Emergency unemployment benefits have expired for thousands of Marylanders. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake is expected name Baltimore’s new fire chief today. Lawsuits have been filed over murals on vacant homes. Plus: horse breeding, Baltimore homicides, New Year’s revels, and more.
Emergency Unemployment Benefits End: Emergency unemployment benefits expired over the weekend for more than 25-thousand Marylanders. That includes more than 5-thousand people who live in Baltimore City. And nearly 30-thousand more people across the state could be without the jobless benefits in the first half of 2014 unless Congress approves an extension when lawmakers return from their holiday break. The Baltimore Sun reports that 7th District Congressman Elijah Cummings is one of many members of Congress pushing for an unemployment benefits extension. Fellow advocates say extended help is still needed since there is currently one job opening for every three unemployed workers across the U.S. and the long-term unemployment rate remains high.
MD Businesses To Pay Less In Unemployment Insurance: Maryland businesses will be paying lower rates for unemployment insurance in the New Year; the Baltimore Business Journal reports that rates will fall as much as 70 percent for some employers.
New Baltimore Fire Chief To Be Officially Named Today: Baltimore City will soon have a new fire chief. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake is expected to announce today that she’s tapping Niles Ford to take the job. The 48-year-old Ford is a career firefighter; he’s served as the fire chief of Lincoln, Nebraska, and most recently managed a small city in Georgia. If the Baltimore City Council signs off on Ford’s appointment, he’ll start work on January 22 and receive a salary of $165-thousand per year. The Baltimore Sun reports that Ford’s appointment is already being criticized from the firefighter's union, where some wonder why a candidate wasn't hired from within the department. Some city council members are also questioning Ford’s qualifications – noting that the fire department he led in Lincoln is less than one-fifth the size of Baltimore’s.
Lawsuits Over Murals On Vacant Homes: Lawsuits have been filed against a Baltimore woman who’s been leading the charge to shame the owners of vacant properties in the city. Earlier this year, Carol Ott -- who runs the Baltimore Slumlord Watch blog – partnered with a street artist to see murals painted on several vacant homes. The project was aimed at encouraging property owners to clean up their buildings. But now, an attorney representing business trusts that own two of the properties has filed property damage claims against Ott. The Baltimore Sun reports that the suits allege Ott “caused [the] mural[s] to be erected,” and calls on her to pay $25-hundred per house to have them repainted. Plus attorney fees. Ott calls the allegations of vandalism untrue, and characterizes the legal action as “nothing but a big nuisance lawsuit.” Ott says she expects she’ll prevail when the matter goes to court in March. You can listen to a Maryland Morning report on the mural project here.
Homicides Rise In Baltimore In 2013: Baltimore has seen more homicides this year than in any of the last four years. As of yesterday, the city had recorded 234 murders in 2013. The Baltimore Sun reports that the city has also seen an increase in nonfatal shootings this year; this, after six consecutive years of declines.
How Marvin Mandel Changed State Government: WYPR's Fraser Smith and John Willis of the University of Baltimore talk about what former governor Marvin Mandel did to modernize state government and strengthen the executive branch. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.
Gambling Revenues Cited For Uptick In MD Horse Breeding: Horse breeding in Maryland went up last year… rising 13 percent when compared to 2012. The Maryland Horse Breeders Association says that a major factor was revenue from Maryland’s casino gambling program – which is used to increase the purses in horse races, and provide extra bonuses for horses bred in Maryland. The Horse Breeders Association tells the Baltimore Sun that if slots gambling revenue continue to rise, horse breeding could increase again next year. Maryland’s horse industry supports an estimated 14-thousand jobs.
New Year’s Celebrations: Lots of folks are expected to ring in the New Year at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The Baltimore Sun reports that the city’s preparing for more than 50-thousand people to crowd downtown for the festivities… which start at 9pm, include a fireworks display at midnight, and conclude at 12:30 am Wednesday morning. The Metro Subway and the Light Rail will be operating until one hour after the fireworks display is done, in order to help revelers get out of the city. City police say they’ve made significant security improvements to ensure safe celebrations for all. Baltimore’s not the only Maryland city ringing in the New Year with a big celebration; Frederick holds its second annual key drop tomorrow night. Ocean City has fireworks displays of its own. There are also fireworks in Annapolis, Columbia, Havre de Grace, and many other cities around the state.
Flu Season Gets Underway: Flu season is picking up in our region. The Centers for Disease Control says the flu is now widespread in Virginia… and while the prevalence of influenza here in Maryland is currently described as “minimal,” the incidence of the disease has been increasing in recent weeks. Health officials say there’s still time to be vaccinated against the flu, and say people 65 years of age and older should strongly consider doing so, since the majority of flu-related hospitalizations occur in that age group. WJLA has more.
Baltimore Fooball. The Ravens lost yesterday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals; the score 34-17. The loss sees the team finishing the regular season at 8-and-8, and keeps the defending Super Bowl champs out of the post-season. The Ravens are the 15th Super Bowl champion team to fail to make the playoffs the next season. This will be the first time that head coach John Harbaugh has missed the postseason since joining the Ravens.