In miniature, April 4

Mostly links from before the pandemic crisis hit:

  • Richard Vatz: To have passed the extravagantly expensive Kirwan education bill, with the handwriting already on the wall as to the state’s looming fiscal crisis, “is revelatory of the utter irresponsibility of Maryland’s lawmakers.” [Bryan Renbaum, Maryland Reporter]
  • Montgomery County SWAT team shot Duncan Socrates Lemp in his home, and questions won’t go away [Jim Bovard/American Conservative, C.J. Ciaramella/Reason]
  • “Maryland Charges Big Fines for Skipping Small Tolls” [Meg Tully, Maryland Reporter]
  • Happy to get a request from Pennsylvania to reprint and distribute my chapter on redistricting and gerrymandering found on pp. 293-299 of the Cato Handbook for Policymakers (2017). Check it out;
  • Senator Michael Hough (R-Frederick, Carroll) proposes limiting lawmakers to 20 introductions of general bills in a session [Danielle Gaines, Maryland Matters]
  • Eastern Shore educators, fellow students unprepared as mental illness, violence mainstreamed into everyday classrooms [Mike Detmer, Dorchester Star, Bryan Renbaum, Maryland Reporter (Del. Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford, urges legislative action)]

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Guest on Conduit Street podcast: “Liberty in Trying Times”

I joined hosts Michael Sanderson and Kevin Kinnally on the Maryland Association of Counties’ popular Conduit Street Podcast, which has a large circulation among civically-minded Marylanders and national reach as well. Our talk ranged widely over legal and governmental aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, including government’s emergency powers, and how they sometimes don’t go away when the emergency ends; the role of the courts, both during the emergency and after it ends, in enforcing and restoring constitutional norms; contrasts between the state and federal handling of the crisis; and the opportunity this provides (and has already provided) to re-examine the scope of regulation, which has been cut back in many areas so as to allow vigorous private sector response in areas like medical care, delivery logistics, and remote provision of services.

Their description:

On a special bonus episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Walter Olson joins Kevin Kinnally and Michael Sanderson to examine the role of state and local emergency powers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. A resident of Frederick County, Olson recently served on the Frederick County Charter Review Commission. Olson has also served as the co-chair of [the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, created in] 2015.

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play Music by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

You can listen to previous episodes of the Conduit Street Podcast on our website.

You can listen and download here (40:04).

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In search of Kirwan cash, legislature passes nation’s first digital ad tax

It’s of doubtful constitutionality and a practical mess, argue Randolph May and Andrew Long [Free State Foundation] More: Patrick Gleason/Forbes, Eversheds Sutherland podcast.

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Frederick County health director Barbara Brookmyer discusses COVID-19

Frederick County, Md. health director Barbara Brookmyer joins host Michelle Perez Newman for a third show to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak. Questions include: Who is currently getting tested, given low test capacity? How safe is it for kids to have playdates? (Alas, not very.) How do the symptoms differ from those of the flu? What rules should you follow if someone in your household gets sick? Brookmyer is a respected figure and this 30 minute show should interest national as well as Maryland listeners. Previous shows ran on March 7 and Feb. 21. More recent Brookmyer appearances: Frederick News Post, Frederick County Public Schools.

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Easing license burdens for the duration

I’ve got a new post at Cato on steps taken by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to ease licensing burdens for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. Baker announced that a state board would shorten to one day the approval needed for medical professionals licensed in good standing in other states to practice in Massachusetts. On the Maryland steps, I summarize thus:

Meanwhile, as part of a group of emergency measures in Maryland yesterday, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order providing that all renewals of expiring licenses, permits, registrations and the like — including driver’s, business, and other licenses, not only occupational — would be extended to until 30 days after the state of emergency ends, whenever that is. The step will protect state employees and other users of public buildings from unnecessary contacts, as well as sparing many members of the public the fear that they will need to break isolation and social distancing in order to keep their licenses current.

Other states should follow on both measures.

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In miniature, March 7

  • Information about abuse by officers who represent the public is information that should be public [Ava-joye Burnett, WJZ on Baltimore sunlight-on-settlements ordinance] General Assembly considers greater police transparency [Samantha Hawkins, Maryland Matters]
  • Oh! Takoma! “The proposal… would ban all gas appliances, close fossil fuel pipelines, and move gas stations outside city limits by 2045. The cost to the average homeowner could reach $25,000, officials wrote.” [Rebecca Tan, Washington Post on Takoma Park anti-fossil fuels scheme]
  • Montgomery County ordinance requires bicycle registration, authorizes impoundment and misdemeanor charges if cyclists lack the requisite sticker [Jacob Sullum, Reason]
  • Critical profile of Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is influential locally as well as on children’s issues nationally [Martin Morse Wooster, Capital Research]
  • Reform of Maryland’s harsh teen “sexting” laws welcome [Amy Alkon]
  • Neat trick: Montgomery County manages to run its monopoly liquor stores in the red, recalling the days of Off-Track Betting when New York ran monopoly gambling parlors and contrived to lose money on them [Bruce Leshan, WUSA]

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“Democrats To Propose Sales Tax Expansion To Fund Kirwan”

KIRWAN:

Keep
Increasing
Revenues
Without
Actual
Necessity

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An ill-fated “Potomac Compact” — and some testimony from Pennsylvania

Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis have filed a “Potomac Compact for Fair Representation” bill, HB 182, the gist of which is to say that Maryland can go on gerrymandering until Virginia agrees to coordinate on reform. Sorry to break it to you, guys, but have you noticed that the Virginia reform ship is sailing all by itself?

P.S. Kind of related: a Pennsylvania lawmaker talks frankly about how the leadership in state legislatures use the gerrymandering power, with its discretion to dole out a good district or impose a bad, to arm-twist maverick lawmakers into submission:

Boscola [Democratic state Sen. Lisa Boscola of Northampton County] said that because legislative leaders control the process, they can change the shape of districts to increase or decrease an incumbent’s chances of reelection.

Boscola, a senator for 18 years, served two terms in the House. There, she said, the threat of gerrymandering was used against her.

“I was told by my leadership in the House that I better behave and toe my party line, or I’d be out of my district,” she said.

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Statues of Douglass, Tubman unveiled in Maryland statehouse

Proud to be a Marylander today. I was also glad to see that as representations, the new statues are beautiful, convincing, and inspirational. Having seen my share of bad statues, it lifted my heart to see that these were so good.

Here are some resources from the Cato Institute on Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman as vital figures in the story of American liberty. If you have wondered about commemorations of Douglass’s birthday, by the way, Caleb Brown reminds us that the great abolitionist “did not know his actual birthday. His mother, also a slave, called him ‘my little Valentine’ on her occasional visits…She traveled miles, usually at night, to spend just a few minutes with her son. Douglass chose Feb. 14 to mark his birth.”

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Make room for lemonade stands: H.B. 52

Dels. Neil Parrott (R-Washington County) and Steve Johnson (D-Harford County) have introduced H.B. 52, which would bar counties and municipalities from banning or regulating “the sale of lemonade or other nonalcoholic beverages by minors from a stand on private property.” (The makers of Country Time lemonade, in a brilliant marketing stroke, have launched a campaign to defend kids busted for this activity; more at Overlawyered). WJZ has details.

Sponsors invited me to write up something about the bill and here’s what I came up with:

Today’s breaker of low-level regulations is tomorrow’s breaker of more serious regulations. The ten year old who dabbles in lemonade selling today could become tomorrow’s bringer of a church potluck casserole prepared in a home kitchen rather than an inspected commercial facility. A few years later, accustomed to the ways of regulation-breaking, that same miscreant might use that same home kitchen to bake a dozen pies, plus one for good luck, to bring to a homeless shelter for Thanksgiving.

The time to stop it is when it starts — on the June day when the first pitcher of lemonade is mixed and hawked to passersby for 50 cents, plus a tip if you get lucky. Stop them young, or they will get used to serving others and along the way learning to act and think for themselves.

Does this all sound a little crazy and upside down? Well, it is. We should make it easier, not harder, for kids to be enterprising, well organized, and friendly, all lessons of the lemonade stand. The bill can be marked up in sensible ways that limit it to the intended range of cases. But can we really disagree with the direction?

— Walter Olson, a Frederick County resident, is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and has written about small business and food safety regulation.

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