Fri February 21, 2014
MD’s Online Health Exchange, Cell Phone Thefts, Medical Marijuana, & The Sun To Buy The City Paper
More on problems with MD’s online health exchange. Senator Mikulski announces legislation aimed at reducing cell phone thefts. The Baltimore Sun prepares to buy the Baltimore City Paper. Plus: medical marijuana, speed limits on interstates, illegal dumping, retirement savings accounts, stink bugs, and more.
MD’s Online Health Exchange: State Attorney General Doug Gansler says his office will look to recoup some of the money paid to contractors responsible for the problems with Maryland’s online health insurance exchange. The Baltimore Sun reports that the exchange has cost taxpayers $33-million more this year than had been expected. Marylandreporter.com notes that cost overruns are also likely in the coming years. WBAL reports that, earlier this week, state Comptroller Peter Franchot called the online exchange “dysfunctional,” and chastised state health officials for letting the exchange pick contractors without following Maryland’s regular contracting rules. NPR’s Morning Edition has a closer look at some of the problems facing state-run health exchanges here.
Mikulski Looks To Reduce Cell Phone Thefts: US Senator Barbara Mikulski wants to cut down on the theft of cell phones. Mikulski yesterday announced that she’s sponsoring a bill called the “Smartphone Theft Prevention Act.” The measure would require cell phone providers to put “kill switches” on mobile devices at no extra cost… so if they're stolen, the owner could remotely delete personal information and render the devices inoperable. Mikulski says taking the profit out of cell phones will lead to a drop in the number of robberies. The Federal Communications Commission says that smartphone thefts are on the rise – and that nearly one out of every three robberies in the nation involves a cell phone. Senator Mikulski says that cell phone theft essentially represents a $30-billion industry. There’s more here in the Cecil Whig.
Baltimore Sun Media Group To Buy Baltimore City Paper: Officials with the Baltimore Sun Media Group say they have struck a deal to buy the Baltimore City Paper. The financial terms of the agreement haven’t been disclosed, but the purchase is expected to be finalized next month. The Sun says that the 37-year-old City Paper will keep its newsroom and sales operations separate from the Sun Media Group's other editorial and sales functions. The Sun Media Group has appointed Jenifer Marsh to be the City Paper’s General Manager; Marsh began her career at the City Paper, and eventually held its top leadership role, before moving to the Sun last year.
Another 18 Months – At Least – Before MD Medical Marijuana Program Is Running: The chairman of Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Commission says that it will take at least 18 months for the state’s medical marijuana program to be operational. And that’s the best-case scenario. The Baltimore Sun reports that the program was approved by lawmakers last year; it limits marijuana distribution to academic medical centers – none of which have agreed to participate in the program. The head of the commission overseeing the program says that even if some centers change their minds, it’ll take 1 and a half years or more to get the medical marijuana program up and running. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Annapolis are considering several pieces of marijuana-related legislation this year; one bill would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug; another would legalize it and tax it.
Craig Looks For The Right Message: WYPR's Fraser Smith and former Capitol Hill press secretary and communications director Richard Cross talk about Harford County Executive David Craig's proposal to cut income taxes and his search for traction in the Republican primary for governor. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
Henson Files For State Senate Seat: Political consultant Julius Henson is now officially a candidate for the General Assembly. Henson filed papers yesterday to challenge Democratic incumbent Nathanial McFadden for his East Baltimore state Senate seat. But it’s still unclear whether Henson can legally run for office; the dispute’s over the terms of his probation, following his conviction of conspiracy in 2012 for the role he played in a misleading robocall sent out to more than 100-thousand Marylanders on Election Day 2010. A court hearing on the matter is schedule for next week. WYPR’s Kenneth Burns has more here.
Dwyer Files For Re-Election: Delegate Don Dwyer has filed for re-election. Dwyer has been convicted of DUI twice for driving and boating incidents, and is currently serving weekends in jail as part of his 60-day sentence. As a result of the convictions, Dwyer was removed from his assignments on the House Ways and Means and Judiciary committees. But the Anne Arundel County Delegate says he thinks his constituents will support his bid for a fourth term in office. The Annapolis Capital reports that Dwyer will face a crowded primary – five other Republican candidates in the running for their party’s nomination, including House Minority Nic Kipke.
O’Malley Supports Retirement Account Bill: Governor Martin O’Malley has thrown his support behind legislation that would give workers easy access to retirement accounts – even if their employers don’t offer pensions or 401ks. The bill would require that businesses with more than five employees either offer retirement plans, or allow their workers to have contributions to retirement accounts automatically deducted from their paychecks. The bill wouldn’t require businesses to contribute matching funds. And workers would not be required to contribute to requirement funds. The Daily Record notes that some 1-million Maryland residents do not currently have access to employer-provided retirement plans. If the bill passes the General Assembly, it would be the first law of its kind in the US. The Baltimore Sun has more here.
Illegal Dumping Bill Moves To State Senate: The House of Delegates yesterday approved a bill that would dramatically increase penalties for people convicted of illegal dumping in Baltimore City. The legislation would increase the maximum jail term for people convicted of dumping loads of more than 100 pounds… raising it from 1 year to 3 years. The bill would also let the Motor Vehicle Administration to assess a penalty of two to five points on the driver’s license of anyone convicted of the crime. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is supporting the bill; she says the city spends more than $16-million a year cleaning up the furniture, tires, and other debris that people toss along its streets and into its waterways. The illegal dumping bill now moves to the State Senate. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun.
House Votes Unanimously To Up Interstate Speed Limits To 70 MPH: Folks could soon be allowed to drive faster on Maryland’s interstate highways. Yesterday, the House of Delegates voted unanimously to raise the speed limit on interstates from its current 65 mph to 70 mph. If the State Senate approves the bill, and it’s signed into law, the speed limit wouldn’t go up immediately – the state would have to first conduct engineering studies to show that a higher limit is a good idea on each particular road. This is not the first time lawmakers have considered raising the interstate speed limit; a similar bill passed the House last year, but died in a State Senate committee. There’s more here from the Annapolis Capital and here from the Baltimore Sun.
Construction Project To Begin Sunday On Baltimore Beltway: Traffic will be slowing down Sunday on the west side of the Baltimore Beltway, as crews prepare to reconstruct the bridge over Milford Mill Road. Crews will be setting up a temporary work zone in the beltway median and shifting lanes in both directions, just as they did when they replaced the bridge over nearby Liberty Road. The $25-million-dollar project will continue until at least the spring of 2016.
Sobriety Checkpoint Tonight In Carroll County: Drivers in Carroll County tonight will want to stick to the speed limit – and drive sober… as Carroll County police are setting up a sobriety checkpoint in Hampstead. The checkpoint will be operated by officers from the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, the Maryland State Police, and several local police departments. The Baltimore Sun has more.
Amazon Could Bring Grocery Delivery Service To Baltimore: Amazon may be planning to launch a new grocery delivery service in the Baltimore-DC region. That's the word from the Baltimore Business Journal, which reports the company developing a huge Amazon distribution center in Southeast Baltimore is also planning a smaller warehouse on the site. The new warehouse and its location are fueling speculation that Amazon could bring its online grocery delivery service to the region.
Eminent Domain Suits Over Columbia Gas Pipeline Expansion: West Virginia-based company Columbia Gas Transmission is suing dozens of landowners in Baltimore and Harford counties. The West Virginia-based company seeks eminent domain to use some properties for a pipeline project. Columba is looking to get easements on more than 400 acres of land for its 21-mile pipeline extension. Columbia still needs federal environmental permits to go through with the extension – and a lawyer representing a landowner who’s being sued tells the Baltimore Sun that if the permits are denied, Columbia might end up taking property that isn’t needed.
Polar Vortex To Bring More Chills To MD: Another couple warm days are in the forecast – with highs in the 50s today, tomorrow, and Sunday. But the mild weather won’t be around for long… with the “polar vortex” set to shift southward again, bringing temperatures at least 20 degrees below normal to the region next week. The Baltimore Sun has more.
Cold Means Death For Stink Bugs: There is one benefit the cold winter we’ve had so far – it appears to be ridding the region of stink bugs. Field researchers from Virginia Tech tell the Washington Post that the prolonged January cold snaps have likely killed most of the pungent insects. Brown marmorated stink bugs have posed a major problem to Maryland farmers in recent years.