Category Archives: Policy

Televise floor proceedings in Annapolis?

The legislative majority has already decided the answer is “no,” now to come up with a rationale [Len Lazarick, Maryland Reporter]

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A Baltimore cookie drama, in two acts

Act I: In a widely read Nov. 15 piece in Atlas Obscura, Priya Krishna reports on “the quest to save Baltimore’s Berger Cookie,” a beloved local food institution. “One of the most essential ingredients in the Berger Cookie is trans fats. Trans fats are what make the chocolate super creamy, prevent the fat and the water in the dough from separating (which would yield an overly crumbly cookie), and keep the cookie stable in both very warm and very cold settings.” However, the Obama administration enacted a federal ban on trans fats — for your own good, you know — which goes into effect next year.

Cookie producer Charlie DeBaufre, interviewed by Krishna, “refers to the past year as ‘frustrating and scary,’ as so many of his trans fat-free experiments have been failures. ‘I have spent $10,000 trying to get this worked out. I am not a big business. I don’t have an R&D Department. I have to shut down production for a few hours, still pay people for labor, and then most of the product gets trashed. It’s tough.’” More background in a piece I wrote for Cato last week.

Act II: Then a twist, reported by Sarah Meehan in the Baltimore Sun Nov. 21: the fudge supplier had managed to replace trans fats months ago and didn’t tell Berger’s. While early attempts to reformulate fudge frosting without trans fats had suffered from various quality defects, the new recipe was much improved to the point where neither consumers nor Berger’s had noticed.

So a happy if unexpected ending, at least for this one company, right? But the regulatory downside — you just knew there had to be one — was that in changing its recipe the fudge supplier had added more sugar, which appears to have boosted the calorie count and might have changed other things reported in the Nutrition Facts box as well. Since Berger’s says it didn’t know about the new formula, one inference might be that for a while it has been shipping cookies with a faulty calorie/nutrition count on the package. Hello to class action woes and, if the FDA is in a bad mood, regulatory liability? [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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“The United Shapes of America”

Maryland 9-year-old Araliya Rubin and her mom Nilmini Rubin have made a coloring book of gerrymandered Congressional districts, reports Beth Rodgers at Bethesda Beat. Staying inside the lines of the Maryland districts would challenge even a coloring book veteran.

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Judge zaps MoCo lawn pesticide ban

Overturning Montgomery County’s ban on many commonly used lawn pesticides [Washington Post], Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Terrence McGann

said that the law — the first of its kind for a major locality in the region — would conflict with federal and Maryland state regulations that allow the use of the pesticides. The case was just one example of Maryland counties’ “insatiable appetite to tamper with existing state laws,” McGann said.

Counties have also “tried to hijack a portion of the existing field of law” in areas including tobacco, guns and minimum wage, he said.

My Cato Institute piece on the county’s bald double standard — officials had sought to exempt playing fields and other county properties from the ban — is here.

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Supreme Court tackles redistricting again — the Maryland implications

The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to hear a much-watched Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, inviting it to reconsider its position that the Constitution does not create a judicial remedy for partisan gerrymandering. Should the Court uphold the challenge to Wisconsin districts, the implications for Maryland would be immediate and dramatic, since Maryland’s gerrymander is more extreme than Wisconsin’s and there is good evidence on the record (thanks in part to recent depositions from top officials) that its motivations were political. I joined Bryan Nehmen on WBAL yesterday to discuss how this affects the Maryland debate.

I also wrote a piece for Cato on the national implications, cautioning that the euphoria in some circles about an impending change in the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence is at best premature. The Justices by a 5-4 margin stayed the lower court order from Wisconsin, which hints, at least, that Justice Anthony Kennedy might not be persuaded by the advocates hoping to get him to open wide the door he left open in his 2004 concurrence in Vieth v. Jubelirer.

A couple of additional relevant Maryland links from before the decision: Nancy Soreng and Jennifer Bevan-Dangel in the Washington Post (“Maryland shouldn’t wait for other states to start redistricting”); Karen Hobert Flynn, The Hill;
Kojo Nnamdi show last month with Ashley Oleson (MRRC colleague, but no relation) and Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery County); Yael Grauer/Yes! (“Has Arizona Found a Solution to Gerrymandering?”, discussing Maryland reform efforts).

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Putting occupational licensing on the Maryland reform agenda

Last year the Washington Post rightly applauded Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s signing of a bill reducing licensing requirements for personnel at “blowout” hair salons as “a modest but genuine step toward reform of occupational licensing rules that too often stand in the way of career progress for working Americans, and not only in Maryland.” The Obama White House, think tanks, and many economists agree that needless licensing rules exclude qualified newcomers from desirable jobs and often harm consumers as well by restricting choice and driving up the cost of services. (More here.)

Where should Maryland reformers turn next? In 2012 the Institute for Justice published a nationwide comparison that ranked Maryland as 14th most burdensome of the fifty-states-plus-DC in its licensing rules. Of the 42 occupations Maryland requires a license to practice, 16 require such a license in 10 or fewer other states, suggesting that much of the country gets along quite well without such rules. They include tree trimmer (only 6 other states choose to license), social and human service assistant, and a variety of residential construction trades including window repair, floor sanding, and carpentry. These jobs can offer a livelihood and a path for upward advancement for a wide range of workers, including some who lack degrees or are re-entering the workforce after absence, who lack the resources or patience to surmount the licensing barrier.

Equally problematic, even when other states license a given occupation, Maryland often loads onto the entrant heavier education and experience requirements. It ranks 10th of 51 in that category of burden, typically requiring more than a year of preparation before conferring a right to practice. While 39 states require a license before practicing massage therapy, for example, Maryland demands nearly a year of preparation, almost three times as long as neighboring Virginia, Delaware, or Pennsylvania.

It’s a target-rich environment — although many of the burdensome rules, alas, will be closely defended by incumbent practitioners who do not like the idea of easier access to their occupations.

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Redistricting: the six-state compact idea doesn’t cut it

On Tuesday the Baltimore Sun ran any op-ed that I co-authored with Judge Alexander Williams, Jr., with whom I serve as co-chairs of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission:

By an overwhelming majority, Marylanders support the idea of having an independent commission rather than incumbent lawmakers draw district lines for Maryland elections. The margin was 73 to 19 percent in a February Goucher Poll, with support running roughly the same among registered Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Yet a bill passed by the legislature this session would instead have kicked the issue of redistricting reform down the road unless five other nearby states all agree to pass similar bills — something no one expects to happen.

As co-chairs of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, which Gov. Larry Hogan established in 2015 to devise a better system for drawing district lines, we support Governor Hogan’s May 8 veto of that bill. The proposal for a “Mid-Atlantic Regional Compact” is a frivolous distraction in place of a willingness to tackle reform seriously….

Read the full piece here.

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On the Howard County Unsweetened campaign

According to coverage at places like NPR and CNN, an innovative campaign in Howard County, Maryland “provides a road map for other communities to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.” Not so fast, I argue in my new Washington Examiner piece: the suburban county in question is not remotely typical of America as a whole, the Howard County Unsweetened campaign blurred public and private boundaries in a dubious way, and the whole enterprise generated a deserved political pushback. While the plan, promoted by the local Horizon Foundation, might not have been all bad, “it sowed divisiveness, put government resources to improper purpose, and rested on a premise of frank paternalism. When it arrives in your community, you might want to respond as you might to a second pitcher of cola — by pushing it away with a polite, ‘no thanks.’” [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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Does the 2020 census “erase” LGBT people?

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who represents my district, tweets, “Disgraceful move by Trump admin to suppress the existence of #LGBT community. To all LGBT Americans: we hear and see you. #CantEraseUs ”

Rep. Raskin, along with many other members of Congress, is following the lead of the Human Rights Campaign and allies, which have launched a publicity campaign with claims like “The Trump Administration is erasing ‘sexual orientation’ & ‘gender identity’ from the 2020 census — but they #CantEraseUs.”

But as The Hill observes, “The Census has never included questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in its surveys.” Some activists had been hoping to change that but Gary Gates, a leading expert in LGBT demographics, says the planning process was not nearly far enough along to consider adding the questions to the 2020 survey. The Census Bureau is overseen by an Obama appointee and no one has offered evidence that incoming Trump people have sought a change in census policy. (h/t columnist Guy Benson on these last two points).

There are undoubtedly pluses to gathering personal data in new categories, but for all who care about 1) privacy and 2) the danger of future misuse of information, there are also minuses, perhaps especially worth noting on this topic. David Boaz in 2010 questioned the trend toward more intrusive and comprehensive census data collection.

Separately, I have noticed that “erase” and its variants now serve as an unfailing warning of “dubious assertions lie ahead.”

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“Why Maryland lawmakers should not ban fracking”

“In fact, fracking has massive environmental benefits. The rapid expansion of natural gas production has prompted power plants all over the country to switch from coal to gas, which is both cheaper and burns much cleaner. Last year, largely thanks to this mass migration, American carbon emissions hit a 25-year low. Given its own grand green ambitions, Maryland ought to be embracing fracking.” [Chris Summers, Maryland Public Policy Institute]

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