Headlines
8:27 am
Thu December 19, 2013

Speed Cameras, MD’s Online Health Insurance Exchange, A “Training Wage,” and Bloomberg Backs Frosh

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake with City Transportation Director William Johnson (in background) following the Board of Estimates vote to pay Brekford Corporation $600,000 to get out of a contract to operate speed and red light cameras. Officials said the settlement allows the city to move forward in picking a new vendor to operate the cameras which have been offline since April.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Baltimore has terminated its relationship with the company that ran its troubled speed and red light camera system. Rep. John Delaney renews his call for MD to switch to the federal health insurance exchange. A proposal for a “training wage,” NYC’s Bloomberg endorses Frosh’s AG bid, and more.

Baltimore Severs Relationship With Speed Camera Vendor: Baltimore City’s relationship with the company that operated its speed and red light camera program for much of the past year has come to an end. Yesterday, the city’s The Board of Estimates voted today to pay $600-thousand to Brekford Corp to terminate the contract. The city’s camera program has been out of commission since April, due to problems with the devices’ accuracy. It’s unclear when the cameras will start working again. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clark has suggested that the city not resume use of the camera system – and, instead, station more police officers at dangerous intersections. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has dismissed that idea. WYPR’s Kenneth Burns notes that the shutdown of the camera system cost Baltimore some $14-million in projected revenue. Mayor Rawlings-Blake tells the Baltimore Sun that when a new camera contract is awarded – possibly next year -- it will not include the controversial “bounty system,” which offers a financial incentive to vendors that issue more tickets.

Delaney Renews Call For Switch To Federal Exchange: Congressman John Delaney is continuing to call for Maryland to get rid of its troubled online health insurance exchange, and instead use the one operated by the federal government. The 6th District Democrat first made that suggestion last week; he renewed it yesterday in a conversation with the Washington Post. Representative Delaney says he thinks Marylanders looking for insurance might be better served by the federal exchange.  Maryland’s exchange has had a troubled first two months… but Governor Martin O’Malley says that the marylandhealthconnection.gov website is now functional “for most users.” The O’Malley administration says that it hasn’t dismissed Delaney’s idea of switching to the federal exchange… but the Post says it’s not an idea that’s expected to be embraced anytime soon.

O'Malley Must Refocus On Job One: WYPR Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith says that Maryland’s online health insurance exchange remains a work in progress. And, he says, that has implications for Governor Martin O’Malley’s political future. Fraser comments in his weekly essay.

McDonough Proposes “Training Wage”: Maryland’s minimum wage is expected to be a major topic of debate during next year’s General Assembly session. The rate is currently $7.25 an hour – that’s also the federal minimum wage. The group “Raise Maryland” is pushing for a new statewide minimum of $10.10 an hour… and some lawmakers are backing an even higher rate. If the minimum wage does go up, Delegate Pat McDonough says he wants to ensure that small companies only have to pay the federal minimum for new hires. As the Daily Record reports, the Baltimore County Republican is proposing a so-called “training wage” – that would let businesses with 50 workers or fewer pay new hires $7.25 an hour for the first six months of their employment. After that, they’d have to pay the new state minimum.

Frosh’s AG Bid Endorsed By Bloomberg: State Senator Brian Frosh’s campaign to become Maryland’s next attorney general has picked up the support of outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Washington Post reports that Bloomberg’s endorsement of Frosh is tied to his support of strict gun control legislation. Frosh worked to push Maryland’s new gun control law through the State Senate earlier this year; that law bans certain types of weapons classified as assault rifles, and requires handgun buyers to submit their fingerprints to state police; it’s been called one of the toughest gun laws in the nation. In endorsing Frosh’s bid for Attorney General, Mayor Bloomberg said “no one has done more in Maryland than Brian Frosh to lead the fight against illegal guns and protect citizens from incidents of gun violence.” Frosh faces three Democrats in the Attorney General’s primary: Delegates Aisha Braveboy, Jon Cardin, and Bill Frick. No Republicans have entered the race so far. More here from the Baltimore Sun.

MD To Take Role In Common Core Test Development: Maryland is set to take a lead role in developing tests to assess students on the new Common Core curriculum standards. The State Board of Public Works has approved a contract for the State Board of Education to administer $96-million in federal dollars to create the tests. Marylandreporter.com notes that State Comptroller Peter Franchot cast a dissenting vote on the plan; Franchot said he thinks the state is becoming “obsessed” with standardized tests… and says that the rush to implement them is “too fast too soon.”

Baltimore Students In Bottom 3rd Of National Test: Baltimore students have made significant gains in reading on a national exam… but their scores on the math portion of the text dropped. The National Assessment of Educational Progress also showed Baltimore’s fourth and eighth graders significantly behind the majority of students in 21 large urban school districts… the Baltimore Sun reports that city students came in the bottom third in all subjects.

Anne Arundel County Schools’ Budget Proposed: The superintendent of the Anne Arundel County school system has proposed a $1.04-billion operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year. The Capital Gazette reports that’s an increase of about 3-and-a-half percent from the current budget. If approved, it would let the Anne Arundel County school system hire around 75 teachers, and raise the salaries of current employees by 2 percent.

Frederick County School Board Gets New Leadership: The Frederick County School board has a new President; the Frederick News Post reports that the board elected Joy Schaefer to the leadership post. The Board’s new vice president is Katie Groth, who currently leads the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. The votes were split, 4 to 3 for both.

Holiday Travel: About the same number of Marylanders will be traveling during the year end holidays THIS year as did LAST year. At least, that’s the prediction from AAA Mid-Atlantic. The travel club tells the Baltimore Business Journal it expects just under 2-million Marylanders to travel 50 miles or more between December 21st and January 1st. About 1.8 million of them will use cars. AAA also says that Marylanders are expected to spend an average of $842 this holiday period… that’s up from $801 last year.

Underage Drinkers Have Hard Time Getting Alcohol In Annapolis: It’s not easy for underage drinkers to get booze in the state capital. Annapolis police tell the Capital Gazette they conducted an alcohol compliance check earlier this month and calls the results were impressive. Only four of 115 liquor stores, taverns and restaurants surveyed during a two-night period sold alcohol to the underage state police cadets operating the check. The four violators face administrative action from Annapolis’s liquor board.