An emergency health care bill is signed into law. The State Senate may be done with hearings on the MD’s troubled health care exchange. The General Assembly sets dates for minimum wage debate. Gansler and Mizeur hold gubernatorial debate. Development in Towson. And much more.
Dates Set For Minimum Wage Debate: Lawmakers in the General Assembly have scheduled a date to debate a bill that would raise Maryland’s minimum wage. The measure would up the rate from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016. It would also require that tipped workers – like waiters – get 70 percent of the minimum, instead of the current 50%. The Annapolis Capital reports that a House of Delegates committee is set to take up the legislation on February 11th, a week from Tuesday; a committee in the State Senate will examine its version of the bill later that week. The bill has the backing of Governor Martin O’Malley, who’s made raising the minimum wage a top priority for this year’s session. Opponents of the idea say it would cost the state jobs, particularly for the lowest-skilled workers.
Emergency Health Insurance Bill Signed: An emergency bill providing retroactive coverage to those unable to sign up for health insurance through Maryland’s troubled online exchange was signed into law yesterday by Governor O'Malley. The governor says his administration has already started outreach to those whose applications were not properly processed, because of problems with the website. Eligible Marylanders will be able to get coverage retroactive to January 1st through the Maryland Health Insurance Plan. There’s more here from the Annapolis Capital.
State Senate Hearings On The Online Exchange May Be Over: It looks like the State Senate may be finished with its investigation of the problems with the state’s online exchange – at least, for the current legislative session. The exchange is far behind on its enrollment goals; the state hopes that 150-thousand people will sign up for private coverage through the exchange by the end of March; as of a week ago, less than 18 percent of that total had done so. Earlier this week, State Senator Mac Middleton, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, told the Baltimore Sun that he doesn’t expect any more hearings on the exchange in his committee. Senator Middleton wants to turn over the documents his committee has requested to state auditors, who wouldn’t release a report until the summer. That means the report wouldn’t likely come until after the June 24th gubernatorial primary. Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who’s running for the state’s top job, had a leadership role in implementing the exchange; his opponents for the Democratic nomination have been critical of that role. The campaign manager of one of those opponents, state Attorney General Doug Gansler, called the plan to stop hearings a “decision to protect… Brown.” Yesterday, Gansler said that the state should allow residents to apply for insurance through the federal exchange; that idea has been backed by 6th District Congressman John Delaney, but has been dismissed by Governor O’Malley’s administration. A third Democrat in the gubernatorial race, Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur, said yesterday that Maryland shouldn’t switch to the federal exchange, saying federal officials have told her that the idea was “impossible.”
Gansler, Mizuer Debate: Gansler and Mizeur held a gubernatorial debate in Montgomery County last night. Delegate Mizeur used the occasion to call for stricter gun laws… she said that Maryland should set a minimum age of 21 year old to buy shotguns, a standard that’s already in effect for handguns. That call comes in the wake of Saturday’s fatal shooting at The Mall in Columbia; the shooter was a 19-year old who bought the shotgun he used legally. State Attorney General Doug Gansler told the Baltimore Sun afterward that he “could support” a higher minimum age for gun purchases. Delegate Mizeur also called for Maryland to impose universal background checks for all gun purchases – including shotguns and rifles, as well as handguns. Attorney General Gansler said last night that he is opposed to that idea. Gansler also highlighted his experience in prosecuting gun crimes.
Brown’s Father Passes: Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, also a contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, did not attend last night’s debate; the Baltimore Sun reports that his father, Dr. Ray Brown, died yesterday, at the age of 89, following a battle with cancer. The Lieutenant Governor left Annapolis earlier in the week to be with his family in New York. A funeral for Dr. Brown will be held Tuesday.
Mizeur Calls For More Debates: Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Heather Mizeur is continuing to call for more debates in advance of the June 24th primary election. Last week, Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown proposed three face to face debates between the gubernatorial candidates. Mizeur yesterday called for seven such debates, focused on specific policy areas. She wants the debates to be televised. Another Democrat in the race, state Attorney General Doug Gansler, says he wants to see more debates than Brown had proposed; through a spokesman, Gansler told the Baltimore Sun that his campaign is working on its own debate proposal.
Why Delaney Would Shake Up The Gubernatorial Primary: WYPR's Joel McCord and Cliff Cumber of the Frederick News-Post talk about speculation that Rep. John Delaney (D) might run for governor and why he would be a formidable contender. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
Towson: The Next Bethesda? A big wave of development is about to hit Towson. WYPR’s John Lee reports that residents worry it may wash away what they like about living there.
Kamenetz’s Proposal To Reduce Cell Phone Thefts: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is looking to crack down on the growing threat of thefts and robberies targeting cell phones and other portable electronic devices. Kamenetz unveiled legislation yesterday that would ban automated cell phone purchasing machines, so-called “reverse ATMs” that have already been banned in Baltimore City. A second bill regulates businesses that buy pre-owned electronic devices and would ban cash payments for used phones. The Baltimore Sun has more.
Carnival To Return To Baltimore Shortly After Departure: Carnival Cruise Lines is pulling out of the Port of Baltimore this fall, but it won't be gone for long. Carnival announced last year that its cruise liner Pride was moving to Tampa this fall after federal regulators failed to approve the company's plan to comply with new ship emissions rules. But Carnival announced yesterday that the ship will only be based out of Florida for five months – from this November to March of 2015… when the Pride will return to Baltimore with new air emission technologies and other features. Governor Martin O’Malley’s office says that the cruise industry accounts for about 500 jobs in Maryland, and supports $90-million of economic activity a year. WYPR’s Christopher Connolly has more here, and there’s more here from the Baltimore Sun.
The Ice Is Thick On The Bay: Icebreaking ships have been called into action to clear ice that's been building up on the Chesapeake Bay. Several inches thick in many places, the Bay ice is being described as the worst it's been in decades. The ice is causing problems for boaters and waterman trying to navigate the bay and its tributaries. The Baltimore Sun reports that the last time the bay froze over completely was the winter of 1977-1978.
Bill Would Remove Dead Voters From Rolls More Swiftly: A bill that would streamline the process of removing deceased voters from voter rolls was introduced yesterday in the House of Delegates. The Frederick News Post reports that the measure would allow boards of elections to use Social Security records to clean up the rolls more quickly than is now allowed; currently, officials have to wait up to two election cycles after finding out that a voter is deceased, depending on how they get the information. The bill has bi-partisan support – it’s being cosponsored by Republican Delegate Kathy Afzali and Democratic Delegate Jon Cardin. The Maryland Association of Election Officials is also supporting the legislation.
Johnson Enters AA County Executive’s Race: Former Anne Arundel County Sherriff George Johnson says he’s running to be the next Anne Arundel County Executive. Johnson will face off against Joanna Conti in the June Democratic primary. Incumbent County Executive Laura Neuman is in the running for the Republican nomination; she was appointed to the post last year. Neuman faces Delegate Steve Schuh in the GOP primary. There’s more here from the Annapolis Capital and here from the Baltimore Sun.