Annapolis: Trio of Measures on Data-Gathering Presented at House Economic Matters Hearing

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A trio of snooping-related bills dominated the agenda at a Maryland House Economic Matters Committee hearing Wednesday.

Delegate Will Smith, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring a bill that would require businesses to display a sign that clearly states that it is using consumers’ wireless Internet or cell phone signals to track their shopping habits.

Much like Internet browser activity can trigger related advertisements, stores are tracking consumer behavior to help figure out what customers want, Smith said.

Smith made it clear that the bill does not prohibit the use of this technology; it just requires that businesses tell consumers that they are being monitored.

Not abiding by this bill would violate the Maryland Consumer Protection Act as a deceptive or unfair trade practice. Offenders would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 for a first offense, and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses, and, since a violation would be considered a misdemeanor, up to one year in prison.

According to Smith, the only way consumers can opt out of such technology would be to turn off their cell phones, which the signs would indicate.

Other legislation presented Wednesday also relates to consumer rights.

A bill presented by Delegate Rick Impallaria, R-Harford and Baltimore Counties, would prohibit a telephone call between a business and a consumer from being recorded, unless the employee notifies the customer that the call may be recorded, gives an option to accept or decline a recorded call, and clearly obtains consent. Maryland law requires two-party consent for recorded conversations, yet the common current opt out for customers unwilling to have their calls recorded is to hang up and use other methods to fix their issue, according to Impallaria.

“People should have the ability to opt out of a recorded conversation,” Impallaria said. “It should be the other party’s decision whether they want to hang up and say, ‘We don’t want your business anymore.’”

Sean Looney, vice president of state government affairs with Comcast in Maryland, protested the bill, saying recorded phone calls help the company ensure their employees are properly serving customers and it helps assure customers that if there is a mistake with their bill, audio evidence exists that can prove it.

For customers who choose not to have their call recorded, options include only traditional mail and email, which lead to longer wait times for customers and more work for Comcast employees, according to Looney.

“This bill just creates more problems than it solves,” Looney said.

Other legislation presented to the committee Wednesday:

–Delegate Susan McComas, R-Harford, presented a bill extending the term of a license from two years to three years for agencies to provide private detective services. Current two-year fees are $400 for a firm and $200 for an individual; three-year licenses would cost the same, saving private investigators about 33 percent annually.

–Junk and scrap metal dealers would not be allowed to purchase shopping carts, flatbed carts or other similar devices marked by a business without its approval. They would also be banned from purchasing copper or other metal piping stolen from a house, according to a bill presented by Delegate Jill Carter, D-Baltimore. Carter said the bill acts as a deterrent for thieves and holds the buyers of scrap metal accountable.

 

By Brian Marron

Governor Announces Initiatives To Combat Heroin and Opioid Crisis

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced four initiatives to combat the state’s heroin epidemic Tuesday afternoon, including the formation of an inter-agency council and a task force, the distribution of overdose-prevention drugs and the allocation of fund for addict rehabilitation.

During his news conference in the Governor’s Reception Room of the State House, a visibly emotional Hogan emphasized treatment and prevention for heroin and opioid addicts, and recounted a cousin’s death from an overdose.

“Addiction is a disease and we will not be able to just arrest our way out of this crisis,” Hogan said.

In 2013, there were 464 heroin-related overdose deaths in Maryland, Hogan said, which was 77 more than the number of homicide deaths in the state that year. The problem is growing, he said, as the preliminary number of heroin deaths in 2014 is on track to be 20 percent more than in 2013.

Hogan then signed two executive orders creating an inter-agency council and a task force, both to be chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, that will bring together experts in substance abuse, law enforcement, public health officials, education experts and first responders.

“Having the right people on the advisory committees, to be able to teach people how taking a treatment approach versus a criminal justice approach is really important,” said Lynn Albizo, director of public affairs for The Maryland Addictions Directors Council, which is an association of health professionals who advocate for quality addictions services. The Council’s Executive Director, Tracey Myers-Preston, is part of the Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force.

His third initiative will be to distribute Evzio, a drug recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration that is used to prevent fatal heroin overdoses, throughout the state. Pharmaceutical company Kaleo donated the 5,000 units of Evzio to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Rutherford said, and it can be administered by anyone through a training program.

Daniel Watkins, Anne Arundel Medical Center’s nursing coordinator for drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Pathways, said that about 50 percent of their patients are heroin users. Though, he said, the Evzio donation will save lives, they will last “probably not too long.”

Hogan also announced his plan to allocate half a million dollars from a federal grant to expand reentry programs for people leaving prison, in hopes of reducing recidivism. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention will allot the funds to correctional facilities across the state.

The extent of the heroin epidemic became evident to Hogan and Rutherford on the campaign trail while listening to Marylanders’ concerns, the governor said.

“Everywhere we went we were saddened how just under the surface of every community, heroin was ruining lives,” Hogan said.

From 2010 to 2013 the number of heroin-related overdose deaths increased by 95 percent, Albizo said, and she hopes the attention on the issue will continue to grow.

Acting Superintendent of Maryland State Police Colonel William Pallozzi said he is on board with the governor’s multi-faceted approach to solving this issue.

“Law enforcement has been in the business of arresting most of these people for years,” Pallozzi said. “We need to do more than that, it’s evolving.”

Continuing to change the stigma and treatment options for addicts is first on Daniel Brannon’s agenda. The president and CEO of Right Turn IMPACT, a provider of recovery services in Baltimore, Brannon said he had been an active addict for more than 33 years.

He began using drugs at age 10, and has been in and out of prison five times, he said. He has been sober since 2006, and said he has committed his life to helping addicts break their habits and maintain a lifestyle of sobriety.

“I’m living proof that addicts do get clean, we do recover,” Brannon said at the news conference. “We as a community need to do everything we can to help save lives.”

Capital News Service

 

Enrollment in Afterschool Programs Up Nationally; Maryland Lags

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Maryland lags behind the 2014 national averages for children enrolled in afterschool programs, according to a survey commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance.

The “America After 3 p.m.” survey examined 30,000 families nationally, finding that 18 percent of children were enrolled in an afterschool program in 2014, which is up from 15 percent in 2009. The 18 percent of involved schoolchildren in these programs equates to 10.2 million nationwide.

Maryland is in the middle of the pack, according to the survey, with 16 percent of its children participating in afterschool programs, which is down from 17 percent in 2009.

Approximately 21 percent of Maryland children are left unsupervised after school, which equates to 192,737 students. Maryland children K-12 are left alone and unsupervised for about 9 hours per week, which is higher than the national average of 7 hours per week.

However, the survey found that 36 percent of Maryland’s children would take part in an afterschool program if there was one available.

The Afterschool Alliance–which raises awareness about and advocates for afterschool programs through work with program operators and federal, state and local governments–presented the survey’s findings Wednesday at a Senate Afterschool Caucus briefing.

The survey compiled data from 50 states and the District of Columbia to calculate a composite score that was indexed against a national average.

“Our goal is more and better out-of-school-time opportunities for all youth and children in the state of Maryland,” said Tammy Shay, program coordinator at the Maryland Out of School Time (MOST) Network.

The MOST Network addresses three main goals: creating a sustainable structure of partnerships in the school community, improving statewide policies and supporting quality programs.

“We do what we can to look at the whole child and to look at youth development from a learning and experiential standpoint,” Shay said.

These afterschool programs provide children with opportunities for physical education, homework time, snacks and meals, reading and writing and science. technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning.

Demand for these programs is greatest among low-income, African American and Hispanic families, the survey found.

“This demand is even higher for high-need groups,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. “So what we find is for low-income kids, for kids of color, there’s more interest in afterschool programs and there’s more need for afterschool programs. For many of these programs, the greatest barrier is the cost of the programs.”

“There’s always room for improvement. The [survey] data tells us so,” Shay said. “We need to start looking for the partnerships that we can put in place that will answer the needs of parents and of students and of employers and educators, of course. We have a lot of work to do in Maryland in addition to already celebrating a lot of successes taking place.”

By Anika Reed
Capital News Service

University Construction Projects Draw Governor’s Ire After Officials Ask for Additional Funding

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Gov. Larry Hogan — along with the rest of the Board of Public Works — did not hide his irritation with Maryland universities’ request for nearly $35 million in construction funding above original estimates, after officials were unable to clearly explain their requests.

“We’re trying to be fiscally responsible… and I hear some people at universities talking about wanting to raise tuition rates, and we’re here talking about $35 million more than you thought you were going to spend,” said Hogan, a Republican, at Wednesday’s board meeting. “It just seems out of whack to me.”

The board delayed voting on $29 million in additional funding for four projects, including academic buildings at Bowie State University, Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; and a Universities at Shady Grove parking garage. They approved a $6 million payment for an athletic complex at Salisbury.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, was also upset with the universities’ process of asking for more money after the approval of initial cost estimates.

“How can we possibly have any confidence (in the original estimates) if the bid is just a placeholder, you adjust it, and move forward?” Franchot said. “That’s just absurd. How can you run a business like that?”

University System of Maryland Procurement Acting Director Jim Haley and Interim Executive Planning and Construction Director Bill Olen blamed a changing and unfriendly market as the culprit for the additional funding needs.

Franchot said he was skeptical of that reasoning.

University construction officials at the board meeting Wednesday characterized the requests as contract modifications rather than budget increases, and said the additional funding would not impact the state’s budget.

But board members were unimpressed.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp expressed frustration over convoluted and complex written proposals to the board from the University System of Maryland’s Capital Planning Office. Board Executive Secretary Sheila McDonald also noted that the contract language hampered the universities’ requests.

“I think you do yourselves a great injustice and cause confusion on everyone’s part by not writing (explanations for these requests) in a way a normal person would,” Kopp told Haley and Olen regarding their requests for funding. “We don’t understand it.”

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Hogan also expressed disappointment that James Salt, the associate vice chancellor for real property and procurement for the University System of Maryland in charge of these agenda item proposals, decided not to attend the meeting. Hogan said he wants Salt to personally explain these items to the board during its next meeting on March 4.

Salt declined to comment on the situation by phone on Wednesday afternoon, but did maintain that the University System was not asking for budget increases. In an interview with Capital News Service last week, Salt also said the reason for the additional funding was due to market changes.

The board did approve additional funding for Salisbury University for the construction of a new athletic stadium to replace the current Gull Stadium, and for renovations to its athletic fields. Because the university underestimated the original bill, the project will cost $22 million compared to an earlier estimate of $16 million, according to officials’ remarks submitted to the board.

That request went through because university officials were present and able to explain their request.
The board deferred requests to fund these four projects (with costs rounded to the nearest million), and is likely to hear them again on March 4:

–A New Center for Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Nursing at Bowie State University. The new request, for an additional $16 million, means a 23 percent increase from an initial $70 million estimate. The facility will feature classrooms, lounges and research and computer labs in support of the natural sciences, mathematics and nursing departments. This project will mean the Weisman Center and Crawford Science Center are demolished.

–A parking garage at the Shady Grove campus. Its cost rose from $15 million to $17 million. The garage would include approximately 700 spaces.

–A new Academic Commons library at Salisbury would contain space for quiet studying, research and special events, among other uses. The final cost came in at $100 million compared to the original projection of $90 million.

–Lastly, a new Engineering, Aviation, Computer and Mathematical Sciences Building at the Eastern Shore campus features classrooms, technology labs and television and radio studios among other uses. The estimated cost went from $69 million to $71 million.

In other higher-education construction measures the board heard Wednesday:

–Coppin State University also received grants for its new Science and Technology Center, an $80 million building that began construction in 2013. The funds, which total more than $1.4 million, are for scientific equipment.

–In addition, an era in off-campus housing at the University of Maryland College Park will come to an end after the board voted to demolish the last of the semi-detached residences known as “Knox Boxes” on Knox Road in College Park. Students rented the houses since they opened in 1953. The last of the buildings, owned by the university, were no longer usable due to deterioration, officials said. The remainder of the “Knox Boxes” were already destroyed following their purchase by a private developer.

The board also delayed voting on a $20 million maintenance contract to Motorola regarding radio equipment for Maryland first responders. Kopp and others on the board again cited a lack of clarity in the contract’s description on the Board of Public Works agenda. The contract ensures Motorola will fix any dysfunctional equipment until the contract expires in 2017.

By Brian Marron
Capital News Service

Maryland Health Connection Enrollment Drops Despite Efforts

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The number of people who enrolled in health care plans this year through the Maryland Health Connection has dropped by 10.4 percent at this point, despite efforts to increase the number of insured including a larger call center staff, a streamlined website and more public knowledge of the program.

The enrollment period, which ended Feb. 15, saw 264,245 people sign up compared to 295,077 who enrolled during last year’s longer open enrollment period, said Andrew Ratner, director of marketing and research for the Maryland Health Connection.

Those numbers, though, are still not final, Ratner explained, because anyone who started an application or tried to reach a call center to enroll on Feb. 15 will be able to sign up until February 28.

Ratner said that while there are tens of thousands of incomplete applications on the health connection website, it is difficult to know which of these people will actually finish their application before Feb. 28.

More than 8,500 people tried to reach the call center on Feb. 15, Ratner said, which is why the health connection decided to extend the deadline.

Of those who have signed up so far, Ratner said 119,096 people enrolled in qualified health plans and 145,149 enrolled in Medicaid.

Last year, only 63,002 signed up for qualified health plans compared to this year’s 119,096, an 89 percent increase.

Barbara Gruber, a resident of Mount Washington in Baltimore and an adjunct art professor at Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art, said that while signing up for insurance through the Maryland Health Connection was difficult, it has saved her money.

Barbara Gruber, who says that signing up for insurance through the Maryland Health Connection was difficult but has saved her money, poses for a portrait in her Baltimore home on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. Capital News Service by James Levin.

Barbara Gruber, who says that signing up for insurance through the Maryland Health Connection was difficult but has saved her money, poses for a portrait in her Baltimore home on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. Capital News Service by James Levin.

After struggling to sign up online last year, Gruber said in a recent interview that she scheduled an appointment with a navigator who helped her pick a plan. The Maryland Health Connection trains navigators to help people select and sign up for plans.

“They helped me figure out what insurance to get and they got it for me,” Gruber said. “I was desperate to get insurance.”

Ratner acknowledged that signing up still takes effort, and for some, it may be complicated. For that reason, he said, the Health Connection increased its call center staff from fewer than 100 employees last year to 350 this year.

Organizations like the Healthcare for All Coalition and Capital Regional Health Connector have helped connect those looking to get insured to navigators in their area.

Mary Anderson, the public information officer for the Capital Regional Health Connector said the trained navigators who work for the connector, which serves Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, speak over six different languages.

“In this Capital Region, you’ve got a very diverse population,” Anderson said. “[Having the translations] was a strategic decision here in Montgomery County and I think in Prince George’s County as well.”

Offering help from navigators who speak different languages is just one way health care officials are trying to reach the uninsured. The Healthcare for All Coalition used a radio spot that features Adam Jones, a star outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles. Vincent DeMarco, president of the Healthcare for All Coalition, said he is hoping that the ad targeted young people.

Those who are uninsured and who are low or middle income in outlying areas of the state are a demographic the Maryland Health Exchange is still trying to reach.

“Like any business you first get those customers who are most interested, and after that you’re trying to reach customers who know less about it,” Ratner said.

“I think the only way [Maryland Health Connection] could be improved is that they could just get more people to sign up,” Gruber said.

She added that she wants people to know about the benefits of receiving coverage through the Maryland Health Connection, namely saving money.

Gruber said she pays $139 per month for her plan at the silver level, as compared to the over $500 a month she paid on her previous plan. Gruber said that even though the costs of some of her medications increased, the overall expenses she paid for health care decreased by a couple hundred dollars per month.

“It’s important for all of us that people get enrolled,” DeMarco said. “The fact of the matter is that all of us benefit because when people don’t have insurance and get sick, we pay for it.”

While enrollment for 2015 will end on Feb. 28, Ratner said the health connection will start looking toward implementation and assisting the newly insured with using their plans.

By Alicia McElhaney
Capital News Service

“Death With Dignity” Bill Would Allow Terminally Ill Maryland Patients to End Their Lives

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Alexa Fraser, of Rockville, received a call in June from a close friend, telling her that her 90-year-old father had taken 19 pain pills in attempt to die — but it didn’t work.

Though it wasn’t  easy to hear, Fraser said, she understood what her father wanted to do, so they gave him space.
“I said there’s nothing to do but love him,” she said, holding back tears.
Later that day, he once again tried to end his life by cutting himself. But still, his body held on.  Finally, he utilized his plan C, a gun to his head, to kill himself, Fraser said. Alex Fraser was an investor and lived in Kensington.
“It’s rotten, it’s terrible, it’s not how it should be,” Fraser, 57, said, ‘(But) it was not his worst scenario.”
Her father’s Parkinson’s Disease, which the National Parkinson’s Foundation defines as a neurodegenerative brain disorder without a cure, had slowly become more painful and he suffered many falls, Fraser said. He was terrified that he would end up in a nursing home where they would keep him alive beyond his will, she said.
Fraser, an environmental researcher who is studying to become a Unitarian Universalist minister, is optimistic that Marylanders could soon have the right to choose a dignified death, she said.
Her father didn’t have the option to have a doctor help him peacefully die upon his wish, she said, but House and Senate companion bills could soon change that.
State Senator Ron Young, D-Frederick and Washington, is sponsoring his chamber’s bill, which was introduced Monday in the Senate, and Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, is sponsoring the House version, which she said she plans to introduce Friday.
The legislation includes many safeguards so the choice isn’t misused, Young said. The bill, which Young said is modeled after similar laws in Washington state and Oregon, requires each case to include a doctor’s certification that the patient is terminally ill — a prognosis of death within six months; a psychologist’s report confirming the patient is of sound mind; and at least two witnesses, including one who is not a relative or in any way a benefactor from the person’s death.
Named after two public servants — former Annapolis mayor Roger “Pip” Moyer, who died in January, and former assistant state Attorney General Richard E. Israel — the bill is a testament to their battles with Parkinson’s disease.
Israel lives in the Ginger Cove Retirement Community in Annapolis, said McShane Glover, who spoke on behalf of Israel about the Death with Dignity legislation because of the progression of his disease.
As a man of the law, Glover said, Israel is looking for a legal way to have a death that he considers dignified. Parkinson’s has taken away many of the 72-year-old’s daily life functions, making walking, talking, eating and moving very difficult, she said.
“I just thought it was time to do it here,” Young said. “Some people like to say assisted suicide, but it’s not. It’s totally someone making the decision themselves.”
Proponents dislike the term assisted suicide because they say there no one is assisting or facilitating a patient’s decision to die, and more importantly, these are not cases of suicide, because patients are going to die soon either way.
Pendergrass, who will sponsor the bill in the House, said she has considered the right to die an important issue since she was young.
“As a young teenager, I watched my grandfather with Parkinson’s disease. He suffered enormously,” Pendergrass said. “He was completely mentally alert and aware, and his body became a prison for his mind. … I just believe it’s the right thing to do to give people the control of their destiny.”
It also helps to limit unnecessary pain, Young said, and it saves a lot of medical costs for everybody.
But for disability rights organizations, like Not Dead Yet, this is far from a civil rights issue.
“You really have to think about the impact on everyone, and there is no way to prevent mistakes and abuse from ending the lives of some people where it wasn’t really their choice,” Diane Coleman, president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a national, grassroots disability rights group that opposes all forms of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Most concerning for Coleman were the top reasons people used Oregon’s death with dignity act, which she said were for feeling a loss of autonomy and dignity and feeling like a burden to others — not for pain.
“That sounds more like a duty to die than a right to die,” said Coleman, who has a neuromuscular disorder requiring her to use a motorized wheelchair.
Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a national organization dedication to advancing the disability rights movement with regards to autism, said he and his group also worry about the bill’s effects on already marginalized portions of society — like people with disabilities.
People with disabilities already face obstacles in the healthcare system, Ne’eman said, and legalizing the right to die would further exacerbate the problem.
Ne’eman, who has autism, said he doesn’t see nearly enough safeguards preventing any coercion, and in places where a similar law is in place, he doesn’t see any investigations of abuse.
But proponents of the bill say no one will be influenced or persuaded to do something they don’t want to do.
“The way the bill is written it is definitely someone making their own decision, knowing they are terminal and not wanting to go on, and capable of making that decision themselves,” Young said. “That’s an important difference.”
Donna Smith, Maryland liaison for the national right-to-die advocacy group Compassion and Choices, said that this choice doesn’t have to be for everyone.
“If you talk to those that are facing terminal illnesses, and their families and caregivers, people don’t want to suffer,” Smith said.  “There comes a point of time that there’s nothing medicine can do … and the quality of life is unbearable.”
Compassion and Choices volunteer Sally Hunt, of Silver Spring, said that she doesn’t see why shutting off a ventilator can be okay, but the choice for a sound-minded person to die peacefully is not an option.
“If they want to, they should have the right,” Hunt said. She watched a close friend battle cancer, and when it came back the second time, she said she wished there could have been the option for her friend, instead of suffering.
But no matter how much support the bill could get, Hunt said, they still have to convince Gov. Larry Hogan, who is Catholic.
A spokeswoman for the governor would not speak specifically to this legislation last week.
“We are in the very beginning of a long legislative session, and as we all know, most bills have the tendency to look much different by the time April comes around,” Erin Montgomery said. “The Governor and his staff will be monitoring countless pieces of legislation as this session plays out over the next several months.”
But in October, Hogan, then a candidate, told a diocesan magazine, The Catholic Standard, that he would oppose measures to legalize assisted suicide in Maryland. “I believe in the sanctity of human life, and I believe a physician’s role is to save lives, not terminate them,” he said. (http://www.cathstan.org/Content/News/News/Article/Candidates-for-Maryland-governor-differ-on-education-support-assisted-suicide/2/2/6282)
Executive Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference Mary Ellen Russell said they do not support the idea of death with dignity, though she hadn’t seen the actual bill yet, because it inevitably pressures patients to choose something that is less burdensome on relatives and caretakers, and in terms of medical costs.
“Certainly the church would be opposed, we don’t see this as compassionate,” Russell said. “We think caring for others and end-of-life care is compassionate.”
Russell said there are better and more humane options for end-of-life care, including improving medical support to minimize suffering.
Similar Death with Dignity acts are in place in Washington, Oregon and Vermont, and many other jurisdictions are looking into the idea, including Washington, D.C.
But for Ne’eman, the focus of this issue should be on better, more dignified support services for people who are ill, aging or have disabilities, he said.
All Fraser is asking for is a choice, a non-imposing choice, she said.
“It is not for anybody to push, nudge, decide, recommend, influence,” Fraser said.  “I think this is really just the next civil right, I think it is every person’s right to have options.”
By Grace Toohey

 

Talbot’s Poplar Island, Once Diminished, Reconstructed with Dredged Material

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A Chesapeake Bay island, once used as a presidential retreat but diminished to fewer than 5 acres by the 1980s, has been replenished with dredged material, creating wetlands that serve as a wildlife sanctuary.

Poplar Island, located one mile northwest of Tilghman Island in Talbot County, began to vanish, like many bay islands, due to rising sea levels and erosion.

The restoration project, a joint effort of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Port Administration, received additional funding in President Barack Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2016. The appropriations would be used to expand the island by 575 acres over the previous goal of 1,100 acres, an expansion approved by the president and Congress last year.

The initial project is nearly complete and will not be able to hold any more dredged material. The expansion will allow the island to continue to provide beneficial habitat construction, according to the Maryland Port Administration.

The budget’s $26.5 million allocation for the Poplar Island project represents a 75 percent increase over the previous year’s proposal. The federal government funds three quarters of the project and the state is responsible for the remainder.

The island has been rebuilt with material dredged from the Maryland Bay Channels and the approach channels to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, a total of about 3.2 million cubic yards per year, said Justin Callahan, the Poplar Island project manager for the Corps of Engineers.

“Poplar is groundbreaking because it takes dredged material and is using it beneficially,” said David Blazer, director of the Harbor Development Department of the Maryland Port Administration.

This type of project hasn’t been done to this scale before and it is generating interest worldwide, he added.

Delegations from other nations, including Germany and Brazil, have toured the island.

Poplar’s 3.2 million cubic yards of dredged material is about 60 percent of the approximately 5.2 million cubic yards dredged in Maryland shipping channels every year.

The bay has a natural tendency to refill its deep spots through a variety of factors, including natural erosion and tidal waters, Blazer said.

Maryland Raw Milk Cheese Makers Get to Keep Their Cheesy Grins

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Dairy cows, goats and sheep will stay cheesy in Maryland under a bill presented Thursday.

After a successful five-year pilot program that enabled five dairy farms in Maryland to produce raw milk cheese from cows, goats and sheep, legislators on the Senate Finance Committee were easily in support of changing the program to be a more long-term business opportunity.

The changes to the program include allowing farms to renew their license for cheese production every year, not limiting herd size to 120 animals or fewer and making more than five cheese producer permits available.

State Senator Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, sponsored the bill presented Thursday, wanting support in “passing this initiative so our dairies can keep selling cheese.”

Raw milk cheese, also known as farmstead cheese, means that the milk used has not been pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Association.

Under proper precautions and frequent health inspector visits, “the farmstead cheese program has proven to be successful,” said Laurie Bucher, chief of the Center for Milk and Dairy Product Safety within the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Holly Foster, owner of the Chapel’s Country Creamery in Easton said her cow farm would lose a quarter of its profits if changes were not made to the farmstead cheese legislation.

“We’re known for our raw milk Bay Blue — we’ve been making it for over four years now,” said Foster. “Our livelihood is on the desk of legislation today.”

Foster said the herd size limit was originally installed to decrease the chances of disease and to keep production to family-owned businesses, but also limited sheep dairy farmers’ cheese production, as sheep produce less milk than cows and goats.

“(These alterations to the original bill) will support the needed diversity in the dairy industry as the dairy industry changes,” Bucher said, including the need to use milk from different animals.

By Katelyn Newman
Capital News Service

Senate Budget and Tax Committee Hears Bills on Schools Funding, Free College, Transportation Revenues

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The following is a roundup of bills heard Wednesday in the Maryland Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee.

Legislators Move to Recoup Supplemental Schools Funding for Some Districts

The simple change of the word “may” to “shall” could bring about $68 million back to public K-12 schools.

A state formula that provides additional spending to some jurisdictions where the cost of education is more expensive stops short of stipulation in state law. It is currently a recommendation, but became an expected funding boost in recent years to 13 jurisdictions.

But some state legislators, led by state Senator Nancy King, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, are planning to make funding of the formula a requirement.

The edit would effectively recoup the expected, additional funding, under the formula known as the geographic cost of education index, that Gov. Larry Hogan proposed to cut in half in his fiscal year 2016 budget.

The bill, signed by 15 state senators and 60 delegates on the corresponding version in the House, was presented at the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee meeting Wednesday.

Bill Would Create Taskforce to Study Free Community College for Some Baltimore City Students

On the heels of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, a bill presented to the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Wednesday would make community college free for more Baltimore City students.

The bill, sponsored by state Senator Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, would apply to graduates of Baltimore City public schools who are eligible for in-state tuition and attending Baltimore City community colleges full-time.

“This bill is so simple and so swift and it’s something that every county ought to consider,” said Gladden.

But Chris Falkenhagen, director of legislative affairs and government relations for the Baltimore City Community College, said on Wednesday that he was troubled by the details, especially because the proposal lacked a funding source, and Gladden amended the bill to create a task force on the topic.

“This bill begins the conversation,” said Bernard Sadusky, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. “The first issue is affordability and the second issue is workforce development.”

Garrett County has had a similar scholarship program in place since 2006 that is funded by the county.

More Money for Counties, Local Jurisdictions from Drivers Possible

Counties and other local jurisdictions serve to benefit from the revenues from various car-related expenses if a bill presented by state Senator Roger Manno, D-Montgomery, to the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Wednesday receives a favorable report.

Money collected by the state from the motor vehicle fuel tax, the vehicle titling tax, vehicle registration fees and short-term vehicle rentals are held in a special account, in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

Local jurisdictions, including counties, municipalities and Baltimore City, currently share 9.6 percent of the funds in the account, but this bill would increase that amount to 30 percent over a period of four years, closer to pre-recession rates.

Estimated funding under the new formula would increase shared revenues from about $95.2 million for fiscal year 2016 to about $375 million in fiscal year 2020.

Counties would get about 14 percent more of the fund, while Baltimore City and smaller local municipalities would get about 5 percent and 2 percent more, respectively.

The remainder of the fund goes to the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Manno said the legislation would return a critical funding source for smaller municipalities that have little flexibility in their budgets.

By Deidre McPhillips
Capital News Service

–Capital News Service correspondent Anjali Shastry contributed to this report.