Hot weather is pounding us, our households and our local and national emergency budgets, as we move from record-hot July toward who-knows-how-hot August. So a lot of climate news in the News You Can Use, as well as scams, lobbyists (not the same thing, quite), how to run the state's schools improvement (better check the AC before opening day), what other states are doing we might think about or stay away from, and Congress takes a break with essentially nothing accomplished. It's all here in News You Can Use.
HERE IN MARYLAND
Federal Court Warns Of ‘Jury Duty Fines’ Scam: The federal court for the District of Maryland is warning citizens not to fall for false jury service claims from scam callers. Officials said these callers are impersonating court administrators, U.S. Marshals and state and federal law enforcement officers who claim victims will be hauled off to jail if they don’t pay a fine for missing jury duty. WTOP-FM./MD Reporter
Oversight Board Approves All Local Blueprint Reform Plans: The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Accountability and Implementation Board approved all 24 school systems’ initial plans as part of the state’s goal to reform public education. The documents approved Thursday are the first submission of Blueprint plans, summarizing the reform work that is complete, currently underway or that will be implemented through the 2023-24 school year. All documents include details on the Blueprint’s focus on early childhood education, hiring and retaining high-quality and diverse teachers, preparing students for college and technical careers and providing additional resources for students in need. Maryland Matters
MORE The seven-person board did not offer any conditions for signing off on the plan that Baltimore City Public Schools will use to follow guidelines set by the Blueprint. City officials will use Blueprint funds to add to the number of staff positions, increase teacher pay for next year and offer incentives to encourage teachers to seek additional certifications. Despite the new funding, reaching some reform goals will be challenging in the short term, officials say. Baltimore Sun
Assembly Senate Committee Gets Briefing on Blueprint, and Who’s in Charge
Stacy Goodman, counsel for the state Senate Education, Energy and Environment (EEE) committee, briefed the committee on the status of the Blueprint education improvement plan late last week. Reminding the EEE members that the state’s public school system has nearly 890,000 students, 62,593 teachers and almost 3,600 principals and assistant principals, she highlighted responsibilities of the 14-member State Board of Education, including adopting bylaws, rules and regulations for public schools. Questions from the senators included the Assembly’s ongoing role as the Blueprint is implemented, as well as the powers of the Implementation Committee appointed by former Gov. Hogan. Maryland Matters
Special Interest Groups Spent $48.8 Million Lobbying Maryland Legislators This Year; Lobbyists’ Hands On Nearly All Legislation: On behalf of the companies, organizations and associations that hired them, lobbyists registered with Maryland’s State Ethics Commission tried to influence nearly every one of the almost 2,300 pieces legislation introduced by General Assembly members this year – from high-profile, generational shifts like cannabis legalization to wonky policy changes around insurance or utility companies. Sam Janesch/The Baltimore Sun. Northeast Maglev, a company trying to develop a high-speed transportation line between Washington and Baltimore, spent more than any other firm lobbying legislators, $542,206. (Baltimore Sun)
$100 Million In Grants To Improve Maryland Parks: Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced the release of more than $100 million in grant funds for 15 counties to improve and restore parks and recreation facilities that will help conserve lands and promote outdoor activities across the state. The highest amount will go to Wicomico County at $482,311 for improvements to basketball and tennis courts across several parks in the county and to add additional playground equipment at Adkins Mill Park. Maryland Matters.
Supreme Court Wetlands Ruling ‘Serious Setback’ For Bay
With a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision sharply curtailing federal oversight of streams and wetlands, environmental groups working to restore the Chesapeake Bay say they’re worried about gaps in state laws and enforcement practices that now leave those waters vulnerable to unrestricted development and pollution. In a May 25 ruling the nine justices unanimously agreed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority in declaring part of an Idaho couple’s home site wetlands and demanding that they get a permit to fill it. But the court’s majority went further in Sackett v. EPA and, with a 5–4 vote, drastically redefined which streams and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act, seeking to settle decades of debate by removing federal regulation of activities affecting isolated wetlands and tiny streams that flow with water only after heavy rains. [Yet those are the ones Bay advocates must, in part, focus on.] Bay Journal.
State’s First of Many Climate Town Halls Sets Activist Tone: Last Tuesday the state’s Department of the Environment held the first of over a half-dozen public meetings to take the public pulse this summer on the state’s climate goals working toward a final report in December. At the Bowie State University public meeting, MDE “got an earful,” and heard, from one county Sierra Club leader, “we need more meaningful engagement starting yesterday.” Maryland Matters
Drug Cost Panel Finalizes Framework to Push Affordability
After months of rule rewrites, public comments and amendments, Maryland’s state board tasked with controlling the costs of prescription drugs has finalized a framework to evaluate which medications may be eligible for price reductions. The Prescription Drug Affordability Board approved new regulations Monday to establish a process for how the panel will determine which prescription drugs are [most] difficult for Marylanders to afford and would be included in the board’s work to lowering those costs.
The process will include input from the public, consideration from stakeholders and an information gathering period to help the board determine which prescription drugs are eligible.
The board, which was created by legislators in 2019, has been slow to begin operating, due in part to former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoing a bill that would have funded the board’s work. Maryland Matters
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last Thursday finalized long-awaited new rules intended to reform how power generation projects get connected to the electric grid, seen as a major step in smoothing the path for thousands of mostly renewable power projects currently waiting to plug in. “This rule will ensure that our country’s vast generation resources are able to interconnect to the transmission system in a reliable, efficient, transparent and timely manner,” FERC Chairman Willie Phillips said, adding that there are 2,000 gigawatts of power projects stuck in interconnection queues across the nation. Those projects, mostly wind, solar and battery storage plants, have been stuck in massive backlogs while grid managers conduct interconnection studies needed to gauge how bringing them online would affect the broader system and determine whether any upgrades are needed. States Newsroom via Maryland Matters
STATES IN ACTION
Colorado is launching a new $38 million program to provide free community college to residents who want to become nurses, fire fighters or construction workers. The program, launched by Gov. Jared Polis (D) last week, covers books, tuitions and fees at 19 community colleges around the state. (Denver Post) via Pluribus
Faced with alarming teacher shortages, states are turning to for-profit online teacher credentialing companies, hoping to get more teachers into classrooms faster and without the higher tuition costs of traditional colleges and universities. The states hope the new paths to certification will help ease the shortages, but critics argue those who get certified through such programs are not as well trained as traditionally credentialed teachers and will do a disservice to young students. Stateline Daily
Arkansas: A U.S. District Court judge has issued a temporary injunction against a new Arkansas law that allows books to be removed or relocated in public libraries. The measure, Act 372, would also set criminal penalties for librarians. The judge said the act likely violates First Amendment rights. (Talk Business & Politics) via Pluribus
Ohio: A new poll conducted by Suffolk University for USA Today shows 58% of Ohio voters support a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to an abortion, set for the November ballot, while 32% are opposed. (Columbus Dispatch) via Pluribus
Maine: Lawmakers will return to Augusta Tuesday to attempt to override Gov. Janet Mills’s (D) veto of legislation banning foreign spending in state and local campaigns. Foreign-owned energy companies are pouring millions into a campaign against a ballot measure that would create a publicly-owned utility. (Portland Press Herald) via Pluribus
Oregon: Gov. Tina Kotek (D) will let a bill allowing self-service gasoline across the state become law, ending a 72-year ban on drivers pumping their own gas. The law will still require gas stations to staff at least half their pumps for those who don’t want to pump their own gas. Kotek said her office received more than 5,000 emails about the bill. (Oregonian) via Pluribus
PFAS Pollution: A bipartisan group of 22 attorneys general on Wednesday urged a federal court to reject a proposed $10.3 billion settlement with 3M over drinking water contaminated with PFAS “forever” chemicals. [Maryland’s AG as well as those from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and D.C. are among the 22] The attorneys general say the deal doesn’t give water suppliers enough time to determine whether the settlement would cover cleanup costs. (Associated Press) via Pluribus
From POLITICO Playbook: “Summer recess is here: The House and Senate both left town Thursday, leaving a very long to-do list behind. Expect to hear plenty more about that as August rolls on — including the rising threat of a government shutdown later this year.” MORE from the Wall Street Journal, oozing out from behind their paywall to POLPlaybook: “Avoiding a government shutdown is only one of the must-do items before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Congress must also reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, pass a farm bill and reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program so that home sales in flood-prone areas can continue. The House is due to return Sept. 12 and has four-day legislative sessions for each of the three weeks before Sept. 30. The Senate is due to return Sept. 5.”
Quite sensibly, Joe and Jill Biden are spending this week in Rehoboth Beach, no foreign jaunts in view.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES: Seven major automakers announced plans Wednesday to build 30,000 vehicle charging ports on major highways in the U.S. and Canada, nearly doubling the number currently available. The companies — BMW, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis — will invest $1 billion in the joint venture. (New York Times) via Pluribus
Biden Taps O’Malley To Head Social Security Admin: President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would nominate former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley to helm the Social Security Administration, which has been without a permanent leader for two years. Baltimore Sun. MORE The agency O’Malley would lead faces “significant financing issues,” according to an annual report that also noted that the current system has enough money to pay 100% benefits through 2033. In 2034, recipients would receive 77% of scheduled benefits. The agency has been without a permanent head since Biden fired the commissioner and deputy commissioner. Both were appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump. Maryland Matters.
A Charles County activist comments in Maryland Matters that the minimum standards for safe and healthy shelter are being ignored or flouted – here and around the country -- by those getting rich off the rents they collect. Quoting MarketWatch, he notes “The reality that many households without air conditioning are made up of low-income renters or people of color has caused some to see air-conditioning access as both a public-health and racial-equity issue.”
And how about on the job? The Guardian reports that Big Business lobbies against heat protections for workers as US boils – as if that were a surprise… “The Biden administration has proposed federal heat protections for workers. But those rules face stiff opposition and could take several years to be finalized under current rule-making processes and laws. They could even be scrapped depending on the outcome of 2024’s election.”
Superhot weather has an outsized effect on poor countries – and on the poor in rich countries, according to the newsletter Semafor. Inequality is worsening the consequences of extreme heat, and is in turn being driven by rising temperatures, new research found. A report from the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center showed that in the U.S., Nigeria, and India, women’s unpaid work — far higher than men’s — took longer and was more difficult during heat waves, reducing the already-limited paid work they could do. Other forms of inequality are impactful, too: Migrants, the poor, the homeless, and those who work outside are more likely to die from heat than richer people. ‘Often, when people die of heat, they are actually dying of poverty,’ a New York Times opinion writer noted.” A chart accompanying the article showed that the annual income in the 10 nations most vulnerable to climate change was roughly thirty times less than the annual income in the 10 nations least vulnerable.
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