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CareFirst files for massive health premium hike

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield proposed monthly premiums averaging more than 50 percent higher for 2018 than for 2017, in filings to the Maryland Insurance Department for the online health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

The three other companies offering coverage in Maryland’s online/individual market, CIGNA, Kaiser Mid-Atlantic, and Evergreen Health, applied for substantial but smaller 2018 rates that average 37.4 percent, 18.1 percent, and 27.8 percent, respectively.

CareFirst has the largest market share by far over the company’s Maryland, D.C., and Northern Virginia market area, said the company’s CEO, Chet Burrell. It covers two out of every three people in that area with coverage purchased through the ACA online exchanges.

The public may comment online about the proposed rate increases through June 20. The Maryland Insurance Department will hold a public hearing on the proposals on June 21 at its offices in Baltimore. Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, Jr., said the agency would make a decision by late summer. The ACA requires the agency to approve rates that are adequate to meet the costs of the coverage.

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Franchot looks to reform alcohol laws

The state comptroller said Tuesday he is starting an alcohol task force to review state laws because the state is more “restrictive” on craft breweries than every other state in the country.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said he wants to see reform in Maryland alcohol laws. He said the task force, called Reform on Tap, will meet at breweries across the state and discuss concerns about existing laws as well as ideas for new legislation to propose to the General Assembly. Stakeholders such as breweries would make up the task force.

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State passes legislation to give one-year write-offs for manufacturing equipment

The Maryland General Assembly included one-year write-offs of manufacturing equipment for tax purposes in its end-of-session legislative rush on April 10.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed the new tax law on April 11.

It was part of Hogan’s job creation initiative, attached to better-known provisions allowing for special tax incentives for manufacturing in less prosperous areas of Maryland, including parts of Baltimore, Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

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State’s Congressmen and Senators meet with Bay advocates

CAPITOL HILL – An annual gathering of clean water advocates took on more urgency this year in the wake of President Donald Trump’s budget, which proposes deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminates entirely federal funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration.

The Choose Clean Water Coalition held a reception April 5 to bring together representatives from its 225 member organizations and elected representatives in Congress to discuss the negative impacts of Trump’s proposal to eliminate $73 million in funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which funds local restoration efforts in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Pennsylvania. In addition to a reception, the group facilitated 36 individual meetings between water groups and members of Congress.

“This gathering could not happen at a more important critical moment given the budget that came down,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) “This is an hour, a moment of great need for this coalition and with your help, we will continue to make progress (on improving the Bay).”

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Ariana Kelly takes helm of group dedicated to fighting for women

Ariana KellyDel. Ariana Kelly (D-16). COURTESY PHOTO  

After being elected president of the Women Legislators of Maryland, Del. Ariana Kelly (District 16) proclaimed that she had just “fulfilled one of my legislative dreams.”

Kelly, who is already known around Annapolis for fighting for women’s causes, now heads an organization dedicated to the rights and needs of women and girls on issues such as child care, domestic violence and human trafficking.

“I think it’s an incredible opportunity. I think there are a lot of ways to improve women’s lives,” she said.

“For me, it’s both a tremendous honor to be elected by my colleagues, but it also is a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of the women of Maryland.”

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Power to the Attorney General

Democrats look to expand attorney general powers to sue the federal government

 

The General Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that will give the state’s attorney general more power to sue the federal government on the state’s behalf.

After several executive orders from President Donald J. Trump alarmed Democratic leaders in Annapolis, members of the General Assembly, along with Attorney General Brian Frosh, have crafted a bill to expand the attorney general’s powers in the state. The bill passed the House of Delegates Wednesday after passing the Senate last week. The bill does not require the governor’s signature.

“Frankly, the need for this arises from the, I would say, erratic and implosive and you might even say reckless nature of what’s going in the past few weeks,” Frosh said in a committee hearing on the bill. “There’s been blizzard of executive orders, many of which are ill-advised.”

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Maryland House debates safety commission as FTA cuts funding

ANNAPOLIS – A Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) union member said at a bill hearing that he was concerned about the future of due process for employees if Maryland legislators pass a bill to create a new safety commission.

The commission would serve as WMATA’s state-level safety oversight agency, which Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia are required to set up by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The FTA has been acting as Metro’s temporary state-level safety oversight agency since October 2015 after it determined the previous oversight agency, the tri-state oversight commission, failed to fulfill its safety oversight role effectively. The Metro Safety Commission would take over from the FTA.

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Hogan, O’Malley agree on gerrymandering reform

Maryland’s two most recent governors agree on one of the most divisive issues in the state – gerrymandering.

Gov. Larry Hogan had faint praise for his predecessor, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, after getting wind of remarks O’Malley made at a speech at Boston College.

In his speech, which O’Malley published online in January, O’Malley called for a nonpartisan commission to draw congressional districts, a reform that Republicans in Maryland are in support of.

“America needs non-partisan redistricting commissions not only for drawing Congressional districts every ten years, but for state legislative districts as well,” O’Malley said. “This simple reform, already being adopted in some states, must become the new norm of American democracy.”

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Hundreds protest Trump's immigration ban at BWI

BALTIMORE – More than 800 people headed to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Sunday to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban immigration from select countries and all refugees.

Hundreds of protesters waved signs and shouted about Trump’s executive order and the people who are barred from entering the country for the next three to four months: noncitizens from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen as well as refugees.

Marc and Marybeth Leblanc, residents of Brunswick, attended the protest with their two young children.

“We feel that it is important to speak out,” Marc said.

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Maryland's Harris meets with Trump - perhaps about NIH post

WASHINGTON - Maryland Rep. Andy Harris, who reportedly is in the running to head the National Institutes of Health, met with President-elect Donald Trump in New York on Wednesday.

Harris, the lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, is also the only member of Congress to have conducted NIH-funded research.

The Johns Hopkins-educated anesthesiologist’s name has been tossed around for weeks as the possible new director of the medical research center in Bethesda, which has about 18,000 employees in the state.

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