News_You_Can_Use_graphic_(2).pngYep, legislators will descend on Annapolis and the State House January 10 prepared -- maybe -- to grapple with a revenue shortfall and several pricey projects to which they and the Governor remain committed. Plus the effort to replenish the state employee corps, health care news in Maryland and how housing costs and poor child care availability hurt the state's economy. It's all News You Can Use this week.



Public Safety, Education And Transportation Among State Lawmakers’ Top Priorities: Mounting financial pressures on Maryland’s ambitious education, transportation and climate plans are set to loom large in the coming months as the Maryland General Assembly returns to Annapolis to begin its annual legislative session Wednesday. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say addressing rising concerns about public safety is their top policy priority heading into the 90-day lawmaking sprint. Passing legislation to address vacancies in elected office, as well as how terminally ill people could end their own lives, are on the agenda for some Democrats, who control supermajorities of both chambers. Baltimore Sun via Maryland Reporter

Legislators Worth Watching: Who are the rank and file legislators to watch this year? Several sharp-tongued conservatives, for example, are exceedingly effective debaters, even in the service of lost causes when there are Democratic supermajorities in both houses, and they cannot be ignored. Here are some of the lawmakers worth paying extra attention to in the weeks ahead. Maryland Matters.

Maryland's Economic Growth Effectively Stalled In 2017

The state’s economy has been stagnant ever since, despite the fact that the state tops the nation in several key economic categories, according to a report released last week. The report, the first of its kind released by the state comptroller's office, notes that Maryland has the highest median household income of about $108,200 and the nation's lowest unemployment rate at 1.8%. Maryland also has above average productivity and one of the lowest poverty rates in the U.S. Two factors – sky-high cost of housing and lack of childcare – were main reasons that damped Maryland’s growth as women left the work force and lower-income households chose lower-cost states to live and work. WJZ/CBS

Maryland Among States Approving Medicaid $ to Prevent Gun Violence

So far, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Oregon have passed laws approving the use of Medicaid money for gun violence prevention. To tackle America’s gun problem, a growing number of states are using Medicaid dollars to pay for community-based programs intended to stop shootings. The idea is to boost resources for violence prevention programs, which have been overwhelmed in some cities by a spike in violent crime since the start of the covid-19 pandemic. KFF News via Pluribus

Health Care Access To Get Boost In Annapolis: Health care-focused organizations across the state are hopeful that the 2024 legislative session will be a year that reins in health costs and allows patients to have greater access to the care they need. Gene Ransom, CEO of MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society, said, “This year, I’m hoping will be the year that we talk about access and patients, and that will be the thing we focus on,” Maryland Matters via Maryland Reporter

Sharp Rise In Covid, Flu Hospitalizations Hasn’t Overwhelmed MDs, Med System:  Hospitalizations from COVID-19 and the flu have surged in the past month, prompting the Maryland Department of Health to recommend that hospitals and doctor’s offices double down on efforts to suppress the spread of illness, including requiring masks in all patient care areas. But doctors and hospital leaders said they aren’t being overwhelmed by sick patients in the same way they have been in recent years. The Baltimore Sun via Maryland Reporter

Maryland’s Health Department is adding more than 130 new state positions as the state continues to trim contractual positions and beef up the number of full-time government employees. The positions approved last Wednesday by the three-member Board of Public Works is the second such request made by the agency in three months. A year ago, Gov. Wes Moore (D) entered office vowing to make dramatic inroads in reducing what he said was 10,000 vacancies across state government in 12 months — a goal that has proven difficult to attain. Maryland Matters

State Closing In On Milestone In Effort To Plant Trees: 

Maryland is closing in on a major milestone toward its 10-year goal of planting 5 million native trees by the year 2031. The 5 Million Trees Initiative has planted nearly half a million trees (497,890 total) since the effort launched in July 2021, with more than 180,000 planted in 2023. The effort is coordinated by the Maryland Department of the Environment. About two out of every three trees planted as part of the initiative has come from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The program began in July 2021, after the General Assembly passed the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021. Baltimore Fishbowl

Task Force Recommends State Streamline Hiring Process: A panel of government officials is recommending that the state do more to streamline its hiring process as part of an effort to fill thousands of state jobs. The Task Force on the Modernization of the State Personnel Management System made nearly a dozen recommendations it said could make it easier to attract candidates and fill vacancies. Maryland Matters.

 Late Break on Monday: Maryland looks to harness AI for government use with executive order Gov. Wes Moore’s embrace and warning about generative AI comes as state lawmakers also debate guardrails for responsible use of the technology.  Moore (D) signed an executive order calling for the state to develop guide rails to protect residents from the risk of bias and discrimination as artificial intelligence becomes increasingly useful and common, though the order did not specify how the government intends to use AI in the future. WaPo




Brown plus 50: More School Segregation Than Ever 
The landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision turns fifty years old in 2024, but public schools are [still] deeply segregated. In 2021, approximately 60% of Black and Hispanic public school students attended schools where 75% or more of students were students of color. Black and Hispanic students who attend racially segregated schools also are overwhelmingly enrolled in high-poverty schools. A 2019 report by EdBuild, a nonprofit that produced reports on school funding inequities, found that schools in predominantly nonwhite districts received $23 billion less in funding each year than schools in majority white districts. This equates to roughly $2,200 less per student per year. Unequal funding results in less student access to advanced, college-prep courses, to name just one example. The Conversation

Notable Quotes: “I Appreciate the Enthusiasm, But They’ve Got to Prioritize.” — Rhode Island House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D), who is asking representatives to introduce no more than 15 bills in an effort to limit late nights in the capitol. The voluntary limit comes after legislators introduced 1,535 bills last year — about twice as many as usual. (Boston Globe) via Pluribus And... Maryland's Department of Legislative Services database records "In 2023, 1,301 bills [were] introduced in the House and 974 in the Senate, for a total of 2,275." Rhode Island, a smaller state, has 38 senators and 75 delegates compared to Maryland's 47 senators and 141 delegates but their session is longer, from the first business day of the new year until sine die in June. Both states have Democratic trifectas -- both chambers and the governor are Dems.

The Food and Drug Administration said it would authorize Florida’s First-In-The-Nation Plan to Import Pharmaceutical Drugs From Canada. Florida must submit additional information to the feds about what drugs it plans to import, but the plan could save the state up to $180 million in the first year alone. Colorado’s application to import drugs from Canada is working its way through the system. Similar plans are in earlier stages in Vermont, Maine and New Mexico. (Pluribus News)

 The Florida Division of Elections has validated more than 911,000 signatures backing a Proposed Constitutional Amendment Protecting Abortion Rights, well over the threshold supporters needed to qualify for the November ballot. The state Supreme Court plans to hear arguments in a legal challenge to the proposed amendment on Feb. 7. Remember, constitutional amendments in Florida require 60% of the vote to pass. Ohio’s Issue 1 passed last year with 56.8% of the vote.  Pluribus News

 Skipping School: America’s Hidden Education Crisis

Absenteeism has nearly doubled since the pandemic. With state and federal governments largely abdicating any role in getting kids back into classrooms, some schools have turned to private companies for a reimagined version of the truant officer.



First, the latest on the back-n-forth in DC to keep the government from shutting down

Over the weekend, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) came to an agreement with Senate Majority Leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) over the spending limits. If you’ll remember former Speaker McCarthy had already cut a deal with the President and Schumer last year when they lifted the debt ceiling (this was a main reason McCarthy was ousted). However, Republicans in the House have been seeking to violate the deal and pushing for more spending cuts. Many are unhappy now and still want to see border policy and harmful policy riders relating to abortion and transgender rights. Johnson will have Democratic support to pass the deal but if he doesn’t get a majority of House Republicans to vote for it, he will risk his speakership. 

The new agreement leaves the current domestic spending levels intact (relatively the same as 2023) with an additional $16 billion cuts to COVID relief and the IRS (speeding up cuts that were agreed to in a few years). The right is angry despite not having the power in Washington to do better. The Center for Budget & Policy Priorities President Sharon Parrot has a tweet thread with CBPP’s take on the deal and its impact on important programs.  This morning, Politico is reporting that the deal being negotiated to fund Ukraine and Israel and make harmful changes to immigration law will not be attached to the next funding bill (negotiations on this are ongoing).  That could change.

The House Homeland Security is having its first hearing to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Mayorkas has not committed any impeachable or illegal offenses. It’s a political stunt to highlight the border, in order to paint President Biden as being for “open borders.” 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) are negotiating a tax package that would include the Democrats’ priority to increase the Child Tax Credit in exchange for restoring three tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy that passed under Trump’s tax package and expired last year. Democrats had expanded the Child Tax Credit temporarily in the American Rescue Plan Act from $2,000 to up to $3,600 a year per child and made it fully refundable and the policy was heralded as greatly reducing child poverty. That tax cut has since expired. Republicans are unlikely to agree to full refundability. The effort must pass by the end of February to impact this season’s tax filings. 

Analysis from Megan Essaheb, federal affairs director for People’s Action, our national affiliate

You Have Power! Selected info and action opportunities from People’s Action:

Housing: Last week, FHFA released a summary of the comments it received on tenant protections last summer. People’s Action’s Homes Guarantee campaign drove many of the comments during the open comment period, which came through in the document.  Here is our statement: People’s Action’s Homes Guarantee on FHFA Report: Tenants Are Winning - People's Action   Op-ed by Cincinnati Tenants Union: Government must do more to protect tenants from egregious rent hikes | Opinion –
Tenants Unions get attention; start or join one.

 Health Care: How to fight back if your health insurance claim is denied: President of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation advises on how to fight back if your health insurance claim is denied. It’s a scenario happening more often....

From Pro Publica: Health Insurers Have Been Breaking State Laws for Years: States have passed hundreds of laws to protect people from wrongful insurance denials. Yet from emergency services to fertility preservation, insurers still say no.


Electric Vehicle Sales Are Sluggish Because They're Too Expensive, and they're too expensive because they're too big, which cancels out many of their environmental advantages. “…the proliferation of bigger vehicles created a doom loop of consumer preference: Drivers saw the vehicles around them getting bigger, so they wanted bigger cars to make themselves feel safer.” Incentivizing smaller vehicles, hybrids and public transit is a better way to meet climate goals, according to Business Insider via Streetsblog.

woody woodruff


M.A. and Ph.d. from University of Maryland Merrill College of Journalism, would-be radical, sci-fi fan... retired to a life of keyboard radicalism...