Wed April 2, 2014
MD’s Health Exchange, Sexting, Marijuana, Wildlands, Snow Days, & Baltimore Homicides
The board of Maryland’s health insurance exchange has voted to hire Deloitte Consulting to replace most of the state’s troubled online healthcare marketplace. Plus: sexting, marijuana decriminalization, a wildlands expansion, snow days, Baltimore homicides, and more.
A New Contractor For MD’s Health Exchange: Maryland is scrapping most of its troubled health exchange website –replacing it with the same I-T infrastructure Connecticut built to implement the Affordable Care Act. WYPR’s Christopher Connelly reports that Maryland will pay contractor Deloitt $40 to $50-million to set up the framework that’s worked so well in Connecticut.
Expanding MD’s Wildlands Network: The General Assembly has approved a massive expansion of Maryland’s network of legally protected wildlands by some 22,000 acres. The measure creates nine new wildlands sites, and expands 14 existing sites. In all, the measure expands the state’s wildlands system by about 50 percent. In wildlands sites, development is mostly forbidden, as is the use of motor vehicles. However, hiking, hunting, and horseback riding are allowed within them. The bill was proposed by Governor Martin O’Malley, who is expected to sign it into law. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and here from the Frederick News Post.
Marijuana Decriminalization: A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana got a final hearing in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. It is, as yet, unclear whether it’ll get a final vote, but State Sen. Bobby Zirkin tells the Annapolis Capital he’s cautiously optimistic that will happen. The State Senate has already signed off on the measure, as it did last year for a similar bill. Last year, the bill never got a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
Homicides Down In Baltimore: Seven people were killed in the city last month, the lowest monthly total since 1983. Police officials attribute the dip to the department's new strategies, including better patrols and intelligence-sharing. However, they also stressed that it is too early to make firm conclusions. The Baltimore Sun reports the 44 homicides recorded so far this year is seven fewer than at this point a year ago.
Audit Reveals Improper Purchases: An audit finds that four Maryland employees allegedly made $255,000 of improper purchases on state credit cards. The Baltimore Sun reports the purchases included guitars, plane tickets and watches, among other non-business expenses. The state plans to require more detailed purchasing data in agency reports and develop programs to ensure better screening.
Sexting In Anne Arundel: A dozen Missouri middle school students were recently suspended from school for texting nude images of their classmates. Police are investigating whether the students violated Missouri’s sexting laws. In Pennsylvania, state police issued criminal citations last week to eight teenage boys who texted nude images of themselves to girls. In Maryland, a group of Anne Arundel County middle school girls sent nude photos of themselves to boys who distributed them; one person is believed to have posted them on an Instagram site. Yet, as WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden reports, no one was charged with a crime and it’s unclear whether school authorities disciplined anyone.
Process Is Everything In State Center Court Decision: WYPR's Fraser Smith and Danny Jacobs of the Daily Record talk about the Court of Appeals' decision on a lawsuit that challenged the State Center project in Baltimore and what it means for the downtown business and property owners that lost the case. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
Possible Raise For Frederick County Sheriff: Frederick County’s Sheriff could soon get a big raise. The Frederick News Post reports that the State Senate yesterday approved increasing the Sheriff's salary from $100,000 a year to $125,000 a year. The pay hike was proposed by the Frederick County Commissioners. It now heads to Governor O’Malley’s desk.
New Safety Vehicles For Baltimore: Baltimore’s Board of Estimates is expected to call for the replacement of hundreds of safety vehicles. The BOE could vote today to spend just under $30 million for leasing, but not purchasing, 338 police cars, fire trucks and other vehicles. Backers of the plan tell the Baltimore Sun that the new vehicles would save the city on repair and fuel costs compared to the 8-to-12-year-old vehicles now in service.
Snow Day Waivers: Two Maryland public school systems have won a snow day waivers from State Schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery. The Washington Post reports that Frederick County schools, which missed 12 class days over the winter because of snow, have won a 2-day waiver. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reports that Carroll County schools, which also missed 12 days of class, get a 5-day waiver. Superintendent Lowery is deciding whether to grant waivers on a case-by-case basis, and has said they’re contingent on schools trying to find ways of making up missed time by holding class on days previously scheduled to be off. Lowery earlier denied 5-day waiver requests from Anne Arundel and Montgomery County schools.
Contract Dispute At Johns Hopkins Hospital: An ongoing contract dispute at Johns Hopkins Hospital could lead to a strike later this month. Members of the labor union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East are asking for salary increases that would be as highs as 40 percent for some worker, although the Baltimore Sun reports that their plan calls for more modest increases for most employees. Union leaders say the raises are needed because many workers rely on government assistance programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps. The contract for the union’s nearly 2,000 service and maintenance workers expired yesterday; negotiations are continuing, but the union says a strike could start on April 9th if an agreement isn’t reached.
Kamenetz Calls For More Regulation Of Hookah Lounges: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is looking to limit the hours of operation for hookah lounges. Under his proposed legislation, the lounges in which patrons smoke flavored tobacco in water pipes would be forced to close by 8 p.m. on weeknights and 9 p.m. on weekends. County officials tell the Baltimore Sun that there are concerns about late-night crowds causing disturbances as they leave hookah and vapor lounges.
Baltimore Baseball: The Orioles are gearing up for tonight’s home game against the Boston Red Sox; the O’s beat the Red Sox in Monday’s season opener, and look to do it again tonight. First pitch is set for 7:05pm.