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Medical Marijuana on hold

Medical MarijuanaThe first availability of Maryland-licensed medical marijuana appears likely to be in November, a couple months later than the state government’s earlier forecast of “late summer.”

On July 6, Gov. Larry Hogan appointed nine new Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission members, and reappointed one member. Hogan’s appointees collectively comprise a majority of the 16-member Commission.

As of July 11, only one grower and one dispensary had gotten final or “Stage II” license approval from MMCC. The MMCC website said from March through May that the Commission’s target date for first availability was “late summer.”

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Trump's budget would force state, county to 'pick up pieces'

President Trump proposed a detailed budget May 23 that kept the themes of his March budget blueprint: steep cuts to science-based agencies, many headquartered in Montgomery County, and to programs to aid lower-income people, offset by sizable increases for defense and Homeland Security.

Compared with the 80-page budget released in March, the new spending plan for Fiscal Year 2018 (October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018) is a vast, eight-volume document with details on Trump’s proposals for every agency. Other subjects newly addressed include how the deficit would be affected, the major changes from previous budgets, revenue forecasts, and economic growth assumptions.

Given the size of the new document, reactions to it this week are only preliminary, with the meanings of many provisions yet to be unearthed by congressional review over the coming months.

If the proposed major cuts are enacted to Medicaid, food stamps (called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “SNAP”), elderly and school nutrition, “It would be up to the County or state government or both to pick up the pieces,” said Joy Nurmi, special assistant to County Executive Ike Leggett. For instance, she predicted, if SNAP cutbacks are adopted, many people would go to food pantries such as Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg. Manna is partially funded by the County and the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg.

“A budget is a moral document,” reflecting a community’s values, Nurmi asserted. She called the Trump budget “completely morally corrupt.”

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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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