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Hogan’s Legislative Priorities go to Committees

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Lawmakers this week began hearing testimony and debating several key pieces of Gov. Larry Hogan’s legislative agenda, including his proposed repeal of the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016. The act, which Hogan calls “the Road Kill Bill,” has become a point of bitter partisan contention between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Legislative committees heard testimony for and against six of Hogan’s bills, Wednesday. His repeal of the Open Transportation Investment Decision Act is by far the governor’s most contentious.

Conflict surrounding that law has mutated beyond its policy impact and become something of a proxy war in the greater political struggle between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature ahead of the 2018 elections.

Hogan has furiously fought the Open Transportation Investment Decision Act, a Democrat-led law that would assign a score to all transportation projects and requires the governor to provide a written explanation if he decides to fund a project with a lower score over a higher one. He vetoed the bill last year and has continued to heap criticism on the law and its supporters since the legislature overrode his veto at the end of the 2016 session.

A few weeks ago, during his 2017 State of the State Speech, Hogan called the law “poorly drafted” and “misguided.” His call for its immediate repeal was met with raucous, standing applause from his cabinet and Republicans while most Democrats, who make up about two-thirds of the legislature, sat in stony silence.

Supporters and detractors of the law often appear to base their arguments on fundamentally different understandings of what the transportation law does, on a practical level.

Montgomery County submitted testimony opposing repeal on the grounds that Hogan’s assertion that the law forces the cancellation of 66 transportation projects is essentially incorrect because it is based on “uncodified language.” In contrast, Howard County submitted testimony supporting repeal because “66 out of 73 transportation projects are cancelled, including five critical transportation projects in Howard County.”

Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade association for construction companies, favors repeal on the grounds that the state’s process for selecting transportation projects was already transparent and that the law does not improve things; the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, a transportation advocacy group, opposes repeal because the law “improves transparency and accountability.”

The divide was on full display Wednesday as a panel consisting of Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn, Chief Legislative Officer Christopher Shank, and Deputy Legislative Officer Christopher Carroll, who supported repeal on behalf of the governor’s office, testified and fielded questions from the mostly Democrat budget and taxation committee.

Rahn called the law “potentially well intended” but argued that it is “broken.”

The committee briefly interrupted the panel’s testimony to allow Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, to speak. Standing over the seated panel Wednesday, Miller repudiated the administration’s testimony by insisting that the transportation law “is advisory only” and arguing that it “was unfaithfully implemented” by the executive branch. He flatly rejected the possibility of repealing the bill, saying that it is “out of the question.”

Miller said the law is needed to reassure the public that transportation money, especially from contentious sources such as the gas tax, is being spent in the best way possible.

Miller announced an amendment to the repeal bill that would effectively require the governor to score projects but not act on those scores for two years.

At present, the governor must allocate funding based on scores, but he can technically fund any project so long as he offers a justification. His office argues that funding a lower-scored project could open the state up to lawsuits from those who would benefit from displaced projects with higher scores.

The amendment would also create a bipartisan work group that would evaluate the scoring system to be used for transportation projects.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, brought up the cancellation of the Red Line light rail project in Baltimore and cast the law as a consequence of Democrats feeling as though the governor’s office was not funding transportation projects fairly.

Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, suggested that the department of transportation had control over designing the regulations that determine how projects would be scored, and could have designed the system to reflect the governor’s priorities.

Sen. George Edwards, R-Allegany, Garrett and Washington, said there is “no question” that the current scoring system disadvantages rural areas because of its emphasis on population as a deciding factor. However, he said it seemed unlikely that a repeal effort would succeed and that negotiation may be the only way forward.

Repealing “the Road Kill Bill” was not Hogan’s only piece of legislation to come before a committee Wednesday.

The Public Integrity Act of 2017 is a major part of Hogan’s push against corruption and abuse of power in the State House. Democrats in the legislature have been shaken this session by an ongoing FBI investigation into liquor licenses in Prince George’s County; a former Democrat delegate has already pleaded guilty to bribery charges as a result of the investigation.

Hogan’s proposal would prevent legislators from supporting legislation that would benefit a company they own or work for. The bill also requires legislators who are married to a lobbyist to disclose their spouse’s clients, prohibits legislative and executive staff from engaging in lobbying for at least one year after they leave public service, and prevents registered lobbyists and employees of lobbying firms from being appointed to state boards or commissions.

In addition, the bill removes the authority to enforce conflict of interest and financial disclosure rules from the Joint Commission of Legislative Ethics, which is made up of lawmakers, and gives those powers to the State Ethics Commission, which consists of private citizens.

Hogan proposed three bills that would affect individual taxes. One would do away with state taxes on military retirement income. That bill is supported by a range of veterans’ groups and no opposition testimony was presented at the bill’s hearing in the Senate Budget and Taxation committee on Wednesday.

The second bill would allow Marylanders to deduct the interest they pay on student loans from their state income tax, so long as they earn less that $200,000 per year. The original bill only applies to baccalaureate and graduate degrees, but a friendly amendment proposed by the Maryland Association of Community Colleges would add associate degrees to the bill.

Lastly, a third bill would increase the amount of retirement income for law enforcement, fire, rescue, and emergency services personnel that is exempt from state taxes. The bill is supported by a number of associations representing the positions that would be affected. The Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association offered their support but requested that the exemption in the bill be extended to correctional officers.

The Maryland Association of Counties opposes the deductions for student loan interest and emergency services retirement income on the grounds that they will hurt local revenue.

The More Jobs for Marylanders Act aims to incentivise job creation in “qualified distressed counties,” jurisdictions with higher-than-average unemployment and low per capita income, by offering tax benefits to companies that open manufacturing operations in those areas, such as Allegany, Dorchester, Somerset, Worchester, and Baltimore City.

A representative of Tradepoint Atlantic — owner of Sparrows Point, a former industrial site in Baltimore County, which is not a qualified as distressed — said the company supports the legislation but requested the bill’s geographic boundaries be altered so it and other businesses could benefit.

Several manufacturing companies from areas that would be eligible for the tax benefits have come out in support of the bill.

By Jacob Taylor

Annapolis: Deforestation, Fracking Bills Spark Rallies before Hearing

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Support for forest protection and opposition to hydraulic fracturing sparked two different rallies Wednesday, just before the House Environment and Transportation Committee heard testimony on three related bills. 
 
Two of the bills would ban and criminalize hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The other would require developers to replant an acre of trees for every acre of forest they clear.
 
All three bills force lawmakers to confront issues that feature business interests on one side and environmental protection interests on the other. 
 
Activists organized a “Fight for the Forests” rally less than an hour before the committee’s Wednesday afternoon meeting. The rally attracted supporters from all over the state.
 
“Under the Forest Conservation Act currently, the way the replacement values work, it guarantees that development is going to operate at a net loss of forest,” Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff attorney Elaine Lutz told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “(Under the current regulations) developers are subject to minimal planting requirements … that essentially comes out to one acre replanted for every four acres cleared—if that.”
 
Maryland has lost 14,480 acres of forest over the last eight years, according to data provided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“The FCA does not cover all forest in Maryland,” Lutz said. “It typically covers the areas that are in our urban and suburban communities, and those are the forests that are the most susceptible to being lost to development without replacement.”
 
The majority of acres cleared and lost comes from the district of Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, who is sponsoring the bill. In Prince George’s County alone, more than 9,000 acres were cleared and less than 2,000 were replanted during the same time span, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s data.
 
The committee also heard testimony on Wednesday from Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, and numerous supporters and opponents of a pair of bills that would ban and criminalize the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Maryland.
 
A couple dozen supporters of legislation banning fracking congregated outside the House of Delegates office building Wednesday afternoon. They held signs and banners and waved at drivers passing by, many of whom waved and honked at them. 
 
A state moratorium on fracking is set to expire in October. With that deadline approaching, legislators in both Maryland’s House and the Senate have introduced bills that would permanently ban the practice in the state.
 
“This session is the last chance for Maryland legislators to step up and protect the health, environment and tourism economy from the dangers of fracking once and for all,” Jackie Filson, field communications officer for D.C.-based consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We’re looking to House delegates to act now and support (these bills) for a permanent, statewide fracking ban.”
 
Lawmakers and activists seek to not only ban fracking in the state, citing concerns about environmental effects, but criminalize the practice, for further deterrence, under a separate bill. 
 
“If you frack in Maryland, you will go to jail (under the bill). That’s a completely different message than (writing a check) to make the problem go away,” Fraser-Hidalgo said.
 
Some of the individuals who oppose a fracking ban say that the people against the process are people who by and large aren’t from the areas where hydraulic fracturing would take place.
 
“I represent exclusively the area where fracking would occur,” said Delegate Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett and Allegany. “This country has been fracking since 1947, and it’s been a real game changer. Folks in the rest of the state (who are for a ban) don’t fully understand (the benefits). 
 
Beitzel said last week he feels the concerns over health and environmental risks are overblown, and that the regulations Maryland would impose on fracking businesses are more than enough to mitigate any potential hazards.
 
“The ban is overkill,” Beitzel continued. “The anti-fracking publicity in itself has hurt tourism to Western Maryland more than (actual drilling) could.”
 
By Jack Chavez

Bills Curb Maryland Assistance in Federal Immigration Enforcement

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A pair of bills would restrict the involvement of law enforcement agencies in Maryland with federal immigration efforts, banning state government agents from asking crime victims or suspects about their immigration or citizenship status.

The legislation, which is cross-filed in the House and Senate, is called the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act.

“(T)his bill would prevent the state of Maryland from disclosing nonpublic information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents,” Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George’s, wrote in testimony submitted for a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “Maryland is different from most states in that we allow undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses. We must assure those residents that their information is safe and will not be used for immigration purposes.”

The bill prohibits law enforcement officials in Maryland from disclosing nonpublic records to immigration authorities.

“This bill ensures that immigrant communities in our state are safe,” Yaheiry Galan, senior policy and elections manager for CASA de Maryland, said in an interview Tuesday with the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “The state has to take the responsibility to respond to recent executive actions (by the federal administration).”

CASA is a Latino and immigrant advocacy organization that works to improve quality of life in those communities.

“I have been the most outspoken police chief in Maryland about this issue,” Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis said Tuesday. “We want to build trust with the immigrant community in Baltimore.”

Davis said that his department will not cooperate with federal immigration investigations and would not ask about or check the immigration status of suspects or crime victims.

The bill states that state government officials couldn’t transfer individuals to federal immigration authorities or give federal authorities release information about that individual for the purposes of immigration enforcement without a warrant, according to a state document.

Currently, federal law controls immigration and enforcement. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration, Customs and Enforcement have several programs that involve state and local authorities, according to a state document.

The Obama Administration’s Priority Enforcement Program enabled the Department of Homeland Security to work with local law enforcement to take custody of suspects who pose a danger to public safety before the suspect is released.

An executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 terminated that program and replaced it with the Secure Communities program. Participating correctional facilities can submit fingerprints of suspects to criminal and immigration databases.

If the suspect’s fingerprints matched a record of an immigration violation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be notified and could decide the next course of action, according to the state document.

The state attorney general would have to develop policies for hospitals, courts and schools to keep immigration status confidential and to keep enforcement operations from being conducted on those sites, regardless of immigration status, under the bill.

“This legislation will clarify the use of state resources for federal purposes such as immigration enforcement,” the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland wrote in testimony supporting the legislation. “This bill serves to allay the fears of thousands of families across the state by promoting trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community.”

The legislation prohibits law enforcement officers from using public funds to investigate or detain individuals based on immigration status, which is generally a federal matter, according to the state document.

The bill does not prevent law enforcement officers from responding to requests from federal authorities about suspects with criminal records or when federal authorities have a lawful subpoena, according to the state document.

“I do not support (the legislation),” said Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll. “We put ourselves in a dangerous position when we pick and choose what laws we decide to enforce. It’s trying to insert D.C. politics into a local level.”

Federal law does not require that state and local law enforcement agencies participate in immigration enforcement. Federal immigration authorities can request a detainer, which asks that state authorities hold a suspect past their release date for the purposes of an immigration investigation.

The executive order asked that the federal government identify funds that can be withheld from cities or counties that are designated “sanctuaries,” which offer protection for undocumented immigrants.

Ready said that federal immigration efforts have focused on deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies. He said that he has not heard of accusations of Maryland police targeting people they may believe to be undocumented immigrants and that the bill is unnecessary.

Gustavo Torres, executive director for CASA, addressed the executive order in a press release.

“It’s terrible, it’s detestable what this (Trump) administration is doing.” Torres said. “It is a way of justifying his executive orders because, for him, immigrants are criminals, because for him, Latinos are criminals. It’s definitely a direct attack on our community.”

Several Maryland counties, including Prince George’s and Montgomery, have policies in place to protect undocumented immigrants in those jurisdictions. The Howard County Council recently discussed legislation that would designate the jurisdiction as a sanctuary.

Similar bills were introduced in 2016 but one received an unfavorable report in the Senate and the other was withdrawn from consideration in the House.

By Carrie Snurr

Lawmakers, Educators Push for Less Classroom-testing Time

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Maryland is ranked as the second-worst state in the nation for teacher classroom autonomy, according to the Learning Policy Institute, and testing mandates are a major contributor to this ranking, according to the Maryland State Education Association.

Lawmakers and educators testified Wednesday before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee in favor of the Less Testing, More Learning Act — legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, that would limit standardized testing to 2 percent of class time, or about 21.6 hours for elementary and middle schools and 23.4 hours for high school each school year.

In 2015, The U.S. Department of Education recommended that a student spend no more than 2 percent of their time in class taking required statewide standardized assessments.

“About 21 hours testing or 2 percent of instructional time annually is more than enough time to make sure students are on track to be successful throughout the year,” Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association and a middle school teacher for Kent County Public Schools said during the hearing.

The bill also repeals statewide social studies assessments both on the middle school and high school levels.

As an alternative, starting during the 2017-2018 school year, each local board of education should design and administer their own social studies assessment as part of the local curriculum, according to the bill.

Manno testified during the hearing that the legislation will allow local committees to be able to determine their own social studies curricula.

About two-thirds of the state Senate — 31 members — are co-sponsors of the bill. The House of Delegates unanimously passed similar legislation last year, according to a Maryland State Education Association press release.

During the 2015-2016 school year, the average student took 249 total hours of standardized tests from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, according to a Maryland State Education Association analysis based on date from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Those hours do not include preparation, in-class tests, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams and, in a majority of cases, exams such as the ACT and the SAT are not included, according to the Maryland State Education Association.

Celia Burton, testing coordinator for Prince George’s County Public Schools, said at the hearing that since this past September students have had 71 different types of mandated tests.

In her school district, Burton said, some students are not allowed or able to attend Black History Month programs because of testing for student learning objectives that are used for teacher evaluations. They are being assessed for courses such as math, reading, science, physical education, health, foreign language and band.

“They are required to take one assessment per content area and the questions are more than 30 questions on each of the assessments,” Burton said.

Maryland Parent and Teacher Association President Elizabeth Ysla-Leight also supports the act and said she believes there are many benefits to cutting back on testing and spending more time on learning.

“As a stakeholder … for the Every Student Succeeds Act, we believe that the more active time students spend in the classroom — actually learning — benefits their achievement and … meeting their potential in schools,” Ysla-Leight said. “We believe the benefits is that they’re actually going to be learning as opposed to being assessed on what they already learned.”

Manno also said students being exposed to the arts and physical education in school helps them become well-balanced, and well-rounded to prepare for the future.

“The onerous non-stop grind towards these benchmarks — towards these federal, state benchmarks to prepare them for these tests and for them to perform on a dime during these tests are really getting to inhibit their ability to…be productive, wonderful, flourishing young people who I know we all want to continue to grow and to nurture,” Manno said during the hearing.

Manno emphasized that although the bill will limit testing time, he does support standardized testing.

“There’s a great need for benchmarks and preparation for critical subjects but we’ve, I think, begun to pile up in terms of these tests and as a result kids, who we all know need a rich, diverse, instructional experience and environment, have essentially become slaves to the test,” Manno said.

By Brianna Rhodes

Maryland Public Schools Drops to 5th in National Survey Ranking

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-Maryland public schools fell to fifth place in Education Week’s national education rankings this year, due in part to achievement gaps between low and high-income students.

A Capital News Service analysis of state education data found the achievement gaps were especially pronounced in counties with the highest success rates.

Education Week ranked Maryland first from 2009 to 2013, until a criteria change in 2015 dropped it to third. The state fell to fourth in 2016 and fifth this year. Education Week did not rank states in 2014.

The achievement gap accounts for 7.3 percent of Education Week’s overall score — and the gap between rich and poor kids is larger in Maryland than most other states. About one-quarter of Maryland students who qualify for subsidized lunches passed the 2016 PARCC exam — the state’s standardized test for Algebra 1 and English 10 – compared with about 40 percent of all students, according to the state Dept. of Education.

In Education Week’s analysis, Maryland’s was 42nd out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., in the category that measures the achievement gap. It’s not unheard of for the highest achieving states to do poorly in that section. For example, Massachusetts – the top state in Education Week’s overall rankings – placed 34th in the achievement gap category.

In Maryland, the counties with the highest PARCC pass rates have some of the largest gaps between rich students and poor students. In those counties, low-income students are still passing the PARCC at higher rates than low-income students in other counties. But their wealthier peers are outscoring them by a much higher margin.

For example, in 2016 Carroll County had the state’s highest PARCC pass rate – 57.7 percent. But only 33.2 percent of poor students passed the tests – an achievement gap of 24.5 percent, the second highest in the state.

By AMANDA SMITH

Legislators Consider a Bill to Legalize Aid-in-dying Medicine

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In 2014, Alexa Fraser’s 90-year-old father successfully ended his life with a gun to the head after two failed suicide attempts.

Her father, whom Fraser described as a “fiercely independent person,” suffered from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive movement disorder marked by involuntary tremors and slowed movement. His condition had worsened and he feared he would be kept alive beyond his will in a nursing home so he decided to take action, Fraser said.

Since his death, Fraser has been on the forefront of Maryland’s legal aid-in-dying movement, which advocates to allow patients with a terminal diagnosis to receive a lethal prescription to painlessly end their life.

The Maryland legislature for the third year in a row is considering a joint House and Senate bill that would legalize aid-in-dying. Sponsors of previous bills have withdrawn them before a vote, citing lack of support.

“Mom has told the hospice nurse — on numerous occasions — that she just wants to go to sleep and not wake up,” Kevin Gillogly from Silver Spring, Maryland, wrote in testimony for a Thursday hearing before a pair of House committees. His mother entered hospice care in December. “As a son, I want my mom to live out her life — and death — with dignity.”

The language surrounding the issue has been contentious. Opponents resist the term legal aid-in-dying, deeming it instead as physician-assisted suicide.

“It is very important to be up front, clear and honest about what this is,” Anita Cameron, director of minority outreach for Not Dead Yet, wrote in testimony submitted for the hearing. Cameron, who also had two degenerative disabilities, wrote that the bill is referring to physician-assisted suicide.

“Couching it in pretty language and hiding the truth is disingenuous, at best, and dangerous, at worst.”

The bill would undermine the doctor-patient relationship, according to a Maryland physician.

“Instead of the doctor’s role being one of caring for those at all stages, including at the end of life, the shift would be toward patient abandonment at a time when a patient is most vulnerable,” Dr. Ellen McInerney, who practices internal medicine in Edgewater, Maryland, wrote in testimony to the committee.

Fraser, who was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer in December, remains optimistic that the bills will garner enough support this year to pass. Although this legislation may eventually directly affect her own end-of-life choices, Fraser said, she continues her fight for her friends and family, not herself.

“I don’t know when I’m going to die, but what I know is there are people who right now are dying in ways they don’t want to,” Fraser said. “That is what is urgent. My situation isn’t urgent.”

Fraser testified Thursday that her son has been recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a diagnosis that has not changed her support for death with dignity.

Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, and Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, are sponsoring the bills in their respective chambers.

Pendergrass said her support for the bill stems from witnessing her grandfather’s battle with Parkinson’s. Her parents eventually no longer took her to see him in a nursing home because they didn’t want her to remember him in a debilitated state.

His brain was “absolutely alert to the very end,” Pendergrass said, but “he was locked in his body and his body was locked away from us.”

“We’re all one bad death away from supporting this bill,” Pendergrass added. “Nobody wants to see their family suffer.”

The climate surrounding the issue appears to have shifted in favor of the bill since 2014, the first year it was considered.

In 2016, the Maryland State Medical Society, composed of 8,000 licensed physicians, changed its position on aid-in-dying from opposition to neutral after 65 percent of its members advocated for either support or a neutral position on the legislation.

Delegate Clarence Lam, D-Baltimore and Howard, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that as a physician, he supports the bill because it enables the patients to have control over their own end-of-life decisions.

“It’s a very difficult time for patients and I’ve seen folks face some very difficult, challenging decisions,” Lam said. “For me it’s really a patient empowerment bill.”

Moreover, 69 percent of Americans say doctors should be able to end a patient’s life by painless means, according to a 2016 Gallup poll.

“I don’t see this as a partisan issue,” Lam said. “The tide of public support … has really gone in the direction in favor of this type of legislation and we feel that if folks are able to set aside their partisan biases that people will act in accordance with what’s best or their community and the other constituents (who) support this bill.”

If the bill passes, Maryland would join six other states—Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California and Colorado—that allow legal aid-in-dying. Congress is also reviewing a Washington, D.C., Council bill that would authorize the end-of-life option.

The Maryland Catholic Conference and some disability rights groups remain opposed to legal aid-in-dying legislation.

Lori Scott, a director at disability rights organization The Arc Maryland, said it’s not uncommon for someone with a disability to feel like a burden to family members, which could lead them to feel compelled to request a lethal prescription. She fears this could affect her own daughter, who is wheelchair-bound, she added.

“Disabled people are vulnerable because they like to have the assurance of people that they work with and they want to have their approval,” Scott said. “They may undertake something that they really shouldn’t be doing or don’t want to do, but want to please a provider or please a family member.”

However, Scott said, a doctor could incorrectly give a terminal diagnosis causing “someone to end their life prematurely—an irrevocable decision,” adding that a six-month prognosis can often be “unreliable.”

Pendergrass said the bill is “tightly crafted” to protect patients from this type of abuse.

Patients eligible for the lethal medication must have two doctors diagnose them with a terminal illness with only six months or less to live, the patient must be a mentally competent adult, they must issue one oral request followed by a written request, there must be two witnesses, including one who could not directly benefit from their death, and the patient must be able to self-administer the drug.

“There are a lot of concerns about how patients may be coerced or how physicians may … lean towards greater treatment or lean towards greater end-of-life options,” Lam said. “The bill strikes a good balance between those competing concerns to make sure there are strong safeguards in place.”

Dr. Samuel Kerstein, a philosophy professor at the University of Maryland, said legal aid-in-dying legislation may be garnering more support as this generation — who have had more control over their lives than previous generations — want to be able to control their end-of-life choices as well.

Many of the arguments for legal aid-in-dying legislation — easing suffering, respecting a person’s choices and individual liberty — could also be used to support arguments for legalizing aid-in-dying for non-terminal patients as well, such as a chronically depressed individual who wanted to end his or her suffering, Kerstein added.

But Donna Edwards, Compassion and Choices Maryland campaign manager, said legal aid-in-dying legislation is far from suicide.

“The definition of suicide is a mentally incompetent person, who otherwise is fairly healthy who wants to end their life,” Edwards said. “The patients who take this, they are already terminal. They have done everything they can do to save their life. This is at the end of their lives when they decide how and the when, but the disease is killing them.”

Scott said she thinks instead of legal aid-in-dying legislation, Maryland should allocate more resources toward palliative care, which focuses on providing relief from pain, hospice care and expanding education.

“This is an option that shouldn’t even be on the table for people,” Scott said.

Fraser said palliative care and aid-in-dying aren’t mutually exclusive, adding that many people who request lethal medication don’t end up taking it, but rather use it as a source of comfort. About one-third of patients who request the prescription don’t use it, according to a 2013 report by the Oregon Public Health Division.

“This is a totally voluntary bill,” Fraser said. “If you don’t like it, don’t use it. But it’s a two-stage bill. The first stage is the legislature approves it, and then every person, with the help of their family, their doctors, their conscience and their ministers, … reaches their own conclusion.”

If the bill passes through both chambers, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Catholic, could veto it. Although he hasn’t made any public statements on the issue recently, in 2014 Hogan told a diocesan magazine, The Catholic Standard, that he would oppose the measure.

“I believe in the sanctity of human life, and I believe a physician’s role is to save lives, not terminate them,” Hogan said in that report.

A statement from the governor was unavailable at press time on Thursday afternoon.

However, Pendergrass said she doesn’t assume Hogan would veto the bill because of his religious beliefs.

“The governor has been through cancer treatment,” Pendergrass said. “I’m sure he’s suffered—not that he had a terminal diagnosis—but I suspect he came across people who did. I don’t think that they governor would want people to suffer.”

Fraser, a Unitarian Universalist minister, said there is a misconception that anyone of faith has a common view on this issue, adding that many faith leaders who have seen their congregants suffer are becoming more bold in speaking out in favor of legal aid-in-dying.

“We in public office are entrusted to keep the church and the state separate,” Pendergrass said. “We can have our personal beliefs, but we can know that our values may be different from some people and we can give them the ability to use this as one more tool.”

By Natalie Schwartz.

Carrie Snurr contributed to this story.

Governor’s Sex-trafficking Bill would Help Child Victims

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A bill proposed by the governor would change Maryland’s sexual abuse law to allow law enforcement to more effectively prosecute suspected sex traffickers of children, regardless of whether the trafficker is a relative of the victim. 
 
Hogan’s Protecting Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 would change Maryland’s definition of sexual abuse to allow for police to open investigations into allegations of sexual trafficking of children even if the suspect is not related to the victim by family or through the household. The bill has bipartisan support. 
 
“It ensures minor victims of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in Maryland are treated as victims of child sexual abuse,” Amelia Rubenstein, with the Child Sex Trafficking Victims Initiative, said in written testimony. 
 
Current Maryland law states that for a local department of social services to investigate allegations of sexual trafficking, there has to be evidence that the perpetrator is a member of the victim’s family or in charge of the victim’s care. 
 
Under current law, doctors, teachers and some others must report suspected sex trafficking of a child. But law enforcement investigators must verify a familial or caregiver relationship between the victim and the suspect in order to pursue criminal charges. 
 
The Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard arguments on the bill on Thursday. Committee Chair Sen. Robert Zirkin started the hearing by thanking the committee for staying late the night before. He said he wanted to show thanks to the committee because of a walk-out of Republican senators during the Senate session Thursday morning.
 
The bill is also part of recommendations from the Maryland Safe Harbor Workgroup, which was created to investigate legal protections for minor victims of human trafficking and to report their recommendations to the governor and General Assembly.
 
In the workgroup’s December 2016 report, it recommended that Maryland expand the definition of sexual abuse to include victims of sex trafficking regardless of the identity of the trafficker. 
 
Charles County Director of Social Services Therese Wolf said that this bill would expand her department’s ability to protect victims of sex trafficking.  
 
Adam Rosenberg with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center said that children who are suspected of being victims of trafficking would be given help and support rather than be treated as criminals for participating in commercial sex. 
 
“We are federally mandated to do this,” said Rebecca Jones Gaston, executive director of the Social Services Administration in the Maryland Department of Human Resources. “We run the risk of losing federal funding.” 
 
The federal Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 requires that states receiving federal funds under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act have to take steps to address sex trafficking.  
 
If the bill is passed, it has to take effect by May 27 so that the state of Maryland is in compliance with the federal law. The state risks losing about $450,000 annually if it does not comply with the federal requirements, according to a state document.
 
That funding is sent to local Maryland departments of social services to use for prevention of sex trafficking and child abuse, Jones Gaston said. 
 
“Cases of sex trafficking vary widely in terms of the relationship dynamics between trafficker and victim, methods used to recruit victims, where the exploitation took place and for how long,” Rubenstein said. 
 
Hogan’s bill is part of his Justice for Victims Initiative, which includes other bills that would allow a defendant’s prior history of sexual abuse to be admitted into court and would make drunken driving a felony offense after three or more prior convictions. 
 
“Making Maryland safer begins with making sure that we have a criminal justice system that holds offenders accountable for their actions and the harm they cause, while also supporting victims and the community in the process of healing,” Hogan said in a press release. 
By CARRIE SNURR

Maryland Senate Approves Resolution to Empower Attorney General to Battle Trump Policies

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The Maryland Senate voted 29-17 Friday, largely on party lines, on a resolution that will empower the state attorney general to pursue cases against Trump administration policies. Republicans have staunchly opposed the resolution and walked out of the Senate Thursday morning in protest after their efforts to delay the vote failed.

Attorney General Brian Frosh

Attorney General Brian Frosh

The Maryland Defense Act of 2017 would allow Attorney General Brian Frosh to initiate legal challenges against federal actions that cause harm to Marylanders. In most states, the attorney general already has that power, but Maryland’s constitution requires the attorney general to receive specific directions from the legislature or the governor before pursuing cases.

The resolution is a reaction to executive orders issued by President Donald Trump in recent weeks and would empower Frosh to challenge those orders in court, as other state attorneys general have already done.

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, R-Harford and Baltimore counties, said the Republicans walked out on Thursday because they “were angry” that the resolution was being pushed through without the common senatorial courtesy of a vote delay.

Jennings quoted Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s, chastising members of the Senate during the first week of the 2017 session when some attempted to resist a similar request for delay on a different bill.

Miller expressed a desire to move the resolution through the Senate as quickly as possible. He described the resolution Thursday as “divisive” and the debate surrounding it “mean spirited.”

Jennings said that working through divisions is part of the Senate’s role, saying that “we should stand here, we should debate it.”

Sen Justin Ready, R-Carroll, said Friday: “Part of the problem is not just what this is doing, but it’s why and how we’re doing it.”

Many of those opposed to the resolution said they worried it needlessly injected divisions frothing at the national level into state politics.

“We are federalizing issues and bringing the biggest hot button federal issues to the state level,” said Sen. Michael Hough, R-Carroll, and Frederick.

“I think we need to get back to the people’s business the state of Maryland sent us here to do,” Ready said. “We are state legislators; we are not congressmen or U.S. senators.”

Republicans also complained that the resolution is an attempt to undermine widely popular GOP governor Larry Hogan ahead of the 2018 election.

“We have a popular governor, the way to take him down–he’s obviously from the minority party–is to federalize as many issues as possible and try to tie him to those and drag him into that,” Hough said.

Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s, said the resolution is an attempt to “tie this governor to an administration and trying to take away what he’s trying to do for the state of Maryland.”

Some Democrats painted the resolution as a general effort to protect the interests of Marylanders, implying that the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are incidental to that goal.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, said “this is not about politics; this is about the fabric of our country. …This is simply a tool used by our attorney general to deal with concerns that all of our constituents have and we are here for all of Marylanders.”

Other Democrats were more blunt about the resolution’s purpose as an instrument to counter Republican-led efforts such as Trump’s restriction on travel from certain majority-Muslim countries, plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the possible rolling back of regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, said “we need our attorney general to go to court to make sure this president, Donald Trump, obeys all the laws.”

Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, called attention to the potential impacts of immigration policies promised by the Trump campaign, saying, “The people in my district that I’m talking to are telling me they’re so afraid their families are going to be separated, the kids are going to be left here because they were born here, the parents will not be.”

A companion resolution is moving through the House of Delegates. If passed, the resolution would not require Hogan’s signature, eliminating the possibility of a gubernatorial veto.

By Jacob Taylor and Natalie Schwartz

Irish Firm Brings Renewable Energy to Eastern Shore Poultry Industry

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Bob Murphy’s Double Trouble Farms may be the most cutting-edge poultry operation on the Eastern Shore right now.

But the significance of the farm in Rhodesdale, Maryland, is not the poultry itself. It’s the technology used to repurpose chicken manure.

CNS-BAY-POULTRY002wThe Maryland Department of Agriculture and Irish agri-tech company Biomass Heating Solutions Limited, or BHSL, have committed nearly $3 million toward manure-to-energy technology that they hope will significantly reduce the impact of Murphy’s chickens—and perhaps one day all Eastern Shore poultry—on the Chesapeake Bay.

“Our main objective is bird enhancement,” BHSL project engineer James O’Sullivan told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We want to completely diminish ammonium (from Murphy’s chickens to the bay). We want to reduce humidity (in the chicken houses) and have a drier atmosphere for the birds, hence drier manure.”

The project was completed and went online in December. While O’Sullivan oversees the equipment on the farm, BHSL runs it off-site.

“The whole system is fully automated,” O’Sullivan said. “It is controlled by our remote operations team in Ireland.”

The farm houses more than 160,000 chickens—a large number, no question—but a fraction of the 300 million “broilers,” or chickens bred specifically for meat production, that the USDA says the state produces annually.

O’Sullivan says the chickens on Murphy’s farm can produce as much as 10 tons of manure a day. When left on the ground, the manure finds its way into local waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

The phosphorus and nitrogen in livestock manure are essential to healthy ecosystems, according to a 2004 report released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In excess, however, these natural plant nutrients cause “explosive” growth in algae and other underwater plants, which stifle other forms of life in the bay.

BHSL utilizes a process called fluidized bed combustion, which works by heating a bed of sand inside a fuel combustion chamber until bubbling at 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Once this level is reached, manure is fed into the chamber and the temperature is raised to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit. This process produces hot gases, which in turn are used to boil water that ultimately heats the chicken houses.

Not only does the process heat the chicken houses with clean, renewable energy, it keeps the manure off the ground and out of the waterways.

Livestock manure has long been one of the sources of bay pollution that the state Department of Agriculture seeks to diminish, but implementing environmentally friendly policies while preserving industries vital to local economies has been difficult.

“We can’t lose poultry on the Eastern Shore,” Murphy said. “People are looking for ways to save it, and that’s my goal.”

Murphy sees this technology, which his farm and BHSL began working on three years ago, as a means to clean the bay while preserving a vital economy.

“Right now we’re transporting manure (to other nearby farms for fertilizer),” Murphy said. “But eventually those fields, which didn’t have manure before, will get caught up and experience the same problem.”

“Somewhere along the line, we have to get rid of this manure,” Murphy added. “If you can burn eight to 10 (tons) a day, that’s manure that doesn’t go on the fields.”

Murphy says he hasn’t heard any opposition to the project locally, and others in the poultry industry have met the project with approval.

“The economy around here is driven by chicken farms,” said Bruce Boney, a former IT contractor for Perdue Farms. “If they’re trying to make an effort towards cleaner water, I think it’s positive work.”

O’Sullivan is quick to note that BHSL is not bringing technology to the United States that doesn’t have a track record. In fact, the company first implemented their fluidized bed combustion chamber units in the United Kingdom in 2003, and today run eight different units on six different farms there.

One of the main byproducts of the process is fly ash, and O’Sullivan says BHSL is determining a market for it. Specifically, BHSL is in talks with composting and phosphorus leaching companies, he said. Fly ash’s value comes from its phosphorus, potassium and carbon content.

If the project goes well, O’Sullivan said, there are plans to bring the technology to nearby Bellview Farms, another poultry farm Murphy owns. Bellview houses twice as many chickens as Double Trouble Farms.

Manure-to-energy technology has the potential to reshape how farms handle excess manure not only in Maryland, but the rest of the country, especially the other bay-watershed states.

“Maryland is literally creating the blueprint (for dealing with excess manure in waterways),” Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder said last month.

Maryland’s commitment toward the project, $970,000, comes from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Technology Fund. Grants from the fund are awarded based on an applicant’s ability to meet a variety of requirements, according to the department’s Office of Resource Conservation program manager Louise Lawrence.

“(We run) a competitive (application process) annually. Proposals are evaluated based on responses to requirements,” Lawrence said. “We have approved funding for six projects to date. These projects vary in cost from $300,000 to $1.4 million.”

Other projects include:

–$150,790 to Green Mountain Technologies Inc. to repurpose horse manure at Days End Farm in Woodbine.
–$237,520 to Green Mountain Technologies Inc. to repurpose dairy cow manure at Iager Farms in Frederick County.
–$350,302 to Veteran Compost and O2 Compost to repurpose horse manure in Davidsonville.
–$676,144 to Planet Found Energy Development to repurpose poultry manure in Berlin.
–$1.4 million to CleanBay Renewables to construct and operate an energy-to-manure plant that will benefit farms in Somerset County.

Gov. Larry Hogan, Bartenfelder, and individuals from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, Perdue Farms, and the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are among a list of guests who are scheduled to visit Double Trouble Farms on Monday.

 

By Jack Chavez