Bill would Criminalize Knowing Failure to Report Child Abuse

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Legislation that would make knowingly failing to report child abuse a crime in Maryland was passed by the Senate, but faces some skepticism in the House.
 
Under current law, if a mandatory reporter – defined as health care practitioners, police officers, educators, and human service workers – believes that a child has been abused or neglected, they must notify the local department of Child Protective Services or a law enforcement agency. 
 
Failure to do so could result in a loss of license, due to a 2016 law in Maryland, but it is not a crime. 
 
“This closes that loophole,” said Adam Rosenberg, the executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, who testified in both chambers on behalf of the new proposal. “This is about being able to hold that very last group of people, who have been enabling abuse to go on, accountable.” 
 
The House bill (HB0500), sponsored by Delegates Carlo Sanchez and Erek Barron, Democrats representing Prince George’s, proposes that a violator would be guilty of a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The Senate version (SB0132), sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, includes the same punishment.
 
The Senate bill has been approved by that chamber; the identical House bill has had a hearing but hasn’t advanced out of committee, where a number of House Judiciary members have raised concerns about the new child-abuse proposal.
 
Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, sponsored the 2016 law, in which a complaint about a failure to report is brought to the worker’s licensing board for review and possible termination. She told the Capital News Service that she’d like to see effects from that law, which began in October 2016, further develop before creating “new crimes.” 
 
“Creating a crime (could) mean that we’re going to have a lot of reports that shouldn’t have been reported,” said Dumais. “I think we just need to tread carefully. We have some pretty strict laws on the books already.”
 
Dumais – who sponsored a bill this session denying parental rights to rapists that Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law Tuesday – said she is concerned that mandatory reporters would plead the fifth in court if they face possible indictment. 
 
Sanchez said he doesn’t see over-reporting as an issue. He said reports can fall through the cracks in transition from the mandatory reporter to Child Protective Services – which is the current system – so the ability to take a claim straight to a prosecutor could take pressure off social services and make abuse easier to catch early. 
 
Last year a similar bill passed in the Senate but died in the House. The latest proposal has less opposition. The Maryland State Education Association, for example, was against it last year but said in an email to Capital News Service that this bill “takes a step in the right direction by clarifying reporting requirements.” Which, they added, “will help prevent misreporting that drains resources and distracts from real cases of abuse.”
 
Variations of these efforts have been around for close to a decade, but they’ve gained more attention after the case of Deonte Carraway, a 24-year-old school worker in Prince George’s County who was arrested in February 2016 .
 
Carraway was sentenced in August 2017 to 75 years in federal prison for 15 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor to produce child pornography, involving 12 children from 9 to 13 years old. He was sentenced to 100 years on 23 counts of sex abuse in Prince George’s County a month later.
 
Despite complaints to the principal of Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School, Michelle Williams, from parents and administrators about Carraway’s behavior, Williams could not be prosecuted, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks told state lawmakers. 
Williams was placed on administrative leave shortly after Carraway’s arrest, Alsobrooks said. An attorney for Williams said late last year that she denied wrongdoing in this case and was unaware of abuse. 
 
This new bill would enable the state to prosecute a knowing failure by an adult to report abuse. 
 
“We learned that the principal knew something wasn’t right, as did other school officials, but did nothing about it,” said Alsobrooks, who was one of the prosecutors in that case. “We were able to hold Mr. Caraway accountable for his crimes. But what we have not done is further close the loophole – to (be) able to assure parents that this will never happen again.”
By Zach Shapiro

Recovery: Bill gives Parents ‘New Tool’ to Fight Child’s Addiction

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One more day without treatment for a person struggling with opioids — as a Maryland delegate, a recovery expert and parents of children mired in addiction have said — could be the difference between life and death.

A relatively recent spike in deaths related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, its cousin carfentanil and ever-emerging variations of the two has emphasized the importance of getting addicts into treatment immediately, said Delegate Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel.

That’s why Kipke, the Maryland House minority leader, is sponsoring a bill granting parents of adults struggling with addiction more authority to act on their children’s behalf.

Fentanyl has overtaken heroin as the deadliest drug in Maryland. Statewide, deaths related to fentanyl surged from 192 over the first three quarters of 2015, to 1,173 fatalities over the same period in 2017 — a 510 percent increase, Maryland health department data show.

Carfentanil — a drug commonly used to sedate elephants — also continued its emergence. There were 57 carfentanil-related deaths statewide over the first nine months of 2017 compared to zero over the previous two years, according to the state health agency.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin; carfentanil is 5,000 times more potent than heroin, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Fentanyl “can be lethal in the 2-milligram range,” the DEA says, while the lethal range for carfentanil is uncertain, but minute.

Considering the potency of the drugs, which are often created in clandestine laboratories in China and Mexico, “this is a different kind of addiction, a different problem,” Kipke told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

His 2018 bill would allow parents or guardians of adult children — who must be dependent through health insurance — to involuntarily admit their child to an in-patient treatment facility. Kipke introduced then withdrew the same bill during the 2017 General Assembly session after the House Health and Government Operations Committee delivered an unfavorable report on it.

The person must “not be a minor,” must have “experienced a drug overdose” and have “health insurance coverage as a dependent under the individual’s parent’s” plan, according to a fiscal and policy note for the 2017 bill.

“What I’m seeking to do is provide parents of children who are still dependent … an opportunity to interrupt their child’s addiction,” Kipke said.

The Maryland State Medical Society, MedChi, agrees with Kipke that the scale of the opioid epidemic warrants new tools, said Gene Ransom, the organization’s chief executive officer.

“Given that we’re in a crisis,” Ransom said, there needs to be more options to get people into
treatment. “Giving parents another tool to help solve the problem is a no-brainer.”

Survivors’ perspectives

Carin Miller, president and co-founder of Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates, said that her oldest son started using then abusing Percocet — a common opioid painkiller — in his early 20s, developing an addiction before turning to heroin.

“It was frustrating and heartbreaking when you see your son so sick and gray and on death’s door,” she said. “As a mother, when your child is sick or hurt … you always work your hardest to make them better.”

“But when they’re addicted,” Miller said, “you can’t.”

Kipke is concerned for many of his constituents, many of whom have asked him for a tool to help their children, he said.

This year there were 108 opioid-related overdoses in Anne Arundel County through Feb. 8, compared to 113 through the same date a year prior, according to county police data.

But 18 of the 108 overdoses resulted in death — a 100 percent increase over the nine fatalities through the same date in 2017.

Over the first nine months of 2017, the county recorded 145 fatal opioid-related overdoses, a 12 percent increase over January-September of 2016, state data show.

A non-fatal overdose can be an important opportunity for intervention, experts say, but in Maryland and other states, those who are hospitalized because of overdoses can sign themselves out.

“If somebody who needs Narcan because they just overdosed, they need to be committed,” Miller said.

Narcan is a brand name of the overdose-reversing opioid antagonist, naloxone. All first responders in Maryland are equipped with a form of the life-saving drug, which comes in a nasal spray form.

Miller, a Frederick County, Maryland, resident said these kind of tools weren’t available to her as a mother throughout her son’s struggle with addiction. Had involuntary admission been an option, Miller said she “most certainly would have” utilized the authority to admit her son.

“I would’ve done anything in the world to save my son,” she added.

Pasadena, Maryland, native Rob Snead, 24, said he’s been clean for seven months after using and abusing drugs for a decade. He has overdosed.

“When you come to, you’re in withdrawal,” he said. “And the only thing you can think about is getting yourself in a position to get well again.”

Snead said that in the moment, addicts “don’t care about seeking the accurate help, they think about what they can do immediately to feel better.”

Snead described withdrawal from opioids as “overwhelming” and “a miserable state of being,” and said that often the quickest way to feel better was to score more drugs and to take them.

Treatment community divided

It’s been said that an addict must be ready for treatment in order for it to be successful, a notion Kipke acknowledged.

But that line of thinking could be outdated.

“If we continue to look at it like they’re not ready,” Miller said. “There are some that will never be ready.”

Dr. Sally Satel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who works part time in a methadone clinic in Washington, said the idea that addicts must be ready for treatment is “so wrong,” and called it “one of the many cliches” surrounding the opioid crisis.

“Why do you think drug courts work?” she said.

But other addiction treatment experts have concerns about the practicality, effectiveness and safety of involuntary commitment.

“You really can’t force someone to participate in treatment if they don’t want to,” said Vickie Walters, executive director of the Baltimore-based REACH substance abuse treatment program at the Institutes for Behavior Resources.

Getting an assessment of a patient is always important, but that if that patient was forced, Walters said, “it’s tough to get good information.”

Howard Ashkin, president of the Maryland Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, said he worries that involuntary commitment could lead to a litany of problems.

“I’ve never read anything that has borne out any good outcomes,” of forced treatment, Ashkin said. “I don’t envision good outcomes.”

Involuntary admission could make some of the adult children angrier, he said.

Ashkin said he worries that addicts will go along with the treatment, then go out to use again. But their tolerance will have diminished, he said, which increases the odds of overdose and possibly death.

Involuntary treatment programs, like drug court, Satel said, often work because it gives the individual a chance to take a step back to think about their situation and “internalize the values of the program.”

Involuntary admittance could lead the individual to resent the family member who mandated their admission, Ashkin said.

Ashkin and Walters said they aren’t convinced that it’s worth the risk. Addicts rarely recover successfully their first time through treatment, and about 40 percent to 60 percent relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Forcing an addict to get help could “leave a bad taste in (their) mouth about treatment,” discouraging them from seeking treatment in the future, Walters said.

Both Ashkin and Walters were concerned about whether treatment facilities around the state were capable of or ready to admit involuntarily committed patients.

“The court will only order this type of thing if there is a bed for the individual,” Kipke said.

“Are there enough beds? No,” the delegate said. But they’re becoming “increasingly available as this problem is getting support and funding from the government.”

Is this bill the answer?

More than 30 other states have enacted similar statutes that allow for the involuntary commitment of adults for substance abuse, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

Massachusetts is one such state, and its “system has become an unintended mechanism for getting people into treatment,” said Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences at the Northeastern University School of Law. In many ways the statute “was designed to be a system of last resort.”

Massachusetts has been using prisons as treatment facilities for those who are involuntarily committed, Beletsky said. Many of the patients’ treatment is un-medicated, increasing the risk for overdose and death after treatment, according to Beletsky.

The law professor said that putting somebody into treatment without their consent is “fundamentally un-American,” and that the Massachusetts policy “basically fails” from the perspective of health and civil liberties.

“Evaluating what other states have done was extensively considered and we’re open to any other suggestions as to how we could gain the support of the legislature to enact a reasonable policy, like this,” Kipke said.

Snead said that Kipke’s bill “has the potential to be very beneficial to people,” but that success varies depending on the individual — treatment works differently for everybody.

Self-described as stubborn, Snead said that for him, the decision to get clean had to come from within.

“I had to decide myself. I had to decide that I was done,” he said.

But, he said, he understands the standpoint behind his delegate’s bill, as “a lot of parents are losing their kids.”

Through her organization, Miller hosts family peer support groups in Frederick County. She’s heard many heart-wrenching stories, some from parents who weren’t able to save their children “from this dark path to death.”

Miller’s son is alive, but she lost him for the six years of his life that were “hijacked by heroin.” Now, she said, he lives in another state, away from temptation and connections back home.

He’s “a good man who has a bad disease,” she said.

She supports Kipke’s bill because she doesn’t want other parents to feel like she did, “Like you’re a failure as a mother because you can’t make (your child) better.”

By Alex Mann

Trump’s Proposed Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Cuts faces Hill Battle

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President Donald Trump’s plan to slash 90 percent of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding, which could dismantle several decades of environmental restoration, met resistance from Maryland’s Democratic congressional delegation.

The cuts, which would drop the budget for Chesapeake Bay programs from $73 million to $7.3 million, are nestled in a proposed 33.7 percent decrease in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

That would be a paltry sum “to support the nation’s largest estuary,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a statement.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told Capital News Service the state would fight hard against massive cuts to the bay cleanup program.

“This is yet another assault on clean water, from a president who campaigned saying he valued it,” William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement.

Trump tweeted in April 2017 that he was “committed to keeping our air and water clean but always remember that economic growth enhances environmental protection.”

Maryland’s bay-wide commercial harvest for all crabs rebounded from under 20 million pounds in 2013-2014, the lowest marks since 1990, to about 30 million pounds in 2016, according to statistics from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

Critics said the proposed cuts to the EPA have the potential to derail the progress that Maryland has seen, putting both the economic growth and environmental protection Trump referenced in jeopardy.

“Protecting the bay is important not only to protect a great national treasure, but to protect our economy,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, told Capital News Service. “If you look at Maryland’s economy, tourism, the watermen, the boating industry, all of these people rely on a healthy bay for their economic livelihood.”

The Chesapeake Bay’s importance to Maryland is underscored by the efforts that federal, state and local officials over the years have coordinated to preserve it. It was the first estuary in the nation to see restoration efforts of this magnitude, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“We look forward to working with our Chesapeake delegation in Congress to move the decimal point over to its rightful place and restore bay funding to $73 million,” said Chante Coleman, director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, a group of more than 200 organizations in the bay region.

Under the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Chesapeake Bay Program Office is tasked with implementing “pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.”
The office also sets limits on contaminants.

Van Hollen introduced legislation to increase funding to $300 million in his Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act in November 2017, which would further assist in efforts to clean up the bay.

Trump tried to eliminate all funding to the Chesapeake Bay Program Office in his proposed fiscal 2017 budget.

“The Chesapeake Bay (Program) Office is the coordinating entity for all the partners in the Chesapeake… all of that depends on the federal government to coordinate the stakeholders’ responsibilities,” Cardin said. “If that program were to receive the type of coverage that is in president Trump’s budget, it couldn’t do its work.”

“The budget from the president, we hope, is dead on arrival because it would be bad news for our region,” Van Hollen said.

By Julia Karron, Jarod Golub and Timmy Chong

Sponsor of Bill to Legalize Hemp in Maryland Thinks this is the Year

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Proponents of industrial hemp say legalization of the cannabis relative offers many potential benefits, and, if a bill in the state Legislature is approved, Maryland might be part of a growing acceptance of the plant.

A key obstacle remains lack of education about hemp’s properties and capabilities, proponents say.

“There’s no hidden agenda, they are business people and they are trying to grow a product,” said Rona Kobell, who spoke at an Abell Foundation Hemp forum on Feb. 2 in Annapolis, Maryland.

According to a Jan. 25 report by Kobell, hemp is controversial because it’s associated with marijuana. Both plants come from the genus Cannabis, but hemp is mainly grown for its fiber and oil.

Michael Renfroe, a biology professor from James Madison University, spoke at the forum about the common misconceptions between marijuana and hemp. Forum participants said they are not the same.

“To say you can’t tell the difference between hemp and marijuana is to say you can’t tell the difference between broccoli and Brussels sprouts,” said Renfroe.
The main differences between hemp and marijuana are the tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — content, and the cultivation process said professor Ronald Turco, Agronomy Department head at Purdue University.

Hemp, when grown, contains less than 0.3 percent THC, whereas marijuana can contain up to 30 percent, Turco said.

He also explained that hemp is grown as a row crop in fields for its seeds and fiber, whereas marijuana is hand grown and harvested for buds containing THC, which is what gives marijuana users a high.

Turco said marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance making it illegal at the federal level, and the only way to distinguish between hemp and marijuana is through lab procedures measuring THC content.

Federal regulations state that industrial hemp can be produced if a state legalizes an agricultural pilot program to study its cultivation, growth and marketing.

As of 2016, it is legal for the Maryland Department of Agriculture or any institution of higher learning to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.

Maryland has legalized medical cannabis, and decriminalized marijuana use in smaller amounts; proponents say this should encourage the expanded legalization of hemp in the state.

According to the Abell Foundation’s hemp report, the crop would bring economic and environmental opportunity to the state.

Economically, the report said, hemp creates new jobs and generates more revenue.

The report justifies that environmentally, hemp requires no pesticides to grow. It also explained that hemp replenishes the soil, reduces pollution and helps with land erosion and runoff.

The report also states that the main uses of hemp include fiber, fuel, food and medicine.

“Hemp is grown for fiber and oil…,” said Renfroe. “You cannot get high from it.”

Kobell said during the hemp forum that many people have claimed that hemp could do things it couldn’t actually do. Accurate information about hemp has been crucial to push legalization.

“There is hope for hemp because of education,” said Kobell.

Hemp seeds can be used in foods, such as snack bars.
Since the seeds are not legal to grow outside of the department of agriculture or an institution of higher education, anyone else who wishes to use the seeds must import them from overseas. It is against federal law to transport the seeds across state lines.

According to the Abell Foundation Hemp Report, most hemp seed is imported from Europe, and countries such as Canada, Ukraine and China as large leaders in hemp cultivation.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, this year introduced an Industrial Hemp Pilot Program bill to facilitate its growth in Maryland.

Fraser-Hidalgo first introduced the legislation for hemp legalization in 2015 but it failed largely because of lack of education about hemp use, he said.

The 2018 bill establishes regulations that allow the agriculture department or universities to register farmers who could then grow, process, manufacture and market industrial hemp.

Alex Hempfield, whose last name was legally changed from Joseph, is the owner of Livity Foods LLC in Rockville, Maryland, a business selling nutritional bars that contain hemp seeds.

Hempfield said the legalization of hemp growth will alter customer perception and make people more informed about the product.

“Its economic value will get better. It will employ more people and make more money,” said Hempfield.

Even if the legislation Fraser-Hidalgo introduced on Jan. 31 passes, Hempfield said, the process to obtain infrastructure, create and grow the crop will take a few years.

Four states grew hemp in 2015, according to Kobell’s report. As of 2018, there are 19 states that grow hemp, the report found, and product sales accumulated a revenue of $688 million.

Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 14 in the House Environment and Transportation committee.

By Layne Litsinger

Annapolis: Bills on Live Video, Pink Hunting Gear, and Organ Transplants

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In a move to bring more transparency to the state government, the Hogan administration has proposed legislation, Senate bill 295, that will require all sessions of the Maryland General Assembly — including floor sessions, voting sessions and hearings — to be livestreamed to the public. Maryland is one of seven states that doesn’t have audio or video of what’s happening on the floor, according to the governor’s office. The bill was heard by a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Tax bill would alter personal exemptions
A bill altering personal exemptions passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday. The legislation, Senate bill 184, clarifies that a taxpayer can deduct personal exemptions for themselves, their spouse and eligible dependents for state income tax purposes. Prior to 2018, taxpayers were able to write off personal exemptions but the value was indexed for inflation and reduced or eliminated if the taxpayer’s federal adjusted gross income exceeded a certain dollar amount.

Slavery-era insurance provision addressed
A bill repealing provisions of laws that would require insurers to provide the Maryland Insurance Commissioner with information regarding slavery-era insurance policies advanced in the House of Delegates on Tuesday
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Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, is sponsoring the legislation, House bill 189, which cuts provisions that authorized insurers in the state to submit information related to slaveholder insurance policies to the Maryland Insurance Administration, which could then compile and report that information.

The current law consists of a policy issuing or benefitting a slaveholder that insured against a slave’s injury or death. Insurers then had to submit information about the policy, but the proposed legislation repeals the “obsolete” provisions.

Hogan bill addresses repeat drunken driving
The Hogan administration is cracking down on repeat drunk-driving offenders with a bill scheduled to be heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday. Senate bill 296 increases the penalties for a person who is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and either has three or more prior convictions or was previously convicted of a specified homicide, manslaughter, or life-threatening injury by motor vehicle. Violators would be given a felony charge and could be subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000 — up from a maximum of 4 years of imprisonment and/or fine of $4,000.

Legislation bans passenger-seat marijuana smoking
A bill that would prohibit both the driver and passengers of a motor vehicle from smoking or consuming marijuana in the passenger area of a motor vehicle on a highway was scheduled to be heard on Tuesday by a Senate committee. Sponsored by Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, Senate bill 345 would make the offense a misdemeanor and the existing public marijuana use and possession penalty of a maximum fine of $500 will apply.

Learner’s permit time may be shortened
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is sponsoring legislation, Senate bill 424, that reduces the period of time by six months during which certain adults younger than age 25 who hold a learner’s permit must wait before taking a drivers test for a provisional license. Young drivers must wait nine months before getting a license under current legislation. Instructional permit holders convicted of, or granted probation for, a moving violation are not eligible.

Hunting in neon pink could become law
A Maryland lawmaker is advocating for the authorization of “daylight fluorescent pink” as a color for certain outerwear hunters must wear. Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, has drafted Senate bill 341 that would allow hunters to wear specified pink clothing, or wear daylight fluorescent orange clothing. Daylight fluorescent pink has been authorized in six states. The bill was heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Bills address organ donation
Two measures related to organ donation are under consideration in the General Assembly. A bill heard on Tuesday by a Senate committee would authorize the Motor Vehicle Administration to designate a vehicle used to transport organs as an emergency vehicle if it meets certain requirements. Under Senate bill 475, sponsored by Delegate Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, these vehicles would be equipped with lights or signal devices and all drivers will be required to complete a course approved by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. And on Tuesday morning, House Speaker Mike Busch, D-Anne Arundel, honored the University of Maryland Medical Center transplant team and his sister, who donated part of her liver to him last year. Busch is the sponsor of House bill 96, a tax measure that creates an income reduction for up to $7,500 of qualified expenses incurred by a living organ donor.

Motorcyclists could go helmet-free if bill passes
A bill heard on Tuesday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee could exempt some motorcycle riders from helmet requirements in Maryland. Any licensed motorcycle operator who has been riding for at least two years and has completed an approved motorcycle rider safety course, as well as their passengers, will be exempt from headgear. Senate bill 439 was sponsored by Sen. Wayne Norman, R-Harford and Cecil.

Bills would allow collective bargaining at college; crack down on hazing
Multiple Senate bills were on track to be heard in the House Appropriations committee on Tuesday regarding higher education, including collective bargaining rights to certain adjunct faculty (House bill 163) and graduate assistants (House bill 199) at certain public institutions of higher education; and written policy and educational programs on hazing (House bill 368).

By Hannah Brockway. Capital News Service correspondent Sean Whooley contributed to this report.

 

Bay Ecosystem:Tangier Island Recovers from Icy Grip

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As temperatures on the Chesapeake Bay dropped as low as 9 degrees early this month, a barricade of ice up to 10 inches thick formed around Tangier Island, preventing boats from bringing groceries, medicine and other supplies to the 722 residents on that speck of Virginia off the Eastern Shore.

Fortunately, a variety of agencies came to the rescue — the U.S. Coast Guard out of Maryland, the Virginia National Guard and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources organized emergency ice-breaking operations to free Tangier Island.

Nearly two weeks after the snowstorm, regular activity on the waters around Tangier resumed Wednesday, and the mail delivery ferry went out to Tangier’s residents for the first time Thursday morning.

“We’re happy to help with what is really life-saving work,” said Gregg Bortz, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Tangier is located in the Chesapeake Bay and consists of three villages — Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point. The island depends on boats for mail and shipments, and single-digit temperatures and thick ice made that impossible.

Tangier Island falls within the Coast Guard’s 5th District, which includes Maryland and Virginia.

“The Coast Guard has a history of providing assistance to Tangier,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges. “The organizations that responded to Tangier Island were based on the availability of assets with ice-breaking capabilities.”

Then the Virginia National Guard flew in from Richmond, making two trips to deliver additional food.

Island officials sought assistance from the Coast Guard, which sent the cutter Chock on Jan. 3. The ship conducted ice breaking and supply delivery until Jan. 5, Hodges said.

“The Chock had to be redirected to break ice in another area, and second request was submitted to the Coast Guard by Tangier for assistance,” Hodges said. “The Coast Guard was unable to facilitate the request, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management took over relief duties.”

According to Bortz, a 100-foot Maryland icebreaker, the J. Millard-Tawes, was brought in from Crisfield, Maryland, 13 1/2 miles from Tangier.

Clearing a path, he said, was “the primary goal.”

The Maryland DNR was called to the island last in 2015. Bortz said the U.S. Coast Guard primarily responds to Tangier while Maryland DNR focuses on helping nearby Smith Island, Maryland.

Capt. Eddie Somers of the J. Millard-Tawes was part of the rescue team that met trucks of supplies at the city docks in Crisfield and took the two-hour journey to Tangier.

Besides the Tawes, the Maryland DNR has three ice-breaking vessels — the John C. Widener in Annapolis, A.V. Sandusky in Kent Narrows and Big Lou on the Choptank River.

Tangier Mayor James Eskridge said the island hasn’t experienced ice like this in many years. The community, he added, always pulls together.

“Some 40 years ago, folks would have bonfires and go ice skating,” he said. “This was the closest to an ice storm we’ve had since then.”

By Sophia Belletti and Katie Bashista.

Photos from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources 

Oyster Shell Recycling: Bay to Table and Back Again

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At 7:30 a.m., outside of the Oyster Recovery Partnership office and by the trunk of his 2008 Toyota Corolla, Wayne Witzke traded his slides for a pair of brown rubber boots.

The bearded man hopped into a Ford F-550, fired up the truck — covered with oyster-camouflage — and shifted it into gear. Time to pick up smelly barrels of shells from roughly 30 restaurants in Annapolis.

“Just me individually,” Witzke said, “I pick up 100-150 restaurants” per week.

Witzke works for the Shell Recycling Alliance, an Oyster Recovery Partnership program that collects discarded shell from restaurants and seafood distributors in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and parts of Virginia.

Witzke grew up near Salisbury, Maryland, “always going to tributaries of the bay, specifically the Nanticoke and living near the Wicomico,” he said. “I’ve always gotten to see how life on the bay is.”

He’s also seen the Chesapeake’s condition change.

“We’ve also had moments where we can’t necessarily go swimming in some of those tributaries because of bacteria and other things,” he said. “Loving to fish and crab and even eat some of the seafood that we get from it has opened my eyes to the plight of the bay and how, consequently, there are efforts out there to bring it back.”

While Witzke picks up, transports and unloads shell, he keeps the bigger picture in mind.

“Sure I’m just dumping the shells,” he said, “but each one will become a home for 10 baby oysters.”

He added: “It comes down to believing in the mission.”

Some of the shells are used for the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, which equips willing waterfront households with cages of oysters to hang from their docks.

The effort protects baby oysters in their most vulnerable stages. After a year, the homeowners return the oysters and the bivalves are planted in oyster sanctuaries to improve water quality, among other benefits.

The recycled shell is also used to bolster state and federally sponsored oyster restoration in Chesapeake Bay tributaries on the Eastern Shore of Maryland — the largest oyster restoration project in the country.

The shell Witzke and his colleagues recycle is delivered to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge, Maryland.

It is aged for a year “to get rid of any organic material,” washed with high-pressure hoses, and placed in metal cages containers, Hatchery Manager Stephanie Alexander told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

The containers of shell are then added to outdoor setting tanks. The larvae are introduced to the tank and regulated closely by hatchery staff, who take samples to measure how many attached to shells, Alexander said.

“If the numbers look good,” she said, “we’ll go ahead and turn the water on” and then schedule planting. The tanks are connected by an elaborate network of pipes, which pump phytoplankton-rich river water through the cages, providing a food source for the young bivalves.

Ready for deployment, the spat — baby oysters once they’ve attached to shell — are loaded onto a vessel and dumped onto oyster beds in the country’s largest oyster restoration project in and around the Choptank River.

Oyster planting can’t happen without hatchery-grown larvae. And hatchery-grown larvae need shells to survive, which highlights the importance of Witzke and his colleagues’ work.

Shell recycled by the alliance accounts for about a third of hatchery operations’ total demand of approximately 100,000 bushels per year, according to Tom Price, Shell Recycling Alliance operations manager.

The shell recycling program began in 2010 with 22 restaurants. Today, the alliance boasts over 336 members regionwide and counting, Price said.

This year, Price said, the shell alliance is on track to collect 34,000 bushels, with its grand total set to eclipse 140,000 bushels since the program’s inception in 2010.

On Nov. 9 — as he does almost every Thursday — Witzke set off to pick up shell from restaurants on the alliance’s Annapolis route. He’s refined his collection practice down to labeling certain cans with zip ties and has developed a walking route among the downtown restaurants. Each time he picks up a restaurant’s container of shell, he replaces it with a fresh can.

The aroma of a full can of old shucked oyster shells is nauseating. The containers stored inside are bad, the ones stored outside — open to the elements and subject to filling with water — are noxious.

Witzke’s used to it, though, and didn’t skip a beat.

Cans with zip-ties have holes in them to let water drain as they sit outside of restaurants. Witzke knows he can’t use those cans for restaurants that store shell indoors, because the rancid liquid inside would drip out.

As he approached the first, and newest, stop — Azure at the Park Place Plaza — Witzke squeezed the truck beside two moving vans, grabbed a rope he uses to drag full cans and took off into a dark loading dock.

“Let’s see if we can find this can,” he said.

The three-year shell recycling veteran has also noticed trends. Some restaurants, the “dink and dunks” as Witzke calls them, produce little shell, while others, the “heavy hitters”, consistently have multiple cans to recycle.

His downtown Annapolis route, which he does on foot, pulling cans on a dolly, began at the Market House by Ego Alley on the town’s renowned waterfront. He picked up at popular restaurants like Middleton Tavern and McGarvey’s Saloon & Oyster Bar, and then headed toward the State House and Galway Bay Irish Restaurant and Pub on Maryland Avenue.

To get to Galway Bay’s cooler, Witzke had to maneuver through an elaborate and narrow alley system. On this particular Thursday, the Irish pub, which prides itself on reducing waste, produced little more than a bucket of shell.

“It’s our mission to be good stewards of our planet,” said Gary Brown, assistant general manager at Galway Bay. Brown found out about the recycling alliance at a festival. The Recovery Partnership attends many festivals to spread the word about the program.

“I spoke with one of the ladies from the recovery partnership and decided to say, ‘Hey we’re going through all these oysters and there’s no way to recycle them,’” Brown said.

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve,” Brown said, “because they smell.”

If they leave the oysters outside, Brown added, they’ll attract flies, maggots and rodents, “which obviously as a restaurant we don’t want.”

So Galway Bay settled on buckets with a screw-on lid to negate the smell.

It’s not only about environmental stewardship for restaurants. The initiative provides free waste removal — the recycling alliance picks up their shell for free — and a tax break.

Each time they pick up shell from a restaurant, Witzke and the alliance record the amounts. At the end of the year, the alliance totals the amount of bushels each restaurant collected, creates a certificate and delivers it to the restaurant. For up to 150 bushels, the restaurant can earn $5 per bushel against its state income tax.

After loading the shell from the Irish pub onto his dolly, Witzke wheeled the oysters back to the truck.

On to the heavy hitters in the Eastport neighborhood.

Boatyard Bar & Grill recycled the most shell Nov. 9, with over six cans.

“We sell a huge amount of oysters,” said Dick Franyo, the owner of Boatyard, who outlined his restaurant’s “Buck to Shuck” promotion, which offers $1 oysters at happy hour and on Sundays.

Franyo, a self-proclaimed “bay rat,” said he grew up fishing and sailing around the bay. As such, he’s grown to understand the importance of cleaning it — and the oysters’ impact on the estuary.

“If you’re in the Chesapeake Bay region, your business is driven by the health of the bay,” he said. “People come here to eat local” oysters, crabs and rockfish (striped bass).

He added: “So goes the health of the bay, so goes our business.”

To get to the back of Boatyard, Witzke had to reverse the bulky truck down a narrow alley.

“All the other trucks scrape the walls,” Franyo said.

Witzke then retrieved the cans from an outdoor closet attached to the restaurant. The room was packed with full cans stacked on top of each other. He had to heft the heavy cans onto the ground before dragging them to the back of the truck. At the truck, Witzke heaved four cans onto a hydraulic lift,repeating until he’d collected all of them.

By about 1 p.m., Witzke had collected all of his shell. He got back on the road and headed for the Bay Bridge.

“This is the part of the job that drives me nuts,” he said, pointing to the pickup truck in front of him on Eastbound Route 50, “sitting in traffic behind someone that’s just moseying along.”

“I just want to dump or pick up my shell.”

Upon arrival at the Grasonville Solid Waste Transfer Station in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, Witzke steered the truck to the back corner of the facility. He turned and reversed toward the alliance’s mountainous shell piles.

As Witzke exited the truck, the rancid smell of of rotting seafood was startling.

Witze stacked each of the empty cans left at the transfer station from the previous trip. He maintains a rotation, giving the cans a few days to air out before exchanging them for full containers at restaurants.

Witzke swung open the Ford’s rear corral gates and slid containers to the edge of the truck bed before tipping them over, one at a time, pouring the contents onto the shell pile.

It had rained overnight and many of the cans had filled with water. Each time he turned over a container of shells, water splashed up.

And each time the pungent smell of rotten seafood slush pierced the air.

After about an hour, Witzke had cleared the truck bed and switched out the cans. Time to head back to the Annapolis office, a long day of smelly work on the books.

He climbed into the truck, leaving the putrid smell behind, and turned the ignition.

“Does the AC smell weird to you?”

By Alex Mann

Proposed MD Legislation Aims to Stop Online Sex Trafficking

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Last year, Maryland had the 13th-most sex trafficking cases in the country with 161, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

This year, the hotline reported 61 sex trafficking cases in this the state as of June 30. Half of the incidents involved a minor, and about 84 percent included a female victim.

A House Energy and Commerce hearing Thursday examined legislation that would close loopholes in federal law that critics fear has allowed pervasive online sex trafficking.

Under current law, the Communications Decency Act does not hold online services liable for content that secondary users publish. Sites such as Reddit, Facebook and YouTube are not responsible for vile material that its commenters post in a thread or comment section.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, introduced the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” earlier this year to make it easier for states to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking. The measure also would give victims the right to sue such sites.

The bipartisan measure has 171 House co-sponsors, including Maryland Reps. Andy Harris, R- Cockeysville, and Anthony Brown, D-Largo.

A member of the committee, Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, said in a statement that human trafficking inside and beyond the United States “is a scourge on society that preys on our most vulnerable. We must do everything we can to curb trafficking in all its forms, including sex trafficking online.”

“If Congress establishes a real tool to ensure that businesses cannot commit crimes online that they could never commit offline, fewer businesses will enter the sex trade, and fewer victims will ever be sold and raped,” Wagner said in her testimony.

Yiota Souras, senior vice president for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that over the past five years, 88 percent of the center’s reports concerned online sex trafficking. He said roughly 74 percent of the center’s reports came from Backpage.com, a website that offers advertisements for dating, services and jobs, among other resources.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michael Doyle of Pennsylvania, citing a Senate report, asserted that Backpage’s owners were aware of the sex trafficking taking place, and even encouraged sex-trafficking advertisers to falsify their postings to hide their true intentions.

Souras added that children online may be seeking attention that they are not receiving at home, and are vulnerable to false promises made by predators online.

“That’s probably how they are lured, they’re seeking the smallest remnant of kindness from someone,” Souras said. Online predators are manipulative and know how to extend that branch of kindness to their victims, she added.

Still, Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said in his testimony that Wagner’s measure would “reinstate the moderator’s dilemma,” which forces websites to decide whether to exercise full editorial discretion, or none at all.

Goldman added that leaving this discretion to websites could inadvertently increase online sex trafficking because it may be more favorable to leave users’ content entirely unchecked.

Goldman also expressed concern that punishing these sites differently at the federal and state levels could damage the integrity of the Communications Decency Act, which he dubbed “one of the most important policy achievements of the past quarter-century.”

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said he saw firsthand the lasting impact sex trafficking can have on victims.

While in South Africa, his daughter was rushed by three men – one of whom brandished a pistol – but she was saved when one of the men yanked her backpack from her shoulder instead of grabbing her, he said.

The congressman’s voice quivered as he recounted her experience.

Although she escaped, Olson said, she “has not been the same.”

“(Sex traffickers) are devils, absolute evil devils,” he added. “This has to stop.”

Even if the law is changed, Souras said she knows that an online marketplace for sex trafficking will likely remain. But she said she believes that the issue is rectifiable.

“It’s important that there be a professional approach to this,” Souras said. “Sex trafficking is a multifaceted problem, it requires a multifaceted solution.”

 

By Conner Hoyt And Michael Brice-Saddler

 

Maryland 3.0: As Medical Cannabis Nears, Bill could boost Minorities’ Stake

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After a four-year wait to provide medical cannabis to patients, the drug could be available to Marylanders as early as this month, according to industry stakeholders.

“I think we could see product in November, with increase in December and a steady flow from all operators in the new year,” said Wendy Bronfein, the marketing director for Curio Wellness, a company in Lutherville, Maryland, awarded two licenses to cultivate and process medical marijuana.

However, racial diversity in the state’s medical marijuana industry is wanting, and some lawmakers said they are planning to introduce a bill early next session to grant licenses to African-American business owners.

A disparity study ordered by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in April and due in December focuses on whether minorities who sought a license in the cannabis industry were at a disadvantage.

The study was prompted after the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus raised concerns about the lack of African-American involvement in the industry.

Of the 321 business owners granted preliminary licenses to grow, distribute or process the drug, 208 were white men or women and the remaining 113 identified as a member of a minority group or as multiracial. Of these, 55 — about 17 percent — were black men and women, according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

“It’s shameful in a state like Maryland where we have one-third of the population of the state, one-third is African American,” said Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

As the General Assembly’s January session approaches, members of the Black Caucus told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service they have begun drafting a bill that would award 10 new licenses for growers and processors specifically targeted at African-Americans interested in the industry.

They will move forward with their legislation regardless of the outcome of a Hogan’s disparity study, Glenn said.

“I will bank on it that we’ll come away from the table with five new licenses for growers and five new licenses for processors that will be awarded based on the results of the disparity study. What does that mean? That means these licenses will go to, in large part, African Americans,” said Glenn.

A weighted scoring system will give businesses an advantage of being awarded a particular license if they have a certain percentage of African-American ownership, Glenn said.

A “compassionate use fund” will be part of the legislation in order to make medical marijuana affordable for patients in Maryland. The fund will be financed based on the fees that licensees in the industry must pay, Glenn said.

“Marijuana is still an illegal drug, according to the federal government. Your insurance will not pay for marijuana even though it is medical marijuana. So what does that mean? That means it becomes a rich man’s struggle. We’re not gonna have that,” said Glenn, whose mother died of cancer and is the commission’s namesake.

Marylanders who are insured through the state’s Medicare and Medicaid programs will not be covered for medical cannabis, said Brittany Fowler, spokeswoman for the Maryland health department.

The legislation has been numbered Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2, and should gain initial approval as an emergency bill during a joint hearing by the House and the Senate during the first weeks of the session — which is scheduled to start Jan. 10 — Glenn said.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus said they intend to use the upcoming election as leverage for the bill.

“Next year is election year … so timing is everything … I am very, very sure that this is going to be taken care of,” Glenn said.

Cannabis companies have said that the drug is likely to be available to patients this month.

ForwardGro Inc., the first licensed medical marijuana grower, successfully passed the state’s cannabis assessment this year, said Darrell Carrington, the medical cannabis director of Greenwill Consulting Group LLC.

Patients will be able to get cannabis in a variety of forms such as lotion, pills and transdermal patches, said Michael Klein, the chief operating officer of Wellness Solutions in Frederick, Maryland.

The industry has been projected to open toward the end of the year, according to Brian Lopez, the chairman of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

“The industry is starting to move forward,” Lopez said late last month. “We hope we are going to have another 20 to 30 dispensaries by the end of the year and at that point we will have an industry that is starting to receive product consistently around the state. But with that we are going to also, I’m sure, see some growing pains.”

Maryland still faces a wide range of challenges as the industry starts up. The commission has not decided how to regulate how dispensaries will serve out-of-state patients, deal with the green waste from the cannabis, or address fraudulent activity within the industry, said Lopez.

“I’m sure we are going to hit road blocks, but we plan to work through them in a very consistent manner and with diligence,” Lopez said.

Maryland is considered to have one of the slowest medical cannabis rollouts in the nation, hampered by several delays that arose during the four-year process since it was legalized.

Stakeholders in the industry have pointed to the lack of funding of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission in its beginning stages, and to lawsuits filed against the commission, as major stumbling blocks.

In 2016, GTI — Green Thumb Industries — a Bethesda, Maryland-based company that was originally awarded pre-approved licenses as a grower, filed a lawsuit against the commission for retracting its licenses in order to create geographical diversity.

The commission, which as of mid-2017 had 10 new members, made the decision to retract the license from GTI after the Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh stated in 2016 that the commission must ensure geographical diversity when choosing applicants.

GTI attempted to work with the Black Caucus to reverse the decision during the 2017 General Assembly session through legislation, which would have awarded them a license, said Delegate Pamela Queen D-Montgomery, financial secretary for the Black Caucus.

The legislation failed in the last 90 minutes of the session and there were no additional medical marijuana growing licenses given to any companies owned by minorities, Queen said.

The Legislative Black Caucus earlier this year asked Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, and Speaker of the House Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, to reconvene the General Assembly to Annapolis for a one-day session to pass a law expanding the medical marijuana industry. However, the request was denied.

In another lawsuit against the commission, filed in October 2016 by Alternative Medicine Maryland, a predominately African-American owned business, Judge Barry Williams ruled in May that if he finds that the commission unlawfully disregarded racial diversity during the application process for licenses he reserves the right to revoke the licenses of those who were pre-approved.

This could ultimately shut down the industry, according to John Pica, a lobbyist and attorney representing Alternative Medicine Maryland.

Frosh also had said it would be unlawful to seek racial diversity in the application process without there being a history of racial disparities in the nascent cannabis industry.

“While it is still too soon to say for certain when we can expect a final analysis, we are encouraged and grateful to collaborate with these offices as we pursue this important work,” said Medical Cannabis Commission Executive Director Patrick Jameson, who announced his resignation from the commission on Thursday.

Queen said she thinks that a major issue that negatively affected the industry was the poor funding the commission initially received from the state.

When the panel was created as the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission in 2013, its purpose was to oversee academic medical intuitions in distributing medical marijuana. However, the institutions were unwilling to distribute the drug because it is illegal under federal law.

In 2015, when the commission was recreated as the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission, they were given a greater responsibility to evaluate and certify businesses to grow, process and distribute the drug.

The commission received $140,795 in fiscal year 2015 and $2,540,331 in fiscal year 2017. The increase of funding over time was used to hire more employees, contractual labor, office spaces that can support the growing staff, travel expenses and to pay Towson University for scoring license applications for the industry, according to Maryland Department of Budget and Management.

By Oluwatomike Adeboyejo