MD New Laws for Transgender Folks, Dogs, Funeral Operators, and Hunters

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The fruits of the General Assembly’s 2014 session will come into full effect on Oct. 1 as a number of bills passed in the spring become law in Maryland.

In Gov. Martin O’Malley’s last legislative session, lawmakers passed a wide range of laws, from expansion of civil rights to opening up funeral operators to surprise inspections.

Transgender Marylanders will be protected from discrimination as the Senate passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which prohibits discrimination against gender-identifying individuals in housing, labor and other public places such as restaurants and hotels.

The law exempts religious organizations and educational institutions, and owner-occupied rentals with five units or fewer. The new law also does not apply to locker rooms, where people are expected to publicly disrobe.

Maryland will join at least 17 other states and the District of Columbia in prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, according to the policy note attached to the bill.  Some local jurisdictions in Maryland such as Baltimore had already passed laws against gender identity discrimination.

The governor’s environmental agenda was bolstered by the expansion of the state’s wildlands areas. Fourteen existing areas are set for expansion and another nine new areas will be added, increasing acreage from approximately 44,000 to 65,887.

The last time the state added new wildlands areas was in 2002, when the Department of Natural Resources designated 4,361 acres in Garrett County.

Since then, the Department of Natural Resources has conducted studies and acquired new land, which has resulted the single largest expansion of wildlands since the introduction of the Maryland Wildlands Act in 1971.

John S. Wilson, associate director for stewardship with land acquisition and planning at the state’s Department of Natural Resources, said that the aim of the wildlands is to return them to their original state before or just after European settlement. Hikers and horseback riders are permitted to use the land, but mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are not.

“It goes to when the country was wild and how did these folks get around? They got around on foot and they got around on horses,” he said.

Those concerned about the care of their remains once in the hands of funeral homes can rest easy as of Oct. 1 when the State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors will become authorized to conduct unannounced inspections of body preparation and storage areas without being accompanied by a licensee employed by the funeral establishment.

Ruth Ann Arty, executive director of the State Board of Morticians and Funeral Directors, said that not only was the board looking to ensure properly licensed practices, dignity and public health, but also wanted to be more in line with other types of health inspections in the state.

The new unannounced inspections may only be conducted when a provider is under probation or has received a complaint. Arty said that the board advocated for these conditions to protect members who do business ethically.

The state is also expanding its 2010 move-over law that requires drivers to either move over into the next lane if safe or slow down when they see emergency vehicles on the state’s roads. Starting Oct. 1, drivers will also have to move over for tow trucks.

“When the fire service is on the side of the road, we’re just hoping and praying to be safe on the side of the road,” said Del. James E. Malone Jr., D-Baltimore County and Howard County. Malone has been an active firefighter for 40 years and sponsored the bill expanding the move-over law.

Although a large number of bills come into effect on Oct. 1, several others became law over the summer and during the legislative session.

Dog owners will be held liable for bite injuries, but will have the opportunity to challenge the liability in court before a jury. The emergency bill – enacted when it passed in April – was a response to a 2012 court ruling that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. The law imposes liability regardless of breed.

Free pre-kindergarten education will become available to an additional 1,600 Maryland children under an expansion of the 2002 Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act. The state is lifting the income-eligibility cap from 185 to 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. The increase will cost the state $4.3 million in fiscal 2015.

And the Department of Natural Resources is authorizing archery hunting of deer on select Sundays during the October to January hunting season.

Sunday hunting will only be allowed in Allegany, Garrett, Frederick and Washington counties, said Paul Peditto, director of wildlife services with the Department of Natural Resources.

Peditto added that hunters will also be allowed to use bows and firearms to hunt small game such as grouse and squirrels beginning no later than Dec. 22. The season is likely to be quite short because by mid-January hunters are effectively foreclosed from those areas due to snow coverage.

Peditto said that the hunting demographic is mostly blue collar workers who make a living Mondays through Saturdays and have welcomed the opportunity to hunt on Sundays.

There may also be an economic benefit to the state as hunters Pennsylvania, where Sunday hunting is now allowed, come to Maryland for a weekend of hunting.

“Seventy five percent of non-resident deer hunters are from Pennsylvania,” Peditto said.

The state’s increased tax credits and rebates for electric vehicles went into effect July 1. It gives new electric-car buyers $125 per kilowatt-hour of the battery capacity or $3,000, whichever is less.

The bill also replaced the recharging-equipment tax credit with a new rebate. Individuals, businesses and retail gas-stations can claim back 50 percent of the total cost of installing recharging equipment with a maximum of $900, $5,000 and $7,500 respectively.

By Lejla Sarcevic

 

Treating MD’s Juvenile Delinquents at Home More Effective, Less Costly Than Jails, Advocates Say

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The $225 million set aside to build three new jails for juvenile delinquents and improvements to a fourth in Maryland should be spent on community-based treatment instead, a state review panel found.

Putting more money into juvenile jails would lead to less effective treatments, according to a report by the Maryland Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, which tracks the needs of children under the Department of Juvenile Services and produces quarterly reports on the conditions of the department’s facilities.

The budgeted money, which includes the proposed construction of three new juvenile jails in Baltimore, Prince George’s County and Wicomico County, should be re-directed to provide more nonresidential, evidence-based treatment programs in the communities, said Nick Moroney, director of the Maryland Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit.

More emphasis on community-based treatment could help reduce juvenile recidivism rates, according to the report.

“Maryland should follow the national trends and be moving away from large, congregative facilities and move more towards services in the community,” Moroney said.

Not all juvenile offenders are suited for community-based treatment, and some, who are very high risk or have certain mental health needs, need to be incarcerated out of state because Maryland lacks the specific services to treat them, said Eric Solomon, public information officer for the Department of Juvenile Services.

Last year, 126 youth were incarcerated out of state, according to the department’s data resource guide. The construction of the proposed facilities could mean that more youth are able to stay in state in the future, Solomon said.

“We would love to be serving as many kids as we can in state,” Solomon said. “Some of these possible treatment centers that we could be building could help us in bringing back some of those kids to treat here.”

Maryland has seven state-operated facilities for convicted youth offenders, including five lower-level security facilities controlled mainly by staff, and two that are heavily secured by hardware such as fences and bars, according to the Department of Juvenile Services.

In 2013, 630 youths were placed in staff and hardware secure facilities and 716 were in community-based treatment in Maryland, according to the Department of Juvenile Services.

Studies have shown that intensive, community-based treatment programs, such as multisystemic therapy and functional family therapy, are more successful at reducing recidivism among juveniles than incarceration, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based philanthropy working on national children’s issues.

Functional family therapy involves the youth’s family members and aims to turn around juveniles who are at risk or already exhibiting delinquency, substance abuse or behavioral issues without sending the child away from home. Multisystemic therapy is designed to work with chronic and more serious juvenile offenders in their own communities to address every aspect of their lives, from their families and friends to schools and neighborhoods.

But their success rates vary: One is better than incarceration, and the other worse, research indicates.

More than 19 percent of youth were reconvicted and 14.7 percent were re-incarcerated 12 months after release from a state-operated facility, according to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ 2013 data resource guide.

More successfully, 12 percent of Maryland youth were reconvicted and 7 percent were incarcerated within 12 months of completion of functional family therapy in 2012, according to a 2013 report from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Twenty-seven percent of youth were reconvicted and 19 percent were incarcerated in 2012 within 12 months of completing a multisystemic therapy program in Maryland, according to a similar report.

The statistics did show that functional family therapy produced lower rates of recidivism among youth offenders than incarceration and multisystemic therapy produced higher rates, but it’s impossible to fairly compare these rates because of the many variables at play, said Jennifer Mettrick, director of implementation services at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

How a child responds to community-based therapy depends on the kind of offender he or she is and whether he or she has been through the justice system before, and there is no concrete system to decide who gets what kind of treatment, Mettrick explained.

“You can’t do a straight comparison because there’s not a systematic way that kids are being referred to these services verses out of home,” she said.

There are sets of criteria that make youth ineligible for community-based treatment, such as exhibiting suicidal, homicidal or psychotic behavior, being charged as a sex offender or not being of the appropriate age. Youth must be 10-18 years old for functional family therapy and 12-17 years old for multisystemic therapy. Once a youth’s eligibility for community-based treatment is determined, it is up to the court to decide where he or she is sent.

Sometimes, the decision comes down to wherever there is availability. This means that less serious offenders can wind up in residential facilities, while more serious offenders are being treated in their communities, Mettrick said.

“Sometimes they’re an apples to apples comparison, sometimes they’re not,” she said. “But there are a lot of very similar kids that just by chance happen to get into one or the other service.”

Treating children in the community is much cheaper than treating them in a residential facility. The average cost per child per day for multisystemic therapy is $110, compared to $34 per child for functional family therapy, while each day at a state-operated facility per child costs $274 or $531, depending on the security level of the facility, according to the university’s report.

“If we can keep 50 percent of kids from coming back into the system, and we’re doing it at a much reduced cost and a much smaller length of time and kids are able to stay in their communities, that’s a win-win,” Mettrick said.

Community-based therapies take into account almost every aspect of the child’s life, rather than sending him or her away to a facility only to return home to the same situation that influenced his or her behavior in the first place, said Eliza Steele, senior monitor of the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit.

“The idea is that you address whatever dysfunction is happening in the family or the home so that you look at the kid holistically to understand what he needs,” she said.

There is still a need for secure, state-operated facilities to house violent youth offenders who pose a potential threat, but courts should choose community-based treatment for convicted youth whenever possible, Mettrick said.

“You can’t take those out-of-home placements completely out of the service array because they are still needed, but maybe to a lesser degree,” she said.

It’s difficult to walk the line between wanting to provide more individualized treatment services for youth and needing to meet the demand for juveniles committed to incarceration by the courts, said Jason Tashea, juvenile justice policy director at Advocates for Children and Youth, an independent organization advocating for the needs of children in Maryland.

“I have faith that DJS is working with all the relevant actors to try to make sure that the right kids are going to the right places,” he said. “But we would like to see more of an emphasis on the community treatment and less emphasis on secure committed facilities.”

By Madeleine List
Capital News Service

Maryland Officials to Stagger Opening of Health Enrollment

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Maryland officials this week announced they would stagger the opening of the enrollment period to purchase health insurance through Maryland Health Connection, the state’s version of the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

The site will open Nov. 9 for consumers to browse. They won’t be able to purchase insurance until Nov. 15.

But while browsing for plans, Marylanders may find an increase in premiums for next year. That’s according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study released earlier this month that looked at premiums across 16 U.S. cities, including Baltimore.

Cynthia Cox, senior policy analyst and co-author of the study, said they found costs are projected to moderately increase in all 16 cities. In Baltimore, premiums for some of the most popular plans are expected to increase.

“The lowest-cost Silver Plan, and the second lowest-cost Silver Plan, which is the benchmark plan for subsidies, are actually going up a little bit,” Cox said. “But the increase is very moderate, 3 percent for Baltimore.”

This means a 40-year-old, non-smoker in Baltimore making $30,000 a year will see their monthly payment for the second lowest-cost Silver Plan increase from $228 to $235 a month in 2015, before tax credits. Additionally, the study found the lowest-cost Bronze plan in Baltimore is projected to increase from $146 per month to $165 per month in 2015 – up 13.1 percent.

Cox said since plans offered in other parts of the state are similar to those offered in Baltimore, a moderate increase in premiums is likely statewide. The increase could have to do with changes caused by the new health care law and even the economy, but she said premium rates rely on a number of variables and can vary from person to person.

Cox said it’s difficult to know what premiums would be in the absence of the Affordable Care Act.

In Maryland, there are accounts of premiums both decreasing and increasing.

Tim Reyburn, 53, is the owner of Ticoscen, Inc., in Laurel, where he repairs lab equipment and other scientific instruments for pharmaceutical companies. His 20-year-old business is run by he and his wife, Angelika Reyburn, so they purchase health insurance out of their own pockets.

When Reyburn heard he could get coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace, he signed up without hesitation.

“Because our plans were going up significantly with Blue Cross, Blue Shield – anywhere from 20 to 40 percent a year – and we kept having to get a lesser and lesser plan to keep it on budget,” he said. “And we got up to almost $2,400 a month, $1,200 per person.”

Reyburn said their premiums decreased about $7,000 a year when they switched, and now – even paying for the best plan at the full rate, with no subsidies – it’s only about $1,300 a month for both he and his wife. He said it’s nice to not have to worry about a lifetime cap or pre-existing conditions, especially since his wife has muscular dystrophy.

While he’s not sure what his premiums will be for next year, Reyburn said even if they do go up, it won’t be nearly as bad as it used to be before the Affordable Care Act.

A study published Thursday by The Commonwealth Fund found that 61 percent of adults who have purchased insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces think the premiums are affordable.

But Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Joe Cluster said everybody they’ve talked to has seen their health care premiums going up.

“It proves that people are having to get into plans where a lot of things are covered that they might not need so the cost is going up,” he said. “And it’s just more drain on the wallets of the average citizen.”

Cluster is actually losing his current health insurance at the end of the year because the plan doesn’t meet the new health care law’s standards. The cheapest basic plan he can get is $117 a month, $25 more than what he said he’s paying now.

While advocates acknowledge premiums have risen, they also say more people are becoming insured and with better coverage.

“We’re all better off when people have health care coverage, rather than use emergency rooms in hospitals for care, which increases all of our insurance premiums through the uncompensated care system,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care Coalition.

The Maryland Health Connection has reported insuring almost 78,700 individuals through the exchanges, but does not yet have an estimate for the second open enrollment period beginning Nov. 15. There will, however, be more carriers to choose from this time around as there are now five on the exchange, one more than last year.

By Ashley S. Westerman

As Upward Bound Turns 50, Program at UMBC Evolves to Serve Students

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When Brittany Walker was accepted into the Upward Bound program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2004, she did not expect to stay for 10 years.

Walker now works as a full-time academic counselor with the program, which aims to provide support for high school students from low-income families, and prepare them for college. Upward Bound’s goal is to equip students with skills in leadership and communication, as well as academic instruction.

As Upward Bound celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, educators at schools like UMBC are introducing new ideas to serve the changing needs of low-income students. For example, since 2007, the UMBC program has trained students like Walker to serve as mentors for younger peers.

Upward Bound1

Brittany Walker, a former peer leader at the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Upward Bound program, now works there full-time as an academic counselor. (Capital News Service photo by Stephen Waldron)

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to become a leader and see how it goes,” Walker said. “So when I got in the real world, I could be a great leader.”

Walker was a senior in high school at the time, and among the first students to train as a peer leader.

Walker said older students would rarely socialize with underclassmen. For her, the peer leadership program was a way “to bring everyone together as one.”

It also gave her valuable leadership experience.

Known as peer group connection, the goal is to provide younger students with a mentor close to their age, while teaching older students leadership skills.

“It gave students an opportunity to speak out,” Walker said, “and be themselves without fear of being judged.”

Upward Bound serves 826 students in Maryland, according to the U.S. Department of Education. UMBC’s program includes roughly 140 students, drawing from schools in eastern Baltimore and Baltimore County.

The program, which is federally funded and serves almost 60,000 students nationwide, is required to provide academic instruction in areas like math, science and foreign languages. Students also receive career and academic counseling.

Peer group connection is a relatively new addition to Upward Bound, which was signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Corris Davis, director of UMBC’s program, has worked with Upward Bound since 1995. She said that after seeing how students and their environment have changed during her tenure, she recognized that the program must evolve.

“When I see a ninth-grader now compared to a ninth-grader 15 years ago, they’ve seen so much more of the world,” Davis said.

This, according to Davis, is one of the biggest issues that counselors and program coordinators face in order to engage with students.

“Some things are difficult because we’re trying to fit into the same models we’ve always had with students who are facing different challenges,” Davis said.

Davis led a panel on her program’s experience with peer leadership at the Council for Opportunity in Education’s annual conference in Washington this week.

The conference gathered educators nationwide for presentations on Upward Bound and other federal programs aimed at helping low-income students, known as TRIO services.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spoke at the conference, emphasizing that expanding opportunities for education is an important way to bolster the economy.

“You know who I think about when I think about job creators?” Durbin said. “Teachers.”

Davis’ panel at the conference also featured Christine Harris and Dr. Margo Ross, both officials from the Center for Supportive Schools. The organization developed the peer group connection curriculum being used at UMBC.

Harris is an alumna of Upward Bound, and served as an academic tutor for the program. Before peer leadership was introduced, Harris felt the older and younger students were drifting apart.

She believes the initiative has changed the atmosphere of the program as a whole.

“Now that (peer leadership) is part of what Upward Bound does, there has been a cultural shift,” Harris said.

Still, Davis believes her program could be more effective if students were enrolled at a younger age. Upward Bound is currently limited to students who have completed eighth grade.

Davis said today’s 14-year-olds are growing up faster than 14-year-olds in 1964.

“When we’re starting in ninth grade, we don’t have time to give them the skills and resiliency they need to succeed in college,” Davis said.

Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education, also believes that Upward Bound must evolve in order to remain effective.

“We continually need to innovate. There’s no one answer,” Hoyler said. “We can’t keep doing what we were doing 50 years ago.”

Whether or not Upward Bound faces more changes in the future, Walker enjoyed her experience with the program. She completed a sociology degree in 2012, and is now working on her master’s at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

“I’ve been part of this program since 2004 and never left,” Walker said. “It’s been a great fit.”

By Stephen Waldron
Capital News Service

Cautious Optimism Over Maryland-India Trade

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Despite exports from Maryland to India decreasing by almost 15 percent in recent years, Maryland businesses are optimistic about growth in trade between the two ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington.

Modi, who was elected earlier this year, will make his inaugural trip to Washington Sept. 29-30. It comes amid a downward trend in Maryland and India trade following a period of stalled diplomatic relations between the U.S. and India.

However, Maryland businesses are hopeful, based on Modi’s priorities and a recent trade delegation from the state, that they can benefit from trade with one of the largest economies in the world.

Economic Ties

Maryland exports to India have decreased from $233 million in 2010 to $202 million in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During the same period, imports from India fell from $465 million to $416 million, a drop of more than 10 percent.

But Maryland is looking to change that.

One sign is an upcoming Montgomery County delegation to India, said Dr. Vinod Jain, president and CEO at the Maryland-based India-US World Affairs Institute.

The delegation, which will be led by County Executive Isiah Leggett and leaves for India in November, is focusing on culture, education and business, Jain said.

Currently, trade between the two varies wildly from information technology to coffee. For example, the U.S. subsidiary of the Indian IT company Infosys has its headquarters in Rockville, while Eight O’ Clock Coffee, which has a production plant in Landover, was bought by the Indian company Tata Coffee in 2005.

Jain said the upcoming delegation would focus on improving trade and investment specifically in the biotechnology, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries.

The trip is looking to build on another Maryland trade delegation in 2011, when Gov. Martin O’Malley led more than 100 business leaders, educators and government officials to India.

It was the largest delegation to India ever sent from Maryland, and the first ever by a sitting Maryland governor. Jain believes it was among the largest sent by any U.S. state to India.

The trade delegation resulted in business deals worth almost $60 million being signed, a press release from the governor’s office said.

The hope among analysts is that trade delegations can overcome some of the hurdles in improving economic ties between the two.

Despite being the third largest economy in the world based on a metric known as the purchasing power parity (PPP), India ranks only 18 out of Maryland’s top 25 international trading partners in terms of exports from the state. That is well below exports from Maryland to smaller economies like Saudi Arabia and Belgium, according to data from the Census Bureau.

This can primarily be explained by the internal situation in India under the previous government led by Manmohan Singh, said Elisha Pulivarti, executive director at the Maryland India Business Roundtable.

“There were a lot of problems in India,” said Pulivarti, mentioning low investor confidence because of the perception of high corruption and bureaucratic red tape.

Based on 2013 data, India ranked 186 out of 189 countries when it came to enforcing contracts, according to the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking. Only Timor-Leste (East Timor), Myanmar and Angola ranked lower, all countries that have suffered major internal conflicts in the past decade.

However, there is optimism that the issues can be overcome and Modi’s trip can foster better trade relations between India and Maryland.

“Economic ties are No. 1 on the list,” said Milan Vaishnav, an associate at the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank.

One Maryland business that made the 2011 trip to India was Shah and Kishore, a Rockville-based immigration law firm.

Calling the delegation a success and saying the results from the trip would take longer than three years to have an impact on Maryland, Devang Shah, the firm’s managing partner, said the future for Maryland-India trade is likely to improve.

Much of the optimism is based on Modi’s reputation as a business-friendly leader willing to create investor-friendly policies, said Shah.

Diplomatic Tensions

But bilateral ties must overcome recent diplomatic tensions at the national level, said Michael Kugelman, senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.

“In recent months relations have suffered from some of their greatest tensions in years, and certainly since the early 1990s, when decades of turbulent bilateral ties yielded to a new era of cooperation,” said Kugelman, in an email.

Diplomatic relations stalled last year when an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny.

While Khobragade was eventually released to India, Indians were furious over what they perceived as high-handed tactics used by U.S. authorities, including her being strip-searched.

The Indian government responded to the arrest by, at one point, removing security barricades in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and refusing to meet a visiting U.S. congressional delegation.

The meeting between President Barack Obama and Modi is likely to also, at least initially, focus on publicly making the Indian prime minister feel welcome in the U.S., said Jain from the India-US World Affairs Institute.

In 2005, Modi, at that time the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, was the first person denied a U.S. visa under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The primary reason were the riots in Gujarat in 2002 between Muslims and Hindus, which led to almost 1,000 people being killed.

While there was no evidence that Modi, from a Hindu nationalist party, was responsible for the killing of hundred of Muslims, “he was responsible for the performance of state institutions at that time,” said David Mulford, U.S. ambassador to India from 2004-2009, in a statement soon after the visa rejection.

There is an expectation that Modi’s trip will focus more on “ceremony than substance” in order to overcome that incident, said Vaishnav, from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Optimism Moving Forward

As the Indian economy grows under Modi, it is imperative Maryland position itself to be the “gateway into the U.S.,” said Shah, from the law firm.

India’s economy is expected to become a “global economic giant” by 2050, with a GDP of $ 34 trillion – which would be more than three times that of Brazil – according to the “World in 2050,” a report by the accounting firm Price Waterhouse.

Economic ties between the two are “becoming more and more important,” he said, with the hope being that Maryland can benefit from India’s expected growth.

By Idrees Ali
Capital News Service

3,000 Unaccompanied Immigrant Children In Maryland in 2014

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In an effort to help the almost 3,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who have arrived in Maryland this year, the state this week launched Buscando, a website designed to connect them and their caretakers with volunteers and resources.

Officials from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration debuted the website (http://buscandomaryland.com/) during a press conference at the Hyattsville Branch Library on Wednesday. Ted Dallas, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources, said Buscando (which means to look for in Spanish) is the newest phase in the state’s response to the needs of unaccompanied children in Maryland.

Buscando is designed to serve as a database of resources for the children and their caretakers. For example, users can type in their location and search for clothing, and a map is generated which shows contact information for nearby organizations that will provide clothes.

Organizations and individual volunteers can also sign up on the website to provide materials, or services like transportation or counseling.

The website was built by volunteer programmers from Code for Progress, Hear Me Code and the Tech Lady Hackathon.

Aliya Rahman, of Code for Progress, said the project was a chance for programmers to use their skills to make a difference in the community.

“The best technology is built for and by people affected by the issues,” Rahman said.

Roughly 2,800 unaccompanied children have arrived in Maryland in 2014, the fifth largest number in the country. The children have come primarily from Central America, fleeing violence in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Anne Sheridan, executive director of the Governor’s Office for Children, described the project as a “labor of love.”

The first challenge, according to Sheridan, has been determining what kinds of resources are useful to children and their caretakers.

“We have to figure out what they need,” Sheridan said. “Then, it’s all about mechanics.”

Officials also highlighted other resources the state offers unaccompanied children, including a printed resource guide for people who do not have access to the website. Maryland also operates a 24-hour 2-1-1 phone hotline, which aims to provide immediate assistance and guide callers through the Buscando website.

The goal for Buscando is to efficiently deliver information and resources to the people who need them. Sheridan also said she wants children and their caretakers to know that the government is in it for the long haul.

“We’re a welcoming place, and we want them to know that help is available,” Sheridan said.

By Stephen Waldron

Maryland Campaign-Finance Complaints Stack Up as Election Nears

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The Maryland State Board of Elections is carefully reviewing the two complaints Maryland gubernatorial campaigns have filed against each other in the past two weeks.

But theirs are not the only electoral grievances filed with the state.

Anyone can file a campaign finance complaint, and they do: Maryland Board of Elections’ records of a dozen complaints this year show everyone from private citizens to disgruntled campaign employees are feeling aggrieved this election season. And the state prosecutor’s office has received many more.

In the gubernatorial race, GOP nominee Larry Hogan filed a complaint against Democrat Anthony Brown Sept. 4, charging that the lieutenant governor’s campaign coordinated with a super PAC by sharing the same political consultants. Brown filed his complaint on Tuesday, alleging his challenger’s campaign was underpaying for the use of a tour bus, which Hogan owns.

Larry Hogan, in a white shirt (center) standing in front of his campaign bus surrounded by supporters. Photo courtesy of the Hogan/Rutherford campaign.

Larry Hogan, in a white shirt (center) standing in front of his campaign bus surrounded by supporters. Photo courtesy of the Hogan/Rutherford campaign.

The question of coordination between candidates and political-fundraising groups is part of a larger national trend that has emerged since the rise of political action committees and has left campaign staff and election lawyers grappling with the legal consequences.

“The whole existence of super PACs depends on them being independent of the campaign,” said Larry Noble, counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan advocacy group.

Noble said that this has put the focus on what constitutes coordination.

“What we see is candidates appearing at events for their super PACs. We see common vendors between the super PAC and the campaign.”

Courts and election boards across the nation are trying to resolve the legality of these overlapping interests.

Jared DeMarinis, director of the Division of Candidacy and Campaign Finance at the Maryland State Board of Elections, said that concern about coordination between PACs and candidates is a 50-state issue.

With Election Day less than eight weeks away and a new poll from the New York Times/CBS showing Brown at 51 percent to Hogan’s 37, time is running short and pressure is rising for the candidates to scrutinize each other’s finances.

Hogan’s complaint accuses the Democratic candidate of illegally coordinating with a super PAC called One State, One Future by sharing the same political consulting firm, Martin-Lauer Associates.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony G. Brown (right) and his running mate, Ken Ulman. Photo courtesy of the Brown/Ulman campaign.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony G. Brown (right) and his running mate, Ken Ulman. Photo courtesy of the Brown/Ulman campaign.

The Baltimore-based firm has worked with other high-profile Democrats in the state, including Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Martin-Lauer Associates did not respond to a request for comment.

Brown’s complaint accuses Hogan of campaign finance violations including deceptive reporting and underreporting the cost of Hogan’s campaign bus.

The campaign pays Hogan, who owns the bus, $683.77 per month for its use as an office – which they say is the same amount he pays to finance the vehicle – according to the expenditure filings from Hogan-Rutherford.
Although Hogan’s campaign has not revealed what he paid for the bus, the Maryland Democratic Party alleges in its complaint that “online sales information indicates that similar models retail for between $97,000 and $225,000.”

And, the Maryland Democratic Party says, according to vendors, the $683.77 reflects what it would cost to operate such a vehicle per day, not per month.

The state’s campaign finance law states that the bus must be rented at a fair market value and the Democratic Party is accusing Hogan-Rutherford of underreporting Hogan’s in-kind contributions.

“Each of these cases, they are fact-based,” Noble said. “The motive for the complaint becomes irrelevant if it is a fact-based complaint.”

But Todd Eberly, assistant professor in the political science department at St. Mary’s College, said that there are political advantages to filing campaign finance complaints.

Hogan’s campaign is restricted by his decision to accept public financing, which means there are limitations on total spending and further rules on how the $2.6 million of public money is used.

In the case of the bus, if the elections board decides that Hogan’s campaign should be paying more, it would mean re-directing more of Hogan’s limited funds there instead of toward other expenses.

DeMarinis, with the electoral board, said that complaints at the gubernatorial level are not common, and are more often filed in other races across the state.

The State Board of Elections receives campaign finance complaints for state, county and Baltimore elections. Local election complaints are received by that municipality, said Alisha Alexander, elections administrator with the Prince George’s County Board of Elections.

Complaints of violations that appear criminal in nature are forwarded to the state prosecutor’s office, because the board of elections does not have the authority to conduct criminal investigations, said Nicolle Norris, senior assistant state prosecutor.

Her office has received about 150 complaints since the beginning of the year. They range from failures to file campaign finance reports on time to more serious violations that require deeper investigations, Norris said. Norris said that legal restrictions prohibited her from disclosing any complaints sent to her office.

Here’s a sample of complaints filed thus far this year with the Maryland State Board of Elections:

• A complaint alleges one candidate’s campaign committee donated $6,000, the maximum allowed, to another candidate, and later also paid for the second candidate’s direct mail, thereby exceeding the donation limit.

• A campaign staffer for a candidate for delegate disputed reimbursements for lodging. He also charged the candidate forged the campaign treasurer’s signature, among other complaints.

• In one case, the complaint stated that a candidate was added to the ballot without a valid campaign committee.

• One candidate in a Democratic primary filed a wide-ranging 20-page complaint requesting nullification of the election due to corruption among the media, non-profits, and the state board of elections.

For information about non-municipal campaign-finance complaints, visit the Maryland State Board of Elections online, at www.elections.state.md.us.

By Lejla Sarcevic
Capital News Service

Researcher Warns: Soccer Headbands, Mouthguards Don’t Prevent Concussions

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Parents of young athletes should be warned that some sports equipment manufacturers are trying to capitalize on concussion fears with claims that their gear can prevent head injuries, the director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said during a recent interview.

Despite what some manufacturers claim, “there is no reviewed, known literature that says mouthguards or headbands prevent against concussions,” said Dr. Dennis Molfese, director of the brain center and scientific director of the Big 10/CIC-Ivy League Traumatic Brain Injury Research Collaboration.

Brain-Pad touts the impact-absorbing qualities of its protective headband on its website.

Brain-Pad touts the impact-absorbing qualities of its protective headband on its website.

The Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on false claims made in mouthguard ads for the past few years. The FTC reached a settlement in August 2012 with Brain-Pad Inc., and its president, Joseph Manzo, prohibiting the company from claiming that its mouthguards can reduce risk of concussions. At the time, Brain-Pad’s website stated that they could.

Brain-Pad’s website now makes no such claim.

That November, the FTC sent warning letters to 18 sports equipment manufacturers whose product lines included mouthguards, ordering them to reword their product descriptions, according to Betsy Lordan of the Office of Public Affairs.

But now, Molfese said, companies are claiming that a “rubber band” that goes around the heads of soccer players prevents concussions. “There is no data for this claim,” he said.

Brain-Pad touts the impact-absorbing qualities of its protective headband on its website.

Brain-Pad, for instance, says on its website that its headband “reduces impact energy up to 50 percent” without demonstrating where the information was gathered. While the website doesn’t use the word “concussion,” the phrasing used can be misleading, Molfese said.

“We’re all concerned about fraud,” Molfese said. “Parents say, ‘My kid has a headband, why can’t they go back to play?’ And that’s because there is no fully preventative measure.”

When asked if Brain-Pad’s wording could be construed as deceptively advertising concussion prevention, Lordan declined to comment, stating the FTC doesn’t speak about individual companies unless announcing a complaint or order violation.

Manzo, meanwhile, was clear in delineating that his products don’t make any concussion claims. “Brain-Pad claims that its products are proven to reduce impact forces to the base of the skull; we say nothing about concussions. No one knows anything about concussions,” he said in a recent interview.

When asked if he thought the phrasing used on his site could be confusing to consumers that the headband reduces concussions, Manzo replied, “I don’t know. … I just know they’ll think it reduces impact forces.”

Molfese recently collaborated on a paper published by the National Academy of Sciences entitled, “Sports-Related Concussions in Youth: Improving the Science, Changing the Culture,” which discusses false marketing and deceptive language being used to take advantage of growing concussion awareness. Molfese says companies are using the growing notoriety of concussions to make a profit on their products that don’t actually help.

“We get 10 to 15 calls a week from parents asking about mouthguards and headbands and how they can help with their kid’s concussion,” says Molfese. “And that’s the danger.”

By Antonio Barbera
Capital News Service

Applying to College Following a Concussion: One Student’s Road Map

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Mia Dinardo, a senior at Frederick High School in Frederick County, doesn’t remember much about the soccer game Sept. 17 that led to a collision that knocked her face down into the grass, unable to get up.

She had to learn to deal with symptoms of the resulting concussion that kept her out of high school for six weeks — including headaches that strike when she reads and writes. She had to learn to fill out college applications despite that pain, including to her top choice, the University of Maryland.

But her experience proved the college application process and the coursework required for college can be completed even with some lingering concussion symptoms, she said. She had to marshal help from a variety of sources, though — including family, high school teachers and counselors. And she had to learn to advocate for herself.

Dinardo had originally planned to apply to five colleges, but she dropped the number to three when she found she couldn’t finish Penn State University’s and Florida State University’s applications. Essay writing had become difficult for her, she said.

Her final lineup was Miami University, Ohio State University and Maryland.

Dinardo said she made sure to add the story of her concussion into the extenuating circumstances section of the Maryland application — as instructed by Frederick High School guidance counselor Danielle Moore.

Moore said she also encourages high school students with extenuating circumstances to call college admissions offices with the information about their cases.

Colleen Newman, who has worked in the University of Maryland’s admissions office for four years and has been in the admissions field for eight, said it has been rare for applicants to include that they had a concussion. “I think it’s possible that they don’t think it’s important or that they aren’t sure what they should and shouldn’t share,” Newman said.

However, in the past three years Newman has seen an increase in students sharing their concussion details in their applications, she said. The details help admissions officers “to better put into context how a concussion may have impacted a student academically,” she said. They do not erase academic performance, but they allow a university to make an informed decision, Newman said.

Ohio State University, one of Dinardo’s other college options, does not have a similar avenue for students suffering a concussion to share their story in their applications. The university uses a common application — used by more than 500 colleges and universities — which does not ask for extenuating circumstances, said admissions counselor Polly Pinelli.

And not all believe those details should be shared in an application. Vincent Vanzuela of Collegewise, a division of The Princeton Review that provides college admission counseling services, said he does not think that concussion information should be included unless the student plans to play sports in college. The information is unrelated to a student’s academic plans, he said.

The college application may not be the only stumbling block after a concussion.

Keeping academic performance up to prepare for college sometimes requires high school administrative intervention, Moore said.

“I didn’t realize this till like last month that the staff had to have a big meeting about me, where they all had to discuss what classes I would have to take so I could graduate,” Dinardo said. The staff was discussing her 504 plan, she said.

The 504 plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies that no one with a disability, even a temporary one, can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling, Moore said.

The plan details the accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity to perform at the same level as their peers. For Dinardo that meant placing her in classes for her final semester that would fulfill her graduation requirements and fulfill the treatment requirements of her doctor, restricting her from anything that would cause a headache, like extensive writing.

“Yeah, the grades may drop a little bit, but that’s where the 504 plan steps in to make it equitable, so their grades aren’t affected too negatively,” Moore said.

“Luckily, I was taking film study, publications (yearbook) and tech theatre at that time, so my fourth class, AP human geography, was one of the only classes I had to struggle to catch up on,” Dinardo said.

Her human geography teacher made packets that summarized the lessons and allowed her to “cover most of the information with the least amount of work possible,” she said.

She had a more difficult time getting accommodations her second semester, she said. “I was taking AP literature, statistics and probability and AP Spanish. … Because I had gotten the concussion months before, none of my second semester teachers really believed me about the severity of my concussion, or they just assumed the symptoms had blown over, so I wasn’t very well accommodated the few times that I felt I needed to be,” Dinardo said.

She said her mom helped by reading some of her class material to her.

She finds school more difficult now, even with the medication she takes to manage her symptoms. “Before I was mostly straight As. I never really struggled with school. … Afterwards, I would still understand things, but I don’t think I test as well as I used to,” she said.

Despite the setbacks, Dinardo was accepted to all three of the schools she applied to. She said she plans to study criminology at the University of Maryland.

Her advice to others experiencing similar symptoms and hurdles?

“The best advice I feel like I can give is just to take it as an incredibly serious injury — whether it seems like one or not. I’ve had a few friends who have gotten concussions and just written them off as nothing, and that’s one of the things that worries me most, because it’s so dangerous,” Dinardo said.

By Michael-Ann Henry
Capital News Service