Headlines
8:23 am
Tue October 1, 2013

The Partial Federal Government Shutdown, Health Insurance Exchanges, and MD’s New Laws

Maryland’s economy will feel the impact of the partial federal government shutdown; some 10 percent of MD’s civilian workforce is employed by the government. More on the shutdown, plus: a look at the health insurance exchanges opening enrollment today, and the new MD laws taking effect.

Federal Government Shutdown: the federal government has entered a partial shutdown, because Congress was unable to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded. The Baltimore Sun reports that the shutdown will affect many of the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who make up about 10 percent of Maryland’s civilian workforce. That includes Marylanders who commute in to DC, and those who work at Maryland based agencies including the Social Security Administration, the FDA, and the NIH. Civilian workers at military bases such as Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground would also be affected. All those employees do have to report to work today, but they will be sent home unless they're deemed to be essential employees. It’s unclear if the furloughed workers will get retroactive pay. MARC trains are operating as scheduled today (albeit with some minor changes)… but MARC management says that if the shutdown continues and ridership drops, train schedules may be reduced. State officials say that Maryland stands to lose $15-million in economic activity for each day of a federal shutdown; As Senator Ben Cardin puts it, “If you’re a federal employee and you don’t know when your next paycheck is coming, chances are you’re going to be tightening your purse strings. When that happens hundreds of thousands of times over, the economy is going to feel it.” As the federal government enters into a partial shutdown, national parks around the country are closing their gates. That includes Assateague Island National Seashore, which logs about two million visitors a year. WYPR’s Joel McCord reports. For more on what the partial shutdown will mean, the Daily Times has some answers to frequently asked questions here. A similar list has been compiled here by the Baltimore Sun.

Health Insurance Exchanges: The government shutdown was in part a result of a standoff in Congress over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The shutdown does not affect the new online insurance exchanges, created through that law. Their debut comes today, after more than three years of preparations. WYPR’s Bret Jaspers has this look at Maryland’s online insurance exchange.

MD’s New Gun Law: Maryland's new gun law is scheduled to take effect today, but efforts to stop it are continuing. A hearing is scheduled for today in federal court, where opponents are claiming that the law's ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Baltimore Sun reports that the state has filed a motion saying that the gun law should take effect as planned… arguing that gun rights advocates should have filed their lawsuits months ago, instead of last week. The state says that it expects challenges to the law will ultimately fail, and that the law shouldn’t be put on hold until that happens. There’s more here from the Washington Post.

Hand-Held Cell Phone Use Behind The Wheel Banned: Starting today, police may pull over drivers for talking while holding a cell phone to their ear. Driving while talking without a hands-free device is already illegal, but it's been a secondary offense, meaning drivers could only be cited if they were stopped for another reason, like speeding. As the Baltimore Sun reports, drivers who violate the ban will be fined $75 for the first offense with the penalty increasing for subsequent violations.

Lots Of Other New Laws Take Effect: Another new law taking effect today requires all passengers riding in the back of a vehicle to wear a seat belt, including adults. It is a secondary offense, meaning the driver must be stopped for another reason, and it carries a $50 fine. Another law taking effect today outlaws the possession of designer drugs sometimes referred to as K2 or synthetic marijuana. And a new law that permits medical marijuana to be distributed through qualified academic medical centers will also take effect, although no such centers are expected to be open for years. A new cyberbullying law makes it a crime to harass a minor via social media. There’s also a new requirement for all public swimming pools to have defibrillators on site along with a staff that is trained to use them. There are also changes in store for the state's campaign-finance law, including raising contribution limits. It’s now illegal to sell, possess, or trade shark fins. And a repeal of the state’s death penalty officially kicks in; it’s being replaced by the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are five prisoners on Maryland’s death row, and Governor O’Malley has said he’ll consider commuting their sentences on a case-by-case basis. And there are many more new laws in our state; the Baltimore Sun has more here, and there’s more here from the Washington Post and here from the Frederick News Post.

Public Input Sought For New City Schools CEO: Baltimoreans will have a chance to tell City School officials what they want in a new superintendent at five public forums this month. A national search is underway to replace Andres Alonso, who resigned in May. WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn reports.

Proposed LNG Terminal Nixed: The plan to place a liquefied natural gas facility at Sparrows Point is officially dead. AES Corporation has informed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that they have decided to no longer pursue the project. AES had proposed a facility to receive shipments of liquefied natural gas at Sparrows Point, along with an 88-mile pipeline to deliver gas to Pennsylvania. The company had won federal approval but were unable to gain state approval to dredge the waters around the Bethlehem Steel site to accommodate large tankers. The Baltimore Sun has more here.

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