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O’Malley On Online Exchange, MD’s Background Check Backlog, & Baltimore City Council Issues

P. Kenneth Burns

Governor O’Malley took to CNN Sunday to talk about MD’s online health exchange. Lawmakers suggest fixes to MD’s background check backlog. Baltimore City lawmakers prepare to look at smoking, speed cameras. Plus: marijuana, state gas taxes for county vehicles, same-sex marriages, and more.

O’Malley On Online Exchange: Governor Martin O’Malley admits that Maryland’s online health insurance exchange got off to a rocky start – but says he’s optimistic that the state will eventually meet its enrollment goals. O’Malley’s comments came yesterday, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The state’s hoping to have 150-thousand people enroll in private plans through the exchange by the end of March. The Baltimore Sun reports that so far, the state’s only about 13 percent of the way to reaching that goal – with about 20-thousand people enrolling in private plans as of Friday of last week. O’Malley notes that the state’s doing far better on its goal to have 110-thousand people enrolled in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act – in fact, that goal has been arguably reached. More than 26-thousand people enrolled in Medicaid through the online exchange, and the state switched more than 90-thousand people from a “bare bones state program” to Medicaid – meaning that more than the planned 110-thousand people who weren’t enrolled in Medicaid before are now. Some lawmakers have called on Maryland to switch from the state-operated exchange to the federal exchange – which is doing better at meeting its private enrollment goals. The Washington Post reports that O’Malley has indicated his administration has no plans to do so. And the Baltimore Sun reports that last week, Senator Barbara Mikulski said that the state shouldn’t make the switch.

Votes On Retroactive Insurance Likely This Week: the General Assembly is expected to move quickly to pass a bill which would provide some residents with health insurance retroactively. It would allow people who tried to sign up for health insurance at the last minute but were deterred by problems with the Maryland Health Connection website to receive the insurance anyway. Governor O'Malley and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown are sponsoring the emergency legislation – which could cost the state up to $10-million. Hearings in both the State Senate and House of Delegates are set for tomorrow; final votes could come before the week is over.

Maryland’s Background Check Backlog: A surge in firearms sales in Maryland at the end of last year led to a massive backlog in the state’s background check system. Checks usually take a week for state police to complete… but the volume of applications drew the wait time out to several months, in some cases. State law permits gun dealers to hand over firearms to buyers after seven days, regardless of whether the check is done. Because of that, more than 200 guns were sold to people whose criminal records forbid them from owning a firearm. Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration says that “the vast majority” of the guns that went to people who didn’t pass the checks were “recovered quickly and without incident.” But the Baltimore Sun notes that one of the guns was later used in a carjacking in Prince George’s County. The backlog still exists; the Sun says it’s estimated at more than 30-thousand applications and says it could take several months before the backlog is cleared. Maryland lawmakers are suggesting different options to fix the problem. Democratic Delegate Jon Cardin is calling for a change in current law that would prevent dealers from releasing guns until the background checks are done. Meanwhile, Republican Delegate Mike Smiegel wants to take state police out of the background check process. Many states allow gun dealers to check buyers’ names against a national criminal database maintained by the FBI, and Delegate Smiegel wants our state to switch to that system. State police officials say that Maryland’s system is more comprehensive.

Baltimore City Council Happenings: The Baltimore City Council holds its first meeting of the year tonight. On the agenda: a proposal to ban smoking near playgrounds and school yards. And later this week, council members will hold a hearing to examine the city’s red light and speed camera system. WYPR’s Kenneth Burns brings us an update.

Does Change Of Leadership At Court Of Appeals Affect Bail Review? WYPR's Fraser Smith and Steve Lash of the Daily Record talk about what legislative leaders and the Court of Appeals' new chief judge might do to deal with a 2013 decision that requires counsel be present at initial bail hearings. It’s this morning’s edition of Inside Maryland Politics.

Kittleman And Raskin To Partner On Marijuana Legislation:  A Howard County Republican is joining a Montgomery County Democrat in introducing a bill to legalize the use of marijuana in Maryland. Republican State Senator Allan Kittleman is pairing with Democratic State Senator Jamie Raskin to write legislation which will allow the legal sale of pot similar to the way the new Colorado law works. State Senate President Mike Miller has indicated that he would support such a measure, but House Speaker Michael Busch and Governor Martin O'Malley appear to be opposed. There’s more here from the Washington Post.

Kamenetz Calls For Gas Tax Exemption For County Vehicles: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is calling on the General Assembly to exempt county government vehicles from state gas taxes. The Baltimore Sun notes that state government vehicles are already exempt from state gas taxes. Kamenetz says that the state would save about $1.6-million if the exemption was extended to county vehicles, which include school vehicles.

Gansler Says MD Will Recognize Utah Same-Sex Marriages: State Attorney General Doug Gansler says that Maryland will recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in Utah during the approximately 2-and-a-half weeks they were legal. Last month, a US District Court Judge ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and about 14-hundred same-sex couples were married before the US Supreme Court put the District Court’s ruling on hold, pending appeal, last week. After that hold, Utah’s governor declared that his state wouldn’t recognize the unions that had already occurred. State Attorney General Gansler said on Friday that Maryland will recognize those unions. The same day, the Obama administration said that the federal government will do the same. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun and here from the Washington Post.