To Counter Opioid Epidemic Leads State Panel to Revisit “Recovery Schools

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A fire led to the eventual end of Phoenix — a groundbreaking Maryland public school program for children with addiction that closed in 2012 — but the state could see institutions like it rise again from the ashes.

Recent spikes in the Maryland heroin and opioid epidemic have triggered calls for substantial changes in education systems statewide, and a state work group is weighing the return of recovery schools after a Sept. 7 meeting.

For Kevin Burnes, 47, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, attending a recovery school separate from his hometown high school was life-changing.

Burnes said in a public letter that he began to experiment with drugs and alcohol at age 10, and his addiction to alcohol quickly escalated to PCP. He found himself homeless and was admitted into a psychiatric institute, he wrote.

However, after finding Phoenix, a recovery program for secondary school students with addiction, and attending for two years, his whole life turned around.

“What I can tell you is that this program undeniably saved my life,” said Burnes, now a full-time musician living in Frederick, Maryland. “The largest part of Phoenix’s success was due to the fact that everyone was involved. It was a community effort. It’s a community issue.”

State legislation that passed this year — known as the Start Talking Maryland Act — came into effect in July and directed schools in Maryland to take precautionary measures against opioid exposure and abuse. It also established the work group.

The panel is charged with evaluating and developing behavioral and substance abuse disorder programs and reporting their findings to the General Assembly, according to a state fiscal analysis.

The legislation additionally requires:

–To store naloxone in schools and train school personnel in the drug’s administration
–Public schools to expand existing programs to include drug addiction and prevention education
–Local boards of education or health departments to hire a county or regional community action official to develop these programs
–The governor to include $3 million in the fiscal 2019 budget for the Maryland State Department of Education for these policies
–Schools of higher education that receive state funding to establish these similar policies and instruction in substance use disorders in certain institutions

The Phoenix program and similar secondary schools that followed it were created specifically for students in recovery from substance use disorder or dependency, according to the Association of Recovery Schools.

“What we’ve known anecdotally for a while, we are starting to finally see with data. These high schools have positive effects on preventing and reducing adolescent alcohol and drug use as well as supporting the abstinence of kids post-treatment and seeing a positive impact on academics,” Dr. Andrew Finch, Vanderbilt University researcher and co-founder of the Association of Recovery Schools told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

The first of its kind in the United States, the original Phoenix I school opened in 1979 as an alternative program in Montgomery County, Maryland, that provided both an education and a positive peer culture centered on recovery. Phoenix II followed, also in Montgomery County.

Since then, about 40 schools have opened nationwide, according to Finch, but none remain in the state of Maryland.

“It was amazing the support that the students gave to each other. We would have weekly community meetings where they would praise each other for their commitment, but if they weren’t working toward sobriety these kids were the first ones to rat on each other,” Izzy Kovach, a former Phoenix teacher told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “It was a real sense of family…”

Critical to the Phoenix schools were outdoor challenges, said Mike Bucci, a former Phoenix teacher for 20 years, in a report. Along with regular days of classes and support groups, students would go from climbing 930-foot sandstone cliffs at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, to biking the 184-mile length of the C&O Canal to sailing the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

“These trips helped form lifelong bonds along with an ‘I can’ attitude,” Bucci wrote.

The Phoenix schools at their largest enrolled about 50 students each at a time, according to a state report.

After years of successful work, the Phoenix schools began to lose their spark. Tragedy struck in 2001 when the Phoenix II school burned down.

However, instead of remaining a standalone recovery school, Phoenix II continued on as an in-school program, and eventually Phoenix I followed, according to Kovach.

“The program lost its validity with this model (with students back in traditional high schools). The students knew it, the parents knew it, and eventually key staff left because they also saw it was ineffective,” Kovach said.

Eventually, enrollment dwindled down to only three students and the Phoenix program closed its doors in 2012, according to a report compiled by a community advocacy group Phoenix Rising: Maryland Recovery School Advocates.

Five years later, with the rise in drug use throughout the state, talk of bringing back recovery school programs have reemerged.

“Whenever you have a program where there aren’t many of them, like recovery schools, people just don’t don’t think of them as an option. But, it is slowly changing and it’s even starting to be picked up by the media,” Finch said.

The epidemic is gathering attention and resources in Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency from March 1 to April 30 and committed an additional $50 million over five years to help with prevention.

From 2014 to 2017, the number of opioid-related deaths reported in Maryland between Jan. 1 and March 31 more than doubled — taking the death toll up to 473, according to state health department data. Since then, the work group has begun to look at these numbers and is beginning to discuss various models for these new recovery programs.

Lisa Lowe, director of the Heroin Action Coalition advocacy group, said she fears that the work group will not be able to understand how to move in the right direction without having students, parents or teachers with lived experience contributing.

“Instead of just guessing what’s going to work, why not ask the people who are living it?” Lowe said.

The work group has considered either creating a regional recovery school or bringing the recovery programs into already existing schools — both models in which Burnes, Lowe and many others are not in favor.

Lowe said students in recovery need to get away from “people, places and things,” a common phrase that is used in 12-step programs. With a regional school or an in-school program, Lowe said, it is more difficult to maintain after-school programming and local peer support groups, and it will bring recovering students back to where their problems started.

The start-up costs for Year 1 for one recovery school are estimated to range from approximately $2,258,891 to $2,473,891 depending on whether the school is operated only for Montgomery County students or as a regional recovery school, and again should enroll about 50 students age 14 through 21 years (or Grades 8 through 12), according to a state report.

“The overdoses are not occurring as much at the high school level, but that’s where they start. They start in high school and they start in middle school. We have to get the program in place so that we don’t have the deaths later on,” said Kovach, the former Phoenix teacher.

Rachelle Gardner, the co-founder of Hope Academy, a recovery charter high school in Indiana, said that these recovery schools are needed all over the country to help battle this substance abuse crisis.

“Addiction is addiction, when you walk into a 12-step meeting you’re in a room of addicts. You have to treat the addict in itself and we have to meet everybody where they’re at regardless of their drug of choice,” Gardner said.

The workgroup is continuing to develop their ideas for recovery schools and are expected to present their findings to the State Board of Education on Oct. 24.

By Georgia Slater

Maryland’s Undocumented Immigrants: In Their Own Words

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While reports circulate that the Trump administration is closer to resolving questions left after last week’s immigration announcement, Maryland’s undocumented residents are uncertain of what comes next.

Cindy Kolade, 24, originally from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, came to Baltimore with her mother when she was 12 years old.

In conversations following the White House announcement, three of Maryland’s “dreamers,” as they are often called, told Capital News Service they are worried about their future without the legal protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

“When you’re undocumented, the only thing you can rely on is your community,” said Nathaly Uribe Robledo, 22, of Glen Burnie, Maryland. “For a lot of us, this will be the first time that we will be living undocumented as adults with adult responsibilities.”

Robledo arrived with her mother from Chile 20 years ago on tourist visas, she told Capital News Service.

“I’ve been here since I was 2 years old, and I have very little memory – if any – of Chile,” she said. “All of my life and my memories, all of my special life events, have occurred here in the U.S.”

“The main reason my parents decided to come to the U.S. was the lack of opportunity in Chile,” Robledo continued. “There was so much economic instability in Chile, and coming to the U.S. meant a better opportunity for a better life.”

DACA was created in 2012 under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation and granting them two-year renewable work permits.

Jose Aguiluz, 28, was one of several hundred people gathered outside the White House awaiting the administration’s decision on Tuesday, Sept. 5th

Since the program began, almost 800,000 people have been approved. To be eligible, immigrants had to be between the ages of 16 and 31 as of June 25, 2012. They also had to have lived in the United States since 2007, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Robledo applied for her first permit in 2012 and again when the program was briefly expanded to three-year stays in 2014. She applied most recently in July.

President Donald Trump on Sept. 5 gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution to address the program. New DACA applications will no longer be accepted but undocumented immigrants who are already covered can still apply for renewal, as long it is by Oct. 5.

“I can personally say that (with DACA) I finally felt like an average, normal American teenager,” Robledo said.

She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, until financial struggles forced her to withdraw in 2014. Robledo was pursuing a double major in biology and political science with dreams of becoming a representative in Congress. She now works at an insurance agency in Baltimore.

“I’m very lucky, in a way, and privileged – which is kind of an oxymoron – to be in a situation where my friends are very supportive of me and my employer is very supportive,” Robledo said.

The decision, while anticipated, felt “devastating” for Robledo.

“I know my parents have made it 20 years undocumented, and I know that I can make it if I try, but it will be hard,” she said.

“I’m just so scared of the unknown because my whole life being undocumented so far has been while I was in school,” she added. “It’s already scary enough knowing that these are the years where you’re supposed to set everything in motion for the rest of your life.”

A coalition of leaders across the country has signed a pledge supporting the DACA recipients. Among those are many Maryland politicians, including 12 state senators and four mayors.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement Wednesday that Trump “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

Trump disputed the account on Twitter, saying that “no deal was made last night on DACA.”

“We cannot let the Trump Administration get away with tearing apart innocent families and wreaking havoc on our economy in Maryland,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a Sept. 5 statement.

As of March, there were roughly 9,700 Marylanders enrolled in the DACA program, according to data from USCIS.

In Maryland, DACA-eligible dreamers are mainly found in three counties, based on 2016 data released by the Migration Policy Institute: Montgomery (roughly 8,000), Prince George’s (6,000) and Baltimore (3,000).

The DACA-eligible population in Maryland accounts for about 9.5 percent of the state’s total unauthorized population, said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

The majority of DACA applicants in Maryland come from four countries: El Salvador (about 7,000 recipients), Mexico (5,000), Guatemala (4,000) and South Korea (2,000), per data from the institute.

‘More than just Latinos’

Cindy Kolade, 24, arrived in Baltimore shortly after her twelfth birthday with her mother from the Ivory Coast. Kolade said she will remain covered by DACA through February 2019.

“DACA gave me a little bit of the American dream because I was able to provide for myself and provide for my family,” Kolade said. “With DACA, I’m able to help my mom with the bills.”

She and her mother came straight to Maryland because “it’s the only place I have family.”

“Baltimore shaped me into the person I am today,” she said. “I’m able to survive on my own and take care of myself.”

Kolade works as a clinical lab assistant at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. In 2014, she transferred to Towson University from Baltimore Community College. She is still in school, majoring in molecular biology.

Kolade is registered under Maryland’s DREAM Act and also under DACA, and received her first DACA work permit in October 2012.

In 2012, Maryland passed its own DREAM Act to make in-state tuition accessible for its undocumented residents, provided they attended previous schooling in Maryland.

“With DACA, I really thought I had it all for a minute,” Kolade said. “But even though DACA doesn’t give us the whole American dream…, at least it gave us a chance to go to school, work, and be part of the American society.”

Trump’s announcement has changed Kolade’s thinking.

“You’ve given us something and you’ve taken it away from us,” she said. “You still have to worry about what happens next. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to stop in March or two or three years from now. It’s really devastating because you don’t know how you’re going to survive for yourself.”

Kolade believes the administration’s decision to rescind DACA is a sign that Trump doesn’t understand that communities other than Latinos depend on the legal protections.

“Although (African populations) are a small minority, we still depend on DACA and still feel protected by it,” Kolade said.

Brian Frosh, Maryland’s attorney general, announced Monday that Maryland will join Minnesota, California and Maine in a lawsuit against the decision to end DACA.

“The callous and cavalier action taken by the Trump Administration will destroy the lives of many immigrants who were brought here as infants and toddlers, who love the United States of America, who pay taxes and abide by the law,” Frosh said in a statement. “Ending the program would constitute a $509.4 million loss to the state’s annual GDP.”

Strength in Community

“When I graduated from community college in Maryland in 2011, there was no DACA,” said Jose Aguiluz, 28, a registered nurse from Silver Spring, Maryland, who arrived from Honduras when he was 15.

“I had an associate’s degree in nursing, but I was working as an electrician to pay my bills because it was the only job I could get,” Aguiluz said. “Then DACA came along and changed my life completely within the span of four months.”

Upon receiving his Social Security number and work permit, Aguiluz told Capital News Service, he found work in his field almost immediately.

“I went from being an electrician to having a job as an RN,” he said. “After being able to work legally, I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Maryland University College.”

Aguiluz had plans to continue his education, but is now at a loss because “pretty much everything has been placed on hold.”

“I was looking at my work permit this morning, and I have a stay here until November of next year when my permit expires,” he said.

In 2012, Aguiluz worked with advocates to pass Maryland’s DREAM Act.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” he said. “I brought dreamers to the table to register, and now all that information is in the hands of the government. The Department of Homeland Security knows the phone numbers and addresses of all of us.”

Since Trump’s Sept. 5 decision, CASA, a local immigrants rights organization, is focused on helping dreamers get legal assistance before the final deadline.

“We are holding several DACA renewal clinics,” said Fernanda Durand, CASA communications manager. The clinics “help the DACA recipients renew their DACA applications.”

CASA will be holding three Maryland clinics before Oct. 5, said Durand: Sept. 16 and 30 in Langley Park and Sept. 23 in Baltimore.

Aguiluz is afraid of what so much rumor and confusion means for himself and other undocumented immigrants.

“We are in a particularly unsafe position,” Aguiluz said. “They can just go through my door and get me. It’s very stressful.”

However, Aguiluz was smiling while talking to Capital News Service.

“I don’t want to say that this is a sad occasion,” he said. “From all the indications, we knew that this was going to happen. I’m here because of my community, the community that I built when we started fighting for the DREAM Act in 2012.”

“Community is what keeps us in this fight together.”

By Helene Parshall and Chris Miller

Is Maryland and the Eastern Shore Ready for the Next Big Storm?

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In Maryland, which historically has ducked many of the worst storms of the last 50 years, the question is increasingly not if, but when the next big one will strike. And while some believe the state has often been spared from big hits by dint of location and the buffer of the Chesapeake, what the bay giveth it can also wash away.

Maryland has done extensive planning, including infrastructure improvements that focus on bolstering natural storm defenses to better absorb tidal surges and rainfall runoff, but there is widespread consensus among state officials and meteorologists that a massive hurricane like Harvey or Irma could overwhelm emergency services.

“None of us are exempt,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, during comments to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday before he voted in support of the $7.85 billion Harvey relief bill in the House on Wednesday. “Every part of the country floods…we’re all subject to the vagaries of natural disasters.”

Among the storms that have not missed Maryland is Agnes in 1972, a tropical deluge widely considered among the worst to hit the state, causing 19 deaths and $110 million in damages, according to the National Weather Service. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 storm, creating a tidal surge in the Chesapeake of more than 6 feet and flooding Maryland communities including Annapolis, Fells Point in Baltimore and Cambridge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records.

“It’s certainly not impossible that something like (superstorm) Sandy would happen here,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and one of the state’s leading climate experts.

Boesch noted that a scientific concept called stationarity, the idea that many patterns operate within a fixed range, is no longer true when applied to climate-related events like big storms.

“Terms like ‘once in 100 years’ don’t have much meaning anymore,” he explained, while cautioning that the cooler ocean waters off the nation’s mid-Atlantic coast make a Harvey-scale storm unlikely.

For coastal states like Maryland, there are two types of storms that have the most potential to create damage: those that bring tidal surges (sea water pushed inland by a tropical storm or hurricane) and those that feature much more rain than wind, which create problems with water run-off.

Both storm varieties cause flooding, but for most of Maryland it’s the latter that can wreak havoc, particularly in low-lying areas like Annapolis and parts of Baltimore around the Inner Harbor, which flood regularly under heavy rain.

“Generally, we have increasing precipitation because the atmosphere is getting warmer and this will continue,” said Konstantin Vinnikov, a research scientist at University of Maryland and the state climatologist for Maryland. “Sea level rise in the next couple of decades will make everything much more catastrophic. In Maryland, our islands are suffering with sea level rise even now.”

So it’s fair to wonder what will happen if Maryland gets pounded with a Harvey- or Katrina-level storm that dumped water on the state for days.

“Clearly, the Eastern Shore could get hit as hard as the Gulf Coast could get hit,” said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, which is charged with coordinating the state-level response to natural or man-made disasters. “The difference is most of the people who are in harm’s way are there in summer vacationing.”

MEMA’s basic action plan in the event of a direct storm hit or deluge of rain on the Eastern Shore is to order an evacuation of residents to areas north or west. It’s something the agency did on a small scale in 2011, moving about 3,000 seasonal workers from Ocean City when Hurricane Irene swept through the mid-Atlantic region.

MEMA recently updated one of its key emergency operation plans, although its main strategic emergency blueprint, the Emergency Preparedness Program Strategic Plan, has not been updated since 2013. “Plans are kind of living documents,” said McDonough, referring to the latter. “As things happen, you modify them.”

Loss of life and property are not the only concerns in a major storm. Given the economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay, environmental damage is also a worry.

“Big storms in general are bad for the bay because they bring a lot of pollution,” said Beth McGee, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The best defense against pollution from water runoff is what are called “living shorelines,” or those that remain in their natural state, something that is on the decline in Maryland, according to McGee.

“Flooding is made worse when you have a lot of paved surfaces and rooftops,” said McGee, who also said that Maryland was “making progress” at mitigating development in sensitive shore areas, but “not fast enough.”

“There’s a fair amount of land that’s converting from agriculture and forest to developed land,” she added.

Maryland’s Coast Smart Council, a group of state and local environmental and planning groups formed in 2014, is charged with making regulations for construction and land use with this in mind. In 2016, Coast Smart’s efforts included grant assistance to help restore floodplains, reinforce beaches and protect marsh lands that can serve as a flood buffer during storms.

But will it be enough? “Until you have a storm, it’s hard to gauge,” said Matt Fleming, director of Maryland’s Chesapeake and Coastal Service, an agency that coordinates among regional, state and local governments and private organizations to protect the state’s shoreline. “I hope we’re more prepared than we were five years ago. We’ve taken steps to put us in that direction.”

Timing also matters in Maryland. Spring or early summer storms are particularly lethal to the bay’s underwater sea grasses, which are still immature at the time but serve as spawning grounds and protection for young fish and crab populations.

Although Maryland has only a short ocean-facing shoreline, its needs differ from those areas directly on the Chesapeake.

“We’ve been lucky in a lot of ways, but you know we can be on the national news with the satellite trucks here at any given time,” said Ocean City Councilman Dennis Dare, a former member of the Coast Smart Council. “That’s why we’ve spent 30 years preparing.”

For Ocean City, it is storm surge, not wind or rain, that holds the greatest potential for mayhem—or, ironically, a storm that misses that city and hits the Chesapeake directly.

“If it (a storm) goes up the Chesapeake Bay, that means the metro areas—Annapolis, Prince George’s, Howard County, Baltimore—will have severe damage,” added Dare. “The resources of the state are gonna go in those areas and the Eastern Shore…we may be left to fend for ourselves.”

If Maryland absorbs a massive drubbing like Harvey or Irma, more than the Eastern Shore will likely go begging.

“No one is going to have everything they need for a catastrophic event like Harvey,” said McDonough.

On this, there is widespread agreement.

“If we get a ginormous (sic) storm like they had in Houston,” McGee said, “that’s going to overwhelm the entire system.”

By J.F. Meils

Maryland Immigrant Rights Supporters Attack Trump Move as Cruel

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Maryland’s congressional Democrats and various immigrant rights groups condemned the Trump administration’s decision Tuesday to rescind an order protecting immigrant children who were brought to the United States illegally.

Lawmakers said removing protections for such immigrants would disrupt families and be cruel to those who were not to blame for their illegal status.

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision only blocks away, a crowd of a couple hundred protesters backing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program assembled at LaFayette Park and yelled “Shame!” in the direction of the White House while beating drums.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said the announcement signaled a “dark day in our nation’s history” and implored Congress to pass legislation to make DACA permanent sometime this month.

“I know DACA kids, I’ve actually volunteered to do applications for them,” said Priscilla Labovitz, a Takoma Park, Maryland, resident. “I was an immigration lawyer, but I retired, so I know them as human beings, as nice kids, not in some lumped up way of ‘illegals’ because nobody is illegal.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler, the CEO of Faith and Public Life, a network of 40,000 religious leaders across the country, said the decision to revoke DACA goes against the major principles she believes in as a Christian.

“It’s morally despicable. I stood out there today with young people who are mourning, who are weeping,” Butler said.

“We’re going to keep fighting,” she added. “Clergy are planning even now to take these folks into their houses and into their sanctuaries. We don’t believe in this, and we are going to oppose it every step of the way.”

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, was the lone congressional voice from Maryland who came out in favor of the DACA wind-down. “I strongly support President (Donald) Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy,” he said in a statement. “The Obama-era policy is a gross overreach of executive power and undermined the authority of the legislative branch. President Trump is returning that power to Congress.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, had the opposite reaction. “Clearly written with little thought of the human consequences, this latest action by the Trump Administration will harm our economic and national security,” Cardin said. “It will break families and drive many underground, out of work and into poverty.”

Maryland’s other Democratic senator, Chris Van Hollen, warned of the economic impact of repealing DACA.

“Over its five-year history, DACA has helped nearly 800,000 young people pursue higher education and grow our economy,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “Ending this program will cost our economy over $460.3 billion over ten years and displace over 685,000 workers vital to businesses in Maryland and across the nation.”

Roughly 9,000 Marylanders are beneficiaries of DACA, and according to Sessions’ announcement, they will remain so for the next six months, as the administration plans to use an interim period to usher out the order’s recipients.

However, any DACA requests filed after Tuesday will be rejected, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Filings for renewal for current recipients will be accepted until Oct. 5.

Sessions announced the administration’s decision to a roomful of reporters but took no questions. Trump issued a statement following the announcement.

Ending the DACA program would leave roughly 800,000 illegal immigrants subject to deportation.

A 2012 executive order by President Obama allowed people who came to the United States as children to apply for deferred action for two years at a time. Once the deferred action expired, recipients could apply for renewal.

Recipients had to have been at least 15 and under 31 as of June 15, 2012. An applicant convicted of a felony or at least three misdemeanors was ineligible.

Trump has advocated for DACA’s end since his presidential campaign and, after the seeming inevitability of its termination came to a head this weekend, urged Congress via Twitter to “get ready to do (its) job.”

“Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers and prevents human suffering,” said Sessions, who three times referred to DACA recipients as “illegal aliens.”

“Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism,” the attorney general said.

But a wide array organizations and individuals across the political spectrum, from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and the United States Chamber of Commerce to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and California Gov. Jerry Brown, decried the administration’s move. Some pledged court challenges.

In Lafayette Park across from the White House, protesters said they were dismayed at what felt like a betrayal.

“I served in the United States military, and this is not the type of freedom I served for,” said Jaime Contreras, a vice president at 32BJ SEIU, the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, told Capital News Service.

“It doesn’t make any sense economically or socially in any form.”

Additional protesters marched along Pennsylvania Avenue, sitting down and blocking traffic just outside the Trump International Hotel.

Sheridan Aguirre, a DACA beneficiary, called the decision to strike down the executive order “cruel.”

“We have had five years now being able to live authentically as ourselves, and it’s been a cornerstone of safety for our immediate families,” he said in an interview with CNS. “We need to heal, we need to come together to talk about what’s happening, and in the long term be able to fight for a permanent solution.”

Aguirre is a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant from Austin, Texas, who said his life’s direction was uncertain before DACA. He graduated high school in Texas in June of 2012, days before DACA was announced.

After DACA was implemented, Aguirre, then 19, became the first person in his family to get a driver’s license.

Bobbie Monahan came into the city from Baltimore with other members of her Catholic parish, St. Gabriel, Woodlawn, to support the work of CASA.

“It is a great injustice, and my faith tells me to be here,” said Monahan. “If the heads of my church aren’t moving fast enough, then we’ll get out there and show them.”

Hoyer said he would like to see DACA passed and take effect permanently.

“We will see whether or not the statements of both sympathy and support for Dreamers (by Republicans) are in fact carried out legislatively or whether or not the most strident voices within the Republican Party fomenting anger and ire directing (sic) at these young people are followed,” he said. “Hopefully they will not be.”

Hoyer would not commit to the idea of using would-be Democratic votes for upcoming bills on Hurricane Harvey relief, the debt ceiling, or a continuing budget resolution as leverage to force passage of DACA legislation.

In the meantime, Hoyer believes that DACA would pass right now if it was introduced in the House.

“I frankly think the votes are there,” he said. ‘Will there be controversy? There will because there are some people who don’t want to see anybody admitted to the U.S. and particularly anybody who came here unauthorized.”

In 2015, Hoyer signed an amicus brief along with 180 other House members including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, John Delaney, D-Potomac, and Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, supporting Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and DACA.

“President Trump is breaking his promise to hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who were brought here as children – through no fault of their own – and today know only America as their home,” Cummings said in a statement. “Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see and eliminating DACA sends a terrible message.”

By Conner Hoyt, Angela Jacob, J.F. Meils, Johnny Moseman, Helen Parshall, Ashley Clarke And Changez Ali

Maryland 3.0: Making Eastern Shore Towns “Cool”

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Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, 34, has a floor-to-ceiling erasable board dotted with Post-it notes on the longest wall of his office.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day

It’s a jarring display of terrestrial organization for a millennial, but Day is hardly old school. He’s got two masters degrees, one from Carnegie Mellon in urban design and the other from Oxford in environmental policy. He is also an officer in the Maryland National Guard and a local boy whose father was recently named COO of Perdue Farms.

“There were moments when, as a 9-year-old living in Salisbury, I was thinking I really want to be mayor in this town,” said Day.

So he’s had plenty of time to think about how he’d change things in a city with a history of helter-skelter development and a stubborn crime rate.

“The biggest thing for us has been arts, entertainment and culture,” Day explained. “Recognizing that those things can be more than an ancillary benefit, but a driver has been big for us.”

Day is staring down a core problem in rural Maryland: People are dying faster than they’re being replaced, and where they’re not the numbers are trending that way. So retaining residents and attracting new ones is vital. Because creating jobs, enticing new industries and rebuilding infrastructure matters little if there’s no one around to fill those jobs, drive on those new roads or enjoy those renovated downtowns.

And cities like Salisbury, Frederick and Cumberland — small urban anchors in Maryland’s rural areas — could be where the revitalization begins.

Or where it’s already underway.

A matter of life and death

Garrett, Allegany, Kent, Talbot, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties all had more deaths than births in 2015, according Maryland’s Vital Statistics Report. Leading the way on the Eastern Shore was Kent, which had a third fewer births than deaths. In Western Maryland it was Allegany, where the disparity was 27 percent.

In Wicomico County, where Salisbury is located, the numbers are rosier. In 2015, births beat deaths by 36 percent. However, in 2010 that number was 50 percent. The same trend is there for Frederick County, where births outpaced death two to one in 2010, but slowed to five for every three in 2015.

Population problems in rural areas tend to get framed in economic terms. The argument goes that young people won’t stay if there are no jobs, but the jobs won’t come if there are no young people to fill them. But the jobs are there.

According to Maryland’s Workforce Exchange, there were more than 600 open job listings in Wicomico County, the majority of which were in Salisbury. The numbers are similar in Frederick and Allegany, with more than 500 open job listings in both counties as of late April.

“The problem is that we’re just not adding people at the same rate that we’re adding jobs,” Day said.

Part of the challenge includes boosting the quality, pay and benefits of available jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a pronounced economic shift in Salisbury over the last 10 years from producing things to delivering services — and with it, more jobs that tend to pay less and come with fewer benefits.

In order to sell employment that might not stack up salary-wise to urban areas, mayors like Day and Randy McClement in the city of Frederick are increasingly turning to what they can offer instead: quality of life.

“The thing we’ve been able to do is make Frederick a destination,” said McClement, who’s been mayor there since 2009. “We’ve done that with a hip feel. Millennials are looking for a livable, walkable city. By delivering that, we’re attracting the younger generation.”

The city of Frederick, basically the model for small to mid-size urban redevelopment in Maryland, has the luxury of being perched at the top of I-270 corridor, in commuting distance to job-rich Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County. Salisbury is more remote, and the people who live near it more reliant on its services.

When asked what Salisbury’s 33,000-odd residents needs most, Day points first to an intangible.

“The thing we struggle to overcome more than anything else is a change to our community self-esteem,” he said. “We look to ourselves in a poorer light than any metric would suggest that we should.”

Day is referring in part to Salisbury’s crime problem. According to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the city’s violent crime rate per 100,000 people in 2015 was almost double the state average, though it has fallen in recent years.

“We’ve had some dark times and those things linger,” said Day. “It’s easy to latch onto them as your identity and it’s a lot tougher to get people to believe that things aren’t so bad.”

Downtown Salisbury

To help put the past behind, Day wants to remake pretty much the entire city. And, thanks to a partnership he initiated between Salisbury and the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning, he has a blueprint to do it.

It focuses on the city’s urban core, dividing it into seven neighborhoods, and includes everything from streetscape redesign to newly constructed modern buildings and bridges along the city’s riverwalk on either side of the Wicomico River, which snakes west to east through Salisbury’s center.

Day is hyperfocused on the city’s physical appearance, particularly its branding and signage, but also its benches, planters and trash cans, which are not uniform at present and clearly bother the mayor’s design sense.

Salisbury’s master plan has a proposed price tag of about $640 million over 20 years, nearly 75 percent of which is meant to come from private sector investment. The plan is aggressive and maybe unrealistic, but also visionary. And perhaps no surprise from a mayor with an undergraduate degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning.

Day is also pursuing smaller, less costly efforts at rebranding Salisbury, including being a finalist to host the National Folk Festival for three years, a 175,000-person event that takes place over a long fall weekend each year. Prior hosts include Nashville and Richmond, with Greensboro, N.C., as the event’s current location.

Finally, one of the simpler efforts Day and his team are doing is something called 3rd Fridays, where the city organizes arts and crafts vendors and live music in the city’s historic quarter.

“We had to focus on our own market first so we stopped worrying about the beaches and Baltimore and Washington for a minute and tried to figure out how to get local people to show up,” Day said.

Initial funding for 3rd Fridays the first year was around $20,000. In 2016, it was $280,000.

Given the size and scope of his efforts, it’s fair to question Day’s ability to keep all of them on track, including management of Salisbury’s 435 city employees.

But Day is a believer in using data to make decisions and runs his weekly management meetings like a military battle briefing. Each of his department heads have between four and six key metrics that they measure and then provide updates on on a weekly basis. These include things like potholes filled and lane miles paved and travel time on fire department calls.

“We’re measuring constantly and we’re making decisions based on that,” said Day, his enthusiasm growing as he drills down on yet another topic. “The weakness is the linkage to mapping. We need to reinvent our use of GIS (geographic information systems).”

Something Day will probably incorporate into his briefings soon.

by J.F. Meils

Opioid Crisis Rural Maryland’s Worst Problem

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DENTON — If there is one hopeful thing about Maryland’s opioid crisis, it’s that no one is denying the obvious.

“Very honestly nothing is working,” said Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

For rural areas where communities are small and the stigma is large, opioids can be particularly insidious. The guy who jumped out of the moving ambulance after getting revived by naloxone might be an old high school classmate. The woman selling drugs at the hospital to fellow addicts could be the little sister of a good friend.

The epidemic is also a serious drag on government and medical resources in places where budgets are already stretched. Then there’s the psychic toll, especially on police, ambulance and hospital workers who slug it out on the front lines, often with the same addicts, day after day.

But while the opioid crisis appears to be kicking Maryland’s rural populations while they’re down, the silver lining might be in the size and inherent closeness of those communities, which are beginning to coordinate efforts to combat opioids in ways that simply aren’t possible in the state’s more populated counties.

Localizing the problem

“In our small area, opioids affect pretty much every family one way or another,” said Tommy Conneely, who runs the Lost Sheep Recovery Mission in Caroline County and said he has been seven years sober from alcohol.

Caroline, like other rural counties, is beginning to harmonize their anti-opioid efforts across a wide range of public, private and faith-based groups. The county’s drug and alcohol abuse council includes a diverse collection of law enforcement, education, substance abuse and mental health officials.

And people like Conneely, who, as an ex-cop now involved in faith-based recovery efforts, brings a wholly unique perspective.

The Caroline drug council is in the midst of a series of events hosted at volunteer fire departments, where the FBI documentary “Chasing the Dragon” is being shown, followed by a discussion initiated by former addicts and their parents.

“We found that we had a lot of family members (attend) who had loved ones in active addiction who needed support,” said Holly Ireland, executive director of Mid-Shore Behavioral Health, a referral and planning agency that receives some state funding and operates in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.

“What we haven’t quite figured out is how to tackle engaging the community that is addicted,” Ireland added.

In Harford County, which has one of the highest opioid-related per capita death rates in Maryland, the approach is also multifaceted. They’ve got drug education happening in elementary schools, a prescription return program, rehab for opioid-addicted mothers, a special opiate court and a host of other initiatives.

“We broke down barriers between the sheriff, the board of education, the health department and worked together to go into schools,” said County Executive Barry Glassman, R-Harford. “Our program was recognized by the National Association of Counties for the way it was opened up to the whole county to be part of it.”


And yet Harford’s opioid-related death rates have gone up in almost every category since 2014.

“We’re not gonna give up, but it’s gonna be one of those long-term struggles,” Glassman said. “It’s a generational thing that might take 20 years before we get a grip on it.”

Last August, Barry Ronan, president and CEO of Western Maryland Health System, joined an opioid task force that brought together a similarly wide cross-section of people in Allegany County.

It happened after Ronan was forced to ask that a police officer be stationed in Western Maryland’s emergency room from 3 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day to deal with the surge of sometimes violent addicts arriving for treatment.

“Our staff was being spit upon, assaulted, equipment was being broken,” he said.

In the past two years, Western Maryland Health has spent nearly $1.5 million in additional costs from opioid-related patient treatment.

“(The opioid crisis) eats up a lot of resources,” said Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson. “It takes away the ability for us to do normal law enforcement functions like checks on high-crime areas and speeding enforcement.”

The Allegany task force that includes Ronan and Robertson now meets monthly to coordinate efforts and share ideas.

“Trying to address this from a community perspective has paid off,” said Ronan, at least in terms of unifying the county’s approach. Ronan mentioned things like putting mental health professionals in ambulances as one of the efforts the group is now trying.

“Over the last few months, we’ve seen a slight decline in the OD numbers, which is encouraging,” Ronan said.

Emergency state

In 2016, there were 918 heroin-related deaths in Maryland through September according to the state’s health department, up 23 percent from the total in 2015 and up nearly 60 percent from 2014’s total.

Scarier still is the sudden rise in the use of fentanyl and carfentanil, synthetic opioids that can be more than 1,000 times stronger than morphine and are often mixed with heroin, to fatal effect. Fentanyl-related deaths increased nearly 120 percent between 2015 and the first nine months of 2016, to 738 statewide.

On March 1, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency around the state’s opioid epidemic, committing $50 million over five years to the problem. It was the latest escalation in a series of his administration’s efforts to slow the state’s opioid death toll, which continued to rise in 2016, according to the latest reporting.

What Hogan’s emergency edict calls for is an action plan to be made and then implemented across a slew of state and local agencies throughout Maryland.

The effort is being led by Clay Stamp, the governor’s senior adviser for emergency management and the former director of emergency services for Talbot County, a rural area on the Eastern Shore.

“Education and prevention will move the needle,” said Stamp. “What it does is remove the demand from supply and demand.”

Stamp also said that public health will be the focus of the state’s plan, and likened the scale and approach of forthcoming efforts to those that were used for anti-smoking and HIV education in the past.

Some argue the state’s entire approach is misguided and destined to fail.

“The governor created a task force for heroin and it didn’t have a person in recovery on the task force,” said Mike Gimbel, the director of substance abuse for Baltimore County from 1980 to 2003. “They don’t understand heroin. They really think it’s like teen smoking. This isn’t drug prevention 101.”

According to Gimbel, there’s unlikely to be any headway made against the problem without a primary focus on long-term treatment and rehabilitation, not on naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, and vivitrol, which blocks opioid receptors in the brain for up to a month.

“We’re not going to medicate our way out of it. You don’t solve a drug problem with more drugs,” Gimbel said. “The model should be treatment on demand.”

Funding for Hogan’s state of emergency effort is authorized under the recently passed HOPE Act, which calls for a series of initiatives that revolve around reforming drug courts, naloxone distribution and hospital discharge procedures. The bill also calls for the establishment of “crisis treatment centers,” but requires only one to be up and running before June 2018 and mandates no others.

“It’s important that on the back side, there’s treatment,” said Stamp. “We have to beef up our ability to help people fighting addictions.”

A matter of faith

The inclusion of faith-based organizations on local drug councils is indicative of the all-hands approach in rural areas. What religious groups can bring to the opioid fight is significant in terms of manpower and a direct connection to the community.

“We’re a microcosm of what’s going on in the street,” said Pastor David Ziler of the Union Rescue Mission in Cumberland, a homeless shelter with 62 beds that serves about 200 meals a day. “If it’s happening, we’re going to see it before anyone else is seeing it.”

Ziler believes churches and religious organizations can provide what the government can’t.

“We’re throwing money at the problem, but we haven’t thrown people at the problem,” Ziler said. “(Religious organizations) are the biggest volunteer group in the world and we can offer more man hours than anyone.”

by J.F. Meils

Can Solar and Aquaculture Supplant Big Chicken on the Shore?

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Kevin McClarren has been growing oysters in nets on the Chesapeake Bay for 20 years.

“We were told it would never work,” said McClarren, who manages four acres of floating oyster grounds for the Choptank Oyster Co. near Cambridge in Dorchester County. “Now we’re ground zero for the artisanal oyster movement in Maryland.”

Since 2011, MARBIDCO, the Maryland Agriculture and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp., has doled out 50 loans to budding shellfish aquaculture startups for a total of $3 million.

According to McClarren, the problem is there’s not enough demand in-state for all the newly cultured oysters being produced — or enough distributors to move them to markets beyond Maryland.

Which makes aquaculture — like solar, another relative newcomer to the Eastern Shore — not quite the economic salvation some hope it will be. Similar to Western Maryland and the state’s northern counties, the Eastern Shore is in the process of forging a new economic identity.

Their quandary: finding new industries that create large numbers of decent jobs while protecting the Chesapeake Bay and maintaining the region’s pastoral feel for both tourists and locals. The old economic mainstays of crop farming, raising chickens and catching fish and crabs provide jobs and preserve the area’s character, but all three industries face economic pressures that make their future uncertain.

Big problems for Big Chicken?

There are about 304 million chickens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, or 670 per resident, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. In 2015, chicken production was valued at $930 million, or 41 percent of the state’s total cash farm income.

The issue for some on the Eastern Shore is how the broiler business is changing, specifically in the size of chicken houses, which have evolved over time from open-air buildings that were about 16,000 square feet to enclosed structures of some 36,000 square feet, housing upwards of 30,000 chickens each.

“A lot of chicken houses built in the eighties and nineties have run out their useful life,” said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. “The growth of new chicken houses of the last few years is not going to continue. Companies are not taking on any new growers.”

The impact on air quality from the larger chicken houses is coming under increasing fire from environmentalists and politicians.

In April, the D.C Court of Appeals overturned a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency order that exempted chicken producers from following federal air pollution standards for animal waste. The industry is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. If they lose or the court doesn’t take the case, chicken growers will have to begin complying with EPA reporting standards as early as July.

“It’s not just the stinky smells,” said Sacoby Wilson, an environmental health scientist from University of Maryland. “There are different contaminants (coming from the chicken houses) that can impact your eyes, nose, throat, mood, cause asthma and contribute to other respiratory conditions.”

Should the industry lose its legal fight, compliance with EPA standards could significantly impact the cost for growing chickens on the Eastern Shore.

“Right now they (growers) don’t have to have any technology to reduce emissions coming out of those houses, so this is actually a game changer,” Sacoby added.

As watermen fade, can aquaculture fill the gap?

There are two people on the Maryland state seal, a farmer and a fisherman. Both are under threat on the Eastern Shore, but the plight of the area’s watermen is exceedingly desperate.

“We are a dying breed,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the average crab haul in the 1980s was about 45 million pounds a year. By the 2000s, that number had decreased to 29 million pounds per year, prompting sweeping environmental and fishing regulations that went into effect in 2008.

Those efforts appear to be paying off. According to the 2017 Blue Crab Winter Dredge survey, a measure of the total blue crab population, the spawning-age female crab population in the Chesapeake Bay is 250 million, the highest in the survey’s history.

“If you take the long view and you look at the return on investment in making sure water quality is improving, there are very real economic benefits to citizens and communities in the bay watershed,” said Alan Girard, Maryland’s Eastern Shore director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Popular in discussions about future watermen industries with a low environmental impact on the bay is aquaculture, specifically oystering without using the bottom of the bay.

The economics of growing oysters in netted floats versus harvesting them from the wild is stark. Depending on the market, a cultured oyster will fetch more than three times one that is pulled directly from the bay bottom. But the work — and start-up time for new operators — is daunting. It takes two to five years for an oyster to mature. And culling oysters ready for market must be done by hand on a daily basis.

Finding buyers for oysters is another challenge. Even for established operators like Choptank, there are only so many distributors.

According to McClarren, there’s not enough demand in Maryland to consume all the oysters being produced in-state, so selling them outside Maryland is crucial. “Choptank Sweets” can be found as far north as Maine and as far west as Las Vegas.

Lately, Choptank’s sales numbers are dipping. McClarren is worried that Maryland is overenthusiastic about oyster aquaculture without really understanding the limited market for oysters.

“The state’s pushing people into it, but they’re not looking at the back end,” said McClarren. “Nobody’s stepping back and saying let’s assess this program.”

Even if markets open up for increased oyster production via aquaculture, it seems unlikely to be a driver of employment on the Eastern Shore. At Choptank, it only takes three full-time employees to process one million oysters a year.

Food vs. clean energy

Like watermen, the Eastern Shore’s farmers were once a potent economic force in the region. Some argue the bay-oriented environmental regulation that decimated the ranks of watermen is doing the same to the area’s farmers, only slower.

“If each year, the agricultural community is impacted by new and onerous bills from Annapolis, it makes it difficult for folks in the ag industry to thrive,” said Kurt Fuchs, government affairs officer for Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, which carries about $2.6 billion in outstanding farm loans and has 11,000 borrowers scattered around the region.

According to an analysis of U.S. Census of Agriculture figures from 1997 to 2012, the date of the last census, Eastern Shore farmland is not disappearing. In fact, when combining the shore’s nine counties over the last 15 years of available data, there has been a 4 percent increase in acres of farmland, to just over a million in 2012.

Caroline, the only Eastern Shore county without any coastline on the Chesapeake, ranks first in Maryland in total value of agricultural products sold and is the state’s leading producer of wheat.

But with wheat prices depressed, many farmers in Caroline are hurting.

“The majority of farmers locally have diversified into either the chicken industry or some other industry so they can keep their heads above water,” said County Commissioner Wilbur Levengood, R-Caroline, who still farms about 300 acres near Goldsboro. “Guys who are paying big land rent and doing it on dry land, they’re in trouble,” he added.

Some Eastern Shore farmers are considering solar for revenue, thanks in part to a bill that increased Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for clean energy use to 25 percent statewide by 2020. Gov. Hogan vetoed the bill in February, but it became law via legislative override.

“I think the Eastern Shore has been favorable (for solar) because of the sheer amount of land not currently in use,” said Leigh Yeatts, interim executive director of the MDV-SEIA, the regional arm of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

The shore’s flat topography, and relative closeness to transmission areas also make it ideal for large-scale solar generation.

The biggest solar installation in the state is under construction in Somerset County. Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., a Canadian company, is in the process of installing up to 150 megawatts of solar generation on a series of arrays across 1,000 acres on different patches of land south of Princess Anne, the Somerset County seat.

The next largest site in Maryland is in Hagerstown and produces 20 megawatts annually, according to the SEIA.

The plan submitted to Somerset County by Great Bay Solar LLC and approved by the state’s Public Service Commission estimates that upwards of 4,000 direct and induced jobs will be created during construction, but the site will only require 27 jobs once the project is done.

The Algonquin facility’s future energy is already under contract to the the U.S. government’s General Services Administration. The sweetener for Somerset County, whose local officials did not resist the facility, is $2.5 million annually in tax revenue.

But for all the potential clean energy and government revenue that could be generated by solar, not everyone on the Eastern Shore is down with the area becoming a hub.

“The last thing we want to do is replace our food sources with energy,” said Colby Ferguson, director of government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau, which is not against solar, but does not want it located on productive farmland.

Some counties, like Talbot and Frederick, in the past have placed short-term moratoriums on the installation of solar projects in order to devise appropriate regulations.

“Every field has a classification,” said Jennifer Williams, a Talbot County Commissioner. “In certain fields where the quality is marginal, why not use those fields for solar?”

However, the state’s Public Service Commission reviews and approves all solar projects that will generate two or more megawatts, and their authority supersedes that of the counties.

So is this the beginning of a solar gold rush on the Eastern Shore?

Some of the solar land leases being offered to area farmers make it seem that way. The leases usually run for about 25 years and their financial terms can vary widely, but offers in the $1000/acre range are common, with either lump-sum payments up front or made annually or even quarterly.

With some farmers struggling to net $100/acre growing corn or grain, saying no to solar will be hard.

For the time being anyway, most won’t have to choose.

“I think there’s this misconception (in Maryland) that utility-scale solar is going to continue at the rate we have seen, at 50 to 60 megawatts (developed) a year,” said Sara Rafalson, director of policy and new markets for Sol Systems, an energy finance company. “It will continue, but it won’t be this big solar boom where all the state’s farmland will be taken up,” she added.

A good indicator of the demand for solar is the state’s SREC, or solar renewable energy certificate, market. A single SREC is earned by generating 1,000 kilowatts or 1 megawatt, of solar electricity annually.

SRECs are important because Maryland’s utility companies are required to have 2.5 percent of their electricity generated from solar. SRECs can be bought and sold to big utility companies that need to meet state regulations or face fines. The electricity created is sold separately. SRECs generally serve as an inducement to build solar.

“A bunch of folks were developing projects (in 2015), which led to oversupply in the (SREC) market and a crash in 2016,” said Yeatts.

As of May 25, the bid on SREC Trade, an aggregator, for a Maryland SREC is $8. In spring 2015, they were in the $150 range.

“A lot of (solar development) folks are turning their eyes to Virginia because the economics are more favorable than Maryland,” Rafalson said.

By J.F. Meils

Trump’s Defense Plan Would have Mixed Impact on Maryland

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President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget could be a boost to Maryland’s sprawling defense industry but negatively affect the state’s economy in other areas, according to analysts.

The administration’s so-called “skinny budget,” unveiled in March, seeks to increase national defense spending by $54 billion.

Almost any increase would have a ripple effect in Maryland, which ranked fourth among states in defense spending at $20.5 billion in 2015, according to a Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment study.

However, as envisioned by the White House, any increase in the defense budget would be offset by cuts to many other critical programs in the state.

“What matters for Maryland is the overall federal budget,” Benjamin Orr, executive director of the Baltimore-based Maryland Center on Economic Policy, told Capital News Service.

“Increased defense spending means cuts to many other agencies, according to Trump’s plan,” said Orr, noting that the increase would be relatively small compared to the entire defense budget.

The U.S. spent $604.5 billion on defense last year, more than the next 13 highest-spending countries combined, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Many Democratic members of Congress, including those from Maryland, have opposed Trump’s plan because of proposed cuts to the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and numerous health and science agencies.

“The president’s ideas for building up our military at the expense of diplomacy and development, as well as research and development programs, will not make Americans safer,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement to CNS. “We may need to spend more on defense, but sacrificing domestic programs to pay for more warplanes and battleships only degrade our nation economically and socially.”

Cardin also said he does not see how Trump’s budget proposal benefits Maryland.

“Maryland has a strong base of military facilities, but the work done at most Maryland military installations (is) reliant on research and development funding,” the senator said. “Increases in overall defense spending towards personnel and ship procurement would not benefit Maryland and could potentially further strain and reduce additional research and development work in our state.”

Maryland’s military industry accounted for almost 20 percent of the state’s economy in 2012, according to the most recent study by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

“There are about 145,000 employees on Maryland military installations, both uniformed and civilian employees,” Mike Hayes, managing director of military and federal affairs at the Maryland Department of Commerce, said in an interview with CNS.

Hayes estimated that Maryland’s defense industry contributes around $60 billion in economic output and has created more than 400,000 jobs for the state. He noted that Fort George G. Meade, the state’s largest employer, is responsible for about half of this economic impact.

“Typically, the state of Maryland is in the top five or six in defense spending nationally,” Hayes said.

However, until a defense budget is passed, Hayes said, it was “too early” to determine the potential impact on Maryland.

“I don’t think Maryland will suffer any particular losses, nor do I see any significant gains for the defense industry,” Hayes said.

Despite Trump touting his proposed defense spending increase as “historic,” Hayes noted that it did not represent a significant increase from President Barack Obama’s budget proposals.

“Trump has made sweeping statements but offered no specifics to his defense budget,” Hayes said.

The extent of the defense increase in Maryland depends on how much of Trump’s proposal, which he called “a public safety and national security budget,” survives deliberations in Congress.

Some clues may be found in the recent deal on fiscal 2017 spending, which is expected to be voted on by the House and Senate this week. The accord includes defense spending increases Trump and congressional Republicans wanted, but also includes $5 billion in new funding of numerous domestic programs that congressional Democrats secured.

The budget negotiations revealed rifts among GOP lawmakers that, according to some congressional observers, gives Democrats power over future spending plans.

If a budget similar to Trump’s 2018 proposal passed, Orr said the net economic effect on Maryland would be “very bad.”

“Cuts made to the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and programs that help children and families will drastically outweigh the benefits of a small increase in defense spending,” Orr said.

While many Maryland politicians have spoken out against Trump’s budget proposal in general, there seems to be some support for increased defense spending.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, “supports increasing resources for our Armed Forces,” spokeswoman Jaime Lennon said in a statement.

She said the congressman thinks a spending hike is “necessary if we are going to address major gaps in troop readiness, research and development and modernization caused by years of sequestration and band-aid budgets.”

“Congress has already told our military leaders to grow their standing forces as we look ahead to challenges including Russia, ISIS and Iran. Now we need to provide them with the funding to do so,” Lennon said.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, Ruppersberger’s colleague on the House Appropriations Committee, also supports enhancing the military.

“It is imperative that Congress provides the military with the resources it requires to keep American citizens safe…I support increased defense spending,” Harris said in a statement to CNS. “The state of Maryland is home to various government agencies and private businesses engaged in defense activities, and will benefit from increased defense spending.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., supports investments in the military but doesn’t think Trump’s budget proposal adequately meets domestic needs.

“Our budgets should also address other vital national priorities like expanding economic and educational opportunities, and keeping our commitments to America’s veterans and seniors,” Van Hollen said in a statement to CNS. “Unfortunately, the Trump budget fails to reflect that balance. I look forward to working on a bipartisan basis to pass a new budget plan that addresses all our national priorities.”

While Trump has support to hike military spending, many observers think Congress will balk at the size of the increase the president envisions.

“An increase that high won’t likely pass because there will be trouble reaching a bipartisan budget,” Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNS.

“Many conservatives want to increase defense spending,” Harrison added. “Democrats want higher defense spending but refuse to make the necessary cuts to the State Department…In all likelihood, the (defense spending) increase will be much less than Trump’s proposal.”

The specific impact of a spending increase on Maryland’s defense contractors, military installations and economy will not become clear until after the 2018 budget is put into final form months from now.

By Nate Harold

Analysis shows Range of Impacts Due to MD Comptroller Error

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An analysis of the Maryland comptroller’s misallocations to municipalities over several years shows that some areas were far more severely affected, relative to their annual expenditures, than others.

The Maryland comptroller’s office revealed in 2016 that it had misallocated millions of dollars of tax revenue when distributing that revenue to Maryland’s municipalities.

 

Between 2010 and 2014, some municipalities received more money than they should have while others received less. The total amount of money gained or lost by each municipality ranged from a few thousand dollars to several million.

For most municipalities, this error accounted for less than 3 percent of their budget each year.

However, a few municipalities gained or lost funds that were quite substantial, relative to their average annual budgets, a Capital News Service analysis found. This chart shows the 20 municipalities that gained or lost the most due to the misallocation, relative to their average annual budget between 2010 and 2014.

By Jacob Taylor