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Absent with a good reason

I’ve been absent from blogging here since the summer in order to concentrate on my duties concerning the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, the nine-member panel charged with recommending maps for Gov. Hogan to propose for redrawing Congressional and legislative lines. That job will continue for a while, but the commission has now proposed to the public all three of its maps — Congressional, state senate, and delegate — and you can check them out here or use a viewer that allows zooming down to the street level. Public comment continues for a couple more weeks and the commission will consider altering lines to reflect public reaction and comments, as it has already done in several areas.

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In miniature, June 8

  • [Some] Republicans against employers’ rights? Notion of forbidding employers from asking for proof of vaccination has at least one backer in the General Assembly [Laura Olson, Maryland Matters]
  • Councilmember Hans Riemer is now running for Montgomery County Executive. MDGEO county employee union has used hardball tactics against him in past [Seventh State]
  • I joined Yuripzy Morgan’s WBAL show to discuss guaranteed-income programs that discriminate by race;
  • “Research shows, time and again, however, that bans on single‐use plastic bags can have unintended consequences, not least by inducing substitution towards alternatives with potentially worse environmental impacts.” [Ryan Bourne and Erin_Partin, Cato; earlier here, etc.]
  • As of six months ago, 35 states followed the stand-your-ground doctrine in self-defense cases, while 15 followed duty-to-retreat. Maryland is in the minority, prescribing duty to retreat with a sole exception of the home [Eugene Volokh]
  • Renowned New Haven pizzeria Frank Pepe’s still plans 2021 Bethesda opening [Washingtonian]

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In miniature, March 6

  • “Do-it-yourself manufacturing has always hobbled authorities’ ability to control things they don’t like, and the modern ghost gun movement specifically evolved to put personal armaments beyond the reach of the state.” [J.D. Tuccille/Reason] Nonetheless, some in Annapolis hope a legal ban will defy the technology [Hannah Gaskill, Maryland Matters
  • West Coast bills attempting to force pay raises for grocery workers backfire. A bill in the Maryland General Assembly would try the same thing [Brad Palumbo, FEE]
  • “Opinion: Lawmakers Should Oppose Bill to Retroactively Allow Old Lawsuits” [Sean Caine, Maryland Matters]
  • New report from legislative analysis office confirms that in Montgomery County, as elsewhere, legal curbs on rents can be expected to have highly damaging economic consequences [Adam Pagnucco, Seventh State; Ryan Bourne, Cato]
  • Not all the Montgomery County housing proposals are wretched, one would ease rules for constructing duplexes/triplexes/etc. [Dan Reed, Greater Greater Washington]
  • Latest proposed Annapolis imposition on business would ban plastic bags at retailers. Hope Gov. Hogan has his veto pen ready [Madison Hunt, CNS/Maryland Reporter and Elizabeth Shwe/Maryland Matters

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On Maryland Question One, Vote “Against”

The Baltimore Sun has published my letter to the editor (disagreeing with the Sun’s position) in which I argue that Maryland voters should reject Question One, expanding the General Assembly’s power over the state budget.

Contrary to The Sun’s arguments, an “against” vote on Question 1 is the right vote for fiscal responsibility (“Question 1: Vote ‘for’ constitutional amendment on state budget authority,” Sept. 28). At present under the Maryland Constitution, the legislature can only cut items from the governor’s budget, not add or shift. Although unusual among state constitutions, that’s a rule that has long proved workable in county and other local government. Question 1 would authorize the assembly to add items to the state budget as long as overall changes plus and minus do not result in a sum exceeding the governor’s own proposed budget.

Politically, the consequence would be that a lot of people would start lobbying General Assembly members or running for the state legislature themselves, with the aim of raising spending on pet programs. Supposedly, the effects would still be fiscally neutral because something else would have to be traded off (highway maintenance is one guess) to pay for the goodies. But with the legislature converted into a much more ardently pro-spending body than it is now, that constraint might later be discarded too, enabling the legislature simply to add money to the governor’s proposals.

The Sun is right that the General Assembly has resorted to artificial and inefficient dodges to get around the current rule. But the answer there is to spotlight and rein in the artificial dodges. In the mean time, vote “against” on 1.

— Walter Olson, New Market

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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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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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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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P.J. O’Rourke in Frederick Mar. 19

The Cato Institute’s own H.L. Mencken Fellow P.J. O’Rourke will be at the Frederick Speaker Series at the Weinberg Center Thursday, March 19, sponsored by Flying Dog Brewery’s fabulous First Amendment Society. There’s also a separately ticketed meet and greet event afterward. See you there!

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Teacher attrition and other myths of Kirwan

Sean Kennedy of the Maryland Public Policy Institute at Maryland Reporter:

Another false “crisis” that Kirwan’s massive pay hikes seek to remedy is the “teacher shortage,” with many teachers allegedly fleeing the profession. This is belied by the facts. Under 10% of Maryland’s teachers retired, quit, or were fired last year – less than half the leave rates for similar professional jobs. And they left the profession at a much lower rate than teachers across the country….

Baltimore City spends the third most ($17,500) of the largest 100 districts nationwide, while ranking as the third worst in outcomes for all districts. Three other counties – Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard – also rank in the top ten for per pupil spending nationally.

And Stephen Walters of MPPI:

The state government will spend $8.48 billion on elementary and secondary education in fiscal 2020, a 5% hike over 2019. Its estimated share of Kirwan (about $2.8 billion by 2030) would pump that amount up by another 33%. And the $1.2 billion annual burden Kirwan would place on localities already has elected officials more than a little worried….

…between 2012 and 2017, while [the state’s] NAEP scores were declining, statewide per-pupil spending increased by over 9%. Now, after doing less with more for years, our public school monopoly seeks even more money.

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In the Washington Post on the $15 wage bill

New from me and Cato colleague Ryan Bourne in the Washington Post [Cato reprint]:

One thing we’ve learned in this year’s debate over a statewide $15 minimum wage, now set to become law after the legislature overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto today, is that affluent central Maryland doesn’t want to listen to hard-hit rural Maryland….

In the debate over the $15 minimum wage, lawmakers from [already high-wage] Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Howard County were nearly unanimously in favor, with most delegates supporting strong versions of the scheme. Meanwhile, most lawmakers from depressed parts of the state were passionately opposed.

Guess who had the numbers to outvote whom?…

Affluent sections of Maryland can vote for $15 without much worry that a large share of their job base will disappear. Poor counties can’t.

Related: Earlier observations of mine on the bill here. “The article Alan Krueger wrote that I wish Fight For 15 advocates would read.” Highly informative Jacob Vigdor/Russ Roberts interview on the Seattle studies, and on the strategies that employers (restaurants in particular) use to adjust [David Henderson, Econlib] More on the problems of applying a uniform law to portions of the country with seriously different wage levels and costs of living [Daniel McLaughlin, NRO] Ryan Bourne on adjustments at Whole Foods following its accession under political pressure to a $15 minimum [Cato]. [adapted from Overlawyered]

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