Annapolis Roundup - Southern Maryland Headline News

Annapolis Roundup

Bill would alter requirements for lead risk exemptions

The time period between lead-paint inspections of rental properties in Maryland would lengthen—from every two years to every five years—and would require an annual affidavit confirming exterior paint is not chipping or peeling, under a bill proposed by Maryland Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico.

Eckardt said the bill was in response to a number of foreclosed properties in her district that require lead remediation, and some small remodelers asking for relief.

"It's really important that we reduce lead risk, and it's also important that we maintain an adequate supply of available, affordable housing in our rural districts," Eckardt said "The impact of some of the lead regulations and laws and historic property regulations and laws, has made it a cost issue."

Ruth Ann Norton, president of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, said that a federal government guideline states there is no safe level of lead, and argued that the health risks of lead paint poisoning outweigh the government convenience provided by this bill.

The impact of lead poisoning is irreversible, and makes children more likely to drop out of school or become involved with juvenile crime, Norton said. Lead also has long term impacts including hypertension, cardiac arrest, and early mortality, she added.

"This bill….goes backwards," Norton said. "Moving this to a five-year standard is incredibly dangerous."

—By Lexie Schapitl

Raskin proposes allowing punitive damages for repeat drunken drivers

The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony Thursday on a bill that would make repeat drunken drivers who injure or kill others liable for punitive damages in some cases.

S.B. 302 states if a driver with a blood alcohol level of more than .08 percent kills or injures another person, and has been convicted, pleaded no contest or received probation before judgment for drunken driving charges in the past five years, he would be liable for punitive as well as compensatory damages.

"This bill makes it clear that what we're telling people is 'stop driving drunk,'" said Robert Zarbin of the Maryland Association for Justice. "We now have Uber, we have cabs, we have friends, we have ways to get home."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, noted that drunken drivers are "notoriously being let off with very light sentences" and said the state should "raise the costs of drunk driving across the board" in both criminal and civil law.

"Do we want to treat the act of drunk driving and killing as something sufficiently warranting moral condemnation and social deterrence that we are willing to make punitive damages available?" Raskin said. "We really should have a zero tolerance policy with respect to drunk driving."

Representatives for Allstate, State Farm, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and the Maryland Motor Truck Association opposed the bill on the grounds that drunken driving should be handled in a criminal court, the bill would pass the costs on to insurance companies and employers, and punitive damages would not deter drunken driving.

"Going to jail, losing your license, paying restitution, having probation…(being) subject to an Interlock, those are the things that send the message to the people of Maryland that you should not and you cannot tolerate drinking and driving," said Noel Patterson, regional counsel with Allstate.

—By Lexie Schapitl

Lawmakers Introduce New Standards for Greenhouse Gas Reduction

A bill that sets new and ambitious goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland received strong bipartisan support when it was introduced to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, sets a new goal of cutting those emissions by 40 percent from 2006 levels by 2030. It also upholds the current requirement that Maryland reduce those emissions by 25 percent from 2006 levels by 2020.

Accumulation of these gases—which include carbon dioxide and methane—in the atmosphere has created a "greenhouse effect" that captures radiation and contributes to global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate that all of the warmest 16 years ever recorded have occurred in the 21st century.

That dual focus on environment and business has enabled the bill to garner bipartisan support, including from Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles, who attended the hearing.

"This bill reflects a remarkable compromise, common ground, collaborative work," said Grumbles, appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.

Pinsky noted that, if left unchecked, rising sea lives caused by global warming could damage the state's farming and tourism industries. Destinations close to sea level like Baltimore's Inner Harbor, he said, also could be in danger of being submerged.

In his briefing to the committee, Pinsky said Maryland's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009, which set the state's original goal for reducing emissions, was a foundation for President Obama to negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement last year.

"We propelled other states and governors with having high standards and high education rates," Pinsky said, "and I believe it gave the president confidence to go to these international meetings … because there was momentum building because of states like our own."

The international climate agreement was forged among nearly 200 countries, requiring that nations work to ensure global temperatures stay no more than 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times and that the level of greenhouse gas emissions can be naturally offset by trees and the ocean sometime between 2050 and 2100.

No one at the hearing voiced opposition to the bill.

—Josh Magness

Proposed committee would scrutinize policy issues for health outcomes

A cross-agency task force would screen all new policy issues for short- and long-term health consequences under a bill sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, a medical doctor.

"We all appreciate that health is a foundation for everything," Morhaim, House deputy majority leader, testified in a Health and Government Operations Committee hearing Tuesday. "The ultimate goal of the bill is to have policy decisions—that aren't necessarily about health—factor-in health."

He gave the example of transportation policy as it would be assessed by the commission.

"If you're building a road, do you have a sidewalk so that people can walk? Do you have a bike lane?" Morhaim asked.

Supporters of the bill said they believe it will ensure more integration among government agencies.

Maryland Women's Coalition for Health Care Reform Chair Leni Preston said policymakers should consider possible health implications, like how building projects could create too much dust, or how new transportation lines could provide access to clinics or doctors' offices.

"Too often in the policy world decisions are made in a silo," Preston said.

The state's health department opposes the bill because it doesn't want to staff another task force when it already staffs between 100 and 120 groups, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Government Affairs Director Allison Taylor told the committee.

—By Eliana Block

Hogan Announces Commission to Improve Procurement System

Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday morning signed an executive order creating a Commission to Modernize State Procurement to reconfigure a system he described as "in dire need of reform."

"It's no secret that the way Maryland does procurement is … unpredictable and discourages participation among Maryland citizens," Hogan said at the Maryland Board of Public Works meeting. "It leads to undesirable outcomes."

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford will chair the 19-member committee, including members from the comptroller's and treasurer's offices, as well as five members experienced in procurement law and other areas.

"We have, in my opinion, a broken system," Comptroller Peter Franchot said. "And I may not show up to all of the meetings, but I'll be there in spirit."

Franchot also said Wednesday morning that the processing of electronic tax returns was halted earlier this month after a failure, likely due to hardware, was detected. Franchot notified Marylanders on Feb. 4 that a failure caused the electronic system to shut down, and it came back online in about a day, a spokesman said.

Protecting Marylanders from tax fraud continues to be a top priority, the comptroller said.

In a 3-0 vote, the board voted to support funding up to about $8.17 million for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's Combined Heat and Power project. Benefits of the system include the production of electrical energy and reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 130,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

"This is a big boost, and it's keeping us on track to meet our environmental goals," said Hogan, who expressed his "enthusiastic support" for the project.

The board also voted to approve an emergency contract of almost $425,000 to Waste Management of Maryland Inc., as the state transitions to a five-year contract with another company.

All items on the board's agenda were passed unanimously, and the meeting lasted less than 40 minutes.

"I wish we could do this every time," Hogan said.

—Jessica Campisi

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