Wed October 23, 2013
Baltimore’s Proposed Panhandling Ban, Stormwater Fees, Redistricting, and Rockfish Reproduction
A proposal to stop panhandlers and others from asking people for money on Baltimore streets is moving to the full City Council. Plus: stormwater fees, redistricting, changes to ID policy by the Baltimore police, rockfish reproduction rates, Amazon’s plans to open a distribution center in Baltimore, and more.
Panhandling Proposal Moves Forward In City Council: A proposal to stop panhandlers and others from asking people for money on Baltimore City streets is moving to the full City Council for consideration. A city council panel voted 3-2 yesterday to move the measure out of committee. The bill would make it illegal to solicit money within ten feet of a retail store or restaurant and five feet of a parking meter – essentially, forbidding the practice anywhere in downtown Baltimore. It would also prohibit anyone from asking for money while in a lane divider, shoulder or roadway. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she understands the concerns of those who support the bill but it called too vague and hard to enforce. She tells WYPR: “I don’t want bills that cannot be enforced and I don’t want people subject to laws that are vague and they may not understand.” Other opponents of the bill, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, say it violates the First Amendment. Debate on the measure will take place at the next council meeting in November; Clarke says she will be voting against the bill. More here from the Baltimore Sun.
Baltimore Police Change ID Policy: Baltimore police are changing the way they ask victims and witnesses to identify perpetrators. Currently, police show witnesses a page with pictures of six people, one of whom is the suspect, and ask them to identify the criminal. Under the new policy, officers will show witnesses one picture at a time. The Baltimore Sun reports that recent crime data and studies show that this method, called the “double-blind sequential,” dramatically reduces the number of erroneous identifications.
Move Over Law Enforcement Effort Leads To 14k+ Stops: Maryland State Police have released the results of Monday's initiative to enforce the new "Move Over" law. Troopers were out statewide to educate drivers about the law requiring them to change lanes or reduce speeds when approaching emergency vehicles on the side of the road. According to the preliminary results, more than 14-hundred traffic stops were made over a 24-hour period.
Concern Over Caesar’s Investigation: State officials are expressing “concern” after reports surfaced that a subsidiary of Caesar’s Entertainment is under a federal investigation for money laundering in Las Vegas. Caesars is also building a casino in downtown Baltimore. Yesterday, Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency said officials are gathering information about the Nevada case – and about an incident in Massachusetts, involving allegations that a casino investor had ties to organized crime. Martino tells the Baltimore Sun that his agency will “give these matters the attention they deserve.” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she doesn’t expect the investigations will impact plans for Baltimore’s Casino. There's more here from the Baltimore Business Journal.
How Redistricting Reform Could Gain Momentum in Maryland: WYPR's Fraser Smith and Andy Green of the Baltimore Sun talk about the business community's support for redistricting reform and how it might mount a successful campaign to get it. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
Stormwater Fees: Several Maryland lawmakers are looking to make changes to stormwater fee programs. Stormwater fees have been derided by critics as a “rain tax.” Collection of such fees was required by the General Assembly for Baltimore and the state’s 9 largest counties – with proceeds going to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. But the jurisdictions that have to impose the fees were given freedom to determine how much to charge. Anne Arundel County is charging residents fees ranging from $34 a year to $170 a year… but a bill introduced this week by County Councilman Daryl Jones would change that – he wants to make the fee 1 dollar a year. That’s the same fee that’s being charged by Frederick County. It’s unclear whether there’s enough support to pass Jones’ bill; the Capital Gazette reports that the Anne Arundel County Council will hold a public hearing in mid-November. Meanwhile. State Senator Allan Kittleman has prefiled legislation to eliminate the stormwater fee program entirely. Kittleman calls the goals of the program “laudable” but calls the program itself “discriminatory, counter-productive, and unfair”. He doesn’t like the fact that local and state governments are exempted from the fees, which he says they unduly burden businesses. His bill would be considered by the General Assembly next year. The Republican Kittleman is running for Howard County Executive next year; his Democratic rival, current Howard County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, tells the Baltimore Sun that she’s also “not a fan” of the fees… particularly because they’re being implemented differently in different jurisdictions. If the state’s fee program was repealed, it’s unclear how the state would raise money to fund stormwater management issues – something it’s required to do by the EPA.
Gansler Pays Speeding Ticket: State Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Doug Gansler paid a $400 speeding ticket last night, as the controversy grows regarding his relationship with state troopers. Last November, a state trooper accused Gansler of refusing to pay the speeding ticket he was issued in Washington, DC in June of 2012. Gansler later said in a public interview that no such speeding ticket existed. The citation was issued by an automated speed camera, and Gansler says it’s unclear who was driving his state-issued vehicle at the time; but he paid the ticket anyway. There’s more here from the Washington Post and here from the Baltimore Sun.
Amazon To Open Distribution Center In Baltimore: Internet retail giant Amazon.com announced plans yesterday to open a new distribution center in Baltimore. The order fulfillment center will be set up in the old GM plant in Southeast Baltimore and will mean one-thousand full-time jobs for Baltimore area residents. The Baltimore Sun notes that once Amazon opens up its new warehouse, Maryland residents will have to start paying sales taxes on their purchases from the online retailer. The Baltimore Business Journal has more here.
Rockfish Reproduction Rates Rise, Remain Below Average: Rockfish reproduction rates in the Chesapeake Bay have improved over the past year – but they’re still well below average. The rockfish, or striped bass, is Maryland’s official state fish. The Department of Natural Resources tells the Baltimore Sun that its 2013 striped bass juvenile index, a measure of spawning success in the bay, is five-point-eight. That's a substantial improvement over last year's measurement of only point-nine, but well below the 60-year average of eleven-point-seven. Officials say several years of average reproduction mixed with larger and smaller years are typical for rockfish; they saw their fourth highest reproduction rate ever in 2011, before dropping in recent years.
Baltimore To Host “Navy Week,” Blue Angels To Fly At Naval Academy Ceremonies: The U.S. Navy has chosen Baltimore as one of the six U.S. cities to host a “Navy Week” in 2014. Military officials began the Navy week program in 2005 to bring Navy outreach to U.S. cities not near the coast, where Navy business is usually concentrated. The Baltimore Business Journal reports that the week-long celebration will come to Baltimore from September 8th through the 14th, 2014, and will feature nearly 100 local events, including visits from U.S. Navy Ships, performances from the famous Navy Band, and a flyover by the Blue Angels – the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron. And in related news: there will be a traditional Blue Angels flyover next year for the Naval Academy's graduation ceremonies. The U.S. Navy has announced funding for a full 2014 after federal sequestration cuts grounded Blue Angels shows across the country this year. The Washington Post has more.