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MD’s New Health Exchange Contractor, Absenteeism, Marijuana Bills, & The Attorney General’s Race

Tomas de Aquina via flickr

Maryland’s online health insurance exchange is going to be run by a new contractor. Marijuana legislation will be debated today in a State Senate committee. A republican enters the state Attorney General’s race. Plus: absenteeism in Ghana, the UMD data breech, the MVA’s new leader, and more.

MD Severs Ties With Health Exchange Contractor: The contractor that oversaw development of the website for Maryland’s health insurance exchange will no longer be operating it. Yesterday, State Health Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein told Maryland lawmakers that the board that oversees the exchange has voted to sever ties with Noridian Healthcare Solutions. North Dakota-based Noridian had a five year contract to build and host the online insurance marketplace, worth some $193-million. But the website was plagued with problems from its outset. Not all of them are fixed. State officials tell the Baltimore Sun that they reserve the right to take Noridian to court for damages. And the state has decided to turn to Columbia, Maryland-based Optum QSSI to manage the exchange website in the near term. What happens after the current enrollment period – which ends on March 31st – is unclear. The state could renew efforts to fix the current website, or could switch to the federal exchange, or could join forces with another state’s health exchange. A decision will be made in the next few weeks, with hopes that changes will be in place before the next open enrollment period begins in November. WYPR’s Joel McCord has more here, and there’s more here from the Daily Record. And you can hear from Health Secretary Sharfstein about the switch at 9 on Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast.

Pentagon Budget Cuts Could Impact MD: The Obama administration is planning to downsize the Pentagon via a proposed budget that could impact Maryland. Congress wants to cut defense spending by $500-billion over the next ten years. Maryland has 28-thousand active military workers; that number could be reduced, if the budget is approved. Maryland is also home to several major military contractors, which could also be affected. The Baltimore Sun has more.

In Ghana, School Absenteeism and Poverty Go Hand-in-Hand: Most of the kids in the African nation of Ghana are signed up for school. The country’s primary and secondary schools have 98 percent enrollment rates. But in some areas, a significant number of students do not attend class regularly. In this installment of our series “Empty Desks: The Effects of Chronic Absenteeism,” WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn travels to Ghana and reports that poverty is a major factor in keeping kids out of the classrooms. Our series is made possible by a grant from the Open Society Institute – Baltimore.

EcoATM: Baltimore County’s Turn Today, the Baltimore County Council gets its first look at two bills aimed at combatting cell phone theft. The proposals come from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. And as WYPR’s Kenneth Burns reports, they’re leaving many stakeholders unhappy.

Marijuana Legislation: In Annapolis today, lawmakers in the state Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee will take a look at legislation that would change Maryland’s marijuana laws. As the Elkridge Patch reports, two bills are up for debate; one would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug – making it an offense punishable by a fine up to $100. A similar bill passed the state senate last year, but died in the House of Delegates. Another bill up for debate today would essentially legalize marijuana and tax it. Recent polls show that more Marylanders are in favor of legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana than keeping current laws in place. Meanwhile, the Annapolis Capital reports that a group of Maryland police chiefs and sheriffs associations are planning a rally against the legislation at Lawyers Mall this morning; they say legalization of marijuana would have a “crippling effect” on public safety.

Pritzker Enters State Attorney General’s Race: There will be a Republican candidate for state Attorney General this year. Yesterday, Towson-based lawyer Jeffrey Pritzker filed his candidacy paperwork with the State Board of Elections in Annapolis. Maryland hasn’t had a Republican Attorney General in decades, and the state GOP didn’t put up a candidate for the post in the last election cycle, four years ago. The chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party tells the Washington Post that she’s been “actively recruiting” candidates for this year’s election, and says that she “could not have found a more qualified and respected lawyer” than Pritzker to run for the state Attorney General’s post. Unless another Republican files for candidacy today, Pritzker will be unopposed in the June primary. Four Democrats are running for their party’s nomination: State Senator Brian Frosh and Delegates Aisha Braveboy, Jon Cardin, and Bill Frick. The attorney general’s job is opening up because the current officeholder – Democrat Doug Gansler – is running for governor. There’s more here from the Baltimore Sun.

MVA Gets New Leadership: There’s a new man at the helm of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. The Baltimore Sun reports that State Transportation Secretary James Smith announced yesterday that current MVA Chief Deputy Administrator Milton Chaffee will soon lead the MVA. He takes over for John Kuo, who’s leaving the post for a job at the US Department of Transportation. The MVA controls licensing and registration in Maryland, and manages more than 10-million driver and vehicle records.

UMD Data Breach: As the University of Maryland continues to investigate a data breach that affected more than 300-thousand personal records, a hotline will go into effect to help the faculty members, staff and students who were affected. People can now call 866-274-3891 to find out if their records were compromised, and activate free credit protection services, provided by the university. The breached information includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and university ID numbers dating back to 1998. There’s more here from the Washington Business Journal.