News Roundup: Senators remain divided on MSP nominee, reward for Roy McGrath, abortion care funding opened up, and more
Gov. Wes Moore’s historic nomination to lead the Maryland State Police remains on ice after Senate Democrats failed to reach a consensus during a Tuesday caucus meeting.
Retired Lt. Col. Roland Butler appeared before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee on Monday night but his appointment was not voted out of the committee.
During more than 40 minutes of testimony he attempted to rebut concerns that he is not suitable to lead the agency.
The hearing and three weeks of meetings with individual senators impressed some lawmakers. It did not, however, immediately break the logjam that holds up Butler’s confirmation.
“I don’t know whether the votes are there,” said Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s). “But I think from what I’m hearing from people, (Butler) did not come across as a person answering all the questions that they were concerned about.”
Benson has been one of Butler’s more vocal critics. She and others raised concerns about his time in leadership at the Maryland State Police and complaints that he did little about grievances from Black officers regarding racism, discrimination and disparate treatment in discipline and promotions.
The agency is the subject of a lawsuit and a review by the U. S. Department of Justice.
“You know, for me 12 years, 12 years. I’ve struggled with troopers for 12 years,” said Benson.
Butler, during testimony, rebutted some of those claims and said some officers lodged complaints because of their own disciplinary issues.
Senate Democrats could meet again in a private caucus as early as Thursday.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) told reporters Tuesday that he believed Butler was somewhat successful in easing the concerns of some senators.
“Should we move forward, I will be supporting him,” said Ferguson.
He acknowledged that other Democrats remain unmoved.
Senators said there is no current count on votes in favor of confirmation among Democrats. Ferguson told reporters he wants to work with the governor but is not actively trying to convince lawmakers to join him in supporting Butler.
“I think it’s the administration’s job to persuade those who are concerned,” Ferguson said.
The Senate leader said it would be unlikely that Butler’s nomination would come before the full Senate if there is a potential of a sharply divided chamber or a floor fight.
“This is the delicate balance with executive nominations,” Ferguson said. “It’s somebody’s reputation on the line and somebody’s history that there’s future Google searches. So it’s important for people to be able to air their concerns in a way that…allows people to be honest and transparent in their conversations, but not in a way that overly impacts somebody’s future reputation.”
Moore tapped Butler for the job in February.
Since then, the nominee has been the subject of criticism from a group of Black Senators.
Of the 34 Senate Democrats, 15 are Black. Confirmation requires 24 votes.
The clock is ticking for Butler who faces an April 10 deadline. A bill passed in 2018 would all but end his chances of leading the agency if the Senate fails to act on the nomination before adjourning the legislative session.
Ferguson told reporters he’s seeking a legal review of the law citing potential vagaries that might not fully end Butler’s chances at leading the agency as a recess nomination.
In the meantime, there’s no rush to withdraw his nomination this session.
“We’re here ’til Sine Die,” said Ferguson.
Reward for Roy McGrath
The U.S. Marshals Service and FBI announced Tuesday that they were offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Roy McGrath, the former state official who skipped trial for fraud and embezzlement charges earlier this month.
The FBI said it considers McGrath to be a fugitive and international flight risk. A “wanted” poster lists McGrath’s place of birth as Greece and lists several possible aliases: Roy Carlos McGrath, Roy Charles McGrath, Roy Baisliadou, RC Baisliadou, Roy Mak-Grath, RC Mak-Grath and RC McGrath.
McGrath has been missing since March 13, when his trial was scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. He was indicted in October 2021 for four counts of wire fraud and two counts of embezzlement related to his efforts to secure a $233,648 severance payment from the Maryland Environmental Service, where he was director before taking a job as chief of staff to former Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Added in a later superseding indictment were an additional wire fraud charge and a charge of forging a document from the former governor related to his hiring.
The wire fraud and forgery charge each carry a potential 20-year prison sentence, and the embezzlement charges are punishable by up to 10 years.
As a condition of pre-trial release, McGrath was required to surrender his passport to the U.S. District Court clerk’s office in Fort Myers, Florida, near his home, in October 2021 and acquire no new passport.
Federal officials on Tuesday asked anyone with information regarding the case to contact the FBI’s toll-free tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the Marshals Service at 1-866-4WANTED.
Tipsters can also contact a local FBI office, the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.
Health Department opens applications for expanded abortion care training
The Maryland Department of Health is moving forward with a plan to provide $3.5 million in funding to expand abortion care training for more health professionals in the state.
Until last year, abortions in Maryland could only be provided by physicians. The Abortion Care Access Act of 2022 expanded who can perform abortions in the state to include nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants. The measure also set aside $3.5 million for a training program.
Meeting a campaign promise, Moore released the funding on his first full day in office.
“Governor Moore understands that reproductive freedom is non-negotiable and that access to safe, legal abortion is an essential health care service in this country,” Health Secretary Laura Herrera Scott said in a statement Tuesday. “We strongly encourage qualified health providers to respond to the request for applications and implement comprehensive training programs that keep abortion care safe and accessible in Maryland.”
In 2020, more than 60 percent of counties in Maryland had no community-based clinics that provided abortions, according to the Department of Health, which said expanding the pool of clinicians to provide care “is critical to improving equitable access to care.”
Applications will be accepted online through May 15.
Bring on the deputies
While Gov. Wes Moore’s cabinet secretaries were sworn in a month ago, he is only now getting around to appointing deputies at state agencies.
One of the first: Jason Perkins-Cohen this week was tapped to become deputy secretary at the Maryland Department of Labor.
Perkins-Cohen has served for the past eight years as director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) in Baltimore City, overseeing workforce development initiatives. During Perkins-Cohen’s tenure, MOED developed One Baltimore for Jobs, a partnership with 19 community-based organizations that has helped residents access occupational training in industries offering living wages. The agency also oversees YouthWorks, the city’s summer jobs program serving 8,000 young people.
“Jason brings over 25 years of leadership and commitment to public service to this position,” Maryland Labor Secretary Portia Wu said in a statement. “His experience and ability to bring diverse stakeholders together to develop and implement critical workforce initiatives will be a huge asset to advancing the Department’s mission and I am delighted that he is joining the team.”
Before joining MOED, Perkins-Cohen was the executive director for the Job Opportunities Task Force, a nonprofit workforce intermediary and advocacy group. He has served on the state’s Unemployment Insurance Task Force and its Task Force on Prisoner Reentry. He currently serves on the Maryland Adult Literacy Advisory Council, the city’s Journey Home Board and the board of the Baltimore City Foundation.
Earlier in his career, Perkins-Cohen worked for the Washington, D.C., government and for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“I am excited to join this team that is working toward the creation of a more inclusive and skilled workforce and an economy that promotes shared prosperity and that leaves no one behind,” he said in a statement.
Recreational cannabis moves forward
A Senate bill legalizing recreational cannabis heads to the full Senate after the Budget and Taxation Committee signed off on a version that the Finance Committee approved Monday.
Senate Bill 516 could be on the floor for a preliminary vote as early as Wednesday. The Senate budget committee voted 8-4 along party lines approve the amended bill. Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s) abstained.
The version headed to the Senate floor contains a flat 9% tax. The bill requires current medical cannabis licensees to convert to a new license. Those who do not would be required to sell their licenses to an entity that would convert to the new, more expensive license.
Fees to convert the licenses would run between $100,000 and $2 million and could be paid in installments over 18 months.
The Senate version differs from House Bill 556, which was sent to the Senate earlier this month.