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Maryland State Song Goes Under Review by Legislators in Annapolis

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On Wednesday afternoon, the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee room was full of song.

Committee members listened to – and participated in – possible new lyrics for the current state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” which was adopted in 1939.

“This is not a new topic,” said Delegate Karen Young, D-Frederick. “This is the eighth time we’ve revisited this song.”

Young said the “highly objectionable” song promoted Confederate values, criticizing Union advocates and President Abraham Lincoln, and plays a divisive role in the state today.

Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, proposed the Senate version of the bill and wants to replace the current song with a “new, more inclusive, contemporary and memorable state song,” according to a press release. Delegates Christopher West, R-Baltimore County, and Terri Hill, D-Howard and Baltimore Counties sponsored a similar bill in the House.

Jay Barringer, the commander of the Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans, said no moments in history come without controversy, and Marylanders should appreciate the history of their state.

“Do we want another dry dissertation of geographical features as our state song, which can be applied to half of the states?” Barringer said. “Getting rid of this song would whitewash the unique history of the state and put it on the gallows of historical cleansing.”

If passed, the bill would establish a selection panel made up of members of the Maryland State Arts Council, who will hold a competition to decide the next state song. The winner would be proposed via legislation in the 2017 General Assembly session.

By Jessica Campisi

Maryland Officials Expect Zika Virus to Show Up in the State

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While there are no reported cases of the Zika virus in Maryland currently, officials say it won’t be long before that changes.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a statement late last week that it expects to begin seeing cases of the virus in Maryland residents returning from infected areas.

While most state health departments in the United States are not testing for the Zika virus, Maryland plans to start testing within two weeks residents who might have been exposed to the virus.

“We are aware of Marylanders’ concerns about risks related to the virus, and we are working closely with healthcare providers to expedite testing, particularly for pregnant women,” Maryland Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Van Mitchell said in a statement.

Three residents of Washington and one resident of Virginia so far have tested positive for the virus after traveling to infected areas outside the United States.

Maryland health officials said they are in close communication with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as Maryland hospitals and healthcare providers to watch for any possible cases of the virus.

Mitchell’s department has sent samples from Maryland residents who have traveled to infected areas to the CDC for testing, according to Public Health Deputy Secretary Dr. Howard Haft. The state said it will update the public every week with news involving the virus.

Soon, however, the agency hopes to send samples directly to its Health and Mental Hygiene public health laboratory.

State health officials also are working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture as the weather gets warmer and the prevalence of mosquitoes, which carry the virus, increases. Officials warn against having standing water around homes that may attract mosquitoes.

Members of Congress from Maryland are expressing concern about the virus.

Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats, joined in a Feb. 5 letter by the Senate Democratic Caucus to President Barack Obama urging him to develop a response plan for the virus, encourage communication between federal and state health departments, and support research on the virus.

In the letter, the senators encouraged the president “to take the Zika virus into consideration as you coordinate and allocate resources in the (current budget) and move forward with your upcoming FY17 budget request or subsequent amendments.”

The Obama administration announced late last week that it is requesting $1.8 billion from Congress to fund efforts to help prepare for the virus and handle an outbreak both in the states and abroad.

While no reports of mosquitoes transmitting the disease have been reported within the United States, there have been cases of the virus found in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, as well as in travelers returning to this country. The CDC has confirmed 50 cases of the virus in U.S. travelers between December and Feb. 5, according to the White House.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, sent a letter to the CDC and National Institutes of Health on Jan. 28, asking for the continuation of medical research and for information regarding the virus to be shared the public.

The director of the University of Maryland’s University Health Center, David McBride, sent out a notice to students Feb. 4 warning them about the virus and urging them to reconsider spring break travel plans to infected areas highlighted by the CDC.

The CDC issued a travel warning in response to the Zika outbreak in Brazil. It warned people against traveling to places with reported cases of the virus such as South America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

The Baltimore City Health Department hosts information about the virus from the CDC on its homepage.

By JOELLE LANG

Annapolis Bills Aim to Use Video Technology to Cut Medical Costs

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Patients and doctors may have a new way to combat rising health care costs: communicating with video technology. That’s the goal of companion bills introduced in the Senate and House this week.

The bipartisan legislation aims to increase the use of telehealth and remote patient monitoring for those with Medicare, those being served in community and rural hospitals, and those with chronic conditions. Telehealth uses technology such as video cameras to interact with patients out of the doctor’s office to cut down on visits.

The author of the Senate bill, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said that telehealth is the future of health care.

“It saves money and improves health outcomes,” Schatz said in a statement. “Our bipartisan bill puts us on a path to transform health care delivery, making it less costly and more convenient for patients and providers.”

Co-sponsors of the Senate bill include Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

“I’ve seen firsthand the positive value of telehealth and remote monitoring in Maryland that connects ICU patients with critical care staff based at larger medical centers,” Cardin said in a statement. “We have the technology today to promote the delivery of high quality care in an efficient and cost-effective way around the country.”

The bill is known as the “Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act.” It was introduced in the Senate Feb. 2 and was referred to the Committee on Finance. A companion House bill, by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who is a co-sponsor of the House bill, said in a statement that the current system in place does not fit the needs of today’s health care.

“All Americans deserve access to quality, timely, and affordable health care, no matter where they live,” Welch said. “To ensure greater adoption of this technology, Congress must modernize the outdated policies governing this type of health care delivery.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the success of telehealth in reducing costs for patients was demonstrated by the Veteran’s Health Administration. In a program that began in 2003, patients with chronic illnesses used video phones and vital sign monitors at home. After just four years there was a 19 percent reduction in hospital visits for its 30,000 patients.

The legislation is supported by more than 50 health-related organizations, including the American Telemedicine Association, the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association.

Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, said that his organization supports the bill’s effort to make health care more affordable.

“It’s a clear ‘win-win’ for the American people and helps to bridge the 21st century technology gap between policy and better health care options,” Linkous said in a statement.

By JOELLE LANG

Cummings Says ‘No’ to Senate Race, Will Seek Re-Election to House

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Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, announced in a statement Tuesday that he will run for re-election for his House seat rather than for the U.S. Senate.

His decision means the Democratic fight to replace five-term Sen. Barbara Mikulski, also a Democrat, is between Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards.

“I believe that I can best serve the people of our city, our state and our nation by continuing my work in Congress, by continuing to touch people in every part of our great nation, and by leading an united effort to elect progressives across the board – rather than by focusing upon one single Senate race,” Cummings said in his statement.

The deadline to file for candidacy is Wednesday.

A Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll of likely Democratic primary voters in November 2015 showed Cummings leading in the Senate race with 40 percent of the vote. Van Hollen, D-Kensington, had 28 percent and Edwards, D-Fort Washington, had 19 percent.

More recently, Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. polling showed Van Hollen with a slight lead over Edwards for the April Democratic primary vote, 38 percent to 36 percent, with 24 percent of voters undecided.

An analysis by Gonzales Research suggested Edwards could have an advantage over Van Hollen when it’s time to vote. While Van Hollen leads among men, 45 percent to 30 percent, Edwards is ahead with women, 40 percent to 33 percent.

Women make up almost 60 percent of votes in the Democratic primary in Maryland, which is why Edwards could have the edge, according to the polling firm.

Other Democratic candidates include Fred Donald Dickson, Jr.; Ralph Jaffe; Charles U. Smith; Violet Staley; Blaine Taylor; Ed Tinus and Lih Young.

The Republican candidates are Maryland State Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga; Chris Chaffee; Richard J. Douglas; John R. Graziani; Greg Holmes; Chrys Kefalas; Lynn Richardson; Anthony Seda; Richard Shawver; Dave Wallace; and Garry Thomas Yarrington.

With Democratic voters in Maryland outnumbering Republicans by a roughly 55 percent-26 percent margin, the Senate seat is likely to remain Democratic, according to analysts.

By DEEPA RAMUDAMU
Capital News Service

Maryland Legislators and Farmers Introduce ‘Poultry Litter Management Act’

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The signs were adorned with images of poultry because, when it came to advocating for environmental regulations, no one was going to play chicken.

“Pick up after yourself, Big Chicken.” “Poultry poop pollutes.” “Big Chicken should clean up its own mess … NOT Maryland taxpayers.”

These statements, emblazoned on Chesapeake Bay Foundation posters, might sound silly to the casual reader. But for environmental advocates, they represent a push to hold companies financially accountable for pollution they add to the Chesapeake Bay.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, flanked by contract farmers and fellow lawmakers, spoke to a group of lobbyists and journalists assembled before him about the Poultry Litter Act on February 2, 2016, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Capital News Service photo by Josh Magness.)

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, flanked by contract farmers and fellow lawmakers, spoke to a group of lobbyists and journalists assembled before him about the Poultry Litter Act on February 2, 2016, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Capital News Service photo by Josh Magness.)

On Tuesday, Maryland legislators and contract farmers — those hired by companies to grow certain products — introduced the Poultry Litter Management Act to both chambers of the General Assembly. The bill would require major animal agriculture companies to pay the cost of properly disposing excess manure on their contract farms.

“It’s a fairness issue, it has an adverse impact on our environment and we need to clean it up,” said Sen. Joan Conway, D-Baltimore, “and those individuals who are making the mess need to clean up the mess.”

The bill is a response to what many environmentalists describe as major chicken companies getting a “free ride” as they produce around 228,000 tons of excess manure in the state each year but are not mandated to pay for the environmental costs of moving that waste.

“I don’t know if people realize that the 300-plus million chickens raised annually on Maryland’s Eastern Shore create more waste than everyone else who lives in Maryland,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery.

Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for Perdue Farms, pushed back against the notion that the company — an animal agriculture business based in Salisbury, Maryland that contracts with 265 poultry producers in the state — requires their contract farms to pay to dispose poultry litter.

“For nearly 15 years through our Perdue AgriRecycle organic fertilizer facility, we have been the only poultry company in the Chesapeake Bay region that provides an environmentally responsible alternative to land application,” DeYoung wrote in an e-mail. “Those who claim that Perdue is putting the responsibility for poultry litter on our farmers are choosing to ignore this fact.”

The cost of removing the manure, and subsequent runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, has traditionally been shifted to contract farmers and taxpayers, lawmakers and environmental advocates said Tuesday.

Since 1999, more than $5.6 million from taxpayers have been used to move excess manure off contract operations that are unable to handle the animal waste, according to a report from the state’s Department of Agriculture. This includes $2.8 million alone for major chicken processor Perdue since 2008, according to the state’s Department of Budget and Management.

Maryland taxpayers have contributed $767 million to clean up the bay since 2004, according to a report from the Maryland Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee.

Also included in the bill is a provision that would ensure chicken companies find a solution to dispose of waste that is not harmful to surrounding communities or the environment, and another that allows contract farmers to retain enough chicken manure to fertilize crops.

“We are not taking away any fertilizers — valuable things that farmers use for a growing tool,” said Carole Morison, 59, a former contract grower for 23 years in Pocomoke City. “They have the opportunity to still use this manure.”

Maryland lawmakers briefed on oyster restoration project by state’s Natural Resources secretary

Other legislators, members of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, were briefed Tuesday on oyster restoration efforts, a topic that has quickly become controversial after Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, in January announced a halt of such activities in the Tred Avon River.

Led by Mark Belton, the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the briefing centered around concerns of funding restoration projects and fluctuating levels of spat, the term for oyster babies.

Intended to be managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project would involve constructing a federally funded reef project in the Tred Avon River — a 17-mile tributary on the Eastern Shore — to help reverse the declining oyster population in the state.

The decision to cease the restoration efforts came after three watermen met with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and voiced their concerns about how the project will hurt their business in the short term, according to Karis King, the media relations manager at the Department of Natural Resources.

Environmental activists and many Democratic lawmakers, including Stephen W. Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, on Tuesday seemed skeptical of the decision to delay the project.

“Why halt any efforts at this point?” Lafferty said. “What is the value?”

The Hogan Administration says they are waiting for the results of other oyster restoration projects in the Chesapeake Bay before determining the next step forward. The internal review is expected in July.

“The work that was intended to be done in February was delayed,” Belton said. “It will still be able to be done … there’s no concern.”

By Josh Magness
Capital News Service

Capital News Service correspondent Jenn Schultz contributed to this report.

O’Malley Was Third Wheel in Clinton-Sanders Fight

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Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s dismal finish Monday in the Iowa caucuses convinced him to end his presidential bid even as the Democrats were still counting votes. He had hoped to emerge as the alternative to Hillary Clinton, but instead ran into the Bernie Sanders buzzsaw.

“O’Malley has been left to dry, he just hasn’t caught fire in any way,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “O’Malley never really has had any moment in the polls where he has looked strong.”

Clinton and Sanders dominated the Iowa caucuses Monday, nearly splitting the vote at 49.9 percent and 49.6 percent, respectively, while O’Malley polled a paltry 0.6 percent of the votes.

“He couldn’t get to the right of Hillary and he couldn’t get to the left of Bernie Sanders,” Maryland Senate President Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, told reporters at the State House in Annapolis.

When he announced his candidacy last May, O’Malley thought he saw an opening, Skelley said. Clinton’s decision to run had discouraged many other potential Democratic candidates from entering the race.

“I think (O’Malley) got into the race knowing that it was unlikely that a lot of major candidates were going to run,” Skelley said. “There was a thinking that, ‘Now I have a chance to break through here.’”

But neither the synthesis of his message on his campaign signs – “Restore the American Dream” – nor his polished debate performances seemed to connect with Iowans. Even playing guitar and singing at some stops did not budge his Iowa poll numbers, which stayed in the single digits and peaked with a Real Clear Politics poll average of 6.3 percent at the end of the first week of January.

O’Malley wrote a letter to supporters on his campaign website announcing the suspension of his campaign.

“Together we all stood up for working people, for new Americans, for the future of the Earth and the safety of our children,” O’Malley said. “We put these issues at the front of our party’s agenda—these are the issues that serve the best interests of our nation.”

O’Malley hoped his achievements as governor in Maryland – he oversaw the legalization of same-sex marriage, the repeal of the death penalty and a major overhaul of the state’s gun laws – would gain traction with voters and the more liberal members of the Democratic Party, but that never came to pass, according to analysts.

“[O’Malley] is an establishment Democrat that tried to run as an outsider, an anti-establishment campaign that has hurt him,” said Todd Eberly, coordinator of Public Policy Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Instead, Bernie Sanders filled the role of Clinton’s chief rival, snatching up the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Sanders’ surprise emergence prevented O’Malley from rising in the polls, Skelley said.

“Bernie Sanders has become the other person in the race,” Skelley said.

Another problem for O’Malley was his inability to raise money compared to his competitors.

By the end of 2015 O’Malley raised only $4.6 million and accrued $535,000 in debt, according to a campaign analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that monitors campaign spending. Sanders and Clinton dwarfed O’Malley’s fundraising efforts, collecting $74.3 million and $112 million, respectively, by the end of 2015.

Despite struggling to raise money and being so far behind in the polls, O’Malley stayed in the race longer than many political observers expected.

“If you have the presidential bug, then you’re going to hang around for as long as you can,” Skelley said.

Analysts said O’Malley’s poor showing at the Iowa caucuses was not his fault. To the contrary, O’Malley was “warmly received” at Democratic events, said Dennis Goldford, political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.

“O’Malley was appealing in a way to their heads, not their hearts,” Goldford said. “Sanders certainly captured the hearts of a lot of supporters, certainly young ones.”

While the Washington Post reported that O’Malley said he has no interest in a Cabinet position in another administration, Skelley and Eberly think there is a chance for O’Malley to run again in 2020 if Clinton doesn’t win this election.

While O’Malley could use the exposure from his campaign as a springboard for future presidential elections, Skelley suggested that other more prominent Democratic candidates, such as a sitting governor or Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., could overshadow him.

By TROY JEFFERSON and DAN RUSSO
Capital News Service

(Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau reporter Leo Traub contributed to this story.)

Maryland’s New Paper Ballot System Ready but Are Voters?

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Maryland’s new paper ballot system will be available statewide for April’s elections, but officials said Friday they are worried that voters won’t know how to use them in time, adding to election day-wait times.

In 2007, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law requiring elections to be conducted on paper ballots instead of the touch-screen ballots that Maryland residents have been using since 2002.

In April, the new machines will be ready for primary elections. Voters will fill out a paper ballot in pen, filling in bubbles next to their choices. They then would insert their ballot into an electronic reading machine.

“We’re concerned that we don’t have the money to do voter outreach, and we’re concerned that that’s going to add to wait times,” said Maryland Board of Elections State Administrator Linda Lamone.

Lamont told legislators Friday that election judges have had hours of training, including classroom training and mock elections, but there simply isn’t enough money for voter outreach. She said that the last time Maryland changed voting systems, in 2002, there was more than $2 million, but this year, $1.8 million that had been budgeted for outreach was eliminated.

“If we had the funding, we’d be much more comfortable than we are today,” Lamont said

The $1.8 million funding for a public relations contract to do voter education was rejected last June by the Board of Public Works with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford taking the lead against the contract. “I guess I just think people are smart,” said Rutherford, who argued voters were capable of understanding the new machines.

Concerns about Spanish-speakers

Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery, said she was worried that the limited amount of outreach would adversely affect Spanish-speakers.

“We’re quite concerned,” Sol Gutierrez said. “It’s a new system, we’ve been actively trying to market it ourselves, and then to translate it so non-English speaking voters can use it.”

Each county will pay for a “specimen ballot” to be made available to people before they vote, and there are outreach efforts by individual counties, like Anne Arundel, but Lamont said that isn’t enough.

“Anne Arundel county has in excess of 300,000 voters,” Lamone said. “So 800 people (who have been trained), thank goodness they know how to use it, but they’ve got a long way to go.”

As far as statewide outreach goes, the Board of Elections is designing an explanatory postcard that will be sent out a few weeks before the primary. Beside that, there is also one person, on contract, doing social media to reach voters, Lamone said.

Touch screen for the disabled

Each polling place will also have a special touch-screen kiosk for people with disabilities. These machines guide the voter through each ballot item and alert them at the end if an answer is incomplete. The screen can only show seven candidates at once, and the machine will not let a voter cast their vote until they scroll through to see all the candidates.

These machines then print out a paper ballot, which gets cast at the ballot-reading machine — the same one used by voters who “bubble in” their answers.

The new system cost around $28 million, according to Donna Duncan, the assistant deputy administrator for election policy.

Also new this election season is same-day registration for early voting. There are 66 early voting centers in the state, with a potential 67th being proposed in Montgomery. To do this, the Motor Vehicle Administration is giving the Board of Elections a database of people who are eligible to register, but haven’t yet.

The Board of Elections will then go through that list to make sure people are eligible — they are living and not felons — and will “pre-qualify” those people so they can register and vote on the same day.

By Rachel Bluth

Legislators from Maryland’s Rural Districts Say Permitting Requirements Hurt Their Constituents

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Agriculture represents around $8.25 billion of Maryland’s economy. With the sometimes conflicting interests of helping farmers and reducing pollution in the soil and Chesapeake Bay, lawmakers are trying to find ways to accomplish both goals.

At meetings with the House Transportation and Environment Committee as well as the House Rural Caucus, Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joseph Bartenfelder said one of the top priorities for 2016 is preventing avian Flu.

As ducks and geese, the primary carriers of high path avian flu, migrate over Maryland this winter, the risk for poultry farms — the state’s No. 1 agricultural sector — is high, according to Bartenfelder

“We are as prepared as we can be, knowing what lies ahead,” Bartenfelder said Wednesday.

Bartenfelder said his office has participated in drills and had drafted a declaration of emergency in case avian flu comes to Maryland chickens. He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s regional veterinarian called Maryland’s preparations “lightyears ahead” of midwestern states.

Farmers in Maryland have other concerns, as well. Several legislators from the rural caucus said regulations and permitting requirements are slowing down farmers in their districts.

“It’s been ramping up on the shore, they just can’t get their permits for these operations,” said Delegate Jay Jacobs, R-Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne’s. “These past several years, it’s been permitting from stormwater management and CAFO (contained animal feeding operation) permitting, and it’s the major industry on the shore…put yourself in that poor chicken farmer’s shoes.”

“I tell you, it’s a scary time,” he continued.

Bartenfelder and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles said part of the problem is not having enough manpower to speed up processing permit requests, and some regulations need to be streamlined and scaled back.

“It’s very important to us to make sure that local water quality and public health safeguards are kept in place but also there is a growing need to revisit statewide regulations,” Bartenfelder said.

Jacobs said farmers in Caroline County are having trouble getting contained animal feeding operation permits, so their fully built chicken houses are empty.

Delegate Wendell Beitzel, a Republican representing Garrett and Allegany and the chair of the rural caucus, said farmers in Western Maryland are facing slow-moving permit procedures to build manure storage facilities.

Delegate Haven Shoemaker, R-Carroll, said that BAT — best available technologies — for water regulations are “killing us in Carroll County.”

Another major priority for Grumbles’ office is managing the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen in the soil and in the Chesapeake Bay through a program called nutrient trading.

Nutrient trading would allow farmers who implement best practices to remove nutrients from the water to earn credits that can be sold to stormwater utilities and other buyers. Grumbles said this will provide an extra revenue source for farmers while speeding up Chesapeake cleanup. He said he hopes to start some pilot programs in 2016 to begin studying nutrient trading and taking steps toward implementation.

By Rachel Bluth
Capital News Service

Maryland Bill Would Punish Coaches Who Don’t Bench Kids with Concussion Symptoms

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Concussions in football have become a national conversation in recent years and especially in the wake of the release of the Golden Globe nominated film ‘Concussion’ starring actor Will Smith. 
 
Maryland Delegate Mark Chang, D-Anne Arundel, told the state House Ways and Means committee on Thursday about a bill he is sponsoring that would penalize coaches for failing to remove a player with suspected concussion symptoms at the youth level. 
 
The bill would prohibit bringing back into a game prematurely a student who is suspected of having sustained a concussion.
 
“The goal of the bill is to have more accountability,” Chang said.
 
The bill states that a student removed from play may not return to the field until they have obtained written clearance from a licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions; and information on concussions must be provided to the individual and their parents or guardians. There also has to be a notice on the youth sports program registration form that includes directions on how to receive concussion information electronically.
 
The bill states that if a coach violates the law, a copy of charges will be sent to the coach in question and they may request a hearing within 10 days after receipt of the charges. The coach would then have the opportunity to be heard before a county board and to bring a witness to the hearing. 
 
Each respective violation would bring a stricter degree of punishment. The first violation would have the coach suspended for the remainder of the current season; a second violation would signal a suspension for both the current and following season, and a third violation would result in a permanent suspension from coaching any athletic activity.
 
Coaches can be put in a situation where they are urged to keep certain players in games even when they have suffered head injuries, said Dr. Tim Romanoski, who specializes in primary care sports medicine and works at Centreville Family Medicine in Centreville, Maryland. 
 
“Many times we have parents pushing coaches to push their star athletes back into the field due to scholarships,” Romanoski said. 
 
Robert Graw Jr., CEO and medical director for HeadFirst, a sports-injury concussion care center, said that the punishments in the bill are appropriate, but only if coaches have training geared toward spotting head injuries.
 
“They (legislators) should write in the bill that a school board needs to have a rigorous educational policy,” Graw said Thursday in a phone interview.
 
The bill requires the state Department of Education to develop a program to provide awareness to coaches, school personnel, students and parents, in collaboration with other organizations. 
 
Those organizations include the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the Maryland Athletic Trainers Association, the Brain Injury Association of Maryland, and the state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. 
 
Chang said that the programs would educate coaches on the signs of concussions and that the training and educational programs would occur probably once a year.
 
Chang showed the members a video by the investigative series “E:60” that focused on former La Salle University football player Preston Plevretes, who in 2005 suffered a concussion in practice and returned to play two days later. A few weeks later, Plevretes again collided during a game and ended up suffering second-impact syndrome, a second injury on top of an original concussion that was unhealed. He now has severe, lingering symptoms, according to the “E:60” video.
 
Chang and Romanoski met opposition at the hearing from the Maryland Association of Counties.
 
Leslie Knapp Jr., an attorney for the Maryland Association of Counties, said he was concerned that by requiring an appeals process, the bill would inadvertently make it harder for a county to remove a bad coach.
 
MACo President Rick Anthony, who is also the director of Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks department, said that his county has a simple policy for coaches and officials making decisions on removing football players with suspected head injuries.
 
“Our policy is: When in doubt, sit him out,” Anthony said. 
 
Chang’s bill describes the term “concussion” as a traumatic injury to the brain that causes an immediate change in mental status or an alteration of consciousness resulting from either a fall, a violent blow to the head or body, or the shaking and spinning of the head or body.  “Youth sports program” is identified as a program organized for recreational athletic competition or instruction for individuals who are younger than 19.
 
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disease that is found in people who have suffered repetitive brain trauma and was discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the lead character in “Concussion,” according to the University of California Davis Health System website. 
 
CTE has been found in numerous former NFL players after they had died. Former San Diego Chargers and Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide in 2012, and post-mortem studies from the National Institutes of Health found CTE in his brain, according to a 2013 statement from the National Institutes of Health. 
 
Former New York Giants safety Tyler Sash died on Sept. 8 from an accidental overdose of pain medication. CTE was also later found in Sash, according to an article from The New York Times.
 
In April, U.S. District Court Judge Anita Brody approved a $900 million settlement between the NFL and more than 5,000 retired players. The monetary awards would go to retired players diagnosed with certain neurological conditions, according to USA Today.
 
“It’s a physical game, but we can make it safer for our kids,” Chang said.
By Connor Glowacki