The Baltimore City Council moves forward with an investigation into the city’s troubled speed and red light camera system. The City Council votes down a bill that would have imposed a bag fee. Plus: the push to raise MD’s minimum wage, MD’s small business exchange, and more.
Speed Camera Investigation: The Baltimore City Council could start issuing subpoenas as soon as next month as it launches an investigation into the city’s troubled speed and red light camera program. It follows last week’s revelations of a secret audit conducted last year – showing that the speed camera error rate was greater than 10% -- that’s 40 times higher than city officials had claimed. The findings from the audit were obtained by the Baltimore Sun, but the audit hasn’t been officially released… and the council wants that to change. They’re calling on the Rawlings-Blake administration to release all documents related to the audit. The investigation will be led by the council’s judiciary committee, chaired by councilman Jim Kraft. He outlined the timeline for the inquiry to WYPR, saying “We’ll amend the resolution so that the matter will come before judiciary for the investigation; we’ll bring it back to the council on the 10th for the vote and then we’ll be meeting to put the subpoenas and issue them shortly thereafter.” A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has dismissed the audit as incomplete, and the Mayor told WJZ that all erroneous tickets have been refunded. However, a spokesperson for the Mayor told the Sun that no refunds were made due to the audit because officials regard it as “inconclusive.”
Obama To Visit Lanham, Post SOTU: President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address tonight; you can hear it at 9pm, on WYPR. After the speech, Obama will hit the road… and the first stop on his weeklong tour of the country will be in Maryland. The president’s set to appear tomorrow at the Costco in Lanham, in Prince George’s County. He’s expected to talk about the issues he’ll highlight in tonight’s speech – including his call for a boost in the national minimum wage and an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which expired last month. WJZ has more.
Maryland’s Minimum Wage: The push to raise Maryland’s minimum wage is garnering tentative support in the General Assembly… but some lawmakers don’t seem ready to follow Governor Martin O’Malley’s call to raise the rate to $10.10 an hour. Yesterday, the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, Dereck Davis, said that O’Malley’s proposed rate is “probably not a number [he] would choose.” The Baltimore Business Journal notes that any minimum wage legislation has to get through Delegate Davis’s committee in order to make it to the full House. And House Speaker Michael Busch says the committee will play a major role in the debate. Busch said yesterday that lawmakers there will determine whether to “meet the [$10.10] threshold” set by the Governor for raising the rate, or whether to “move in a different direction.” There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun.
Small Business Exchange Launch Delayed: Another delay for Maryland’s online health insurance exchange. The website was set to offer small business employees access to federal tax credits in October. That’s now been pushed back to January 1st of next year, the same day that the federal exchange for small businesses will open. But small businesses will be able to get access to plans and tax credits directly through carriers, third party administrators and brokers. The state announced that that access will start in April. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and more here from the Baltimore Business Journal.
Baltimore Bag Bill Dies: A bill that would have imposed a 10-cent fee on most paper and plastic bags handed out at Baltimore stores died yesterday in the City Council. The bill’s sponsor was Councilman Brandon Scott. He wanted the proceeds of the fee to go to the city’s parks and recreation department, but said the goal of the legislation wasn’t revenue generation, but behavioral change. Scott argued that the measure would keep bags off the streets and out of the Inner Harbor… and he said that bag fees have led to less litter in cities where they are in effect, including nearby Washington DC. Opponents of the bill said that it wouldn’t have worked, and that it would have disproportionately affected the poor. Councilman Scott disagreed, telling WYPR: “Despite what the lobbyists and other folks think, these things are effective and they don’t affect people’s pockets.” But in the end, the measure failed. 9 members of the council were opposed to the bag fee, with only 6 council members in favor. The Baltimore Sun has more here.
NRC Investigates Shutdown At Calvert Cliffs: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is hoping a special team of investigators can shed some more light on an unplanned shutdown of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland. Both reactors at the plant shut down last Tuesday, apparently after snow and ice tripped a breaker in an electrical supply feeding the plant. The NRC says it wants to investigate further why the outages happened and how plant operators handled them. The Baltimore Sun has more here.