State Roundup, March 17, 2015

By Cynthia Prairie
Maryland Reporter

VOTING RIGHTS FOR EX-FELONS: Ex-felons could regain their voting rights while on parole or probation under a bill passed Monday night by the Maryland Senate. The vote for SB340 was 29 to 18, with senators split over the wisdom of letting ex-felons register before they've fully completed all the terms of their sentences, as the law now requires, Timothy Wheeler reports in the Sun.

Jenna Johnson of the Post writes that supporters of the legislation said in floor debate that formerprisoners automatically regain a number of rights as soon as they leave incarceration — and that the list should include voting, a way to reintegrate themselves into society. Plus, they added, many former felons are confused about when exactly they can register to vote and post-prison is the clearest milestone that’s easiest for the state to enforce.

ENDING ELECTION OF JUDGES: The question of ending the election of judges has been wending its way through the legislature, and has netted a large amount of support. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Delores Kelley and Del. Charles Sydnor, will help clean up what has become an unnecessarily messy and political process, the editorial board for the Frederick News Post opines. Twenty-nine senators have co-sponsored the legislation, including Senate President Mike Miller and Sen. Ron Young, a Frederick Democrat.

WORKING HOGAN’S BUDGET: The Maryland Senate is largely on board with the changes the House Appropriations Committee made to Gov. Larry Hogan's budget last week, the chair of the Senate's spending panel said Monday. The Sun’s Michael Dresser is reporting that Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, chairman of the Budget & Taxation Committee, said he and his House counterpart have been consulting through the budget review process and are largely in agreement over which programs to cut and which to attempt to restore in next year's $40.7 billion budget.

ALMOST THE WHOLE LOAF: The Sun editorial board opines that Gov. Larry Hogan wanted to eliminate Maryland's persistent gap between projected spending and revenues — the so-called "structural deficit" — entirely and forever in his first year. In a unanimous, bi-partisan vote, the House committee advanced a proposal Friday that gets about 75% of the way there while providing funds to reverse some of the governor's cuts to education, employee salaries and other worthy causes. Though he's not declaring victory yet, Mr. Hogan is giving every indication that he'll take three-quarters of a loaf.


PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT UPDATE: The AP is reporting in the Daily Record that a bill to update Maryland’s Public Information Act of 1970 could help tempersometimes-bitter disputes between the public and public servants, and — advocates hope— make the Free State more transparent. Among the bill’s chief goals are the creation of a State Public Information Act Compliance Board and an ombudsman-type position.

HIGHER ED NOMINEE OK DELAYED AGAIN: Timothy Wheeler of the Sun writes that a Senate committee held up approval for a second time of Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera to be Maryland's new higher education secretary, as lawmakers said they had received unspecified new complaints about her.

PSC APPOINTMENTS DELAYED: Gov. Larry Hogan has delayed the appointment of two new members of the Public Service Commission until the five-member board issues a decision on the proposed merger between Exelon and Pepco, reports Bryan Sears for the Daily Record.

McMILLEN WON’T CONTINUE AS REGENT: Tom McMillen, a former congressman and University of Maryland basketball star who initiated athletic reforms at his alma mater, said he has been told by Gov. Larry Hogan's staff that he won't be reappointed to the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, Jeff Barker reports in the Sun.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY DEMOGRAPHICS: The 133 men and 55 women of the General Assembly represent a state population approaching 6 million, but as even this gender breakdown indicates, demographics taken in January show they are hardly representative of the population as a whole, writes Len Lazarick for The members of the Maryland General Assembly are far older, better educated and much more married than the population they represent, according to figures compiled by the Department of Legislative Services.

RESOURCES FOR ASSEMBLY: Another resource for information about the Maryland General Assembly is available on a website called Legislative Committeesdeveloped by Marjorie Roswell, a web designer is Baltimore. It arrays each Maryland legislator by committee with their contact information, and, for other than first-year lawmakers, it also links to scorecards with ratings by various interests groups, donors by sector, and votes on key issues. The website contains similar information for the other states.

3 NEW DELEGATES: The Maryland General Assembly, which has one of the largest freshman classes in two decades, added three newbies to its ranks on Monday night, Ovetta Wiggins reports in the Post.  Republicans Bill Wivell of Washington County, April Rose of Carroll County and Michael Malone of Anne Arundel County were sworn in as delegates by House Speaker Michael Busch just minutes before the Monday evening session began.

BEE SUPPORTERS: A group of white suited, mud-boot stomping “beeks” took over legislative offices Friday morning, as the group of beekeepers passed out golden-honey bears to promote their Pollinator Protection Act. The sweet action by these “beeks,” as they call themselves, would establish labeling requirements for any seed, plant material or nursery stock that uses the Neonics pesticide and limits the selling of these pesticides to only qualified applicants, reports Rebecca Lessner for

OYSTER SEASON EXTENSION: Maryland’s oystermen could see an extra two weeks of work. The Department of Natural Resources submitted emergency regulations to a General Assembly committee for approval that would allow an extra two weeks of oystering with all the gear normally allowed during the regular season, reports Josh Bollinger for the Easton Star Democrat.

CHANGING COURSE: Josh Kurtz of Center Maryland writes about politicians who are on track for a leadership role, but decide instead to change course. He kicks off the piece with U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has decided to seek Barbara Mikulski’s Senate seat.

POLITICAL ROUNDTABLE: With less than a month left in the Maryland legislative session and news of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s retirement, Marc Steiner of WEAA-FM hosts a roundtable discussion, with Jenna Johnson, of the Post, Bryan Sears, of the Daily Record, and Charles Robinson, of Maryland Public Television.

RAPE KIT TESTING: Pointing to the existence of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country, Vice President Joe Biden told advocates in Baltimore County on Monday that the Obama administration is committed to increasing funding to help clear a backlog that has left victims waiting for justice, John Fritze reports in the Sun.Delays in testing kits drew renewed attention in Maryland last year after the Sun reported on the case of a serial rapist who slipped through the cracks. The man raped a woman in 2012; by the time police processed the DNA nearly two years later, he had attacked again.

A NANNY WELLNESS PROGRAM: Towson University educators Jan Sinnott and Richard Vatz, in an op-ed for the Sun, complain that the Big Brother intrusive Wellness Program being implemented this year as part of the State Employee and Retiree Health Benefits Plan is as draconian an interference with the lives and personal freedoms of state employees as they have ever witnessed.

CENTRAL COMMITTEE THEFT CHARGE: Carl Hamilton of the Cecil Whig is reporting that an Elkton woman is facing theft, misappropriation and perjury charges after she allegedly stole funds while serving as treasurer of the Cecil County Republican Central Committee. State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt reported Monday that the defendant made “numerous unauthorized purchases and withdrawals from the Cecil County Republican Central Committee bank account and retained cash raised during Committee fundraising events for her own personal use and benefit.”

MAYOR WINS RECOUNT: The mayor of tiny Forest Heights in Prince George’s County survived a recount by eight votes Monday night to win a third term in office, defeating a town council member backed by leading county politicians who did not like the mayor’s opposition to the MGM casino, Arelis Hernandez reports in the Post.

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