Friday, December 30, 2011
2011: Maryland politics year in review
Sarah Breitenbach ― Gazette

Scandal, redistricting, gay marriage battle mark 2011

Coming off an election year, 2011 could have been a sleepy one for Maryland politics.

Instead, lawmakers kicked off January facing a $1 billion-plus deficit and the realization that changes in representation brought on by the 2010 elections altered the playing field for some contentious social issues.

Typically reserved freshmen lawmakers also made headlines as they stuck their necks out or flip-flopped on a measure to legalize gay marriage.

Sammy 08:33 AM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
D.C. touts lowest murder rate in nearly 50 years

The nation’s capital, ravaged more than two decades ago by a violent crack epidemic that drove up murder rates, is on pace to record the fewest number of homicides in nearly a half century, officials said Thursday.

The District of Columbia’s decline mirrors a nationwide trend of falling rates in major American cities, but it’s nonetheless a stark drop for a city that had 479 homicides 20 years ago.

There were 108 homicides in 2011 as of Thursday, down from 132 at the same time last year, according to D.C. police department figures. The homicide rate hasn’t been this low since 1963, officials said, though the numbers have been steadily dropping over the past two decades.

Sammy 08:26 AM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Open Thread - December 30, 2011

One kind word can warm three winter months.  ~Japanese Proverb

Pauleen Brewer 05:00 AM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Thursday, December 29, 2011
Verizon to charge customers $2 when they pay bills online or by phone
Washington Post

Well, it’s true. Verizon has confirmed to us that it’s adding the $2 convenience fee for paying your bill online or over the phone, and has posted a blurb in its News Center detailing the options available to someone who wants to avoid it. Obviously many customers use AutoPay, which avoids this hassle entirely, but we’re sure there will be plenty of customers frustrated by the fee when it goes live on January 15th. What’s unclear right now is if this constitutes a change in contract terms, which could potentially allow unsatisfied customers to hop off Verizon without a spendy ETF penalty. We’ve asked Verizon to clarify, and we also asked for some more details on exactly why online and robo-phone payments are more expensive to process than the “free” options they list — you know, the ones where you pay Verizon money, but don’t pay for the privilege.

Sammy 05:42 PM | (9) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Saturday is last day for paper savings bonds
Chicago Tribune

It’s the end of an era. As of Saturday, it’ll no longer be possible to walk into a bank or credit union and buy a U.S. savings bond in paper form. Starting Monday, savings bonds can only be purchased online.

The paperless shift is designed to save the U.S. Treasury an estimated $120 million in the next five years, as well as help protect consumers against loss or theft of their paper bonds.

It ends a 76-year-old tradition of paper savings bonds, which made their first appearance in 1935 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

But going electronic-only doesn’t change the basics of buying or redeeming savings bonds, says the Treasury. Buyers can still purchase annually up to $5,000 of new Series EE and Series I bonds. Savings bonds can be bought as gifts (but are held electronically until ready to be gifted).

Sammy 05:31 PM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Docket #1278

THE BOARD OF APPEALS FOR CHARLES COUNTY, MARYLAND has been petitioned by SMECO Solar, LLC for a Special Exception for a solar farm development, as provided in Article XIII, Section 297-212 and Article XXV, Section 297-415 of the Charles County Zoning Ordinance. The site, is known as the “Herbert Farm” is located off Leonardtwon Road (Maryland Route 5) in Hughesville, Maryland, approximately 1000 feet northwest of Gallant Green Road. The property, designated as Tax Map 36, Grid 7, Parcel 9, consists of 48.67 acres and is zoned Agricultural Conservation (AC). The Board is hereby giving notice that a Public Hearing will be held on this matter Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. in the Commissioners Meeting Room of the Charles County overnment Building, La Plata, Maryland.

The Petition and Plats, filed on November 29, 2011, and Zoning Officer’s Report for Docket #1278 are available for inspection at the Office of the Board of Appeals located in the Planning and Growth Management Office, Charles County Government Building, La Plata, Maryland.

Sammy 04:23 PM | (2) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
New Year brings same-sex civil unions in Delaware
Daily Record

The dawning of the new year in Delaware brings with it a new law allowing same-sex couples to enter into legally recognized civil unions.

The new law takes effect at 10 a.m. Sunday. That means most same-sex couples will have to wait until government offices reopen Tuesday after the long holiday weekend before applying for a license.

Sammy 04:18 PM | (1) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
AAA names best, worst of 2011 in local transportation
Adam Tuss ― WTOP

A crippling ice storm and the opening of a long-debated road: Both make AAA Mid-Atlantic’s list of the best and worst transportation stories of 2011.

Who could forget the Jan. 26 “Commute from Hell” that lasted well into Jan. 27? Some commutes lasted 12 hours or longer, and many drivers decided to ditch their cars altogether, literally turning roads into obstacle courses the following day.

“The extremely heavy snowfall has led to extremely heavy traffic, to the point that we are stuck in gridlock,” veteran WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg said on that fateful day.

Sammy 04:14 PM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Maryland Horse Industry Board Awards 15 Grants; 15 Groups Receive Grants
The Bay Net

Therapeutic programs, conservationists, youth clubs, educational and research programs are among the 15 organizations receiving more than $21,000 in grants from the Maryland Horse Industry Board (MHIB). The grants help to strengthen the industry by building awareness of and involvement in the horse industry through research, education and promotional activities. MHIB will formally present the checks at Horse World Expo on January 21.

“The equine industry is an integral part of Maryland’s cultural and economic heritage,” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “The scope and value of projects that the board evaluated illustrates the demand for these grants, and the ‘feed fund’ continues to make it possible to support more of those requests.”

The Maryland Feed Fund, established during the 2002 legislative session, provides an ongoing source of money to promote the horse industry. The refundable $6 per ton assessment on equine feed costs about $3 per horse per year to the horse owner and supports this grant program as well as other promotional, research and outreach activities undertaken by the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

Sammy 04:10 PM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Cities Face Tough Choices as U.S. Slashes Block Grants Program

It is no secret that these are hard times for cities, with tax collections down, state aid dwindling, unemployment high and foreclosures pitting many blocks. So, as he sat in his office here, Mayor Ed Pawlowski of Allentown echoed the question mayors around the country are asking: Why has Washington cut one of the main federal programs for cities by a quarter in the last couple of years?
The shrinking federal program, called Community Development Block Grants, was devised by the Nixon administration to bypass state governments and send money directly to big cities, which were given broad leeway to decide how to spend it. This year the federal government is giving out just $2.9 billion — a billion dollars less than it gave two years ago, and even less than it gave during the Carter administration, when the money went much further.

Here in Allentown the steadily shrinking funds mean that there will be hard choices ahead.

The grants have helped pay for the tidy new facades on restaurants like Casa Latina and Winston’s West Indian & American Restaurant on Seventh Street, which have been credited with sprucing up the neighborhood and drawing college students downtown to eat. They have paid for inspections of 1,500 homes in the city’s poorest wards, and for repairs of some. And recently, behind a door with an orange “Unfit for Human Habitation” sticker on it, they paid a crew to do a gut rehab of a blighted row house at the edge of a blossoming historic district.

Sammy 04:02 PM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
PlanMaryland the fiscally responsible way to build a better Maryland

by Parris N. Glendening

Years from now, I want my grandchildren to enjoy living in Maryland as much as I do. That’s why I support PlanMaryland.

I want my grandchildren to enjoy the beauty of Patapsco Valley State Park and the bustling downtown of historic Annapolis. I want them to be able to eat food grown in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and to find a job here. I want Maryland to be a place they will love.

Sammy 03:55 PM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
All eyes on German renewable energy efforts
MELISSA EDDY ― Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This tiny village of 37 gray homes and farm buildings clustered along the main road in a wind-swept corner of rural eastern Germany seems an unlikely place for a revolution.

Yet environmentalists, experts and politicians from El Salvador to Japan to South Africa have flocked here in the past year to learn how Feldheim, a village of just 145 people, is already putting into practice Germany’s vision of a future powered entirely by renewable energy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government passed legislation in June setting the country on course to generate a third of its power through renewable sources - such as wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy - within a decade, reaching 80 percent by 2050, while creating jobs, increasing energy security and reducing harmful emissions.

Sammy 08:50 AM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Traffic Cameras Can Be Bad Deals for Local Jurisdictions, Study Says
Megan Poinski ― Southern Maryland Online

Cameras that take pictures of motorists running red lights and speeding – currently located in 41 communities statewide – can be bad deals for the cities that install them, according to a report from Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

The report goes through many of the issues that states and communities have had with the traffic cameras issuing citations – and costing both motorists and communities dearly.

“It looked at whether or not communities that put up cameras have the public’s interests at heart, or whether they are looking for revenues first and are signing contracts forfeiting decisions about public safety to companies,” said Jenny Levin, a state advocate for PIRG.

Sammy 08:45 AM | (0) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Incandescent light bulb phaseout begins Jan. 1
Wendy Koch ― USA TODAY

The nation’s light bulbs begin facing new efficiency and labeling standards starting Jan. 1, but don’t expect old-fashioned incandescents to suddenly disappear from store shelves.

The congressionally mandated efficiency standards gradually phase out Thomas Edison’s 131-year-old creation in favor of other light bulbs that use at least 25% less energy. The first to go, beginning Sunday, is the traditional 100-watt, followed in January 2013 with the 75-watt version and in January 2014 with the 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs.

Yet even Edison’s 100-watt bulb will still be available for a while. The bipartisan law mandating the phaseout, which President George W. Bush signed in 2007, says the bulbs can’t be manufactured or imported after Jan. 1 but lets stores sell them until stock runs out.

Sammy 08:43 AM | (8) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
Connecticut drops insurers from Medicaid
Phil Galewitz ― USA TODAY

In the past decade, most states have turned Medicaid over to private insurance plans, hoping they could control costs and improve care. Nearly half of the 60 million people in the government program for the poor are in managed-care plans run by insurance giants such as UnitedHealthcare and Aetna.

Connecticut, the “insurance capital of the world,” is bucking the trend.

Beginning Sunday, Connecticut will jettison its private health plans from Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program. Instead of paying the companies a set monthly fee to cover the health costs of more than 400,000 children and parents, the state will assume financial responsibility.

Sammy 08:36 AM | (1) Comments | Email this post | Permalink
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