First Click -- Maryland
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Friday, February 12, 2010:
Remember the State of the State?
The governor's agenda-setting speech to the Maryland General Assembly was delivered just last week, believe it or not. But that, of course, was two major snowstorms ago, which makes it seem like it took place in another epoch.
Whatever else the recent weather has wrought, it seems to have hit a giant "reset" button at the legislature -- which is now about one-third of the way through its 90-day session.
True, sessions in Maryland are hardly known for their early excitement. (The highest-profile bill to pass either chamber so far this year is one that would gauge voters' interest in holding a constitutional convention; the Senate passed the measure this week.)
Still, when things (hopefully) return to a post-blizzard normal next week, it's hard to imagine it will matter much who was up and who was down before the storm. Early momentum on several issues seems to have been lost. And some priorities will shift.
During the State of the State, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) implored lawmakers to make the session about "jobs, jobs and jobs." His election-year agenda has now broadened to include snowstorm relief, snowstorm relief and snowstorm relief. That is bound to be a big topic during a scheduled visit to Annapolis Friday by U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
While much of the region shut down in recent days, the Maryland legislature continued to hold floor sessions (with the exception of Monday). While lawmakers made little visible progress, there were apparently some benefits to having them stuck in Annapolis.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) announced Thursday that legislative leaders and the governor's office are close to a deal on revamping the unemployment insurance system in a way more to the liking of the business community than O'Malley had proposed.
That and several other items are likely to move to the forefront of the public debate in coming days. O'Malley's office is also close to unveiling a bill designed to help Maryland compete for federal "Race to the Top" education dollars. The bill is expected to address politically sensitive issues including teacher tenure and pay-for-performance.
It remains to be seen whether issues such as cracking down on sex offenders will occupy quite the same place on the Annapolis agenda as it did before the snowstorm.
And -- whatever issues heat up in the State House -- lawmakers are now facing another big hurdle when it comes to public attention. As the snow here thaws, the Winter Olympics commence in Vancouver with Friday night's opening ceremonies.
News You Should Know
Maryland schools chief to seek snow days waiver
"State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is planning to request a waiver for some of the instructional days school systems would have to make up because of this past week's two snowstorms. Grasmick will ask the state school board later this month to waive three or four instructional days," reports The Gazette's Marcus Moore. "Under state law, school systems are required to provide 180 days of instruction to their students. However, some systems have sought waivers to the 180-day rule due to the havoc with school schedules ... Some school systems are concerned about losing much-needed instructional time for students, but 'we have to be sensitive to the weather,' Grasmick said. 'We're going to be looking at what's viable.'"
O'Malley visits hard-hit Frederick
"Gov. Martin O'Malley visited the Frederick County Emergency Operations Center on Thursday to get a briefing on what he considers one of the state's hardest-hit areas in terms of snowfall and snowdrifts," writes Adam Behsudi of the Frederick News-Post. The area was the scene of rescues -- some after drivers were stranded for nearly 24 hours -- that were nearly impossible, report The Post's Mary Pat Flaherty, Dan Morse and Michael S. Rosenwald. "Strong winds created five- to 10-foot tall drifts, said Lt. Michael Brady, commander of the Maryland State Police barracks in Frederick. Visibility was so bad that some motorists drove into snowbanks."
Lawmakers continue meetings on unemployment insurance fix
"Advocates for both sides met with lawmakers Thursday evening. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas "Mac" Middleton, D-Charles, said a measure to provide $83 million in tax breaks to businesses this year was back on the table as a component of the package. He had earlier thought the tax break unlikely," reports Andy Rosen of MarylandReporter.com. "But it's the price tag -- paid out of the unemployment trust fund employers support through payroll taxes -- that has stymied the proposal so far. The expansion of eligibility, coupled with a move to give workers in training programs extended benefits, would cost about $18 million a year.
Another O'Malley administration member to work for Obama
"Eric Schwaab, deputy secretary at the Department of Natural Resources, is the latest O'Malley administration official headed to the Obama administration," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Schwaab has been appointed assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and will head the National Marine Fisheries Service."