We round up some of what was accomplished (and what wasn’t) in the just-finished session of the General Assembly, on issues including the minimum wage, marijuana, distracted driving, grain alcohol, and the film tax credit. Plus: a vote on Baltimore’s “ban the box” bill is again delayed, “smoke testing” is underway in Charm City sewers, and a conversation with Governor Martin O’Malley.
General Assembly Roundup: Before the close of this year’s General Assembly session, Maryland lawmakers had finished most of the heavy lifting… including the budget, two marijuana bills and an increase in the minimum wage. But, as WYPR’s Christopher Connelly reports, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some drama in the moments before sine die.
Minimum Wage: A bill that will raise Maryland’s minimum wage is on its way to the Governor’s desk. The measure will gradually increase the rate to $10.10 an hour by July of 2018. The bill was one of Governor Martin O’Malley’s priorities for the session; he says he’ll sign it into law. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and here from the Baltimore Business Journal. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is calling for a higher nationwide minimum wage; the Annapolis Capital reports that the President praised the work of Maryland lawmakers yesterday, and urged Congress to follow the General Assembly’s lead.
Marijuana Bills: Governor O’Malley says he’ll sign into law a bill that will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana; the Baltimore Sun reports that, under the bill, people caught with ten grams or less will no longer face criminal charges, and instead have to pay a fine. O'Malley says when he was a young prosecutor, he thought decriminalization was a bad idea, but now acknowledges that possession of small amounts of pot has become a low priority for crime fighters. The Annapolis Capital reports that lawmakers also approved a bill to expand Maryland’s medical marijuana program; the Baltimore Sun reports that O’Malley is likely to sign that bill into law, as well.
Wind Power Project: Less clear is the fate of a bill that delays a large wind power program on the Eastern Shore. Southern Maryland delegates pushed for the bill, saying they feared the wind mills would interfere when Patuxent River Naval Air Station tested its radar. Governor O’Malley -- who pushed hard for the wind project -- questioned the claim… telling WYPR: “If the Navy thought it [the project] would somehow impede upon those important national security missions then they don't have to sign the agreements that would allow it to go forward.” The company behind the project, Pioneer Energy, says the bill could kill the wind farm. O'Malley has not said if he would veto the project. If he does, it would be his first veto in office.
Other Bills: Lawmakers yesterday also passed a bill banning the sale of 190 proof alcohol – that is, beverages with an alcohol content of 95% or more; the Annapolis Capital has more. And penalties for distracted driving that leads to serious accidents is being increased with the passage of what’s called "Jake's Law"; more here from the Annapolis Capital.
Arrests At House Office Building: Two men were arrested yesterday, after a fight in the office of a Maryland lawmaker. The Maryland Capitol Police say it happened last night in a fourth floor office of the Lowe House Office Building at 6 Bladen Street in Annapolis. No elected officials were involved and the investigation is ongoing. The names of the men who were arrested have not been released and there is no word on why they were fighting. The Baltimore Sun has more.
O’Malley Remembers Richard Ben Cramer: As the final legislative session of Martin O’Malley’s last term as governor came to a close, the former Baltimore mayor was moving toward a run for the presidency. WYPR’s Fraser Smith recently spoke with O’Malley – and found that the governor is looking back to a close advisor, the late Richard Ben Cramer, author of “What It Takes: The Road to the White House.”
“Ban The Box” Vote Delayed, Again: The Baltimore City Council has again delayed a final vote on the so-called “ban the box” bill – which would forbid employers from asking about the criminal backgrounds of most job applicants before they get interviews. Yesterday, city lawmakers amended the bill to exclude jobs that would require a criminal background check by law. An exception for jobs around children, the elderly and developmentally disabled was made last month. A final vote is now expected to at the Council’s next meeting, on April 28th. WYPR’s Kenneth Burns has more.
MD Casino Revenue: Maryland casino revenue is way up. State officials say the four operating casinos brought in nearly $78-million in March, which is the highest monthly total to date. Maryland Live casino in Anne Arundel County led the pack, bringing in $61.8-million last month, a year-over-year increase of 38.5%. There’s more here from the Baltimore Business Journal and here from the Baltimore Sun.
Horseshoe Baltimore Casino Hiring Progress: Meanwhile, the casino that’s coming to Baltimore later this year says its hired 500 people to run table games at the facility; the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino is set to bring 17-hundred jobs to the city, so there are about 12-hundred jobs left. The Baltimore Business Journal notes that the casino is making an effort to hire locally. The casino will open in South Baltimore in either late August or early September.
“Smoke Testing” In Charm City Sewers: Smoke testing of Baltimore’s sewers is now underway. Over the next month or so, a form of non-toxic fog will be blown into sewers on the Northwest, West and Southwest sides. People could see what appears to be white smoke coming from the ground or storm drains during the testing period. The Department of Public Works says the testing should help them locate any flaws that could lead to sewage spills or sewer backups into homes. The testing is due to wrap up on May 2nd.
Baltimore Baseball: The Orioles fell 4 to 2 to the New York Yankees in yesterday afternoon’s game. The O’s look to turn it around when they take on the Yankees again today.