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The Government Shutdown Ends, The Port Strike Continues, and Unemployment Tax Rates Fall

The partial shutdown of the federal government has come to an end. The strike at the Port of Baltimore is entering its second day. Unemployment tax rates fall. A new poll of the 2014 Governor’s race. Plus: Lyft comes to Baltimore, problems with the MD Health Insurance, and more.

Shutdown Ends: Federal workers in Maryland and across the country are heading back to their jobs todaynow that the federal government shutdown is over. Senator Barbara Mikulski says federal workers will get back pay for the time they have been off the job. The federal workers will also be receiving a one-percent pay increase that is slated to take effect in January. The bill that passed yesterday ends the shutdown; it funds government operations through mid-January and extends the federal debt limit into early February.

Port Strike Continues: The Federal Government may be reopening, but the port of Baltimore’s public marine terminals are still shut down… as a strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333 enters its second day. Union members say issues with the Steamship Trade Association, which represents the shipping lines, go back about a decade and include control over membership, pay and cost-cutting that puts workers at risk. Some 15-thousand Marylanders work directly for port-related businesses, and tens of thousands of other jobs are supported by the Port’s operations. Maryland Ports Administration spokesman Richard Sher says the effects of the strike could get worse the longer it continues. Sher tells WYPR: If this impasse continues for several days, then we could begin to see some significant economic impacts.” The Maryland Port Administration is not a party to the talks between the union and the trade association, -- but it’s encouraging both sides to comes to an agreement. More here from the Baltimore Sun.

Problems With MD Health Insurance Exchange: Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown is admitting that Maryland stumbled out of the gate in rolling out its health insurance exchange. The Baltimore Sun reportsthat Brown is not satisfied with the website’s opening, and that he says he’s focused on fixing the problems quickly. The state has been receiving many complaints from consumers trying to buy insurance on the exchange who have been having problems. The Capital Gazette has more.

Poll On Governor’s Race: A newly released poll of the 2014 Governor’s race gives Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown a big lead in the Democratic primary. According to Gonzales Research, Brown has the support of 41-percent of his party’s likely voters. 21-percent of likely Democratic voters say they back Attorney General Doug Gansler; 5 percent say they support Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur. With the primary election still more than half a year away, one-third of likely Democratic voters remain undecided. The Washington Post has more.

“Lyft” Comes To Baltimore: A California company that provides a platform for people to find rides with a smartphone app is set to launch in Baltimore this afternoon. Lfyt already operates in fifteen cities, including Washington DC. But while some are welcoming Lyft to Baltimore, others are less than thrilled with the concept, as WYPR’s Kenneth Burns reports.

Does Harbor Point Environmental Regulation Rest On Residents? “Toxic Metals In Wells and Air” might be the least welcome headline ever if you were developing a site where the toxic materials were found. WYPR’s Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith comments in his weekly essay.

Unemployment Tax Rates Fall: Maryland employers are getting a break on the unemployment tax. Governor Martin O'Malley announced yesterday that state's unemployment trust fund balance has tripled since 2009 – due in part to a recovery in Maryland’s economy, and lower unemployment rates. That means that the unemployment taxes employers have to pay will drop by as much as 70 percent. The Washington Post notes that Maryland employers have been paying some of the highest unemployment tax rates in the nation over the past few years.

Baltimore Settles Lawsuit Over Protesters’ Rights: Baltimore City officials are settling a ten-year-old federal lawsuit concerning protesters' rights filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The agreement allows groups of up to 30 people to protest and hand out leaflets without a permit in some city parks, including McKeldin Square, Rash Field and other areas at the Inner Harbor.  The new rules also allow for "instant permits" for spontaneous demonstrations. Under the agreement, the city will also pay the ACLU nearly $100-thousand, to cover attorneys’ fees. The Baltimore Sun has more here.

Baker On Redskins’ Name: Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker – the top official in the county where the Washington Redskins play their home games – says it may be time for the team to change its name.  When asked about it yesterday, County Executive Baker said quote, "If it's offending anyone, I think you should consider changing the name." More here from the Washington Business Journal.

Basketball In Baltimore: Professional basketball makes its return to Baltimore tonight. The inaugural Baltimore Basketball Classic will be held, with the Washington Wizards taking on the New York Knicks in preseason action at Baltimore Arena. The Washington Post notes that this is the first time NBA basketball has been played in Baltimore since the Wizards played a preseason game in the city in 1999.

WYPR's Morning Edition news anchor Ashley Sterner serves up the latest Maryland news and weather every weekday morning, delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.