Thu January 30, 2014
Eastern Shore School Schedules, The Minimum Wage, Speed Cameras, and A BGE Gas Fee
A look at this morning’s school delays and closures on the Eastern Shore. Plus: the minimum wage, speed cameras, a surcharge for BGE gas customers, Hogan names Rutherford as running mate, a protest at the GOP House retreat in Cambridge, and more.
Eastern Shore School Schedule Changes: It's another day of school delays and closures on the Eastern Shore. 90-minute delay: schools in Queen Anne's county. 1-hour delay: schools in Caroline, Kent, and Talbot counties. Closed: schools in Wicomico and Worcester counties.
Obama Praises O’Malley’s Push For Higher MD Minimum Wage: President Barack Obama is calling for a higher nationwide minimum wage… and yesterday, he took his campaign to a Costco in Lanham, in Prince George’s County. As WJZ reports, the president took the occasion to praise Governor Martin O'Malley’s efforts to raise Maryland’s minimum wage, saying “Governor O’Malley’s trying to do it here in Maryland and lift the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. He says ‘we all do better when we’re all doing better,’ and he’s right.” Governor O’Malley has made a minimum wage increase one of his top legislative priorities for this year’s General Assembly session, but the proposed $10.10 an hour rate faces opposition from many lawmakers. President Obama is signing an executive order that raises the minimum wage for newly hired federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.
Surcharge Approved For BGE’s Gas Customers: Customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric will soon have to pay a monthly fee, to help the utility pay to replace aging gas pipes. The state’s Public Service Commission signed off on the fee yesterday; it’ll start at 32 cents a month for residential gas customers, and will rise gradually until it reaches $2 a month in 2018. Business customers will pay higher surcharges. Some of BGE’s pipes are more than a century old. The utility says it’s looking to replace the mains and pipes that are made of materials prone to leaks. The Baltimore Sun notes that this is the first gas surcharge to be approved in the state; the Office of People’s Counsel opposed the fee, noting that regulators have traditionally prevented utilities from charging for infrastructure improvements until they are complete. Last month, the PSC approved a similar fee for BGE’s electric customers, to pay for infrastructure work.
Another Government Failure: Speed Cameras Problems with speed cameras continue in Baltimore – and possibly elsewhere. WYPR Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith comments in his weekly essay.
Rawlings-Blake Addresses Speed Camera Audit: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is addressing the audit of the city’s speed camera system, released by the Baltimore Sun last week. As Fraser Smith mentioned in his weekly essay, the audit indicated that the cameras’ error rate was higher than 10%. Mayor Rawlings-Blake said yesterday that the engineering firm that conducted the audit was “not sufficiently qualified” to do a full report. The Mayor also called the 90-page audit “incomplete,” noting that it only analyzed 37 of the city’s 83 speed cameras. The firm that conducted the audit – URS Corp – did not respond to the Sun’s request for comment. The city has hired URS to do more work this year, including monitoring speed and red light cameras. Baltimore’s camera system has been shut down since April of last year, shortly after the Mayor’s administration received the audit. Rawlings-Blake has said she wants a new camera program up and running this year. The City Council is investigating why that audit wasn’t immediately released to the public, and could issue subpoenas as soon as next month.
Protest At House GOP Retreat: Republicans from the House of Representatives are holding their annual policy retreat in Cambridge. Yesterday, a group of protesters gathered at the Eastern Shore site of the retreat, to call for an overhaul of the nations’ immigration policy. The US Senate passed an immigration reform bill last year… but it didn’t go anywhere in the House. However, the Baltimore Sun reports that GOP lawmakers are expected to discuss an immigration proposal at this week’s retreat – one that would allow some immigrants to become citizens.
Hogan Picks Rutherford For Running Mate: Republican gubernatorial hopeful Larry Hogan has announced the name of his running mate. Yesterday, Hogan added former Ehrlich administration cabinet secretary Boyd Rutherford to his ticket. Hogan made the announcement last night, during a rally at Mike's Crab House near Annapolis. Other Republican candidates for Governor include Harford County Executive David Craig, Anne Arundel County Delegate Ron George and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar. Craig has tapped Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio as his running mate, while George and Lollar haven’t picked running mates yet. They’ll have to do so by the February 25th filing deadline. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and here from the Annapolis Capital.
Senate Approves Emergency Health Insurance Fix: The State Senate has given final approval to emergency legislation designed to help those who were unable to sign up for health insurance through the state’s troubled online insurance exchange The legislation would let people buy coverage from the Maryland Health Insurance Plan -- that’s the state’s program for high-risk patients. The coverage would be retroactive to January 1st. State Senator Mac Middleton says the measure should help people who had problems with the exchange website, telling WYPR: “We put this provision in place as a safety net for those folks who weren’t able to enroll there. And if they still can’t get into the exchange this will be available to them.” The House of Delegates has already approved the measure, which now goes to Governor O'Malley for his signature. Since it’s a piece of emergency legislation, it’ll take effect as soon as the governor signs it – and that could happen today.
Cardin Calls For Colleges To Report Sexual Assaults: Maryland could become the first state in the nation to requiring colleges to publicly report sexual assaults on their campuses. A measure requiring such reporting is being proposed by Delegate Jon Cardin. WJZ reports that the bill would let people report sexually assault anonymously, via surveys – and make Maryland colleges publicly report the results. Statistics show almost one in every five college women is sexually assaulted on or near a university campus in the United States.
Kittleman Calls For Policy Change For Referendums: State Senator Allan Kittleman is looking to introduce a bill that would clarify the referendum process. The legislation would require local elections boards to certify the language of a petition before signatures are collected. The bill comes after a group in Howard County gathered enough signatures to put a zoning law on the ballot – but saw their proposal denied because of the language it used. Kittleman’s bill would require elections officials to make a determination about petition language within five days of a request. The Baltimore Sun reports that if the bill’s approved, it would affect local jurisdictions around the state.
Kamenetz To Propose Bill Aimed At Preventing Cell Phone Theft: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is planning to introduce two anti-crime bills to the County Council. The legislation is aimed at preventing the theft of cell phones and other portable electronic devices. County Executive Kamenetz says he's been working on the issue with the council and Police Chief Jim Johnson since last summer. Kamenetz will detail his plans at a press conference this afternoon.
Beretta To Build New Plant Outside MD: Beretta USA says it will build its next gun manufacturing plant in Tennessee, not Maryland – where the gunmaker is headquartered. Beretta has been making noises about loosening ties with Maryland ever since the state passed some of the nation's strictest gun laws last year. Instead of expanding its facility in Prince George's County, the gun-maker says it build a new research and development plant in the town of Gallatin, Tennessee, not far from Nashville. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and here from the Baltimore Business Journal.