Fri January 24, 2014
School Delays & Closures, The State Of The State, Speed Cameras, and Early Voting
Several schools in Central MD are opening late, while some on the Eastern Shore are closed; we round up the schedule changes. Plus: the "State of the State" speech, speed cameras, marijuana policy, Gansler's call for an early voting expansion, and Rawlings-Blake's call for more infrastructure spending.
School Schedule Changes: It's another day of schedule changes for many Maryland schools. On a TWO-HOUR DELAY: schools in Anne Arundel, Cecil, Harford, and Prince George’s counties. Schools are CLOSED in Caroline, Kent, Talbot, Queen Anne’s, and Worcester counties.
Bitter Cold To Continue: With no significant warm up in the near forecast, the Baltimore City Health Department has extended its Code Blue Weather Alert through Tuesday, January 28th. A Code Blue alert prompts outreach to vulnerable residents and emergency shelters to operate with overflow capacity. City officials urge you to stay out of the cold. The Baltimore Sun reports that the state’s Public Service Commission is urging people to cut down on energy consumption while the freeze continues, to avoid unnecessary stress on the power grid. The PSC encourages you to lower thermostats and avoid the use of major appliances – especially between 6 and 9am and between 3 and 7pm. Meanwhile, utility BGE says that its customers’ bills will likely go up, as the cold snap continues. BGE said if a customer thinks their statement is wrong, they should call the utility.
O’Malley’s “State Of The State” Speech: Governor Martin O'Malley delivered his annual “state of the state” speech yesterday – in which he proclaimed the state of our state “strong… and growing stronger by the day.” O'Malley talked up the achievements of his past seven years in office during the address. And he called on lawmakers to raise Maryland’s minimum wage; O’Malley’s backing a proposal to increase the rate from its current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016, and then connecting it to inflation for future increases. Opponents of the idea say it would put Maryland businesses at a disadvantage, because that rate would be higher than the minimum wage in neighboring states. O’Malley also took part of the speech to express frustration with the problems with the state’s online health insurance exchange. The governor vowed there would be improvements. Republican lawmakers are calling for a forensic audit of the exchange’s rollout; the system cost $170-million. WYPR’s Christopher Connelly has a look at the speech here. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun, more here from the Capital Gazette, and more here from the Frederick News Post. Meanwhile, WYPR’s Fraser Smith and Karen Hosler say what O’Malley didn’t mention in the speech was important; they talk about efforts to legalize or decriminalize marijuana in the state on this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
Baltimore’s Speed Camera Audit & Calls For Audits Of Other Programs: The recent revelations of significant problems with Baltimore’s now-offline speed camera program are prompting calls for audits of other speed camera systems around the state. Yesterday, the Baltimore Sun released the results of a secret audit of Baltimore’s speed cameras, showing that the devices had an error rate of higher than 10 percent, while being run by Xerox State and Local Solutions in 2012. Xerox is also the vendor for speed cameras used by the State Highway Administration, and in jurisdictions including Baltimore County and Howard County. The Sun reports that AAA Mid-Atlantic is now calling for audits of speed camera programs around the region. Officials in Baltimore and Howard County appear opposed to the idea, while the SHA says it’ll talk with AAA about the recommendation. Meanwhile, Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes says he'll ask the City Council to subpoena the Baltimore audit so the full results are made public. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration is opposed to the idea, and yesterday issued a statement calling the audit an "inconclusive report that does not reflect any final conclusions about the accuracy of the speed camera program."
Gansler Files Paperwork For Gubernatorial Bid, Calls For Early Voting Expansion: Yesterday, state Attorney General – and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful – Doug Gansler filed the paperwork that will put his name on the primary ballot. In doing so, he and his running mate Jolene Ivey unveiled another policy proposal: an expansion of early voting. Gansler wants early voting to take place on the Saturday immediately before Election Day Tuesday – and the Washington Post reports that he wants all Maryland polling places to be open that day. Maryland’s weeklong early voting period currently includes a Saturday, but not the one immediately before Election Day itself – and only a limited number of voting centers are open during that period. Attorney General Gansler is vying for his party’s nomination with Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun.
Rawlings-Blake Calls For Infrastructure Spending: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was in Washington DC yesterday, for the winter meeting of the US Conference of Mayors. Rawlings-Blake used the meeting to call on Congress to devote more money to infrastructure – an idea that has the backing of the Obama administration. The Baltimore Sun reports that Rawlings-Blake said more infrastructure spending would boost regional economies – and the national economy as well. She reportedly lamented that other countries are “leaving us in the dust” when it comes to transit programs.