Tag Archives: E.J. Pipkin

Senator Pipkin: “Medicare Waiver Changes Ration Heath Care for Marylanders”

Senator E. J. Pipkin, Senate Minority Leader, today condemned the state’s changes to its updated Medicare waiver that put a cap on the amount of money the state can spend to provide health care to its citizens. It’s a simple and callous plan to predetermine health care spending and thus, ration health care to Medicare recipients.”

The Eastern shore lawmaker further explained the change links medical spending to the state’s economic growth. “The plan was devised by two powerful bureaucrats, Health Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein and John M. Colmers, Chairman of the Health Services Cost Review Commission which sets hospital rates. In formulating the plan of major and far-reaching impact on health care, these two individuals completely bypassed the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature. Whatever happened to representative government?” asked Pipkin.

The Maryland Hospital Association, which represents the state’s hospitals, has gone on record as opposing the waiver changes. “Linking health care spending to the state’s economy puts hospitals in a position of risk and great uncertainty. Letting the economy determine from year to year what the state can spend on Medicare services will result in the arbitrary rationing of health care services to the state’s elderly and disabled population. Health care providers and the insurance industry have also voiced outrage at the changes, which have been described as a “tectonic shift” in the manner of providing health care in Maryland,

“The waiver changes are state policy changes of great magnitude. Clearly, such policy changes demand the input and final decision of the General Assembly. Meeting with Senate and House standing health care and finance committees and VIP state officials to explain the plan is no way to shape significant policy change,” Pipkin asserted.

“Obviously,” said Senator Pipkin, “predetermined limits on health care spending will impose rationing of health care. Some people not going to be able to get the health care they need. During the debate on the Affordable Care law, we heard over and over again that it was inhumane and immoral for insurance companies to put a predetermined monetary lifetime limit on an insured’s health care. And the federal law prohibited those insurance spending limits. Certainly, it is equally inhumane and immoral for a state to put such an arbitrary spending limit on the health care of its most vulnerable citizens.”
Senator EJ Pipkin
District 36
410-841-3639

Governor O’Malley, Legislature Close 2013 Session with Progressive Victories

By CNS STAFF
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – If the longstanding rumors are true and Gov. Martin O’Malley really does have his sights set on a presidential nomination, the 2013 legislative session could go a long way toward solidifying his liberal qualifications for a Democratic primary electorate.

The list of legislation from the 2013 session reads like a progressive’s wish list: pass some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, repeal the death penalty, legalize medical marijuana, increase taxes on gasoline and subsidize offshore wind power.

Much to the chagrin of conservative lawmakers, O’Malley and the Democratically controlled legislature, accomplished all of these initiatives.

“The governor and the liberal left have hijacked the state of Maryland,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore.

But Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. called 2013 the “most successful legislative session of my lifetime.”

GUNS

With the passage of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, Maryland will ban the purchase of assault rifles, reduce firearm access for the mentally ill, require safety training and the submission of fingerprints before the purchase of a handgun, and increase penalties for violent crimes committed with “cop killer bullets.”

“This bill will save lives,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery.

The bill was drafted by the O’Malley administration in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December that left 27 people dead.

The bill received widespread support from urban and suburban Democrats in the House and Senate, however, many lawmakers from rural areas in the eastern and western parts of the state criticized the bill for overreaching and infringing upon Second Amendment rights.

Throughout the session, as the bill moved through various committees in Annapolis, thousands of gun rights advocates flooded into town to protest.

DEATH PENALTY

Maryland became the 18th state to abolish state-sanctioned executions this session after passing a controversial bill that replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The last execution in Maryland took place in 2005 and five inmates remain on death row.

O’Malley has been supportive of the repeal since taking office in 2007, but there were not enough votes in the Senate to get it passed until this session, said Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore.

Critics argued that Maryland already had one of the most restrictive death penalty statutes before the repeal, since the reforms made to the law in 2009 restricted the death penalty to cases in which DNA evidence, a videotaped confession, or video evidence of the crime are available.

Opponents’ proposed amendments, including keeping the death penalty for mass murders and the killing of a police officer or prison guard, all failed.

GAS TAX

The legislature passed a gas tax increase in order to raise funds for future transportation projects, but some lawmakers were concerned about how the increase would hurt everyday citizens.

This summer motorists will see prices rise about 4 cents per gallon due to the tax.

“It hurts the poor, working class the most,” Pipkin said.

On July 1, the gas tax rate will be indexed to inflation and there will be a new 1 percent sales tax on gasoline. The sales tax will increase incrementally until it reaches 5 percent in fiscal year 2017, unless federal legislation is enacted on Internet sales taxes, in which case it will top out at 3 percent.

The money generated from the tax will be used to replenish the dwindling Transportation Trust Fund, which is used to maintain existing infrastructure and to build new projects.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said the legislature had been talking about a gas tax increase for years.

“We were all aware that in 2018 there wouldn’t be enough money,” Busch said.

Busch said when Virginia passed its gas tax increase it became important for Maryland to do something as well, because both states are vying for the new FBI headquarters, which could be in Greenbelt or Springfield, Va.

More funding for transportation should ease congestion, expand mass transit and keep Maryland competitive with Virginia for the new site.

“It put extra pressure on us,” Busch said. “We had to make a tough decision.”

OFFSHORE WIND

O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill will funnel $1.7 billion of ratepayer subsidies over a 20-year period toward the construction of a wind power farm 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City as early as 2017.

“It’s about a better Maryland for tomorrow,” Sen. James Mathias Jr., D-Worcester, the former mayor of Ocean City, told the Senate before the final vote on March 8.

O’Malley’s previous two attempts to push the legislation — the first more ambitious — never made it to the Senate floor largely because of concerns about the cost to Marylanders.

But a change in the makeup of the Senate Finance Committee, which held up the bill in years past, brought an important vote in favor of offshore wind, said Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles, chair of the committee.

Senate President Miller removed wind bill opponent Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, from the committee, and replaced him with Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, a supporter.

The bill did not pass without debate and attempted amendments.

“This is the dumbest idea ever,” said Pipkin, during the final Senate debate.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Last year, the General Assembly failed to push a medical marijuana program through the Senate after passing it in the House. This year, both chambers passed a measure that would allow academic medical centers to distribute medical marijuana to patients who suffer from debilitating chronic illnesses.

“I think the public opinion has changed on this across the political spectrum. People understand that if somebody’s sick, they deserve medication,” said Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor.

Morhaim said Sinai Hospital in Baltimore has already expressed interest in the program. The General Assembly also passed a measure that would expand the affirmative legal defense to caregivers.

Despite their success passing medical marijuana, the General Assembly struggled to push legalization measures.

A bill that would have decriminalized marijuana possession for less than 10 grams passed in the Senate, but never made it out of the House Judiciary Committee. Similarly, another that would have taxed marijuana sales like alcohol never left the House Judiciary Committee.

FOOD ALLERGIES

The General Assembly passed a food allergy awareness bill that will require Maryland restaurants to designate a “person in charge,” who will watch an approved video educating them on food allergies.

Restaurants will also be required to put a sign in the kitchen that explains the dangers of cross-contamination. Even if the food does not contain cheese, for example, the chef might have touched cheese before making it, and the patron might still experience an allergic reaction.

OTHER BILLS

An effort to make the soft-shell crab sandwich Maryland’s state sandwich passed in the Senate, but failed to make it to a vote in the House. Delegate Rudolph Cane, D-Wicomico, introduced the House bill and Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, introduced the Senate bill in an effort to help Maryland watermen.

Colburn said watermen are an endangered species and this designation would help them.

“The Maryland waterman is on the state seal,” he said. “And that’s a dying breed.”

A ban on the distribution, possession, sale and trade of shark fins in Maryland also passed through the General Assembly. The ban is an attempt to curtail shark fin supply and demand, which has contributed to the collapse of shark populations worldwide.

Maryland joins five other states in banning their distribution.

It is already illegal in the U.S. to remove a shark’s fin and discard the rest of the fish to die in the water, a practice that has been driven by high demand for shark fin soup.

There are 15 watermen who fish for sharks in Maryland waters, and about 10 restaurants that serve shark fin soup, according to a fiscal note accompanying the bill. An amendment was added to the law that exempts smooth-hounds and spiny dogfish sharks, the largest shark harvest in Maryland, in order to soften the impact on commercial fisherman.

The General Assembly also passed a bill that gives a $1 tax credit for each bushel of oyster shells recycled during the year. The oyster shells are returned to the water and act as a hard surface on which to grow new oysters.

Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, sponsored a bill known as “Grace’s Law,” named after a Maryland teenager, Grace McComas, who took her own life after being the target of online harassment and threats. The bill passed and will make publicly posted cyberbullying a crime in Maryland, thus closing the loophole that exempts harmful material transmitted via social media websites like Twitter and Facebook.

Legislation that would have overturned the 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals decision that labeled pit bull dogs “inherently dangerous” and held landlords legally responsible for pit bull attacks on their property failed on the last day of the session. The House and Senate passed separate bills earlier in the session, but at the last minute, they were unable to agree on a compromise.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee rejected a bill presented by Delegate Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery, that would have increased the fine for stealing a shopping cart from $25 to $100.

A bill in the House that would have regulated the practice of shackling pregnant inmates while they are in transit and in labor passed in the House, then in the Senate, but the two chambers failed to agree on proposed amendments, and the bill died in conference committee.

Delegates Cardin and Dana Stein, also a Democrat from Baltimore County, introduced a bill this session that would have required the use of headgear in youth girls’ lacrosse in Maryland. The bill received strong resistance from coaches and leaders of the lacrosse community and was withdrawn early in the session.

This story reported by Lucas High, Hannah Anderson, Amber Larkins, Julia Maldonado, Ethan Rosenberg and Jessica Wilde.

 

 

Offshore Wind Passes in Senate, Gov. O’Malley’s Signature Next

By JESSICA WILDE
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill is on its way to his desk for a signature, having passed in the House in February and in the Senate on Friday.

Five friendly Senate amendments are expected to be approved easily by the House.

The new legislation will funnel $1.7 billion of ratepayer subsidies over a 20-year period toward the construction of a wind power farm 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City as early as 2017.

“It’s about a better Maryland for tomorrow,” said Sen. James Mathias Jr., D-Worcester, the former mayor of Ocean City, who changed his vote to support the bill.

O’Malley’s previous two attempts to push the legislation – the first more ambitious – never made it to the Senate floor largely because of concerns about the cost to Marylanders.

His first initiative also failed because utility companies would have had to make nearly 20-year commitments to buy offshore wind energy.

But a change in the makeup of the Senate Finance Committee, which held up the bill in years past, brought an important vote in favor of offshore wind, said Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles, chair of the committee.

This year, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., removed wind bill opponent Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s, from the Senate Finance Committee. In his place, he put Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, a supporter.

In the final Senate vote Friday, Muse voted for the bill.

A provision that would encourage minority enterprise business goals for developers brought another pro-wind vote to the committee, Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore.

But the bill did not pass without debate and attempted amendments.

“This is the dumbest idea ever,” said Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, who led the debate against it.

Cost was one of his main concerns, both the cost to ratepayers and the cost that he said would pass down to consumers via businesses paying more on their electricity bills.

“Never in Maryland’s history have so many people paid so much for the benefit of so few,” Pipkin said.

Under the new legislation, the average residential household will pay $1.50 a month in subsidies, a consumption-based cost for 1,000 kilowatt-hours of usage. The fee will not kick in until wind is produced.

But the residential rate could rise and fall depending on the price of electricity, Middleton told the Senate in Thursday’s debate.

“If the price of electricity goes up, that $1.50 will go down,” Middleton said. The Public Service Commission will only accept a developer if the projected charge to the average residential user is no more than $1.50.

There are caps on how much agricultural and industrial energy-users will pay, but the Senate rejected an amendment that would have created a cap for commercial businesses as well.

“The increased expense on small business and to the industrial customer is going to get passed along to the consumer,” Pipkin said.

He also argued that Maryland should meet its renewable energy requirements with less expensive energy.

“This is the world’s most expensive energy,” Pipkin said.

The bill requires that the Public Service Commission only accept wind farm developer applications if they demonstrate positive economic, environmental and health benefits to the state.

-30-
-03-08-13

Offshore Wind Farm Nears Success in Senate

By JESSICA WILDE
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., pushed Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind energy bill closer to passage Thursday, with several amendments pending and several having already failed.

A final vote could come Friday or Monday.

The House passed the bill in February, and if it passes in the Senate, $1.5 billion of ratepayer subsidies will go toward the construction of a wind power farm 10 to 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City as early as 2017.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” said Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, who had several concerns with the bill and introduced two amendments that failed.

Under the new legislation, the average residential household would pay $1.50 a month in subsidies, a consumption-based cost for 1,000 kilowatt-hours of usage.

But the residential rate could rise and fall depending on the price of electricity, said Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, D-Charles, chair of the Senate Finance Committee that issued a favorable report on the bill.

“If the price of electricity goes up, that $1.50 will go down,” Middleton said. The Public Service Commission will only accept a developer if the projected charge to the average residential user is no more than $1.50.

There are, however, caps on how much agricultural and industrial energy-users would pay.

Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, introduced an amendment that would extend that cap to commercial businesses out of concern that increased costs would pass down to consumers.

But the amendment failed.

“Every time you make an exception, you start to take the financial viability of the project,” Middleton said.

Others argued that Maryland should meet its renewable energy requirements with less expensive energy.

“We’re creating a special carve-out for the most expensive energy that the world could possibly produce,” said Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore.

The bill requires that the Public Service Commission only accept wind farm developer applications if they demonstrate positive economic, environmental and health benefits to the state.

-30-
CNS 03-07-13

Senate Poised to Vote for Repeal of Death Penalty, House of Delegates Next

By JULIA MALDONADO
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Senate is poised to pass Gov. Martin O’Malley’s death penalty repeal bill after a number of amendments from Republicans, and one Democrat, failed.

A final vote could come as early as Wednesday morning, with the bill then moving to the House of Delegates. If it passes, Maryland would become the 18th state to eliminate capital punishment.

The legislation also would allow the governor to commute or change a sentence of death to a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The failed amendments, debated over several days ending Tuesday, would have preserved the death penalty for murders involving certain aggravating factors, such as mass killings, murder for hire, abduction and murder of a child, the killing of a law enforcement or correctional facility officer on duty, and murders on school grounds or child care facilities, among others. One amendment would have required DNA evidence in order to apply the death penalty.

“These aggravating circumstances, when you take it down to the individual level, prove out that there is a need for the death penalty,” said Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, one of the bill’s most vocal opponents.

“This isn’t a case about facts and figures,” Pipkin said. “This is about people and criminals doing harm to innocent victims that have ramifications for the families involved and the communities involved.”

The bill’s floor leader, Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said the death penalty has been law since 1978, but has not stopped murders.

“Of the 10 states with the highest homicide rates, eight have the death penalty,” Raskin said. “It is not a deterrent, it is a culture of violence and death that has gotten out of control.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said that while there has been a lot of emotion on both sides of the bill, the votes in favor of repealing the death penalty have been consistent throughout the Senate debate. There are at least 27 senators expected to vote for the repeal — three more than the necessary number to pass a bill through the Senate.

Miller also expects opponents to petition it to referendum. The push to get the death penalty on the ballot, Miller said, will be a bipartisan effort.

Democrats, including Senators Robert Garagiola, James Brochin, Edward Kasemeyer and Katherine Klausmeier voted for amendments that would leave the death penalty in place for certain extreme circumstances. Senators Edward Reilly and Allan Kittleman — both Republicans — consistently voted against the amendments.

The legislation failed to come out of committee last session.

The last execution in Maryland took place in 2005. There are still five inmates on Maryland’s death row.

“We changed this whole thing in 2009 to be sensitive to the concerns of (repeal supporters), and not one case has been prosecuted as a result of the changes,” Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, said. He believes the reforms “significantly weakened” the death penalty in Maryland.

The state’s current law — passed in 2009 — restricts the death penalty to cases where DNA evidence, a videotaped confession or video evidence of the crime are available. The state has not been able to execute anyone since a Maryland Court of Appeals moratorium in 2006 declared the protocols for lethal injections improper and outdated.

The current method of execution in Maryland involves a lethal injection comprised of three drugs, one of which is an anesthetic — sodium thiopental, or Pentothal –that is no longer available in the United States. O’Malley has not put forth a new protocol.

A recent Washington Post poll found 54 percent of adults in Maryland favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 36 percent oppose it.

On the national level, a 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that 62 percent of Americans support keeping the death penalty, while 31 percent want it eliminated.

Brinkley said the death penalty should be the ultimate sanction for those who commit the most heinous crimes, and said “it’s the state’s responsibility to ensure that these individuals don’t walk among us.”

Raskin argued that when the state executes a person, “it makes murderers out of everyone.”

-30-
CNS 3-5-13

 

Senate Approves Gov. O’Malley’s Gun Control Bill, Next Stop The House

By LUCAS HIGH
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – The Senate overcame a Republican filibuster, as well as numerous attempts to weaken the bill throughout the amendment process, and approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control legislation Thursday.

While the bill was amended slightly Wednesday, the final Senate version of SB 281, also known as the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, accomplishes most of O’Malley’s gun control goals.

If the House passes its companion bill, which is scheduled to be heard on Friday, Maryland will have some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

The legislation would ban many assault rifles, lower the maximum capacity for magazines from 20 rounds to 10, require handgun purchasers to submit fingerprints in order to obtain a license and expand restrictions on firearm access for the mentally ill.

The provisions regarding handgun licensing and fingerprinting, which are some of the most controversial aspects of the bill, were nearly stripped from the legislation during Wednesday’s debate over amendments.

Senate Republicans acknowledged that gun violence is a serious issue in society, but blamed external factors rather than access to guns for the problem.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, said violent video games, movies and television shows, which he called the “malignant bubble gum of the mind,” influence young people to commit horrible crimes with guns.

“We have a culture of death and violence in our society” but nothing in the legislation will change that, said Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, who supported the new restrictions, also made reference to the abundance of firearms in popular culture.

“We see (assault weapons) in movies, we see them in video games…they’re fun,” Frosh said. “But you have to balance that with the public health concerns (of gun ownership).”

The answer to the gun violence problem isn’t more guns, Frosh said.

Republican-sponsored amendments that would have increased the penalty for the commission of a gun crime, and put a resource officer in every school, failed to make it into the final bill.

“I can’t look my constituents in the eye and say I’ve made them safer,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore.

Some senators from urban areas of the state hoped the bill would help reduce the abundance of guns in city neighborhoods.

“You can get a gun quicker than you can get an apple or an orange in my community,” said Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore. “It’s outrageous.”

A rare moment of levity came during the Republican filibuster, which lasted several hours before Democrats voted to apply a time limit. Brinkley held up a copy of the popular romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” and jokingly threatened to read from it.

Instead, Brinkley and a handful of other Republicans read letter after letter from constituents opposed to gun control.

After the bill was passed, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, said he “personally didn’t like the bill but (he) voted for it for society.”

“If you have a gun, you’re not going to be happy with the bill,” said Miller, a gun owner.

During the debate, several conservative senators remarked that many aspects of the bill, in particular the fingerprinting requirement, infringe on the Second Amendment.

“This ended up being a very extreme bill,” Pipkin said. “This does nothing for the safety of our citizens.”

Frosh disagreed, saying the legislation will “improve public health and save lives.”

University of Maryland, College Park president Wallace Loh, who was in Annapolis for a higher education funding rally, said he is “completely supportive” of O’Malley’s gun control proposals.

While he said banning assault weapons won’t necessarily prevent tragedies like the shooting in College Park earlier this month, the laws will help “reduce the carnage” inflicted by mentally ill gunmen.

-30-
CNS 02-28-13

 

Amendments to Gun Control Bill Narrow Definition of Assault Rifle, Reduce Training Requirements

By LUCAS HIGH and ALLEN ETZLER
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – The Senate approved a series of amendments Wednesday to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun control legislation that would ease some of the proposed restrictions on gun ownership while maintaining the major aspects of the bill.

The Senate heard amendments to the bill until 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. A final vote on the bill in the Senate is expected at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Among the changes to O’Malley’s proposal, the amended bill narrows the definition of what constitutes an assault weapon, doubles the lifespan of a valid handgun license and reduces both the number of hours of training and the licensing fee required to purchase a handgun.

The bill also clarifies which people who seek mental health services are disqualified from owning a gun. Despite the changes, conservative members of the Senate continued to express their opposition to the Firearm Safety Act of 2013.

Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, and a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which approved the bill after a marathon debating session last week, called the legislation “fatally flawed.”

Republicans repeatedly criticized the legislative package for overreaching and addressing issues that would be better served in separate bills.

“The more restrictions we put on law abiding citizens with this bill, the better we’re supposed to feel?” Sen E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, asked rhetorically, urging his fellow senators to reject the bill.

But Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, one of the bill’s sponsors, went on the offensive and suggested that by voting to reject the bill the opposition demonstrated that it would rather “kick the can down the road” than address the complex issue of firearm accessibility.

The Senate came close to stripping the bill of one of its most controversial provisions — requiring all handgun purchasers to submit digital fingerprints prior to receiving a handgun license.

The amendment failed despite claims from its sponsor, Shank, that the fingerprinting requirement is an “unconstitutional restriction of the people’s rights.”

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, voted with Senate Republicans in favor of eliminating the fingerprinting provision.

“Step by step, we are gradually eroding a fundamental right,” Shank said.

The Senate also voted to approve an amendment that would expand mental health restrictions to unregulated firearms such as rifles and shotguns. In previous versions of the bill, patients who have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility were only prohibited from purchasing regulated firearms like handguns.

Pipkin objected to expanding the restrictions to unregulated firearms.

“I don’t think we fully understand the ramifications (of adding legislation that would impact one’s ability to purchase a shotgun or rifle),” Pipkin said.

While senators from both political parties did not agree on much Wednesday, they overwhelmingly passed an amendment regarding the mental health aspect of the bill.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, sponsored an amendment that struck from the bill the disqualification from owning a firearm if someone is voluntarily admitted to a mental health facility for 30 days. Zirkin instead replaced that disqualification with one that says if a person receives an emergency petition to enter emergency care, and the doctor deems that person as dangerous, he or she will be disqualified from owning a handgun.

WRUS Gains Support For Senate Bill 33 To Renovate Armory

christmasarmory (400 x 266)Wye River Upper School has announced that State Senator E.J. Pipkin will sponsor Senate Bill 33 to support the funding for the renovation of the Centreville Armory as the permanent home of Wye River Upper School (WRUS).

Wye River Upper School is an independent high school serving the strengths and needs of bright students with learning differences. Many students enroll at WRUS on the verge of failure in their local schools because their learning differences were not well supported. Nearly half of the WRUS students hail from counties west of the bay.

WRUS grandparent Donna McCready is happy to voice her support for the school and this bill. Commuting daily for a year from their family’s Calvert County home, Donna now rents a condo in Kent County to make the daily trip less time consuming. They return home on weekends. Her granddaughter will graduate this year and continue her education in college. “Our family has made some very significant sacrifices to place her here, but it has been worth every bit, as she is back to her true self again, as a student and a person,” says McCready.

Terri Carta, President of the school’s parent association and a resident of Davidsonville in Anne Arundel County, expresses her enthusiastic support for the bill. “I don’t know where we would be without this school. My son was simply not happy or successful in our local school. We searched high and low for the right school and found WRUS. Coming across the Bridge every day is well worth the effort, as he is so much happier and more productive at WRUS.”

WRUS Executive Director Chrissy Aull recently announced news of the bill to the school’s Trustees, staff, students, families and friends, in a letter seeking their support.

With an initial leadership level gift, the school purchased the Armory in late 2010 and launched a campaign to raise $5 million dollars to renovate the 1926 structure. Having moved through the design phase, the building stands “shovel ready” except for the final push for needed funding.

To date, the “Building Great Minds. Saving Great Spaces.” campaign has garnered $3 million in gifts and pledges. Senate Bill 33, also known as a bond bill, seeks $500,000. in capital funds.

Maryland sets aside a predetermined amount of funding for non-government owned capital projects each year. The capital funds are separate from the state annual operating budget.

“We are grateful for Senator Pipkin’s interest and leadership on this matter, as well as the continued support we’ve received from his staff,” said Aull. “Because WRUS has such a broad geographic reach, our students hail from ten legislative districts, including those in Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Calvert and Montgomery Counties, we believe other sponsors will be signing on.”

“With the involvement of our students and families, we expect to inform those legislators of the need for WRUS and the funds to assure this renovation,” reports John Devlin, WRUS Board Chair.

 

Conowingo Dam Re-Licensing Affects Chesapeake Bay

By JESSICA WILDE
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – Exelon Power is negotiating a new 46-year license to operate the Conowingo hydroelectric generating dam on the Susquehanna River in northern Maryland, which provides power to more than 700,000 homes. The current license expires in September 2014.

But state officials and legislators from the Eastern Shore said Friday that sediment and fish passage issues need to be worked out first in order to better protect the Chesapeake Bay.

Sediment levels are one of three major contributors to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, along with nitrogen and phosphorus, and more and more sediment has been passing through the Conowingo Dam in recent years, particularly during storms.

Legislators are frustrated by the amount of state money spent on sediment studies at the dam, when much of the sediment is flowing in from Pennsylvania.

Sen. E. J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s, asked for an action plan to take the place of studies and meetings that have been going on for too long.

“Can we ask for a summit with Pennsylvania?” he said.

The Eastern Shore Delegation will be sending a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley to make sure Pennsylvania is appropriately involved in the discussion.

Scientists have been aware of sediment issues at the dam since the 1970s, Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert Summers said Friday, and efforts to decrease its flow with erosion and land conservation strategies have been working.

“We have seen a decrease of sediment flowing into the reservoirs,” Summers said. “There is progress being made.”

The Conowingo Dam is on the Susquehanna River about five miles from the Pennsylvania border and 10 miles from the Chesapeake Bay. Sediment that passes through the dam from Pennsylvania eventually reaches the bay.

The dam has historically been a great controller of sediment, Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, told legislators Wednesday. Three million pounds of sediment reach the dam every year, and the dam only lets 1 million of that through, storing the other 2 million in reservoirs.

At equilibrium, when water levels on both sides of the dam are equal, all 3 million pounds of sediment pass through, Swanson said.

Equilibrium currently occurs only during storms. But studies show that as the dam’s storage capacity is used up, permanent equilibrium could be reached in the next several decades.

“So whether you believe that equilibrium is going to be reached in the next 10 years, next 20 years, or the next 40 years, it’s going to happen during the next license cycle,” she said. “So what that means is we better get the license right now, and we better negotiate whatever we can associated with sediment, associated with fish passage, associated with flow and land conservation.”

The dam, which has been producing power since 1928, is licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and both Maryland and Pennsylvania are responsible for issuing water quality certifications.

Federal and state agencies are working with environmental groups to study the inflow and outflow of sediment, and fish passage. The $1.38 million study uses computer modeling to determine whether and where to dredge, and whether it would be beneficial to let sediment through at times that would be less damaging to the bay.

Exelon is also participating in the study, which will be ready by 2014. But those parts of it that will be necessary for licensing negotiation will be available this year, said Frank Dawson, assistant secretary of aquatic resources for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The dam cannot be the only stopper of sediment, Summers said. Maryland and Pennsylvania need to prevent sediment from entering the dam to begin with.

“The sediment issues require participation from multiple parties,” said Mary Helen Marsh, director of environmental operations for Exelon Power.

For all of the state resources going into resolving the sediment issue at the dam, sediment only seems to be increasing, legislators said.

“It’s time for some action,” said Delegate Jay Jacobs, R-Kent. “It’s time for some resolution. You can’t keep taking and not giving.”

 

Gov. O’Malley Defends Price of Wind Farm Legislation

By ELLEN STODOLA
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – Despite reassurances from Gov. Martin O’Malley that additional consumer fees would be capped at $2 a month under his wind farm proposal, a number of senators said Tuesday they are still concerned that tapping into offshore wind would cost too much.

O’Malley told members of the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday that wind energy is essential for Maryland’s future, and that ratepayers wouldn’t even see any increases in their utility bills for years to come.

The long-term liabilities for utility companies and the potential fee increases for ratepayers were two key reasons that similar wind farm legislation was unsuccessful last year.

This year’s legislation offers adjustments that would cap the potential increase on Maryland residents’ utility bills at $2 a month. It also gives companies buying offshore wind power the opportunity to earn renewable energy credits.

“Ratepayers would not be charged for wind energy generation until the turbines start spinning,” O’Malley said, in response to concern from Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil.

Pipkin has been a vocal opponent of offshore wind because he believes the money spent to bring the industry to Maryland would be better spent elsewhere. He also disputes the governor’s cost estimates.

“The $2-a-month cap, it’s nowhere near the cost of what the offshore wind is going to cost,” Pipkin said.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, said he also has concerns about whether the $2-a-month cap is realistic.

“My concern is the fact that when you piggyback all the costs together, it does get to be more than $2 a month,” Kittleman said.

O’Malley said it would probably be another five to six years before ratepayers even see a change in their utility bills.