Some things seem like they are never really settled. With great effort, the Assembly passes Anton's Law, providing a window of transparency into police internal records. It's challenged in court. Transport efficiency advocates fight Larry Hogan's plan for Beltway toll lanes to a draw; the Moore admin brings it back. Despite good-government efforts to challenge the power of county Central Committees in filling empty legislative seats, they are still being filled that way. Now new legislation is proposed. All this is a good reason to let News You Can Use keep an eye on this random stuff for you, one-stop shopping every Monday for outrages and good ideas alike.
Lawyers for a police union argue that disciplinary records created before Anton’s Law took effect [in 2021] should be shielded from release, despite lawmakers’ intentions. Release of the records would be unfair to an officer, the union says, because he was guaranteed confidentiality when the investigation into his conduct took place. WaPo
Advocates Seek Change in Process For Filling Lawmaker Vacancies: Nearly half of the state lawmakers from Maryland’s largest county and about 1 in 4 statewide were not originally elected to their seats. Instead, they were appointed, sent to Annapolis by a handful of local party officials, according to Common Cause Maryland. With nine vacancies in the General Assembly filled through appointments this year and a 10th in the works, advocates are renewing a push to change a process that they say concentrates power into the hands of people on elected but politically connected local panels. WaPo via Maryland Reporter
Assembly Group to Settle Degree Program Squabbles Won’t Meet Deadline A legislative work group established to assess Maryland Higher Education Commission policies for authorizing degree programs was tasked with producing a report with recommendations by Dec. 1, but that’s not going to happen. Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery), a co-chair of the Program Approval Process Workgroup, said in a recent interview that a report may not be ready until January. [Several public higher ed institutions had butted heads about duplicating degree programs]. Maryland Matters
Skepticism, Questions Remain As State Seeks Input On Traffic Congestion Relief The modified revival of Larry Hogan’s controversial I-495 toll project by the Moore administration is bringing the critics back out – they thought it had bitten the dust, but… Maryland Matters
Maryland's Low Jobless Rate Challenges Employers: For three months running, Maryland has had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. But that’s not necessarily cause for celebration. The state’s jobless rate dropped to 1.7% in August, then fell to the lowest level ever — yes, ever — recorded for any state in September at 1.6%, less than half the national rate of 3.9%. But such extremely low unemployment poses real challenges for many employers and businesses. Baltimore Sun. via Maryland Reporter
And more: 84%: The share of state Departments of Transportation and public works agencies that are short of the number of snowplow drivers they need, according to a report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The average snowplow operator makes $23.49 an hour. (Pluribus News) But will it ever snow again in Maryland?
A federal appeals court has ruled that Maryland’s Handgun Qualification Law Is Unconstitutional. The decision by a split three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law unduly burdens Second Amendment rights. Additionally, the judges wrote that Maryland failed to show a “historical tradition” of firearm regulation justifying the license. “If you live in Maryland and want a handgun, you must follow a long and winding path to get one,” the majority wrote. Maryland has 14 days to seek a rehearing before the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Maryland Matters
Maryland, along with other Chesapeake Bay-adjacent states like Pennsylvania and Virginia, is taking steps to improve pollinator habitat in state facilities – such as no-mow zones in highway medians and habitat gardens at larger facilities like rest centers. Get the full story in the Bay Journal feature, States Give Pollinators Pit Stops In Rights Of Way -- and drive and walk mindfully.
NLRB Accuses Towson Apple Store Of Withholding Benefits: The top U.S. labor watchdog accused Apple of violating the National Labor Relations Act by withholding benefits from unionized employees at its Towson store, according to a complaint released Tuesday. The Towson Town Center store became the first unionized Apple store in the nation in June 2022 when its employees voted 65-33 to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Baltimore Sun via Maryland Reporter
Crossing the (District) Line: If you have occasion to drive in the nation’s Capital, be aware that “the District has doubled its number of traffic cameras this fall, and officials say plans include adding another 140 devices before the end of March as part of a large-scale modernization and expansion of the city’s automated traffic enforcement program. The additional enforcement is the city’s response to a rise in dangerous road behavior that, in recent years, has led to more deaths and serious injuries in the nation’s capital. As the year comes to an end, D.C. is set to record a 16-year high in traffic fatalities.” WaPo
WITH THE STATES
Social Media: New Jersey legislators will consider a bill to require social media platforms verify users are at least 18, or to get parental consent before minors sign up for accounts. Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D) introduced the measure, which would follow Utah and Arkansas laws passed this year. (NJ Advance Media) via Pluribus. But are young folks really the ones who need social media regulation? See our note below in the FED section, Prof. Walter on 21st century civil war chances.
Grassroots movements in states like Ohio are voting to keep reproductive rights available. But there are powerful and moneyed forces pushing back, ProPublica reports. Some Republicans Were Willing To Compromise On Abortion Ban Exceptions. Activists Made Sure They Didn’t. ProPublica reviewed 12 of the nation’s strictest abortion bans. Few changed in 2023, as state lawmakers caved to pressure from anti-abortion groups opposing exceptions for rape, incest and health risks.
From Pluribus -- unsurprisingly, increases in the minimum wage are popular with the voters. “Half Of All States Will See Minimum Wage Increases In 2024, and seven will set wage floors at $15 an hour, double the federal minimum wage. Wages will rise most in Hawaii, Nebraska, Maryland and Delaware. Supporters of a higher minimum wage are pushing new ballot measures to raise pay in California, Alaska, Missouri and Oklahoma. (Pluribus News) and they add: Gaining ballot access is tantamount to winning a higher minimum wage: The last 25 ballot measures seeking to raise the wage have passed, in red states and blue states alike. A minimum wage measure hasn’t failed since Missouri’s Proposition A and Montana Initiative 121 in 1996.
AND RIDING THE STATE-FED FENCELINE -- Despite long advocating small government and local control, Republican governors and legislators across a significant swath of the country are increasingly overriding the actions of Democratic cities — removing elected district attorneys or threatening to strip them of power, taking over election offices and otherwise limiting local independence.
THE FEDS – CONGRESS, THE COURTS, THE WHITE HOUSE ETC.
From Megan E, federal affairs director at People’s Action (our national affiliate):
"Congress was out last week and it has a big agenda for the remaining weeks of the year. Congress aims to pass the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a supplemental funding bill and continue to work on appropriations bills.
"Congress remains divided on the supplemental funding bill for Ukraine and Israel aid. The White House and Senator Schumer have said that Ukraine aid must be attached to aid for Israel. House Republicans want funding for the Southern border in exchange for Ukraine aid, which they are split on. Senator Sanders published an op-ed calling for conditions on aid to Israel and on Sunday Senator Murphy (D-CT) also came out in support of such conditions.
"Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) has also readied a vote to override Sen. Tuberville’s (R-AL) blockade of 350 military promotions. Tuberville is blocking all military nominations in protest of the Pentagon’s policy of paying the travel expenses of service members who cross state lines to obtain abortions. The vote to confirm the 350 nominations will require 60 votes (9 Republicans to pass). Several Republican senators have criticized Tuberville but it’s unclear if they will record a vote that could be construed as pro choice."
What we can do, a little every day, with this info:
on Climate, “world’s richest 1% pollute more than the poorest two-thirds, Oxfam says The report calls for a new wave of taxes on the uber-rich, whose lavish lifestyles and investments have an outsize impact on global emissions.
Healthcare, Politico reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers are increasingly concerned that Medicare Advantage plans are preying on seniors with care denials.
Housing: VICE covered People’s Action’s Homes Guarantee DC tenant takeover action at Starwood Capitol. “The action was the culmination of a week of activism, as tenants with the People’s Action Homes Guarantee Campaign advocated for stronger federal regulations on rental housing, including protections for tenants with federal housing vouchers—who face rampant discrimination from landlords—and a cap on rent increases in apartments with federally-backed mortgages.”
(not from Megan) Congress and the White House come nearly to blows about their differences, but wait … could a new civil war actually erupt in the US? Isn’t that just a morbid fantasy of militia leaders in their remote log huts? Prof. Barbara Walter, speaking with NPR about her findings on a ClA-sponsored expert panel, points out the warning signs that all countries can show, including ours, especially when going through unsettling demographic changes. What can we do to settle down? Walter says “I think probably the single easiest thing that we could do to shore up our democracy is to regulate social media. Our information environment is increasingly toxic. It increasingly pushes out the most extreme material, increasing distrust in democracy…”
On The Other Hand: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear five cases during this current term, which ends in June 2024, that collectively give the court the opportunity to reexamine the nature of content moderation – the rules governing discussions on social media platforms such as Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter – and the constitutional limitations on the government to affect speech on the platforms. The Conversation.
And just for fun (NOT a puzzle page, exactly):
NYT’s Ezra Klein wrote about the OpenAI fiasco over the weekend, but he really spilled the beans with this: “Capitalism is itself a kind of artificial intelligence, and it’s far further along than anything the computer scientists have yet coded. In that sense, it copied OpenAI’s code long ago.” He’s overlooking the real point: Capitalism came first; the poorly controlled instrument governing power distribution with capital-as-currency in a (false) climate of scarcity, running on the platform of collective human info-management.
Today's AI is just a simulacrum. But judge for yourself whether Klein has caught on fully at The Unsettling Lesson of the Open AI Mess
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