Latest blog entries - Center Maryland - Maryland’s leading source of aggregated and original news and opinion on government, politics, business and more. Sat, 17 Mar 2018 21:55:42 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Craft Brewers Legislation in Annapolis Last Friday, General Assembly committees considered dueling bills on “craft brewers.”  On one side was the Task Force empaneled by Comptroller Peter Franchot and his much ballyhooed “Reform The Tap” bill; the other was a proposal by Delegates Davis and Branch to repeal 2017 legislation on craft brewers which has been roundly criticized by Franchot as a knife in the back to the brewing industry despite the fact that it liberalized rules requested by the craft brewers.

The “Gospel” according to Franchot was detailed by Brian Griffiths, the editor-in-chief of Red Maryland in his post on February 10th entitled “Speaker Busch Declares War on Maryland Beer Industry.”  Red Maryland is a group which often peddles “alternative facts,” promotes Republican agenda items and demonizes Democrats, excepting Franchot who is politically aligned with Republican Governor Hogan whom Red Maryland wholeheartedly supports.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have more than a passing knowledge of the Maryland alcohol beverage industry.  From 1980 until my retirement in 2015, I was the lobbyist for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association which represents the retail segment of the industry:  the bars, taverns, restaurants and package goods stores throughout Maryland, numbering over 7,000 licenses.  I know and have worked with everyone mentioned in Griffiths’ screed and have cordial relations with each of them:  Delegates Davis and Branch, Speaker Busch, Comptroller Franchot and his Chief of Staff, Len Foxwell. 

According to Red Maryland, the evil Democratic cabal, led by Busch, are seeking to destroy the craft brewers.  Busch ‒ before he was Speaker and just one of 3 Delegates representing Annapolis ‒ was the principal reason (along with now Senator Astle) that the Rams Head “microbrewery” came to exist on West Street in Annapolis just about 30 years ago.  It was the first “microbrewery” in Maryland and the law had to be changed to allow Rams Head to both brew and sell its beer at the same location.  Before that time, a company was only allowed to brew (think Coors) or deliver (think large beer truck delivering beer) or sell to the public (think Rams Head before it began its brewing operation or your local liquor store).  Thus, there were 3 tiers and one could not be on 2 tiers at once. 

Rams Head broke the 3 tier rule because Delegate Busch gathered the industry and said there had to be some flexibility shown.  Hence a bill was passed, Rams Head’s microbrewery opened, was a great success and, for all practical purposes, brought West Street back from the dead.  In other words, it was a Busch “cabal” (30 years ago) which was wonderful for the people he represented.

The Rams Head “microbrewery” legislation became a model for all subsequent expansion leading to the present craft brewing industry in Maryland.  Griffiths was probably in grade school when Busch brokered the Rams Head deal and Red Maryland did not exist and would not exist for another decade or two.  

The Rams Head story is one of many where elected representatives have effected changes in the 3 tier system including laws related to Maryland wineries as well as craft brewers so that Maryland is now home to hundreds of local craft brewers and local wineries.

But there is a sure way not to pass a bill and Comptroller Franchot, once a Delegate, knows that too.  Convene a Task Force with the entire industry present, tell a gullible segment (craft breweries) that they were “screwed” by last year’s bill in their favor, promise them the moon, excoriate the rest of the industry and the legislature and, then, with great fanfare hold a press conference and announce the result of the Task Force and its legislative proposals.  Of course, there was no vote of the Task Force and only certain members (craft brewers) were invited to the press conference.

Comptroller Franchot is one able politician.  He knows that his proposals will never be passed.  He also knows that he can demagogue this issue in his re-election campaign this year.  And Chief of Staff Foxwell is the “amen chorus” supporting his boss with a clever quote for Red Maryland saying that the Davis/Branch bill repealing last year’s bill is “a middle finger to the craft beer industry.”

In truth, that bill is a message to Franchot and Foxwell for the way they gave a middle finger to 99% of the industry while pulling the wool over the eyes of the remaining 1%.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Sun, 25 Feb 2018 22:33:51 -0500
Maryland Dentists Serving Marylanders More than 175 years ago, Maryland established the world’s first school of dentistry. The rich history of dental medicine in our state has created the highest standard of oral care that carries into today. It’s why Maryland dentists are committed to maintaining the exceptional care that Marylanders have come to expect from their community dentist.

Maryland dentists are finding solutions that ensure every Marylander receives dental treatment by trained dentists. First and foremost, we are championing comprehensive adult dental Medicaid. Good oral health is imperative to overall body health, and Maryland is one of less than 20 states that doesn’t provide this benefit to its residents. We’ve seen the positive results after a renewed effort by the state legislature to increase funding for children’s dental Medicaid through the Healthy Smiles program. Nearly 69 percent of children who were enrolled in this program at some point over a 320-day period in the last reporting period saw a dentist. This ranks Maryland near the top in the country.

We would like nothing more than to see comprehensive adult dental Medicaid become a reality, just like the Healthy Smiles program. And, a study recently released by the Maryland Dental Action Coalition shows that it may not be as difficult as some may think.

This is especially true when you look at adult dental Medicaid alongside a program being piloted right here in Maryland. Several Maryland dentists created one of the most successful Emergency Department referral programs in the country. The program utilizes Community Dental Health Coordinators (CDHC), or Community Health Workers as they are often referred, to provide patients access to fully trained dentists who can detect problems that other providers are unable to see. The CDHC works with the local hospital emergency department to help ensure appropriate and cost-effective care for low-income patients visiting emergency rooms for tooth pain and helps coordinate a continuum of care for the patient to avoid future ER visits.

This way, we can treat the actual problem instead of simply managing the pain with medication, like opioids. And, with opioid abuse devouring whole communities, the more we can keep people out of a scenario where they could be prescribed more pain killers, the better. The work done in Western Maryland has reduced emergency department dental visits by a whopping 26 percent, saving millions of dollars.

As presidents of two major dental associations in Maryland representing dentists across the board, we’ve seen first-hand the good work of our member dentists and their commitment to all residents of this state.

It’s why we are greatly concerned about the legislation and the misinformation put forward by out-of-state special interest groups about the need for yet another mid-level provider, or advanced practice dental hygienist, in our state. These types of practitioners may be working in a state like Alaska where tribal nations often have little or no access to dentists. That clearly isn’t the case in Maryland. A two-tiered system of care where some of the most complex cases are handled by the least trained people is not what Marylanders want or deserve.

Maryland dentists are already finding solutions to provide the care that every Marylander deserves and expects in their dental care, instead of creating an entirely new tier of care. We’re betting on Marylanders to find the solutions to access and affordability. And, your community dentists are leading the effort.

Tami Dulan, DDS
President, Maryland Dental Society

Vanessa Benavent, DDS
President, Maryland State Dental Association


info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:25:16 -0500
Karen Barbour: Why we support a vibrant downtown Columbia As the founders of Alliance for Hispanic Commercial Contractors (AHCC), we know that over 6% of Howard County residents identify as Hispanic, and that the Hispanic population is growing every year. The AHCC is dedicated in promoting the growth, prosperity and participation of Hispanic Commercial Contractors in commercial and government procurement contracts through education, training and guidance, especially here in the Mid-Atlantic region.  

We are a central part of the 21st Century economy and intend to play an integral role in Maryland’s growth in the years to come.  That growth will require a strong commitment to creating the communities that will attract businesses and citizens in the changing economy. As such, we believe the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) package proposed under Howard County Bill CB56-2016 is crucial to creating the Downtown Columbia envisioned in the Downtown Columbia Plan and urge the Howard County Council to pass this legislation during the November 7, 2016 legislative session. Furthermore, because we believe in the principles of affordable housing and expanded housing opportunities for all residents, we also support the Joint Recommendations on affordable housing. 

The TIF presents to AHCC a creative solution to fuel the economic engine of Downtown Columbia.  We want a vibrant town center, well-paying jobs, and growth opportunities in the heart of central Maryland. AHCC sees the new construction enabled by the TIF as a driver for its member base that will allow our Hispanic commercial contractors and their families to become first-time stakeholders in building a “new” community.  Therefore, the AHCC supports the TIF proposal and Joint Recommendations on affordable housing and urges the Council to support this package as well. 

AHCC sees Howard County as the launch pad for its success, just as Howard Hughes sees this county as a launch pad for Maryland’s new economic engine.  The new Downtown envisioned by this legislative package will create the vibrancy needed to attract our millennials, small business innovators, and notable large businesses that, like Howard Hughes Development, will provide true concern and outreach to heal the socio-economic disparity present in the Hispanic community.  We want a future where Hispanic contractors are building and promoting the community they live in.  This package does just that.

Karen Barbour is Founder and President of the Alliance for Hispanic Commercial Contractors.

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Tue, 25 Oct 2016 21:30:33 -0400
MEDICAID 50 Years Old and Still Going Strong This week Congressman Elijah Cummings keynoted an event celebrating the fifty years of Medicaid in Maryland. Medicaid launched in Maryland in July of 1966. In 1966, Maryland Medicaid provided coverage for over 113,000 Marylanders. Today, approximately 1.2 million Marylanders receive health insurance coverage under Medicaid. 

The federal law that created Medicaid, The Social Security Amendments of 1965, was signed into law July 30th 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. That legislation provided government-sponsored health insurance coverage for seniors, low-income children, caretaker relatives, the blind, and individuals with disabilities. Maryland was actually ahead of the Federal Government as the first state to adopt a medical assistance program administered outside of a welfare agency. For nearly 20 years prior to Medicaid’s passage, Maryland’s State-funded medical assistance program helped poor and elderly Marylanders gain access to health care. That Maryland fund would later be replaced by Medicaid after the federal legislation. 

Medicaid is our health safety network providing access to care to over a million Marylanders. MedChi works closely with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to protect and improve Medicaid. In order for Medicaid to remain strong and effective, MedChi thinks focus on three areas that require continued vigilance. These areas include ensuring that Medicaid patients have access to a physician, Healthchoice is funded and regulated properly, and that Maryland continues the tradition of innovation in delivering healthcare services. 

All Maryland Medicaid patients should have access to a physician. This need was seriously compromised when Medicaid reimbursement rates were reduced to 13% below Medicare reimbursement for all physicians for Evaluation and Management (E&M) codes. At the request of MedChi, 7% points have been returned to the payment over the last two years. Maryland physicians are now asking Governor Hogan and General Assembly leaders to finish the job, continue their good work, and restore Medicaid reimbursement to parity with Medicare. The question that we must ask is should people of lesser means receive the same benefit as seniors? Medicaid payment cuts to physician reimbursement create significant barriers to patient access and ultimately increases the cost of care as people seek treatment in more expensive locations like emergency rooms. The tremendous increase in Medicaid enrollment that has occurred with the implementation of federal health care reform makes retention of parity reimbursement essential. Maryland’s ability to maintain an adequate physician network and ensure patient access to necessary services is at risk if action isn’t taken. So the next question is, will Maryland’s 

leaders take up the challenge and put Medicaid in shape to meet the needs of Maryland citizens? 

As Medicaid continues to grow and expand, we need to make sure Healthchoice is properly funded and regulated. Healthchoice is the Maryland Medicaid mandatory managed care program that was approved by the General Assembly in 1997. HealthChoice features inclusive eligibility, statewide mandatory enrollment, risk-based purchasing, capitated rates, and service carve-outs, including mental health services. Roughly 80 percent of all Maryland Medicaid participants are enrolled in a HealthChoice Managed Care Organization. 

In order to make sure this major part of the Medicaid system works, we must continue a tradition of proper funding and regulatory protections for patients, physicians and the public health of Maryland. Unlike the private insurance market the Maryland Managed Care Organizations actually have competition as currently Maryland contracts with 8 MCOs to manage services under its HealthChoice. That competition is a positive for patients in Maryland. 

Finally, Maryland should continue its tradition of innovation and leadership in the area of Medicaid. One project that is currently being considered by DHMH displays that desire to continue to improve. The Maryland Medicaid Department is currently working on a possible dual eligible Accountable Care Organization (ACO) program. A duel eligible Medicaid patient is receiving both Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The focus on dual eligible was based on the consensus that was achieved through an Advisory Council and multiple workgroups that full duals should be a top priority as a population with substantial health and social support needs who are largely unmanaged in the current delivery system. One barrier to innovation is a long out dated technology needs and data management systems. Once these improvements are made, the Maryland Medicaid Department will be able to consider even more improvements. 

As we look back at fifty years of innovation and service, it would be an extreme oversight to not mention the amazing staff at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene who serve the citizens of Maryland and work to provide access to care to so many. Some of these dedicated public servants have worked to improve healthcare for the most vulnerable for decades, and should be honored and appreciated for their work. Their dedication is why I believe we will see continued positive improvements as we work together to protect and improve health care for all Marylanders. 

info [AT] centermaryland [DOT] com (Center MD) Blog Thu, 20 Oct 2016 22:52:43 -0400
Josh Kurtz: The Ficker Finger of Fate Whatever happened to the Good Old Days in Montgomery County, when Robin Ficker, consistently, was Public Enemy No. 1?

Year after year, Ficker, the gadfly extraordinaire, the chronic candidate who lucked into a seat in the House of Delegates from 1979 to 1982 and has been trying to claw his way back to respectability ever since, has won the enmity of the Montgomery County political establishment by doing the things that gadflies do. 

Specifically, Ficker would advance a ballot question – usually to lower or limit taxes or to impose term limits on county officials – and watch with glee as the establishment scurried to defeat him.

Predictably, there would be a unity news conference – or a series of them – featuring Democrats and Republicans, business and labor and civic leaders and environmentalists, coming together to say why Ficker’s prescription (or sometimes just Ficker himself) was plain wrong, a threat to the way the county traditionally conducts its business and indeed to the county’s cherished way of life.

Ficker has enjoyed a couple of successes here and there – most notably, he narrowly passed a ballot initiative in 2010 that requires the Montgomery County Council to vote unanimously to raise property tax revenues above the local limit. But more often than not, the empire has struck back.

So here we go again in 2016. Ficker is back, pushing a measure to limit county executives and council members to three terms in office. His two previous efforts to impose two-term limits in Montgomery County, in 2000 and in 2004, fell short.

But so far there has been very little outcry about it from the usual suspects. There have been no unity news conferences. No tales of doom and gloom. No efforts to impugn Ficker’s character. 

Sure, some individual elected officials and civic leaders have spoken out against the term limits initiative. To the extent that there is an organized effort to defeat it, it is being led by former Rockville city councilman Tom Moore – and that has largely focused thus far on getting the measure thrown off the ballot.

So where is that unified voice of opposition we’ve come to expect?

A lot of the interest groups that have traditionally come together to oppose term limits in the past are now concluding – some more vocally than others – that a change at the top of county government wouldn’t be so bad. After three terms of Ike Leggett as county executive, and with half the council – Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, Marc Elrich, Roger Berliner and possibly Nancy Navarro, depending on how the courts rule – now in their third or fourth terms, a shake-up, these groups believe, is badly needed. Why not let Robin Ficker do the dirty work for groups that have not been able to oust these elected officials before? 

Especially disdainful of this current crop of county officials is Gino Renne, the president of MCGEO, the principal employee union of the Montgomery government, who has seen labor contracts and negotiating terms abrogated over the past several years. And a lot of business groups would be just as glad to see a whole new crop of councilmembers, because they believe, fairly or not, that this council has impeded economic progress.

The councilmembers did themselves no favors, at least with the burgeoning “throw the bums out” constituency, when they approved a 9 percent property tax increase this spring – the highest in seven years. Nobody is sticking up for them and their actions in an organized way. So term limits look a lot likelier to happen than they ever did before.

But it’s not as if Ficker is investing huge resources into his campaign. There is no organized, well-funded effort to pass them. Citizens will go into the voting booth with very little information, and will have to decide for themselves.

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee recently voted to oppose the term limit measure, and will note the opposition on sample ballots that will be mailed out to voters and handed out at the polls. That could be significant.

The Washington Post, always an influential voice in Montgomery County politics, is almost certain to editorialize against it, even though it doesn’t think much of the current council – if only to limit the influence of Ficker in county affairs.

But in the most toxic and cacophonous presidential election year in modern history, with several prominent downballot races on tap in Maryland this fall, how closely will voters actually be following the term limits issue? With limited knowledge, will they be more or less likely to vote for it? Montgomery’s neighboring jurisdictions, Prince George’s and Howard counties, have term limits for their elected officials, and there has been no apocalypse.

There’s no doubt that if term limits are imposed, a big shakeup is coming in Montgomery County politics – perhaps the biggest in 30 years.

Every time there is a vacancy for a big office in Maryland, drooling political junkies imagine a multi-candidate race, with myriad dominoes falling farther down the ballot. Yet those delicious scenarios rarely come to pass. In the end, just as there were only two major Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate this year, just as only three Democrats lined up to run for governor in 2014, the field is winnowed before the candidates hit the starting gate.

But couple term limits with Montgomery County’s new public financing law, and it really is conceivable that six candidates could run for county executive in 2018. Because funding will potentially be easier to come by. And what does anyone have to lose?

Similarly, there will be more candidates for council than usual – including, most likely, younger members of the legislature who are antsy about their lack of progress in Annapolis. Term-limited councilmembers, by turn, could wind up seeking legislative seats if they don’t see a path for themselves in the county executive’s race. 

It’s enough to almost root for the Ficker amendment to pass. But give this guy a little more power and credibility and he could become a whole lot more dangerous.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at joshkurtzw92 [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Follow him on Twiiter -- @joshkurtznews

joshkurtz92 [AT] gmail [DOT] com (Josh Kurtz) Blog Thu, 29 Sep 2016 18:33:11 -0400