, California

(*) St. Supery Vineyard & Winery (Skalli), California

(*) Thomas Fogarty Winery, California

(*) Trefethen Vineyards Winery, California

(*) Westport Winery, Washington

(*) Wine Group, California (two locations ... known for Franzia, wine in a box)

(*) ZD Wines, California

Winery names provided by comptroller's office.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 7:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: 2011 legislative session
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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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