DAYBREAK DAILY: Deadly heroin strain bedevils Maryland

ABC7 WEATHER: Freezing rain with highs in the mid 40s.

‘GOOD MORNING WASHINGTON’: Among the reports – Yet another messy commute; much more, beginning at 4:30 a.m. M-F.

NEEDLE AND THE DAMAGE DONE: Of a deadly strain, per the Baltimore Sun, “Law enforcement agencies across Maryland have launched a joint investigation to find the source of a deadly variant of heroin that has claimed dozens of lives in recent months and sent outreach workers scrambling to warn addicts. Authorities say the powerful mixture of heroin and the synthetic opiate fentanyl has also turned up in New England, New York and Pennsylvania. In Maryland, they say, they have been caught off guard by the scale of the problem.

“For months, health workers, drug users and police have caught glimpses of the cocktail and the damage it has caused. The scope of the carnage came into focus last week, when the chief medical examiner's office announced that the mixture had been linked to 37 Maryland overdose deaths since September. The deaths are scattered across the state with a concentration in the Baltimore area, and Maryland State Police reported seizures of the combination in Wicomico County, Frederick and Hagerstown.”

RAINBOW MARRIAGE: Cue the Commonwealth, per the Virginian-Pilot, “The dark-paneled walls of Norfolk's federal courthouse echoed with arguments over fundamental human rights and Virginia's 400 years of history Tuesday as the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage hung in the balance. For nearly two hours, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen heard a procession of lawyers tangle over whether Virginia should become the 18th state – and the first in the South – to allow gays to wed.

“The judge gave no hint of how she will rule, but she promised a decision soon. Whatever she decides is unlikely to be the final word. Almost certainly, the case will be appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and perhaps to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's highest court has allowed incremental advances for gay people seeking the right to marry, but it has not yet issued a definitive ruling affecting all 50 states. Lawyers challenging Virginia's constitutional gay marriage ban hope such a decision will be the ultimate outcome of their case.”

GRAY’S CHIEF FOIL: Watching and waiting, per the Washington Post, “Beyond the chaotic field of Democrats contesting Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s reelection bid, the man who may be at once the incumbent’s greatest and most improbable threat is watching and waiting. D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), tied with Gray in general election polling, is a white, gay, combative former Republican who was a prolific fundraiser for George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. A decade ago, the idea of Catania’s rise to the District’s top political seat was unthinkable in an overwhelmingly Democratic city that has elected only African American mayors.

“But now Gray is battered by scandal, the city is much whiter and more prosperous after a seismic demographic shift, and Catania’s persistent demand for school reform has attracted a passionate following. Whether he is a viable candidate and whether the District has changed enough to elect an entirely new kind of leader have emerged as two of the great unknowns of the 2014 race.”

ON SECOND THOUGHT: Not so fast, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The Virginia Senate on Tuesday passed with bipartisan support several bills that effectively suspend key planks of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s education reforms. By a vote of 23-17, senators passed Senate Bill 324, which delays by three years implementation of the A-F grading system to rate schools.

“Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, the bill’s sponsor, said the system as it is constituted “measures poverty and not academic achievement.” He said a more meaningful and expansive set of criteria are necessary to accurately grade school performance. Senators also voted, 25-15, for Senate Bill 499 to delay for a year — to after the 2014-15 school year — implementation of the Opportunity Education Institution. This division, another McDonnell initiative, was set up to take state control of failing schools.”

NUMBERZZZZZ: Of Obamacare, per the New York Times, “A Congressional Budget Office analysis released Tuesday predicted that the Affordable Care Act would shrink the work force by the equivalent of more than two million full-time positions and recharged the political debate over the health care law, providing Republican opponents fresh lines of attack and putting Democrats on the defensive. The nonpartisan budget office’s analysis, part of a regular update to its budget projections, was far more complicated than the Republican attack lines it generated. Congressional Republican leaders called the findings “devastating,” “terrible” and proof that the health care law was a job killer.

“The report did say that the law would reduce hours worked and full-time employment, but not because of a crippling impact on private-sector job creation. With the expansion of insurance coverage, the budget office predicted, more people will choose not to work, and others will choose to work fewer hours than they might have otherwise to obtain employer-provided insurance. The cumulative reduction of hours is large: the equivalent of 2.5 million fewer full-time positions by 2024, the budget office said. The report “rightfully says that people shouldn’t have job lock,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader. “We live in a country where we should be free agents. People can do what they want.”

IN THE NAVY: It’s always something, per the Los Angeles Times, “The Navy said Tuesday that instructors responsible for training sailors to operate nuclear reactors that power submarines and aircraft carriers may have cheated on qualification tests, the latest in a series of ethical and criminal misconduct cases roiling the Pentagon.

“The Navy suspended 30 senior enlisted sailors serving as instructors at the Navy base in Charleston, S.C., after a sailor seeking to qualify as an instructor alerted his superiors that he had been offered answers to a written test on reactor operations, senior Navy officers said.”,0,441554.story#axzz2sRPZaEOB

TRICKY BUSINESS: And a crafty Senate, per The Hill, “Eyeing a new majority, Senate Republicans are seeking to trample the immigration reform blueprint crafted by their counterparts in the House. They are careful not to criticize the substance of the House GOP’s new set of principles by simply saying the chances of crafting a new immigration law this year are remote. Should the thorny debate continue in the months ahead, it could hurt the chances of GOP senators facing primaries and jeopardize the party’s chances of winning the majority in November.

“Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Tuesday that he doesn’t see any way the Democratic-controlled Senate and GOP-led House will agree on immigration reform legislation in 2014. “I think we have sort of an irresolvable conflict here,” he told reporters. “The Senate insists on comprehensive [legislation]. The House says it won’t go to conference with the Senate on comprehensive and wants to look at [it] step by step.”

POLITICO PLAY: “As Chris Christie’s star falls, the party is giving a second look to another brash blue-state governor who stared down unions at home: Scott Walker. Republican strategists say no one is in a better position to get a boost from the Christie Bridgegate scandal than Walker, who stepped into the national spotlight in 2011 when he won a union-fueled recall election in Wisconsin.

“In conversations about the 2016 field with Republican strategists, operatives and donors in the weeks since the scandal first gripped the Christie administration, many volunteered Walker as the potential candidate they plan to watch and, unprompted, said he is getting renewed attention in conservative circles. Now that the chattering class is back talking Walker up, it could create the kind of buzz that catapults the Midwesterner to the top of a field that is only widening as Christie stumbles.”

HELPING HAND: And a hired hand, per City Paper, “Staffers for Vince Gray have been working for their boss's campaign in their off-hours for a while, but now the mayor will have a high-ranking city official working for him full-time. Steve Glaude, the District's director of Community of Affairs, tells LL that he's taken a leave of absence from his city job to help Gray get re-elected.

“Glaude, who will work as the campaign's political director, says his work will include building the field operations and get-out-the-vote efforts. “Given the mayor waiting to announce, we have to have what you would define as a surge campaign," says Glaude, who ran constituent services for Gray when Gray was on the D.C. Council.”

SPORTS, BRIEFLY: Caps lose 1-0 against N.Y. Islanders.

TRENDING ON ABC7 FACEBOOK: “The D.C. Council has approved a watered-down marijuana decriminalization bill. It would decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, and it would not be a crime to smoke on one's own property.”

NEWSTALK: 10 a.m., NewsChannel 8.

--Skip Wood

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