Capital News Service

Craig Zucker Becomes 47th Maryland State Senator

Thursday morning in Annapolis, Delegate Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery, became Sen. Craig Zucker, still a Democrat and still representing Montgomery County.

He took the oath of office, alongside his family, to fill the seat left by Karen Montgomery, who left the Senate last year saying problems with her eyesight made it hard to drive at night, according to an article by the Baltimore Sun.

Zucker’s appointment makes the Senate fully staffed at 47 members. It also paves the way for him to be the 29th vote needed to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a law that would allow ex-felons on parole and probation to vote when they are released from prison.

–Rachel Bluth

Lobby Day Held For Bill Allowing Healthier Food and Beverage Options in Vending Machines

Sugar Free Kids, a statewide coalition, held a lobby day inside the Maryland House of Delegates office building on Thursday to raise awareness for the Maryland Healthy Vending Act, a bill that would allow healthier food and drinks to be more widely available in vending machines on state property.

The coalition offered snacks at the event, ranging from grapes and carrots to whole grain muffins.

However, the bill has faced resistance from opposing groups.

“What people don’t want is more government regulation and government telling them what they can eat and drink,” Executive Vice President of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Beverage Association Ellen Valentino said Thursday in a statement.

Michaeline Fedder, Director of Government Relations for the American Heart Association-Mid Atlantic, said that the Maryland Healthy Vending Act would give consumers more options.

–Connor Glowacki

Chesapeake Bay Advocates Present ‘State of the Bay’

Alison Prost, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is calling the delayed construction of an oyster reef “a real loss to our restoration efforts.” Factor in an almost $4 million cut in oyster restoration funds in Gov. Larry Hogan’s capital budget, Prost said, and environmentalists are wondering just how much emphasis the governor will continue to place on the topic.

After a requested halt from Hogan in January, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed Tuesday to temporarily cease construction of eight acres of oyster reefs in the Tred Avon River. The $1 million the corps slated for this state’s project is now being allocated to a similar restoration project in Virginia.

Prost said she was ready to discuss the controversy Thursday as environmental advocates updated delegates on the “state of the Chesapeake Bay” — but was unable to because of time constraints.

“All the stakeholders have been involved and agreed to it, so to halt it at such a late date is a significant problem,” Prost said.

Ann Swanson, the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, on Thursday touched upon the increasing level of pollutants in the bay.

“Phosphorous is on the upswing,” Swanson said.

Delegate Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore County, also raised concerns about the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s dearth of Republican members and those from the Eastern Shore, a region dominated by GOP politicians.

“There isn’t one Maryland Republican on the commission, and I have to say I’m a little disappointed,” said House Minority Whip Szeliga.

“I’ve never had any part of member selection,” Swanson said.

“It reminds me of gerrymandering in a way,” Szeliga added.

–Josh Magness

Senate Committee Considers Alterations to Election Laws and Requirements to Hold Office

On Thursday, members of the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs considered seven bills that would alter many aspects of the state’s election process.

Sponsored by Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, the Write-In Candidates bill would prohibit a candidate who failed to receive the party’s nomination in the primary from having their name appear on the ballot of the subsequent general election as a write-in candidate.

“It just seems that if you choose to run in a primary and you’re defeated, you ought to have to give up for that year and come back rather than have a second bite at the apple,” said sponsor Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County.

There is no option to vote for a write-in candidate during the primary process.

Another bill, the Real-Time Transparency Act of 2016, would mandate that political committees report any “contribution, transfer or loan” that exceeds $1,000 during an election year in which they are involved. Committees must report the information within 48 hours, and will be fined $10 for each day the report, submitted electronically, is late. The maximum fee possible is $500.

“In a way, I’m sorry I didn’t make this for all four years,” said state Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick, the sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Gail Bates, R-Carroll, suggested that the $1,000 cutoff is too low and questioned whether a lawmaker needs to report a loan they give to their own campaign. Advocates of the bill said future amendments may be necessary for clarification.

More stringent requirements on candidate residency forms — which ask individuals seeking an office in the General Assembly to fill out information on their legal address — could come as a result of the General Assembly Candidate Residency Form bill.

If passed, it would expand information that must be submitted to run for office, including the service address for utility bills, the address for any personal bank accounts and — if applicable — the address of the individual’s spouse and location of their children’s schools, among other requirements.

“If the person filing the candidate residency form indicates that any of these addresses don’t match what they are listing as a legal address, then they will need to offer an explanation about the discrepancy,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, the bill’s sponsor.  

And a bill aimed at increasing voter transparency would require registration applications to inform readers that they must register with a political party if they wish to be involved in any of its primaries, caucuses or conventions.

“If someone is 17 and registering to vote for the first time or moving to Maryland from an open primary state” they might not know the state’s requirements to vote in the primary, Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, said.

Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey, R-Caroline — who is co-sponsoring the bill alongside Kagan — attended the hearing to demonstrate its bipartisan support.

–Josh Magness

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