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Maryland’s Vacant Mental Health Hospital Problem

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Six miles outside of Annapolis lie the decaying bones of a dinosaur.

They don’t belong to a prehistoric animal, but to Crownsville Hospital Center, a mostly vacant former asylum that costs the State of Maryland around a million dollars a year.

Many of the methods used to treat mental illness when Crownsville opened in 1911 have essentially gone extinct.

The availability and quality of medications have increased, and providers are trending toward treatment through community-based services, like psychiatric rehabilitation, housing and vocational programs, according to Jeff Richards, the incoming president of the Mental Health Association of Maryland and the CEO of Mosaic Community Services.

“There’s so many people that probably 20, 30, 40 years ago would have lived out their lives in one of those large institutions (who) are living in the community and doing great with the right range of support available to them,” Richardson said.

This means that large facilities, like Crownsville, became obsolete. No longer did the state need to run a 500-acre facility that could house 4,000-5,000 patients. These people could receive treatments in their communities while the stately brick buildings rusted and aged.

Since the hospital officially closed in 2004, Crownsville has cost the state of Maryland more than $13 million. Security guards roam the campus, a mix of lawn and trees, presiding over crumbling walls, broken windows and dark buildings.

Van Mitchell, Maryland secretary of health and mental hygiene, has made getting these empty facilities off his books a priority since he was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2015.

His department owns around 5 million square feet of real estate, and more than 53 percent of that is vacant.

“If we were in the real estate business, we’d be out of business,” he likes to say.

Among the five non-operational hospitals the state owns — Crownsville, RICA Southern Maryland, Rosewood, Upper Shore and Brandenburg — the department of health and mental hygiene has spent more than $27 million since the facilities have closed.

Some of the properties bring small revenues in from rent. The state leases the Upper Shore Community Health Center to Kent County for $1 per year.

Kent County then pays the utilities and operating costs — $378,000 in 2015 — for mental health programs and substance abuse treatment.

Because Kent County is so small, it’s not an attractive location for private rehabilitation companies, according to Andrew Pons, the program director for the A. F. Whitsitt Center, which is located at the Upper Shore Community Health Center.

“We’re the only option people have,” Pons said.

In Crownsville, 10 nonprofits lease the space for $1 per year each, including the Anne Arundel County Food Pantry.

Budget analysts are quick to note that $27 million, which works out to around $3 million per year, won’t break the budget. It’s not a massive sum of money within the context of a $42 billion annual operating budget for the state.

Still, it’s money that isn’t being spent on much of anything.

Most of the annual operating expenses go to keeping up the grounds: fixing broken windows, mowing the lawns and providing security against errant high school kids or copper-pipe thieves.

To put it in perspective, Hogan added $4 million to the state’s budget to fund a task force to study and combat the state’s heroin and opioid epidemic.

Regardless of how much it is, Mitchell said, any money spent on empty hospitals is wasted resources.

“That’s a cost to the department that should be going back into the community for services,” Mitchell said.

He’d like to see that money go to more beds to treat opioid addiction, or to the construction of a new hospital.

Part of the problem is that these facilities are what he calls “siloed.”

They are chronic hospitals that were mostly good for one thing — treating mental illness — and aren’t flexible enough to treat other types of disease.

Moreover, the hospitals are old — Rosewood opened in 1888 — and full of asbestos.

Removing asbestos from buildings as old and large as the ones found in Crownsville and Rosewood could cost between $4 million and $8 million, according to Derrick Harris, an Environmental Project Manager with Access Demolition Contracting in Brooklyn, Maryland.

Another $700,000 was allocated in the 2016 Capital Budget to get Rosewood in a condition to be purchased by Stevenson University, formerly Villa Julie College, in Baltimore County.

“Stevenson University has been apprehensive to acquire the property due to concerns about abatement,” the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee wrote.

A spokesman for Stevenson said he couldn’t comment until a Memorandum of Understanding was finalized between the school and the state, but that the university is still interested.

There’s also the problem of priorities. Mitchell knows his department isn’t the only one vying for capital funding, the money that would be spent to build a new hospital or fix the old ones.

“We can’t compete with school construction,” Mitchell said.

By Rachel Bluth

Van Hollen Defeats Edwards in Maryland Senate Primary

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Democrat Chris Van Hollen Tuesday won a closely-fought primary battle for the Maryland Senate, easily defeating fellow House member Donna Edwards for the seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski.

With 88 percent of Maryland precincts reporting, Van Hollen had 53 percent of the Democratic vote to Edwards’ 39 percent.

Addressing supporters from his election night headquarters in Bethesda, Van Hollen noted that Mikulski “understood you never forget the people back home,” and promised to do the same as the state’s next senator. Mikulski did not attend the celebration.

Historically, winning the Democratic Senate primary is tantamount to election in November, especially in a presidential election year, when Maryland voters’ Democratic leanings are strongest.

“Whether you’re from…the Baltimore area, whether you’re from the Washington suburbs, or from western Maryland, or southern Maryland or the Eastern Shore, I will fight hard for you everyday in the United States Senate,” he said.

Kathy Szeliga, a state lawmaker from Baltimore County, won the Republican Senate primary in a multi-candidate field with 36 percent of the vote.

Maryland has not had an open U.S. Senate seat since 2006, when Democrat Paul Sarbanes retired.

Van Hollen served in the Maryland General Assembly as both a delegate and a state senator before winning election to the House of Representatives in 2002. A resident of Kensington, Van Hollen represents Maryland’s 8th District, which includes parts of Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll counties.

Before his election to the House, he worked as an attorney for 10 years in private practice.

Van Hollen voted in Kensington Tuesday morning before visiting voters at Leisure World in Silver Spring and meeting with supporters in Baltimore.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, did not publicly endorse either candidate, but joined Van Hollen at his election night headquarters, a sure sign of his support now.

Van Hollen recently won the endorsement of The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun editorial boards, as well as former Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Van Hollen said the country has “a lot of work to do” to address issues of economic equality, gun violence, mass incarceration and climate change. But in order to effectively address these issues, Democrats will need to win both the White House and a majority in the Senate, he said.

“We’re going to have to work very hard in every part of the state, in every corner of the state,” Van Hollen said. “We’ve got to campaign for every vote in every part of this state.”

Maryland Delegate Al Carr, D-Montgomery, was working the polls at Kensington Town Hall, his home voting location, in support of Van Hollen.

Carr said Edwards and Van Hollen are both strong politicians, but he thinks Van Hollen will be able to “deliver” for voters in the Senate.

“He has outstanding constituent service,” he said. “I’ve seen time and time again where his staff, his office have helped people solve problems. I think that’s really important.”

At Van Hollen’s election night headquarters, supporter Sam Witten, a lawyer from Bethesda, said Van Hollen has integrity, a strong record of constituent service, and is willing to reach across party lines. Witten, 59, said he volunteered in Baltimore and Takoma Park Tuesday in support of the candidate.

“For me it was not a hard choice,” Witten said. “He’s an extraordinary candidate, a great leader and he takes care of his people.”

Edwards, who highlighted her experience as a black woman and a single mom, fell short in her attempt to become the second black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“Our battle is not over and our work is not done,” Edwards said at her watch party in Lanham. “This campaign has never been about me or my opponent… It’s about fixing a broken political system.”

Edwards said she called Van Hollen after the results to congratulate him.

In his address, Van Hollen thanked Edwards “for being a strong advocate for Democratic party values and priorities.”

Edwards has represented the state’s 4th District, comprised of parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, since 2008. She was the first African American woman to represent Maryland in Congress.

Herman Flora, of Hyattsville, said Tuesday morning he voted for Edwards because he feels black voters need greater representation.

“Nothing against Van Hollen personally,” Flora said at Ridgecrest Elementary School, “But I felt this was more important to me.”

The contrast between Van Hollen and Edwards split Maryland voters and provided a tight race until the final weeks before the primary.

A University of Maryland-Washington Post poll conducted in late March and early April found the race was a dead heat, with Van Hollen holding a four-point lead over Edwards: an advantage within the survey’s margin of error. But a Monmouth University Poll last week showed Van Hollen pulling ahead of Edwards 52-36 percent.

The UMD-Washington Post poll also showed a sharp racial divide in the race, with likely white voters supporting Van Hollen by a 2-1 margin while black voters supported Edwards 3-1.

Maryland will elect a senator in the Nov. 8 general election.

“Together we’re going to go forth from this evening and win the general election and we’re going to be part of a new Democratic majority in the United States Senate,” Van Hollen said.

By TROY JEFFERSON, LEXIE SCHAPITL and AUBURN MANN

Talk of Restrictions Watched Closely in Trade-Busy Maryland

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Presidential candidates in both parties are proposing changes to international trade policies that could have dramatic impacts not only on the United States in general, but also on busy trade centers like Maryland.

Republican Donald Trump has proposed a 45 percent tariff on exports to the United States.

More broadly, Trump has lambasted the Obama administration for making poor trade deals with China and other nations, agreements that the New York real estate tycoon insist should be scrapped for pacts more favorable to the United States.

On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has attacked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for supporting numerous trade agreements that he claims are costing Americans jobs and harming the global environment.

Trade is a closely-watched issue in Maryland, which hosts its presidential primary on Tuesday, along with Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Baltimore is home to the 13th-busiest port in the United States and could feel the impacts of more restrictive trade policies, according to a 2015 Logistics Management study.

The Port of Baltimore generates $2.9 billion in personal income, while contributing $310 million in state, county and municipal tax revenue annually, according to the Greater Baltimore Committee. The port conducts business with countries on six different continents.

In 2014, Greater Baltimore collected $12 billion from exports of goods and services, according to the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Baltimore Metro Export Market Assessment of 2015.

The port of Baltimore directly generates 14,600 jobs, as well as 108,000 jobs statewide linked to port activity, according to James White, the executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

“Without a healthy, vibrant and bustling Port of Baltimore, many of those jobs would be lost,” White wrote in The Daily Record’s 2015 report.

Trump uses trade as a prime example of why, in his view, the United States “doesn’t win any more.”

“The 45 percent tariff is a threat. It was not a tax, it was a threat. It will be a tax if they don’t behave,” the businessman explained at a March 10 debate.

“Take China as an example. I have many friends, great manufacturers, they want to go into China. They can’t. China won’t let them,” Trump continued. “We talk about free trade. It’s not tree free trade; it’s stupid trade. China dumps everything that they have over here. No tax, no anything.”

In 2014, the most recent year data is available, the Port of Baltimore held the record for the fourth year in a row for handling more autos – a half million – than any U.S. port. The port added Fiat and Mazda to its client list in 2014.

The Baltimore port is also ranked first for its handling of farm equipment and machinery, imported forest products and imported machinery, according to the report.

Baltimore hosts one of two eastern U.S. ports with a 50-foot deep shipping channel and berth that can handle some of the world’s largest container ships.

Fred Mason, the president of the Maryland and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, called Trump’s assertions nonsensical and stressed the importance of free trade.

“America needs a strong manufacturing base to be an equal partner in world trade,” Mason said. “If we enter into trade agreement that our so lopsided until they only benefit one country, as we see with the proposed TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), that’s not fair.”

Maryland is headquarters to many large companies engaged in international trade, including Under Armour and Black & Decker.

Based in Baltimore and dependent on the port for exports, Under Armour saw its sales skyrocket this past year, but could possibly feel the pinch of Trump’s trade policies.

The 20-year-old company is worth $500 million and its clothing products are sold in over 60 countries, including China. International net revenues made up 12 percent of total revenues for the fourth quarter of 2015, according to the company’s January

Under Armour did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment for this story.

If Trump’s trade policies were enacted, the nation would go into a recession, according to a study by Moody Analytics for the Washington Post. The country would lose four million jobs and 3 million would not be created, the study said.

Sanders is an avid critic of international trade agreements like the Trans- Pacific Partnership and the 24 year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which established essentially unfettered trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Sanders’ website refers to the TPP as “a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a 12-country free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and 10 countries in the Asia Pacific region, which was drafted in 2015 and signed on Feb. 9.

During a Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire on Feb. 4, Sanders attacked Clinton’s stance on free trade, particularly the TPP, and referred to his consistent opposition to any recent trade deals.

“I was on the picket line in opposition to NAFTA. We heard people tell us how many jobs would be created,” said Sanders. “I didn’t believe that for a second because I understood what the function of NAFTA, CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), PNTR (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) with China, and the TPP is: it’s to say to American workers, hey, you are now competing against people in Vietnam who make 56 cents an hour minimum wage. This is an area where the secretary (Clinton) and I have disagreements.”

Clinton, who originally supported the TPP while serving as secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term, now is against it.

During the same debate she explained: “I did hope that the TPP, negotiated by this administration, I was holding out hope that it would be the kind of trade agreement that I was looking for. Once I saw the outcome, I opposed it.”

Clinton still is ultimately for trade at some level. “We have to trade with the rest of the world,” she said. “That’s the way the global economy works.”

J.D. Harrison, senior editor of digital content for the U.S. Chamber of Congress’ online forum, Above The Fold, argued that Trump’s plans to tax imports from Mexico and China would cause serious trouble for the economy.

“Under Trump’s trade plans, we would see higher prices, reduced spending power, fewer jobs, and a weaker economy, both here at home and abroad, according to the analysis,” Harrison said. “Of course, that’s the last thing our country and the global economy need right now.”

Harrison suggests that instead of implementing new restrictions, the United States should be opening more doors for international business.

“We should be tearing down trade barriers, not putting up more in place,” he said.

In the United States, trade supports 41 million jobs and boosts the average annual American household income by $13,600, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce data.

Even so, some voters are in support of Trump’s ideas about trade. At a rally Wednesday for Trump in Berlin, Md., Kathy Richardson, a retired state worker, said that America needs someone with Trump’s business acumen.

“We need someone like him for trade — he’s really good at making deals with other countries,” Richardson said. “He stands up for America.”

By JOELLE LANG, AUBURN MANN and TROY JEFFERSON
(CNS reporter Rebecca Rainey contributed to this report.)

GOP Candidates Bring Anti-Government Message to Government’s Backyard

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The Republican presidential candidates continue to advocate smaller government and less spending. But will such messages resonate in Maryland, a state that has benefited from its proximity to the federal government?

That is one of the issues Maryland voters will grapple with in Tuesday’s primary.

Odds are very good that in any audience the GOP candidates address in the new few days, there will be more than a few people who depend on government for their livelihoods or their business.

The fact is, 503,000 Marylanders hold local, state and federal government jobs, according to March statistics from the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. That accounts for roughly one in five jobs in the state.

In addition, the federal government alone spent $15,834 per person in Maryland in fiscal 2014 – 27.5 percent of the state’s total economic output, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study released in March. Only Virginia receives more federal dollars per person.

“The fact that we are so close to D.C. (means) federal employment is a lot of our economic engine, whether you look at government services or contracts,” said Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties. “It works well when the economy is doing well, but when there are cutbacks in D.C. and we are overly reliant on those jobs, it hurts the Maryland economy.”

Government employment acts as a cushion for the Maryland economy. Consider this: during the recession, the state unemployment rate peaked at 9.8 percent in early 2010, according to data from the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

However, one sector barely was affected by the economic turmoil: government jobs.

Republican businessman Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all would change the financial landscape of Maryland, making the government less present in the daily lives of Marylanders and likely decreasing federal job opportunities.

For example, one section of Cruz’s campaign website is bannered by this quote from the senator: “We should shrink the size and power of the federal government by every and any means possible. What does that mean? That means eliminating unnecessary or unconstitutional agencies.”

Faith Loudon, of Pasadena, Md., who is running to be a delegate for Cruz, echoed her candidate’s anti-government ideology. Cruz’s desire to reign in government spending and introduce a 10 percent flat tax for all taxpayers will spur job economic growth, Loudon said.

“There is too much government and (Cruz) wants to cut down on the agencies,” she said. “His flat tax is a great idea as well. We need less government because it hurts our businesses.”

Cruz was a key figure in the 16-day federal government shutdown in 2013.

Kasich has a similar, if not more anti-government view. In January 2015, Kasich said, “There’s no money in Washington. It’s my money.” At a rally last month, he added: “When government doesn’t change at the speed of business, we ring up $19 trillion in debt.” In a November interview with NBC News, the former House Budget Committee chairman said, “There’s nobody who’s spent more time shrinking government and cutting budgets than I have.”

Kasich’s cuts would include major tax breaks for businesses and major reductions in government spending according to an article by The Huffington Post.

In a February debate, Trump promised to “cut so much, your head will spin,” including eliminating the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, to decrease the national debt.

Cruz has been more specific, including not only the Department of Education, but also the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development and the Internal Revenue Service on his hit list.

Some Maryland residents, however, have a much less dismal view of government, including Garwai Young, a 23-year-old Democrat who supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“You trust government as much as you want to put trust in it,” Young said. “It should intervene when necessary, but we have to put faith in (government officials) that they will make the right decisions.”

The anti-government theme is not unique to this year’s GOP presidential hopefuls. Shrinking government and spending has been a mantra of Republicans in Congress for years.

In 1979, when Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich first entered the House, he had an agenda much like the candidates today: to combat government spending. To do that, he first had to win GOP control of Congress.

Gingrich succeeded: his party secured a House majority in the 1994 elections. But the takeover would not be without repercussions for the Republican establishment and future elections.

“He wanted them to throw the ‘in’ party out and bring the ‘out’ party in,” Norman Ornstein, a longtime congressional observer with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in The Atlantic in January, referring to Gingrich. “That meant a long campaign to delegitimize Congress, politics, and politicians.”

Analysts argue that the Republican push against government has resonated with GOP voters across the country in recent election cycles.

“The more Tea Party activists in a district, the better Republican candidates did (in 2010) and the more likely Republican representatives were to vote with the Tea Party on issues salient to the movement,” Michael Bailey, professor of American government at Georgetown University, observed in a 2012 article for American Politics Research.

Anti-government Republicans have been backed by a base of party voters that, according to many polls, is far more angry and frustrated at the federal government than are Democratic voters.

A Pew Research Center poll last November found 8 out of 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favoring a smaller government that does less. Just 31 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents shared that view.

But in Maryland, polling data has revealed that while there is concern among voters regarding spending, most residents support the Democrats’ views of an activist government that provides a broad array of services and tries to address major social issues:

• Eighty-one percent of Marylanders supported having handgun licensing, fingerprinting and background checks, according to a Maryland Registered Voter Poll conducted by Opinion Works in 2013.

• Sixty-seven percent of Marylanders support increasing taxes on cigarettes and another 54 percent favored eliminating mandatory minimum jail sentences, according to a Gonzales Research and Marketing survey released on March 8.

• Forty-eight percent of Maryland residents approve of the way Democrats in the Maryland legislature are doing their jobs according to a Washington Post poll released April 3.

• Eighty-one percent of Marylanders support sending those convicted of possessing illegal drugs to treatment programs instead of prison, according to the same April 3 Washington Post poll.

• Sixty-one percent of Marylanders approve of Gov. Larry Hogan; 50 percent think he isn’t a “typical Republican,” and another 45 percent think that is “a good thing,” according to a different Washington Post poll released on Oct. 15.

Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, said it’s hard to gauge the public’s attitude about local government, as most people don’t follow it unless a certain issue pops up, like ceasing the renovation of a school. But you can sense that anti-government tension when dealing with the presidential candidates, he said.

“People who want to essentially build on what exists are having a very hard time to establish themselves and make themselves visible as a candidate with the level of anger and discomfort from the less comfortable voters,” Nataf said.

By JOSH MAGNESS, REBECCA RAINEY and ALANA PEDALINO
(CNS reporter Connor Glowacki contributed to this report.)

Many Maryland Rural Residents Are Left Without Wired Broadband

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Richard Thompson runs a business designing newspaper pages from his Calvert County home, but he can’t do all his work there.

Recently, he had to to take his laptop to the library three miles up the road, download a program he needed, save it to a flash drive and install it on his home computer.

This isn’t out of the ordinary for Thompson, who has to go to the library whenever he needs to upload or download large files because he doesn’t have broadband Internet at home.

“I get very close acquaintance with the little circle that goes around and around along with the word ‘connecting’,” he said.

Hundreds of Thousands in Maryland Lack Broadband Access

In Maryland, the state the National Security Agency calls home, 4 percent of the population, around 260,000 people, don’t have access to wired Internet. The percentage is higher in rural areas of the state, where 13 percent of residents, or 95,000 people, don’t have access to “Fixed Advanced Telecommunications Capability,” according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Wired Internet is either fiber, cable or DSL, a Digital Subscriber Line. Without wired service, people looking to get online have to rely on satellite Internet, which can be unreliable in bad weather, or, more often, they use wireless Internet hotspots.

Wireless Internet can be both expensive and limiting, because it’s metered. Users only get a certain amount of Internet per month, and overage charges can be exorbitant, up to $200 per month for 4g wireless internet, which doesn’t include charges for using more than 20 gigabytes.

Thomas Thompson, Richard Thompson’s son, teaches engineering and computer science at Westlake High School in Waldorf.

At home in Prince Frederick, he pays $200 a month for 4g wireless Internet, not counting the other $200 he spends each month on service for his family’s landline, two cell phones and one iPad.

Each month, he gets an allowance of 20 gigabytes, which he says “slows down to a crawl” if there are many people on their phones at once or if something, like buildings or trees, get between him and the cell tower that powers his Internet.

Because he can’t afford to spend precious bandwidth on downloading his students’ design projects to grade at home, he often spends hours at the school, after classes, grading them.

For Thomas Thompson and his colleagues, watching a clip to show in class or uploading materials means making a careful calculation about what their home Internet can bear.

“It’s something you end up avoiding and not doing from home,” he said. “You stay at work until you get it done or you can’t stand to be there any more.”

It was worse when Thomas Thompson was working on his master’s degree online in information technology from University of Maryland University College, when downloading journal articles and working on projects meant staying at school until 7 or 8 p.m.

It’s a struggle Nick Ersoy knows well. Ersoy, a sophomore at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, commutes to campus from his home in Calvert County. Though his school has Wi-Fi on campus, his community does not.

“Schoolwork has a due date regardless of if you’re on campus,” he said.

Having metered, wireless Internet means going without Netflix, YouTube and streamed music. His family carefully monitors how much Internet they use, so most streaming is out of the question.

Ersoy’s father, Javit Ersoy, says he pays “hundreds of dollars” per month for a 30 gigabyte Verizon Fusion plan that isn’t enough for his business and a family of five, so he pays for a second plan from another carrier as well.
Technology Gap Continues as Copper Phone Lines Degrade

In the more populated areas of Queen Anne’s County, like Kent Island, where 50 percent of the population lives, residents can subscribe to wired Atlantic Broadband.

The problem is in the rural areas of Queen Anne’s, which include a lot of unincorporated towns where people mostly only have access to metered options, according to Megan DelGaudio, information technology manager for the county.

“It’s a financial strain for people who have to use metered devices,” she said. “It’s holding back some (residents) either because of the expense of what they’re paying for it, or not really having any access to it at all.”

The FCC doesn’t consider wireless Internet a viable alternative to broadband.

“Customers that are dependent solely on mobile broadband are significantly more likely to exceed their monthly allowances, causing them to incur additional fees or forgo use of the Internet,” the federal agency reported in January.

The report warns that people without Internet access have difficulty accessing health information and job opportunities, which puts them at a “significant disadvantage.”

Verizon is a public utility that manages copper wires laid down for landlines many years ago. It can choose to offer DSL service to people over these wires.

Delegate Mike Fisher, R-Calvert, submitted a bill that would require Verizon to maintain those copper lines and offer DSL service over them.

Under Fisher’s proposal, which never made it out of a state House committee, Verizon could contract out to a third party to provide the DSL over Verizon’s lines, or just pay into Maryland’s Rural Broadband Access Fund for the state to provide the DSL.

The Rural Broadband Access Fund was created in 2009 to establish broadband in underserved areas of the state, and has had inconsistent funding since then.

DSL isn’t perfect, and it isn’t the newest technology. Coaxial cable has been around since the 1980s, and Verizon has been offering FiOs, fiber optic Internet, since 2005.

DSL also operates on an aging infrastructure. The copper wires that are used for DSL were put down for landlines, which customers are abandoning in favor of cell phones. This means that the copper wires don’t always get the service they may need.

“If you ask anyone who…still has a wired, old-time home phone, they’ll tell you it’s degrading on a monthly basis because it’s not being maintained,” Fisher said.

It’s not an ideal solution, especially for service providers like Comcast.

“DSL is a completely outdated technology,” said Sean Looney, the vice president of government affairs for Comcast. “It may be a Band-Aid solution in the short term.”

But fiber isn’t a viable alternative for Comcast either, Looney said.

“Comcast would love to serve 100 percent of the residents of the state of Maryland, but there are some locations that are just not cost-effective (for fiber lines),” Looney said.

Still, for some residents, out-of-date technology is better than no Internet access at all.

“If we can’t be in the 21st century, at least get us to the last part of the 20th,” said Richard Thompson, who turns his Internet off most of the day so he doesn’t rack up data charges.

Even in places that do have options for cable or FiOs, Fisher said, seniors and low-income families might want DSL as a cheaper alternative to pricey Internet plans.

‘Dark Fiber’ a Gateway to Broadband

In Kent County, another solution is underway to bring internet to largely underserved areas.

Over the next two years, a telecommunications company called FTS will put down fiber lines in Kent County. Kent County will pay around $5 million and FTS will pay for the rest of the $20 million project.

The reason FTS can lay fiber in less population-dense areas is because they provide “dark fiber,” as opposed to the “light fiber” that outfits like Verizon FiOS provides.

Unlike Verizon, FTS doesn’t “light” the fiber with Internet access, it only lays the fiber and leases it to an internet service provider.

There is a deal in place with Think Big Networks, an Internet service provider, but other ISPs will be able to lease the fiber as well, according to Brett Hill, the CEO of FTS.

Hill said his company can afford to lay fiber where bigger companies can’t because he views the fiber as a long-term investment.

“We find in the rural areas, there is easier and less expensive construction than we’d find in an urban area,” Hill said. “Looking at the county as a whole, we’re able to balance the more dense areas with the more sparse areas.”

FTS will start connecting 54 Kent County government locations, and by late 2017 or early 2018, Hill said, residents will have Internet in their homes.

County Commissioner Bill Short said providing fiber will have a wide-ranging economic impact.

“It’s going to do incredible things for Kent County,” Short said.

Lack of Broadband Affects Property Values, Farmers’ Information

Slow or unreliable Internet can curb home sales in rural parts of the state.

Kendra McCourt, a real estate agent in Charles County, said the first question buyers often ask her is whether the property has Internet access.

She said people are attracted to new construction in Hughesville or Bryant Town, where they can get large homes and an acre of land. But when they find out that they’ll only have access to satellite Internet, they leave.

“If you can’t find them something, they’ll jump over the bridge and go to Virginia,” McCourt said. “I’m not licensed in Virginia, so I lose the sale.”

She had to push one couple who needed to work from home to Indian Head, 25 miles from their preferred area, so they could have Comcast.

She said her customers are faced with a choice:

“Do I go with better service or do I go where there’s a house that’s better for me?”

Often, they’re choosing Internet access, which pulls them away from rural areas.

“There have been times where we have had buyers who would have bought but didn’t,” said Paula Reeder a real estate agent in Chestertown. “We’ve had people change their focus to other areas.”

Reeder said the expanded Internet in Kent County will attract both residential buyers and businesses that have been reluctant to move in.

In a county where 92 percent of the land is used for farming, the agriculture sector is suffering from a lack of access too, Short said.

Unreliable Internet most adversely affects farmers trying to improve their growing operation by incorporating state-of-the-art technology, according to Jarrod Miller, an agriculture agent with the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Miller works in Somerset County, and said it seems that Internet access is harder to come by in Maryland’s lower shore.

“If we’re having training sessions or free webinars online you can watch, that could affect people that want to learn more,” he said. “…Internet access effects growers when they can’t get access to updated information.”

“I also see farmers struggling in more rural areas because many of their licensing and record-keeping things are all Web-based now, as opposed to paper-based,” said Shannon Dill, an agriculture agent for Talbot County.

Though Kent may be seeing new opportunities for Internet soon, it does little to help Richard Thompson in Calvert County. He’ll continue to go to the library and use software on his devices on “metered mode” to preserve his limited data.

“There isn’t a whole lot that I can do,” Richard Thompson said. “For right now, it’s status quo.”

By Rachel Bluth

 

General Assembly Ends Session With Criminal Justice Reform, But No Tax Cuts

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In a legislative session that began with bickering between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic leadership in the General Assembly, the biggest issue left unresolved at the end — across-the-board income tax reduction — failed because of in-fighting among Democratic leaders.

Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, couldn’t agree on who should get cuts.

The House’s version benefited middle- and working-class people, and the Senate’s version focused on higher-income and corporate tax cuts.

“Unfortunately the speaker of the House and Senate president dropped the ball and failed to get it done,” Hogan said Monday night of the tax cuts, which were among his top priorities. “It’s very frustrating and disappointing.”

Perhaps the largest and most-debated issue this session was criminal justice reform.

The omnibus bill steers non-violent drug offenders toward treatment rather than incarceration.

Leadership on both sides of the aisle and in both branches of government have called this bill — the product of intense compromise between the House and Senate — one of the crowning achievements of the session.

“It’s a game changer for the criminal justice system in multiple ways,” said Sen. Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore.

Another bill, Noah’s Law, passed the General Assembly with only an hour to go.

The bill, named after a police officer who was killed while on a drunken driving patrol, expands the use of ignition locks on cars of drunken drivers.

“We know we’re saving a lot of lives by doing this,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor.

Busch called it one of the most productive sessions he could remember as Hogan signed more than 100 bills into law Tuesday.

The $42.3 billion operating budget was passed unanimously in both chambers more than two weeks before session ended, and closely resembled Hogan’s original proposal.

“It’s been the best, easiest in terms of levels of stress and differences,” Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chair Edward Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County, said of negotiations. “Everybody was very accommodating.”

The session saw several other big initiatives become law, including a plan to reduce student loan debt, set new standards to combat climate change and create harsher fines for poachers. The General Assembly also approved a partnership between the University of Maryland’s College Park and Baltimore campuses.

The session also saw the passage of some bills that could be seen as a response to the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest in Baltimore last year, including laws reforming officers’ training, and allowing for residents to anonymously report complaints about police.

Some initially controversial pieces of legislation, like a law allowing terminally ill patients to end their lives after a series of stipulations, never made it to the governor’s desk.

Advocates for a bill requiring businesses to let their employees earn paid sick leave spent weeks in Annapolis lobbying lawmakers, but it never passed.

Mileah Kromer, a political scientist from Goucher College, said this represented a big loss for Democrats.

“It’s an initiative they have been working on for a couple of years now, and they can’t seem to muster enough to get it through,” she said.

The session began with overrides on five bills Hogan vetoed in 2015.

The low-boil of tension during the session also bubbled up when Hogan again tried to thwart legislative action by vetoing bills both chambers passed.

With less than a week before the General Assembly adjourned for the year, Democrats used a constitutional maneuver to force Hogan’s hand early on some bills. This gave them time to override two more of his vetoes, including a Democratic plan requiring all transportation projects to be scored before they receive funding.

An oft-repeated number around the State House this year was “83 percent” — the amount of the state’s operating budget that Hogan’s office said is eaten up by mandates, which require the governor to fund certain projects every year in his budget.

Republicans got a lot of mileage out of that statistic, which appeared represented by a jar of change on the desk of Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings’, R-Baltimore, for weeks.

Hogan introduced legislation to curb this kind of funding, but his proposals got little traction in the General Assembly. He often described himself as a “goalie, just trying to stop a lot of bad things from happening,” when it came to new initiatives that came with future price tags.

“I think any time you have divided government you’ll have a struggle on where money goes because neither side has full control of it,” said Kromer.

Several bills that would require later funding, including for Prince George’s Regional Medical Center and a package of bills aimed at revitalizing Baltimore, received bipartisan support. But Hogan called them “needless political actions” because they required spending “on programs that our administration was already committed to.”

Others, including scholarship programs and extended library hours, also passed, but were opposed by Republicans who opposed creating more funding requirements.

Miller on Monday night indicated that a one-day special session might be necessary to pass both the tax cuts legislation and the earned sick leave bill.

Special sessions are usually for urgent bills that can’t wait until the next year, and while Miller has said he thought the bills merited special circumstances, both Hogan and Busch were less enthusiastic.

“If the governor calls a special session, I’ll be here obviously,” Busch said. “But he has to justify it to the public.”

The tense undercurrent flowing through much of the session would boil up in occasionally odd ways, like in February, when Hogan compared legislators to kids on spring break, coming to Annapolis and causing trouble.

“They come here for a few weeks,” he said on the C4 show on WBAL-AM Radio. “ They start breaking up the furniture and throwing beer bottles off the balcony.”

It prompted a brief backlash, where Democratic senators and delegates Tweeted pictures of themselves in committee hearings captioned #notspringbreak.

And on the first day lawmakers arrived in Annapolis, before the General Assembly had gaveled in for its first vote, Miller said there was no communication between Hogan’s office and Democratic leadership, a complaint both sides brought up throughout the 90-day session.

Redistricting reform, on the top of the governor’s list, failed. Maryland has been called the “most gerrymandered” state, and Hogan introduced a bill in January that required congressional districts to be contiguous and take into account county and city boundaries.

This is likely in response to Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District, which was nicknamed the “praying mantis” district by the Washington Post, and has also been said to resemble a “broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state,” by a federal judge.

Some of Attorney General Brian Frosh’s initiatives, like dealing with fantasy gaming and passing some gun restrictions, didn’t pass either.

By Rachel Bluth
CNS Correspondent Lexie Schapitl contributed to this report

Clinton Takes Detour from New York to Court Maryland Democrats

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is showing Maryland that she will not be ignoring the state despite her heated primary race in New York against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Clinton hit Baltimore Sunday and also is nailing down key support among Maryland Democratic leaders. Most notably, she claimed the endorsement of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore. It was the last endorsement she needed to have the backing of all of Maryland’s Democratic congressional delegation.

Maryland, with 95 delegates at stake, holds it presidential primary April 26. Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are voting the same day.

New York’s primary, where 291 delegates are up for grabs, is one week before that.

A Washington Post-University of Maryland Poll released last week showed Clinton leading Sanders 55 percent to 40 percent among likely Maryland Democratic voters.

Clinton picked up the Cummings endorsement in person Sunday, gathering with supporters inside City Garage in Baltimore, a building transformed from an old city bus garage into the home of Under Armour’s innovation division, a move by the company to encourage businesses to stay in the city.

The Democratic frontrunner said she would do anything in her power to break down economic barriers standing in the way of any American, as well as focus on invigorating communities that have been ignored in the past.

“I believe we need to build on the progress that we have made under President (Barack) Obama,” said Clinton. “We need to look for every way possible to create new jobs. We need to be focusing on how we can bring investment to places that need it.”

Clinton stated that she will lay out a comprehensive jobs agenda, and that part of that plan would be to direct $20 billion specifically at helping to create jobs for young people. She also said that billions of dollars would be invested in places like West and East Baltimore.

“It is a fact: our economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House,” Clinton told the crowd. “So what I say we need to be doing is what works.”

Clinton and Cummings were joined onstage by Maryland’s Democratic senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, who had pledged their support to Clinton earlier in her campaign.

“We can take the high road of liberty, justice, and opportunity – the road taken by Bill Clinton, Lyndon B. Johnson, President Barack Obama and the road that Hillary Clinton will take,” Cummings said in his endorsement. “Or we can take the low road – the road of division, of fraction, disruption, bigotry, the road of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”

“I came here today to ask each of you to join me in taking the high road, to join me in marching with this great lady, Hillary Clinton,” the congressman said.

Clinton praised Cummings’s integrity and character, referring to the 11 hours she spent sitting in front of him and the House committee investigating the Benghazi attacks. Cummings was her clear ally.

“I was so proud to see him leading the Democrats and listening to him make the points that needed to be made,” said Clinton. “I wasn’t surprised because that’s the kind of congressman he is. And I just have to tell you how lucky you are to have him as one of your leaders.”

By ALEXANDRA PAMIAS

Edwards Hits Van Hollen with First Televised Attack Ad

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With just three weeks before the Maryland Senate primary, Rep. Donna Edwards used her first campaign television ad to attack her main rival, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, over his record in office.

In the ad, which started airing Tuesday, Edwards airs the same charges used during the last Senate debate with Van Hollen on March 29.

“I said ‘no’ to the Social Security cuts Chris Van Hollen said he’d consider,” Edwards says in the ad.

The same ad also claims Van Hollen took campaign money from Wall Street banks and “backed down” on issues with the National Rifle Association.

Van Hollen struck back, holding a press conference in Kensington Tuesday with Attorney General Brian Frosh, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, to refute Edwards.

Townsend accused Edwards of refusing to run “an honest campaign.”

“At every turn, she has attacked Chris Van Hollen on Social Security, misleading voters with no concern for the facts,” Townsend said.

Van Hollen also responded to the ad, saying, “Maryland voters deserve better than a campaign based on misinformation and scare tactics.”

The congressman said he has defended Social Security in negotiations, has opposed the NRA and supported tougher gun laws and did not take money from bank PAC’s.

The Edwards ad comes amidst two new polls showing a close race.

The first survey, released Friday by the Van Hollen campaign and conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang, showing him with a 5-point lead over Edwards, 45 percent to 40 percent.

The second poll, released Sunday and conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland, showed Edwards with a 4-point margin, 44 percent to 40 percent.

“Donna’s leading in the polls because she’s championing the values of Maryland’s working families and taking on the Washington special interests holding them back,” said Edwards campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes.

The Edwards campaign announced a week-long Baltimore television ad buy of over $156,000, starting Tuesday, but had already released a first ad titled “Bat” online.

The ad tells the story of “Denise,” a constituent with multiple sclerosis that Edwards helped to receive her retirement benefits. The ad includes statistics on constituent cases and money that the Edwards office says it saved in 2015.

The ad is meant to address Van Hollen’s recent criticism of Edwards’ constituent services.

“Congresswoman Edwards has not been there for (constituents). Many of them have been calling our offices when they don’t get that support,” Van Hollen charged during a debate hosted by ABC7 on March 29. “When they walk into her office she has not been there for them.”

By Rebecca Rainey

Edwards and Van Hollen in a Virtual Tie Ahead of April 26 Senate Primary

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With less than a month to go before the Maryland Senate primary, Maryland Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards appear locked in a tight race for the Democratic nomination.

Given the recent history of Maryland voters favoring Democrats in Senate races, most observers consider winning the Senate nomination the equivalent of winning the seat.

The most recent poll, conducted by the Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore on March 11, showed Edwards inching past Van Hollen by 6 percent.

However, when other minor candidates were removed from the polling options, Edwards held a 10 percent lead over Van Hollen.

The candidates have been facing off in a series of debates leading up to the April 26 primary.

In a televised debate hosted by WJLA on Tuesday, Edwards revisited some of her arguments from the pair’s first debate March 18, in which Edwards criticized Van Hollen’s record on Social Security.

Edwards, 57, argued Tuesday that Van Hollen, also 57, had in the past “negotiated away” Social Security and Medicare, an action that would have “adversely impacted thousands of seniors across (the) state.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-5th, has not openly endorsed either candidate. But in a separate interview, when asked about Edward’s charges, responded: “Mr. Van Hollen has been a staunch opponent of Republican efforts to either voucherize, reduce, or privatize Social Security and Medicare and a very strong, articulate spokesperson against the budgets which have incorporated that, so I think the assertion is incorrect.”

Van Hollen has countered Edwards by saying she has few accomplishments during her nearly eight years in the House.

In response to questions regarding each candidate’s qualifications Hoyer said: “Chris Van Hollen has been a real leader on the fiscal matters confronting the U.S., our need to invest in education, in health care and the environment, public safety and transportation and has lead on budget efforts.”

“I think he’s perceived as a real expert in those areas and I think that that’s something that speaks well for his leadership,” Hoyer said. Van Hollen has been in the House since 2003 and is the second-ranking Democrat in leadership.

As for Edwards, Hoyer commented: “Congresswoman Edwards obviously has herself been active in a number of different areas, but not as pointedly as Chris Van Hollen because he had a position as ranking member on the budget committee.”

Hoyer noted that Edwards is newer to Congress, adding that, “some would argue that’s a benefit and some would argue that therefore Chris has more accomplishments than she does.”

A Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies Poll released March 8 found that registered Maryland Democrats are evenly split over the two Senate hopefuls, with 42 percent saying they will vote for Van Hollen and 41 percent favoring Edwards.

That leaves 15 percent of Democrats undecided and a competitive road ahead for Van Hollen and Edwards in the final weeks before voting.

These results barely changed from those in a Goucher Poll released late February, which found 39 percent of Maryland Democrats backing Edwards and 37 percent supporting Van Hollen.

“The test for Edwards will be her ability to translate her current electoral support to campaign-sustaining donations,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College in Baltimore. “Van Hollen has the money in his campaign coffers for a strong push to the finish.”

According to Federal Election Commission campaign reports, the Van Hollen campaign has over $4 million in total contributions, which is the fourth-highest amount for Senate campaigns in this election cycle.

Edwards’ receipts come in at just under $1 million.

However, a super PAC that is associated with Emily’s List, one of the top contributors to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, has promised $1 million in advertising, to Edwards’ campaign. That brings the group’s spending for Edwards to about $2.4 million, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The Gonzales Research Poll revealed that the race is sharply divided by demographic borders of race and gender.

Edwards leads Van Hollen among African-American voters 70 percent to 16 percent. Among females, Edwards leads 47 percent to 36 percent, which is a significant lead for such a tight race.

Edwards also led in the Gonzales survey with 69 percent of the Democratic vote in Prince George’s County and 54 percent in Baltimore City, the latter one of the chief battlegrounds in the race.

But, some analysts argue that even though Van Hollen has a fundraising edge in the campaign, Edwards could still secure the nomination.

“Don’t discount Donna Edwards,” said Nina Kasniunas, associate professor of political science at Goucher College in Baltimore. “She is an outspoken advocate for her constituency and it’s been many years since we have had a black woman get elected to the U.S. Senate.”

The last black woman to serve in the Senate was Carol Moseley Brown, a Democrat from Illinois, who served from 1993 to 1999.

In the upcoming weeks, Edwards intends to continue campaigning on expanding Social Security, spending more on schools, and tighter gun safety laws, among other issues, according to campaign spokesman Benjamin Gerdes.

“Marylanders across the state are learning about Donna’s record of leadership, whether that’s providing after school meals to children in need, holding health insurance companies accountable, or protecting thousands of jobs at NASA Goddard,” Gerdes said.

However, Van Hollen’s status as a “party favorite” could give him a significant edge, according to Kasniunas.

“Chris has spent his years in Congress carefully cultivating relationships with other members,” she said. “His leadership within the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) is a testament to his ability to work with and for others in the Democratic Party and is manifesting in the number of endorsements he is receiving and the large amounts of money he is raising.”

Van Hollen plans to continue campaigning in the coming days on schools and jobs, said campaign spokeswoman Bridgett Frey.

“As Chris talks to voters across the state, it’s clear his message about moving Maryland forward is resonating with working families,” she said. “People are tired of politicians who talk a big game but don’t take action, and they know this election isn’t for sale to the highest super PAC bidder.”

Republican Senate front-runners include Maryland State Delegate Kathy Szeliga of Baltimore County and Richard J. Douglas, a lawyer with Pentagon experience from Montgomery County, both face a more difficult challenge in the upcoming primary.

This is not only because 59 percent of Republican voters were undecided, according to a March 13 poll conducted by The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore. In recent years, the Maryland Senate seats have been held by Democrats.

Paul Sarbanes took over the seat in 1977 from Republican John Beall and Sen. Barbara Mikulski won Maryland’s other seat in 1986 after the retirement of Republican Charles Mathias.

Mikulski will have served for 30 years when she retires at the end of her term and, most likely, gives her chair to either Van Hollen or Edwards.

By Rebecca Rainey