Smithsonian’s New African American Museum Gears Up for Schools


Whether it’s a class on early African American history, civil rights movements or black pop culture, there’s an exhibit for that at the Smithsonian’s newest museum.

And schools are penciling in the National Museum of African American History and Culture to give students a real-life look at the past as well as a tangible representation of the places and people in their textbooks.

While the museum has programs like an education initiative to benefit children 8 years old and younger, college professors and their students also plan to use the museum.

Jonathan England, an African American studies professor at the University of Maryland, said he looks forward to adding a field trip to the museum into his curriculum.

“I want to be able to touch this topic and really go there and have students be exposed to it because it’s different listening to Jonathan England talk about it in a class versus seeing it,” England said. “It’s just something that adds to the academic environment.”

At Howard University, Msia Clark also looks to incorporate the museum in her African studies classes.

“One of the assignments I have in most of my classes is students have to go to an event that’s related to Africa,” she said. “One of the options is also to go to the museum – whether that be the African art museum or the African American museum. That’s definitely something that I’m encouraging them to do for their assignment.”

No matter the class subject, the museum has something to offer every student.

The chronologically-arranged floors of the museum resemble walking through history, as visitors begin in the basement with the slave trade and navigate their way up to contemporary America.

Along the journey, artifacts and memorabilia tell the many stories of African American tragedy and success in this country.

Although the museum has nearly 37,000 artifacts, one item in particular is special to Jason Nichols.

“My family actually donated something to the museum – the Joseph Trammell Freedom Papers, which Lonnie Bunch, (the museum director), said (was) his favorite exhibit in the entire museum,” said Nichols, an African American studies lecturer at the University of Maryland who visited the museum. “Of course that was a big highlight for me, being that Joseph Trammell was actually my five-times great uncle.”

Other notable artifacts include Regina Egertion Wright’s diploma from the Colored Training School in Baltimore; a ticket from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery, Alabama, for the Selma-Montgomery March in the spring of 1965 and was part of the Civil Rights Movement; and desks from the Hope School in Pomaria, South Carolina, one of the many rural schools built for African American children and financed by educator Booker T. Washington and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.

Michael Durso, president of the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, predicts that many local schools, along with MCPS, will be trying to get into the museum in the coming months. He specifically highlighted the hands-on exhibits that would appeal to school-age children.

“I was really struck by some of the activities that were interactive, which the young people of school age and elementary age were able to get involved with,” Durso said. “I think that will help spur interests with our younger people who are more attuned to that than parents or grandparents.”

Baltimore County Public Schools also are looking to make field trips to the newest Smithsonian.

“We are excited about the opening of the African American museum and the many educational opportunities it affords our students,” Edie House-Foster, manager of public information for the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, wrote in an email. “I am confident that in the days ahead our school leaders will be exploring the many ways the museum can support teaching and learning in the classroom.”

In addition, Clark said she hopes the museum will “help shape the narrative and correct some of the misconceptions.”

“I just really hope that the museum serves as a tool for teachers – especially K-12 – who don’t know much themselves about African American history and culture so they are, therefore, really unable to teach it,” Clark said.

Mark Stout, the secondary social studies coordinator of the Howard County Public School System, said he wants teachers in the district to use the museum’s online resources to help aid their classroom discussions. Stout highlighted the vast collection of photographs depicting all different aspects of African American life.

“The museum is designed very interestingly,” Stout said, “in that it shows not just heroes and famous people from our African American past, but also the lives of everyday people, which kind of reflects what we try to do … with students, and that is look at history through the eyes of the people that lived it.”

Some of the museum’s content is not appropriate for all audiences.

A sign warns visitors that exhibits with a red border around them may be too graphic for younger or more sensitive viewers, as the museum does not shy away from difficult topics.

“I think it’s important to remember that, a lot of times, we talk about the problems facing African Americans,” Nichols said, “but now we can look at, despite that peril, how African Americans have triumphed over the years and how they’ve overcome so many obstacles…And it’s mainly been due to the efforts of African Americans. No one saved them; they did it on their own.”

Maryland Patients still waiting on Medical Marijuana


While Maryland is on pace to have one of the slowest rollouts of medical marijuana in the country, patients across the state must skirt the law if they want to treat themselves.

It has been more than 900 days since former Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the bill legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

Dispensaries are anticipated to open by next summer, but legal fights with the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission over licenses to grow the plant has many concerned that access will keep patients waiting longer.

One company that applied for a growing license but was denied has filed suit against the commission, with two others planning to do so, all saying the licensing process was unfair and improper.

And the Legislative Black Caucus, concerned about a lack of minority ownership among preliminary licensees, plans to introduce emergency legislation in the next General Assembly session calling for the commission to restart the process.

While state officials grapple with who should grow, process and sell the drug, some Maryland patients are suffering — or medicating themselves outside the law.

“I was 26 years old before I tried pot for the first time, and it was strictly as pain management,” said Rachel Perry-Crook, executive director of Maryland NORML, an organization that promotes marijuana legalization.

Perry-Crook, now 30, said she has used marijuana for four years to help alleviate pain from a number of different ailments, including undergoing four back surgeries and a spinal fusion. She has a connective tissue disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, she said, that causes hypermobility, leaving her body in constant pain.

She said she turned to marijuana after years of taking a prescription opioid medication meant to treat severe pain.

“I was taking Dilaudid for years – very high dosages of Dilaudid to the point where it would put a lot of people in a coma,” Perry-Crook told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “I looked at myself one day and I realized I was going to turn into a junkie if I didn’t find something else to manage my pain.”

Pushback against the commission

The state granted pre-approval to 15 processors and 15 growers in August.

Medical cannabis producer Green Thumb Industries-Maryland, based in Prince George’s County, filed a lawsuit against the commission on Sept. 19. The company said it was on the list of 15 pre-approved growers in July, then subsequently and unfairly removed when the ranking process was changed to factor in the geographic diversity of the applicants.

“The path we’re pursuing now is a last resort; we feel like we’ve exhausted all other remedies,” Pete Kadens, CEO of GTI-Maryland, said during a press conference late last month. “The last thing we want to do … is further distress sick patients.”

A little more than a week later, another rejected grower, Maryland Cultivation and Processing, petitioned to join the lawsuit, which was filed in the Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Additionally, members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, among others, have also taken issue with the lack of racial diversity among the 30 pre-approved processors and growers.

“We are not going to let anybody get licenses under the scenario that exists now,” state Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore said during a Legislative Black Caucus meeting on Oct. 6.

Alternative Medicine Maryland, which is majority African-American owned, was also denied a license by the commission. The group will file a lawsuit in the coming weeks demanding the commission stop the licensing process and mandate racial diversity, according to John Pica, an attorney for the group.

“Sometimes I wonder if our application was even reviewed,” Pica said. “African-American companies have been stiff-armed in this industry.”

Some industry advocates are concerned that the legal battles, though valid, will mean sick patients are left waiting for even longer.

“We are very concerned with the lack of diversity that is in the current pre-approvals,” said Kate Bell, legislative counsel with the Marijuana Policy Project, a cannabis advocacy group. “But we have to remember that – fundamentally – this is about protecting sick patients.”

Where Maryland stands

On April 14, 2014, Maryland joined the 25 states and Washington, D.C., to legalize medical marijuana. Of the three states that passed the legislation in 2014, Maryland is the only one where patients do not yet have legal access to cannabis.

The commission plans to administer patient cards six months prior to the anticipated opening of dispensaries, according to its website.

Mike Liszewski, government affairs director for Americans for Safe Access, said Maryland is taking longer than most states to bring medical marijuana to its patients. While he predicts patients will be able to receive legal medicine by mid to late 2017, he said additional lawsuits and injunctions could push that back further.

Hawaii’s June 2000 medical marijuana law allowed patients to use and cultivate the plant with a doctor’s prescription. The state approved an amendment in July 2015 that allowed dispensaries to open in July 2016 — only one year later, according to the Hawaii Department of Health’s website.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-8-20-19-amStates such as Nevada and Vermont also did not have dispensaries available from the onset but did allow patients with registry cards to legally grow marijuana for treatment.

“If patients were allowed to cultivate their own medicine (in Maryland), you wouldn’t have patients waiting and suffering,” Liszewski said. “Our organization is trying to get to a solution that has the dispensaries opening up as soon as possible.”

A 2011 amendment to Vermont’s 2004 medical marijuana legislation established dispensaries that are permitted to both cultivate and distribute the drug. In Maryland, growers and dispensaries must be separate businesses, an extra layer of bureaucracy.

The 30 pre-approved growers and processors are in the second stage of the licensing process where they must undergo background checks, inspections and prove financial competency.

Preliminary, or stage one, approval of dispensaries is forthcoming, according to the commission.

Liszewski said removing statutory and regulatory caps that restrict the number of growers and processors permitted under law could alleviate the grievances regarding geographic diversity and promote greater competition within the industry.

Perry-Crook says the legislature needs to diversify the pool of applicants and review county-level zoning provisions that do not allow growing, processing or vending in commercial areas. She said these provisions restrict patients’ access to marijuana since they may have to travel farther receive it.

“The supply is not going to meet the demand with how things are laid out right now,” Perry-Crook said.

By Katishi Maake

Maryland Nursing Home Regulator Struggling To Keep Up


As complaints rise throughout the nursing home system in Maryland, state nursing home regulators have a persistent staffing problem and are struggling to keep up.

By the end of 2015, about one in every five positions were unfilled at the Office of Health Care Quality, which is crucial to the regulation and inspection of health care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, according to a 2017 fiscal year budget analysis conducted for the Maryland General Assembly. That vacancy level is nearly double from the previous year.

The staffing problems are hindering proper oversight, according to an analysis of the Office of Health Care Quality’s 2017 fiscal year budget. The agency “has faced chronic staffing shortages over the past few years due to the combination of an increased workload, a structural deficiency in positions allotted for survey and inspection activities, and chronic vacancies among surveyor positions,” according to the state legislative analysis.

The OHCQ’s staffing problems are, at the very least, slowing down the agency’s reviews of nursing homes and other entities. A staffing turnover rate of 7.6 percent “impinges on the Office of Health Care Quality’s (OHCQ) ability to fulfill its statutory responsibilities,” according to its budget for the 2016 fiscal year. The update released earlier this year, for the 2017 fiscal year, paints a bleaker picture, saying that “OHCQ indicates it will do little to improve its staffing situation.”

The agency’s response time missed a federal goal set by the Department of Health & Human Services of starting an investigation within 10 days of a complaint alleging actual harm, according to the budget analysis. In 2015 – the most recent year available – it took an average of 34 days to initiate an onsite investigation, which the agency attributed to a hiring freeze, according to the budget analysis.

Alice Hedt, former Maryland state long term care ombudsman, said the vacancies are a concern. “This shortage of one out of five positions not being filled — it’s obviously going to impact their work,” Hedt said.

Christopher Garrett, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said OHCQ made “significant progress” in doing more with less through regulatory efficiency and effectiveness in the past three years. He defended the agency’s budget, saying “staffing at all levels of government could be viewed subjectively.”

“What matters is that OHCQ remains committed to performing the required surveys to hold providers accountable for maintaining appropriate levels of care to Marylanders,” Garrett wrote in an email. The Office of Health Care Quality received 1,083 complaints about nursing homes in the 2015 calendar year. Of those complaints, 122 related to admissions, discharges and transfers.

These staffing concerns come as Maryland’s elderly population continues to grow. In 2010, some 19 percent of the state’s population of 5.7 million was age 60 or older, and this age group will rise to 26 percent by 2030. According to data collected by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, there were 25,513 residents in certified nursing facilities in Maryland in 2014, up from 24,178 residents in 2013.

The budget documents show the agency also had trouble surveying assisted living facilities. In 2015, the agency surveyed 70 percent of assisted living facilities, fewer than its goal of 80 percent. There were 1,482 licensed assisted living sites in 2015, and the number is expected to grow to slightly over 1,500 in 2016.

Problems with oversight might lead to a rise in unlicensed facilities that can gamble on operating without fear of being caught, according to one expert.

“A lot of these assisted living providers are popping up, and they recognize that it’s difficult and that OHCQ has pretty limited recourses to be able to conduct surveys on a very regular basis with them,” said Anne Hurley, former project director for Long-Term Care Assistance Project at Maryland Legal Aid.

Still, the budget documents paint a more stark picture, saying the Office of Health Care Quality “has faced chronic staffing shortages over the past few years” due to increased workload and shortage of inspectors and surveyors.

The staffing woes are not expected to go down any time soon. The agency’s workforce is old enough that within five years, 51 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement. Age is not the only factor in the agency’s staffing problems: Similar opportunities in the private sector pay more than the agency, according to Maryland Delegate Kirill Reznik.

“We have a hard time filling those roles because the individuals who are qualified for those positions can make significantly more money in the private sector,” said Reznik, a Democrat from Montgomery County who chairs the health and human resources subcommittee that oversees the Office of Health Care Quality.

Reznik says that the agency is “losing people to the private sector, companies that the office is supposed to inspect.” Across-the-board vacancies are nothing new to the agency that has about 202 positions overall. The agency is down 52 surveyor positions in the 2016 fiscal year. The deficiency peaked in the 2013 fiscal year with 107 vacancies in the last 12 years.

The agency’s staffing shortage also affects the amount of federal funding it receives. Vacancies in its fiscal department make it harder for the agency to apply for federal funds, and it risks losing federal funds if it can’t meet federal rules, according to the budget analysis. At the state level, the agency’s budget is generally consistent. The agency has a $20.3 million budget allowance for the 2017 fiscal year, a 1.4 percent increase from the prior year.

By Carlos Alfaro and Darcy Costello
Capital News Service

Security Experts Question Maryland’s Online Ballot System


A new online ballot system and marking tool could weaken Maryland’s voting security and make it the most vulnerable state in the nation, according to some cybersecurity experts.

On Sept. 14, the Maryland State Board of Elections voted 4-1 to certify a new voting system and marking tool for online ballots.

The new system will allow all Maryland voters the ability to both make selections on a computer and print absentee ballots from home, and send them into the State Board of Elections.

Nikki Charlson, the deputy state administrator of the Board of Elections, said the system and tool are as secure as possible.

“We are following all of the best practices for IT systems,” she said.

Experts in cybersecurity and computer science have publicly stated they believe the potential risks with the new method of voting outweigh the benefits.

While Maryland voters can still have absentee ballots mailed or faxed to them, the new method allows any Maryland registered voter with access to the Internet the ability to request and download a ballot. These can be marked on the computer, but the selections are not recorded anywhere except on the printed ballots themselves.

All completed absentee ballots must be mailed to Maryland election officials on or before the day of the election in order to be counted.

Four of the five members of the Board of Elections found the ballot delivery system and marking tool to be secure enough for Maryland voters.

Patrick J. Hogan, a Democrat, the vice chairman of the State Board of Elections, acknowledged the risks, but voted to certify the system and tool.

“There’s no guarantees in life,” he said at a Board of Public Works meeting on Aug. 17. “We’ve had four security reviews done of this online ballot marking tool and all have said it’s secure.”

Poorvi L. Vora, a professor of computer science at The George Washington University, said the security reviews are not definitive.

“You can do a test and not find anything wrong,” she said. “That does not mean it is secure.”

Kelley A. Howells, a Republican, was the lone board member to vote against the extension of the system and marking tool, saying she wanted to avoid unnecessary complexity.

Four computer scientists from outside the state, including Vora, put out a statement addressing the potential problems with the expanded use of online ballots and the new marking tool, specifically with voter verification.

“There must be a secure method for authenticating voter transactions that guarantees that the reliably identified voter, as opposed to a bad actor or piece of malicious software, is at the other end of the transaction,” they said in a statement.

To prevent fraud, Maryland voters are required to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number, their driver’s license number and the issue date of their license plate or Motor Vehicle Administration ID number in order to access the ballot on their computer.

Rebecca Wilson, the co-director of Save our Votes, a nonpartisan organization working to increase voter security, spoke against the certification at the meeting on Sept. 14 and said it’s not secure enough. People can access that information if they really want it, she said.

“Driver’s license numbers can be derived from an algorithm,” she said.

Alan De Smet is a software engineer who created a website that can determine driver’s license numbers in certain states, particularly states that use an algorithm to determine the numbers.

Using his website, anyone with access to the Internet can determine most Maryland driver’s license numbers with only a person’s full name and day and month of birth.

“My description of the algorithm itself, including the source code to my software, is free speech,” he said. “That I make it available to use online shouldn’t change anything.”

Buel C. Young, a spokesman for the Motor Vehicle Administration, said the administration is aware the algorithm is online.

“In the technological age, there is always going to be someone making advancements toward replicating information,” he said.

De Smet said the best solution to to improve Maryland’s license number security is to assign driver’s license numbers in a meaningless way.

“Any high-quality random number generator would do the job,” he said. “Something as simple as assigning numbers sequentially would certainly be better.”

Wilson also said Social Security numbers are not secure.

“The last four digits of the Social Security number, you may as well consider those public because of breaches of the federal employees’ database, the University of Maryland (breach),” she said. “There have been large-scale compromises of Social Security numbers in Maryland which we know are on the black market.”

On Feb. 18, 2014, hackers stole more than 300,000 personal records from the University of Maryland’s personal information database.

The personal data — including Social Security numbers — of more than 22 million federal employees, contractors, applicants and family members was breached, likely starting in 2014, federal officials announced in 2015.

The four computer scientists said the license issue date, the third verification needed to obtain the online ballot, is accessible to “tens of thousands of state employees and local law enforcement agencies.”

Charlson said employees sign an agreement not to use information they have access to for any unauthorized reason.

According to Barbara Simons, the chair of the Board of Directors of Verified Voting, Maryland is particularly vulnerable to voter fraud.

Simons, one of the computer scientists who opposing the use of the online voting system and marking tool, said Maryland has three main security risks: no signature check of mail-in ballots is conducted; any citizen can request an absentee ballot without excuse; and an absentee ballot can be obtained and marked online.

“This combination of factors makes the Maryland absentee voter system the most insecure in the country,” she said.

While other states also use online ballots and mail-in voting, Maryland is the only one of those states that does not use signature verification.

Both Oregon and Washington state use mail-in voting only, but require signatures on the mailing envelope. They can be checked against a database of signatures the state collects, including from driver’s licenses.

Washington verifies signatures for 3 to 10 percent of all ballots, according to David Ammons, communication director for the office of the Secretary of the State in Washington.

Oregon checks every ballot, said Molly Woon, communications director for the secretary of state in Oregon.

“If the signatures do not match, the voter is contacted by county officials and comes in for a confirmation scan and comparison,” Woon said.

The General Assembly, which meets in the spring, would have to vote on signature verification, so it will not be in place for the 2016 elections, Charlson explained.

Some experts, including Vora, also do not believe the new system can keep ballots confidential when marked digitally.

“Ballot secrecy cannot be protected when votes are entered into personal computers on the Internet,” she said.

By Robbie Greenspan
Capital News Service

Significant New Maryland Laws go into Effect Beginning October 1


Starting Oct. 1, various laws will go into effect in Maryland, including laws to deter drunken driving, increase police accountability and public safety, promote workers’ rights, establish opioid addiction outreach programs and protect the freedom of the press.

Here is a roundup, by subject area, of some of the legislation that begins Saturday:

Children in Need of Assistance, Guardianship, Adoption, Custody, and Visitation — Blindness of Parent/Guardian (SB765): In cases with disabled parents, disabilities, including blindness, cannot discredit the parent unless proven that the disability is not in the best interest of the child.

Divorce-Corroboration of Testimony (SB359, HB274): Reversing previous laws, this allows courts to enter decrees of divorce on behalf of one spouse without the agreement of the other. It also establishes that a separation agreement is no longer sufficient to show both spouses want an absolute divorce.

Testimony by Perjurer (SB150, HB237): People who have been convicted of perjuring themselves, or lying under oath, will no longer be prohibited from testifying in court.

–By Sam Reilly


Providing Alcohol to Underage Drinkers/Alex and Calvin’s Law (HB409): Following the death of Alex Murk and Calvin Li in a 2015 drunken-driving accident after a party, this law prohibits a person from allowing underage individuals to consume alcohol if they should have known that individual would drive under the influence.

Justice Reinvestment Act (SB1005): The law expands drug treatment in the state health department, and treatment for substance abuse and mental health through the corrections department, including risk and needs assessments to determine risks of reoffending. The law also calls for plans for inmate rehabilitation.

Public Safety and Policing Workgroup (HB1016): This law enacts a number of suggestions from the Public Safety and Policing Workgroup, including protecting law enforcement officers from being penalized or retaliated against for disclosing information, and establishing the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission within the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Seizure and Forfeiture (SB161/HB336): This law outlines procedures for seizure and forfeiture of property from a vehicle or other location, such as notifying the owner that it has been seized, within a specific amount of time. The law also repeals a provision that allowed for the forfeiture of drug-related money and weapons.

Child Abuse and Neglect (SB310, HB245): Anyone involved in an investigation of child abuse or neglect must report suspicions of another individual knowingly failing to report child abuse to the appropriate board, agency, institution or facility.

Criminal Law-Stalking (SB278/HB155): This law expands the definition of stalker from inciting physical fears or threats to include causing emotional distress.

Pretrial Release-Prior Crime of Violence (SB604): A District Court commissioner may not authorize the pretrial release of defendants who have been convicted of a specified crime or a crime of violence.

–By Sam Reilly


Equal Pay for Equal Work (SB 481): An expansion of the current law, this legislation prohibits employers from paying employees of one gender identity at a lesser rate than other employees. The bill also states that employers may not prohibit employees from discussing or disclosing salaries.

Minimum Wage for the Disabled (SB 417): Starting Oct. 1, the Commissioner of Labor and Industry cannot authorize a work activities center or other sheltered workshop to pay an employee with a disability a subminimum wage unless granted prior permission to do so. Until Oct. 1, 2020, however, employers with prior permission may continue to do so. Afterward, no employer — under any circumstance — can pay a subminimum wage to a disabled employee.

Apprenticeships (SB 92): Members of the Maryland Apprenticeships and Training Council and its consultants must reflect geographic, racial, ethnic, cultural and gender diversity within the state.

–By Katishi Maake


Student Journalists (SB 764): Student journalists in public elementary or secondary schools or public institutions of higher education have the right to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored media, with some restrictions. Each county board of education and public institution of higher education must write a policy that may include limitations on abusive or threatening language or profanity.

University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act (SB 1052): The law cements a partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore and calls for them to be named the University of Maryland. Additionally, it calls for the University System of Maryland to create a headquarters in Baltimore by July 1. The alliance leverages resources on both campuses to improve academic programs, and economic and community development.

Consumer Protection Provisions (SB 427): Private career schools and for-profit institutions can no longer enroll students in programs that are intended to lead to employment in fields that require a license or certification in Maryland, but don’t meet state requirements. Violations will be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

–By Katishi Maake


Greenhouse Gas Emissions (SB 323): This bill repeals the termination date of the current requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 2006 levels by 2020 and requires the State to reduce GHG emissions by 40 percent from 2006 levels by 2030.

Pollinator Protection Act — Bees (SB 113/HB 132) (SB 198/HB 211): Repeals the requirement that a person must request or provide an entry permit from the Maryland Department of Agriculture before shipping or transporting a bee colony or used bee equipment into the state. However, any colony or used bee equipment shipped or transported into the state must still carry an inspection certificate from the state of origin.

Solar Electric Generating Facility (SB 811/HB 440): Requires electric companies to issue final approval to operate a customer-generator’s solar electric facility on the company’s distribution facilities within 20 business days after the completion of the installation process and receipt of paperwork. An electric company must meet these requirements for at least 90 percent of installations during the year in their service territory.

Oysters: Aquaculture – Liability for Trespass (HB 799): Establishes that a person who willfully, negligently, recklessly, wrongfully, or maliciously enters any area leased to another person for aquaculture purposes to harvest, damage, or transfer shellfish or to alter, damage, or remove any markings or equipment is liable for specified damages, which may include attorney fees or court costs.

Oysters: Dredging (HB 319): Makes some provisions related to dredging for oysters, including limited authorization of dredge boats to be propelled by an auxiliary yawl boat, applicable only to vessels that meet specified standards. The law also repeals requirements for numbers that must be displayed on a dredge boat.

–By Eleanor Mueller


Maryland Income Tax Refunds – Warrant Intercept Program (SB 425/HB 390): If an individual has an outstanding warrant, county officials may request that the comptroller withhold that person’s income tax refund, including active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The state must also study the program to ensure there is no racial bias.

Senior Citizen Activities Center Operating Fund (SB 98, SB 805/HB 262): This law increases, from $500,000 to $750,000, the minimum annual funding to the fund, requires additional expenditures under specified circumstances, and alters how the funds are distributed to jurisdictions.

–By Eleanor Mueller


Gaming – Home Games (HB 127): Anyone 21 years or older can bet on home card games or mahjong as long as the games do not occur more than once a week and are played with friends. There is a $1,000 limit per 24-hour period and no fees may be charged.

State Lottery and Video Lottery Facility Payouts — Remittance of Intercepted Prizes (SB 78): The bill repeals the 15-day waiting period for the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency to transfer the lottery prize payout of a winner who is overdue on child-support payments.

–By Robbie Greenspan


Opioid-Associated Disease Prevention and Outreach Programs (SB 97): The bill repeals Prince George’s County AIDS-related needle exchange program, and will instead authorize health departments or community-based organizations in every county to establish an opioid-associated disease prevention and outreach program, with the approval of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Hospitals – Designation of Lay Caregivers (HB 1277): A hospital is required before the patient is discharged to provide a patient or their legal guardian with an opportunity to designate a “lay caregiver.”

State Board of Physicians – Licensing Exemption – Physicians with Traveling Athletic and Sports Teams (HB 119): Physicians are exempt from state licensing requirements, including the requirement to submit to a criminal history records check.

–By Robbie Greenspan


Open Meetings Act – Agendas (HB 217): Agendas for public body meetings must be made available to the public at the time of the notice of the meeting or at least 24 hours before the meeting.

Open Meetings Act – (SB 17, HB 984): Public bodies will keep a written copy of minutes or video or audio recordings for five years instead of one of an open session.

–By Vickie Connor


Drunk Driving Reduction Act/ Noah’s Law (SB 945): The Motor Vehicle Association will require people convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drivers found to have a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher to use the Ignition Interlock System Program for a specific amount of time. This bill was initiated after Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Leotta was struck and killed by a drunk driver. A sticker honoring the officer will be on each interlock device.

Death or Injury by Vehicle (SB0160, HB157): The law increases penalties for offenders who commit vehicular manslaughter who have been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol previously. Offenders can now face up to 15 years in prison and $15,000 in fines.

Motor Vehicle Insurance — Carrying Proof of Coverage (SB 0544, HB 0720): This law requires drivers to have a current insurance identification card — paper, plastic or electronic — with them or in their vehicle, or face a $50 fine starting July 1.

Historic Motor Vehicles – Authorized Uses and Inspections (HB 0058): This law requires historic motor vehicle owners to certify that it will not be used for transportation to employment or school, or for commercial purposes. The law changes some requirements for vehicles from 1985 or earlier.

HOV Lanes – Plug-In Electric Drive and Hybrid Vehicles (HB 1179): This bill issues an HOV permit to a “qualified hybrid vehicle,” allowing the vehicle to be driven in the HOV lane on U.S. Route 50 between I-95 / I-495 and U.S. Route 301, regardless of the number of people in the vehicle.

–By Vickie Connor


Maryland Health Group Attacks High Costs of Prescription Drugs


Maryland health group attacks high costs of prescription drugs

Capital News Service

BALTIMORE – With EpiPens and other prescription drugs rising in cost, families who desperately need them but do not have health insurance are bearing a huge financial burden, according to community advocates.

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, a coalition of more than 1,200 religious, labor, business and policy groups seeking quality and affordable health care, wants the state legislature to address that financial burden by overhauling some of the laws governing drug pricing.

“The problem is when prices are raised so high, it’s really hard on families with children who need access to life-saving medications to budget to get these medications that they really need,” said Anna Davis, the health policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth.

The health initiative recently released the results of a poll of 802 Maryland registered voters that showed an overwhelming 80 percent supporting three key actions to combat high drug costs – and all three are to be incorporated in proposed legislation.

The healthcare advocates want to require companies to disclose the price basis (how much they spend on production, research, advertising, and profit) of their drugs, require companies to notify the public of an increase in price of a drug, and authorize the state’s attorney general to take legal action to prevent unfair price hikes.

In the next couple of months, the group will announce a bill and sponsors for these proposals, said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative. The Maryland General Assembly’s session is scheduled to begin in January.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll told the Washington Post that her organization would like to work with advocates to provide accessible information on the out-of-pocket cost for drugs. (

Regarding legislative efforts to make public how drug companies set prices, Carroll said: “Legislation like this doesn’t help patients to actually afford the medications they need.”

An Intercontinental Marketing Services health study conducted this year found that consumers spent a total of $310 billion on medications in 2015, which is 8.5 percent higher than 2014. (

“People are in danger and their lives are in danger because they can’t afford the prescription drugs they need,” DeMarco said. “We need these life-saving prescription drugs to be affordable and available to people.”

On the federal level, members of Congress have pressed drug manufacturers to explain dramatic price hikes in pharmaceuticals but so far have not found bipartisan consensus on possible legislative action.

At a Sept. 21 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Heather Bresch, CEO of EpiPen maker Mylan, Inc., defended her company’s decision to raise prices by 400 percent since 2007. She said her company is making only about $50 per EpiPen. Her company now is offering a generic version at $300 and is improving public access to the device.

“I wish we had better anticipated the magnitude and acceleration of the rising financial issues for a growing minority of patients who may have ended up paying the full wholesale acquisition cost or more,” she said. “We never intended this.”

That did not comfort lawmakers.

“I find this to be so extreme…it is driving exorbitant profits,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Calif., panel chairman.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, ripped into Mylan for boosting the EpiPen’s price “for no discernible reason.” The committee, he said, obtained documents showing that net sales revenue from EpiPens in 2008 was $184 million; this year that figure will be $1.1 billion.

“They raised the prices, I believe, to get filthy rich at the expense of our constituents,” the congressman said.

Having been personally affected by the prescription drug price hikes, Baltimore resident Barbara Gruber, 58, said she would feel more comfortable and healthier if she could buy prescription drugs for her asthma when she needed them.

“It’s a choice between eating, living, and getting the drugs that will keep me alive,” said Gruber, an adjunct professor at various universities in Baltimore city.

Without her prescription drugs, she would not be able to enjoy her hobby, which is painting, Gruber said.

“I can live without an extra paintbrush, I can live without that tube of Indian yellow that I love so much, but I can’t live without certain drugs that I take,” she said. “If the drugs go out of my price range, I can die.”

The Maryland Pharmacists Association would not comment on the three initiatives until advocates introduce them, Executive Director Aliyah Horton said.

“The Maryland Pharmacist Association supports efforts to limit unjustified or unreasonable pricing by pharmaceutical companies that may affect the affordability of medications for patients,” she said.

Maryland Decreases Psychiatric Hospital Bed Backlog


The number of court-ordered individuals waiting to be treated in Maryland state psychiatric hospitals decreased by about 85 percent since May, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Maryland’s health Secretary Van T. Mitchell created a workgroup at the beginning of the summer to address the backlog of admissions.

He met with lawmakers and members of the community Tuesday in Annapolis to discuss the findings and recommendations of the workgroup.

“Bed availability is really based upon admissions and clinically appropriate discharges,” said Barbara Bazron, executive director of the Behavioral Health Administration. “We have to manage that process on a day to day basis.”

The issue has been ongoing for the past decade but became more urgent in May when 84 people were caught in limbo between criminal charges and treatment in state psychiatric hospitals.

The lack of availability in psychiatric hospitals means forensic patients, or people deemed unfit mentally to stand trial, are sent to jail.

Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, a member of Mitchell’s workgroup, expressed concern Tuesday that without access to the hospitals, patients may be detained illegally.

“Jail is operating in the middle,” District Court Chief Judge John Morrissey, a member of the workgroup, said. “I don’t think the jails are equipped to treat mental health issues.”

There are five state psychiatric hospitals in Maryland. On Tuesday, Mitchell said Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, Springfield Hospital Center, Spring Grove Hospital Center, Thomas B. Finan Center and Eastern Shore Hospital Center have a total capacity of 944 beds.

Among them, Perkins is the only designated forensic facility, however all five hospitals treat court-ordered patients.

One person in a state facility bed costs more than $200,000 per year, according to the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland.

Mitchell said the state health department started working on the psychiatric hospital capacity issue in Maryland about a year ago.

But Mitchell’s workgroup found the backlog was not solely due to an inadequate number of beds.

“None of our hospitals basically communicated on a day-to-day basis,” Mitchell said. “Now they do.”

Maryland’s health department hired a new behavioral health executive director and installed CEOs at two of the five state psychiatric hospitals.

The Behavioral Health Administration monitored admissions and discharge data weekly.

The administration also went through 98 cases individually of patients labeled “ready to discharge” yet who remained in the hospitals. Fifty-two of these 98 patients were released.

“I could not have been happier with Secretary Mitchell’s presentation,” Baltimore City District Court Judge George Lipman said. “He has been very sincere in taking responsibility … He needs staff, unquestionably.”

Other groups at the hearing asked for better funding.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene received an additional $3 million from the state for this fiscal year, including more money for addiction services.

The Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland said the backlog of pending patients in state facilities is in part due to a lack of investment in community-based behavioral health services.

Community-based programs are an alternative to hospitals, or the next step for patients ready for discharge from the state psychiatric facilities.

A spokeswoman for the association said it serves about 180,000 children and adults in Maryland’s public behavioral health system.

Dan Martin, Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition spokesman, said there needs to be a strengthening in community-based health to divert people from hospitals.

Representatives from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union for public service employees, asked for more properly trained staff and higher levels of compensation in the psychiatric hospitals.

Mitchell said the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will establish a committee to track the progress of state hospitals and continue to make recommendations.

Twelve court-ordered patients still need beds in the psychiatric facilities, Mitchell said Tuesday.

“We need to own up to it,” Mitchell said. “We can’t sit here and expect everything to be perfect.”

By Vickie Connor

High-Speed Broadband Access Sparse in Rural Maryland Counties


screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-2-06-36-pmRural areas in less populated Maryland counties have significantly less access to high speed internet than people in more populated parts of the state, preventing them from fully participating in our increasingly connected world. For example, two-thirds of people in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore lack access to a connection with download speeds greater than 25 megabytes per second, compared with less than 1 percent in Howard County, according to FCC data.

In sparsely populated counties — like Dorchester on the Eastern Shore — and densely populated counties — like Montgomery County — people who live in rural parts of a county have less access to high speed internet than people in more urbanized parts. But only 6 percent of rural Montgomery county residents lack high speed access — compared with 41 percent of rural Dorchester county residents.

The takeaway: In counties that are more urban than rural, the vast majority of people in the county’s rural areas have good access to high speed internet. In counties that are more rural than urban — like most of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland — people in rural parts of the county are much more likely to get left behind. Source: Federal Communications Commission.

By Julia Lee
Capital News Service


Maryland’s Highest Court Hears Free Speech Case on Spanish Vanity License Plate


The Maryland Court of Appeals is considering whether the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration acted unconstitutionally in recalling vanity license plates sporting a Spanish scatological word.

In 2009, John T. Mitchell of Accokeek, Maryland, requested and received vanity license plates from the Maryland MVA that read “MIERDA,” a Spanish term that translates to “shit” or “junk.”

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-2-04-57-pmIt was not until December 2011 that he received a letter from the Motor Vehicle Administration stating that his plates were issued in error and asking that Mitchell return them.

“I thought it was a possibility I might get a letter explaining why they wouldn’t issue it, but I got the tag in the mail, no issues with it,” Mitchell said.

Maryland Assistant Attorney General Neil Jacobs, who represented the MVA in the most recent appeal, referred in court to an “Objectionable Plate List” that the MVA maintains. Though not available to the public through the MVA, The Baltimore Sun published the list in 2015 ( and the public can access the list there, Jacobs said.

The list, as published, contains “MIERDA” as well as at least 13 character combinations that include the word “SHIT” and numerous other variations of the word. (

“It builds over time…All different combinations of derogatory terms, scatological terms, obscenities that can be created by the manipulation of letters and numbers,” Jacobs said in court.

Mitchell, who lived in Chile as a child and is a native Spanish speaker, thinks ‘mierda’ is “perfectly innocuous and a cute word.”

The word, Mitchell argued, is not obscene under Maryland state law because it does not depict sexual content. While the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled that “mierda” is not an obscene word, the Motor Vehicle Administration, as an entity of the state, may restrict uses of profanity, even if it is not obscene language.

“These words can vary based on the language, based on the culture and based on the era we happen to be living in,” Mitchell said.

Spanish words can have different meanings and uses across the 20 countries in which Spanish is the official language or any region where people speak Spanish. What refers to a drinking straw in Colombia is slang for a marijuana joint in Puerto Rico.

The MVA has rejected or banned vanity plates with characters that may appear to identify cars as belonging to government agencies or emergency services. The MVA also imposes logistical restrictions, like how many characters fit on a plate.

The issue before the court rests on whether the characters on vanity license plates are government speech, and on the classification of license plates as a public forum.

Mark Graber, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said that vanity license plates are “in part the state delivering the message,” and that “while the state cannot prevent you from speaking, when the state delivers a message, the state can determine what message the state wants to deliver.”

“I was a little bit offended that a progressive state like Maryland would be, in my view, violating First Amendment rights,” Mitchell said. “The really important principle for me is we can’t have the state censoring speech.”

Mitchell, a First Amendment and copyright lawyer in Washington, D.C., represented himself throughout the case, appearing before an administrative law judge, arguing at the Court of Special Appeals in 2014 ( and delivering oral arguments before Maryland’s highest court Sept. 7.

The state’s highest court is scheduled to confer on Sept. 27, and a decision will follow, on a date chosen at the court’s discretion.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration website states that “The MVA reserves the right to decline a requested message because it has already been issued or because it is objectionable.” (

Despite the MVA request that he return the plates more than six years ago, Mitchell continues to use the plates on his car.

“I made it a point to have documentation that there is a case ongoing in case a police officer pulls me over and says I need different tags,” Mitchell said.

By Sam Reilly