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Congress’s Budget Deal, MD’s Health Exchange, & A Longshoremen’s Union Rejects A Proposed Contract

A look at Senator Barbara Mikulski’s role in negotiating Congress’s budget deal. Plus: hearings today on MD’s online health exchange and retroactive coverage for people who had trouble using it. A longshoremen’s union rejects a proposed contract. Speed cameras. MD’s corporate income tax rate. And more.

Congress Reaches Agreement On Spending Bill: Congress appears to have reached agreement on a spending bill that would keep the government open through September. The S1.1-trillion spending bill that would fund federal agencies through the rest of the fiscal year; NPR has more on the measure here. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun is reporting that Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski was key to the negotiations. This is the first major funding bill of its kind since Mikulski became chair of the Senate appropriations Committee in 2012. The measure will send hundreds of millions of dollars to Maryland interests, including the James Webb Space Telescope and the Port of Baltimore.

Longshoremen’s Union Rejects Contract Proposal: Members of a union representing longshoremen who work at the Port of Baltimore have rejected contract proposed by the group that represents the port’s employers. The deadline for a contract agreement is Friday, and union leaders say they want to “sit at the table” with the group representing the port’s employers to continue negotiations… but that group tells the Baltimore Sun that the rejected contract represents its “best and final” offer. A breakdown in contract talks last October led to a strike that shut down port operations for three days.

Retroactive Insurance Bills & MD’s Online Exchange: Today, lawmakers in the General Assembly are set to take up emergency legislation that would offer retroactive health insurance to people who tried to sign up for coverage in the final days of 2013… but were unable to, because of problems with the state’s online exchange. The Baltimore Sun reports that O’Malley is backing two similar proposals that would accomplish that goal; one would let people enter a state-backed health plan, another would let them get insurance from private companies. Today’s hearings will also explore the problems that plagued the rollout of Maryland’s health exchange website, and Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown says he will testify at them. Brown said yesterday he was unaware of the glitches that would mark the exchange’s website, because of “incomplete and inaccurate” reports – the Baltimore Sun notes that Brown wouldn’t identify who was responsible for providing those reports. State Attorney General Doug Gansler has been critical of Brown’s role in the website’s rollout, saying Brown “had every opportunity to get it right.” The Washington Post reports that Gansler is calling for an investigation. Brown says there will be an "investigation or audit" of the health exchange at some point. Brown and Gansler are vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Mizeur Gets Women’s Groups’ Endorsements: Also in the democratic gubernatorial race is Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur, who won the support of two women’s groups yesterday. The Washington Post reports that the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women and the national group Feminist Majority yesterday both announced their endorsement of Mizeur’s campaign.

The Most Important Medical Specialist You’ve Never Heard Of: As if a visit to the doctor is not stressful enough, many Marylanders have trouble understanding the doctor or making the doctor understand them. As WYPR’s Bret Jaspers reports, the region’s growing immigrant community has created a need for a different kind of medical specialist.

For A Safer, Healthier City, Start Walking: A Baltimore City Council committee begins work today on the city's first comprehensive rezoning in four decades. One of the goals of the effort, called "Transform Baltimore," is to create a safe, walkable city. WYPR's Kenneth Burns looks into how that goal can be reached and what the benefits are.

Bill Proposed To Ban Smoking Near Baltimore Playgrounds: A bill aimed at banning smoking near Baltimore’s playgrounds appears to have won the backing of the entire city council, and of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. City Councilman Bill Cole introduced the measure, which would forbid smoking within 50 feet of playgrounds, schoolyards and athletic fields. Councilman Cole told WYPR: “most jurisdictions, large jurisdictions, have outright bans of smoking in parks and I didn't want to go that far. I thought this was a reasonable step and 50 feet sounded like a fairly reasonable distance.” If the measure’s approved, violators will face fines of $500; a hearing on the bill will likely take place in several weeks.

A Proposal For 24/7 Speed Camera Operations Statewide: A bill that would have allowed speed cameras in Prince George’s county to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is being withdrawn from consideration in the House of Delegates. But the lawmaker who had put it forward tells the Gazette that he plans to instead offer new legislation, allowing speed cameras to run ‘round the clock statewide. Current law allows speed cameras to operate only Monday through Friday, and only between the hours of 6am and 8pm.

A Proposal To Lower MD’s Corporate Income Tax: Lawmakers in the State Senate are set to take up a bill next week that would lower Maryland’s corporate income tax rate. That rate is currently 8.25 percent; the bill to be taken up by the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee would reduce it to 6 percent – the same rate in place in neighboring Virginia. The Baltimore Business Journal reports that there will likely be several other proposals to lower the corporate income tax during this session… some form of the idea has the support of both Democratic gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler and Republican gubernatorial candidate David Craig.