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Maryland’s Democrats Vow Planned Parenthood Fight

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Baltimore resident Annie Sageng relied on Planned Parenthood for many different reasons while growing up.

In high school, she drove her friends there to pick up birth control and pregnancy tests. Eventually she was the one picking up the birth control. Then she was a volunteer. Now, the 28-year-old is the Maryland Planned Parenthood community outreach coordinator.

“It was always there as something we can all depend on, as a nonjudgmental source, as a nonjudgmental place that we could go,” Sageng said. “Especially now, it helps me feel like there’s somewhere to turn and there’s something to do,” she said.

Although President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to defund Planned Parenthood as long as it provides abortions, several of Maryland’s Democratic lawmakers said that despite their party’s minority status in Congress, they will fight every effort to do so.

“This will be an ongoing battle,” Van Hollen said in an interview with Capital News Service. “It’s unfortunate that in the 21st century we’re still having to wage this battle, but we will fight tooth and nail to prevent Donald Trump and the Republicans from turning back the clock on women’s rights.”

Maryland Planned Parenthood typically receives 100 donations per week. In the week after Republican nominee Trump’s surprising election victory, it received 1,700 online donations, 350 of which were made in Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s name, according to spokeswoman Dana Robinson.

“Planned Parenthood has done very good work for millions of women,” Trump said at a Florida press conference in March. “But we’re not going to allow, and we’re not going to fund, as long as you have the abortion going on at Planned Parenthood.”

Maryland Planned Parenthood CEO and President Karen Nelson said in an interview with Capital News Service that there are definite anxieties among women worried they will lose their birth control after inauguration. Maryland has seven Planned Parenthood locations that offer abortions, birth control, care for sexually transmitted diseases and general health care. Sixty percent of her patients do not receive health care outside of Planned Parenthood, Nelson said.

“We’re telling people to continue to enroll in the Affordable Care Act, and continue to make the appointments with us to get their birth control,” Nelson said. “We’re going to be there for them.”

Van Hollen and Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said their constituents have expressed concern about the future of women’s health care in Maryland.

“I have heard from women since (Election Day) who have expressed real fear that progress that they have made could be jeopardized,” Cardin said.

Federal funding of abortions, which comprise 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services nationally, is banned under what is known as the Hyde Amendment. The law excludes abortion from healthcare services provided to low-income people by Medicaid, except for cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is in danger. Maryland is one of four states that voluntarily funds all or most medically necessary abortions.

In January, President Barack Obama vetoed legislation that would have abolished federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Republican lawmakers put the provision under an Affordable Care Act repeal bill and used a reconciliation procedure that speeds up the legislative process for budgetary legislation and blocks any Democratic filibuster, which GOP congressional legislators are considering using again after Trump takes office, Politico reported.

“(Maryland Democrats) would use our powers to block any of that kind of legislation,” Van Hollen said. “It’s unclear whether Republicans could try to achieve their goals in this area by using budget reconciliation. But that’s an issue, that’s a real issue.”

Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers serve 2.8 million people in the United States, and 79 percent of the organization’s health care patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, according to its website.

Sageng said Planned Parenthood losing government funding would devastate her because it would “wipe out so many people’s livelihood.”

“It becomes hard to talk about succinctly,” she said, “because it’s just so unthinkable.”

In fiscal 2015, 43 percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding came from federal government health services grants and reimbursements, while 27 percent came from private contributions and 24 percent came from non-government health services revenue, according to the organization’s 2015 annual report.

Although Trump has suggested he will appoint Supreme Court judges to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion a state issue, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who is personally anti-abortion, has said in the past the issue of abortion is settled and he would not try to change it in Maryland.

Maryland Federation of Republican Women President Liz League said it is too early to assume what Trump will do once he is sworn into office. League is personally opposed to government funding of abortion, but approves federal funding of other health care services.

“He is not a radical person, he’s not a hard right person and I believe that he understands Planned Parenthood does provide services beyond the abortion services,” she said.

Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Towson and Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who will replace Van Hollen in representing the state’s 8th District, both said they would oppose any Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Maryland’s other Democratic lawmakers did not respond to request for comment.

Rep. Andy Harris of Cockeysville, the lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, also did not respond to a request for comment. Harris, who supported Trump in the general election, has said he considers himself pro-life and voted against federal funds being used to provide abortions. He was also appointed in 2015 to a House panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers’ medical procedures.

Republicans last month doubled the budget for the panel, which has not found evidence of wrongdoing at Planned Parenthood. Van Hollen called it a “witch hunt” and “gross abuse of the process” in an interview with Capital News Service, while Harris said in 2015 it was “an honor to be asked to serve on the select panel that will investigate the deeply disturbing activities that have been ongoing at abortion providers.”

If Republicans want to reduce the rate of abortion, Raskin said, it is important to invest in contraceptive care and sex education.

“I don’t think anybody’s interested in turning the clock back to moral majority politics from the 1980s,” Raskin said. “That’s way out of date.”

For Sageng, it means something that the polarizing election cycle has pushed women’s health issues to the forefront.

“I have had lots of people come up to me at events,” she said, “and say things like, ‘You were there for me when I had no health care, you were there for me when I had no insurance, you were there for me when I was poor, you were there for me when I was a teenager. I wouldn’t be able to be a mother today if it wasn’t for Planned Parenthood. I wouldn’t be here today.’”
By MINA HAQ and SYDNEY TONIC

Future of Affordable Care Act in Maryland is Uncertain

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While President-elect Donald Trump vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act on the campaign trail, his recent promises to maintain key components of the law have reassured Marylanders, though many still feel the law’s future is questionable.

Members of Maryland’s Democratic congressional delegation have warned Trump about interfering with Obamacare, though the president-elect has said he plans to keep parts of the law that ensure coverage for people with preexisting conditions and grant people younger than 26 permission to remain on their parents’ plans.

“I think Republicans need to be very careful because the reality is that the uninsurance rate in Maryland and around the country is at a low,” Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, told WBAL News.

In Maryland, 120,145 people were signed up for coverage under the Maryland Health Connection exchange as of February 2015, and people covered under Medicare have saved almost $230,365,408 on prescription drugs with Obamacare since the program was started, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2009 — before Obamacare took effect — 24 percent of people living in poverty in Maryland were uninsured, while in 2014, 15.7 percent were uninsured, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Bruce Oppenheimer, a public policy professor at Vanderbilt University, said people who would be stripped of their Affordable Care Act benefits might feel more concerned.

“They do not want uncertainty, so they’re going to be asking for — where is it going to go,” Oppenheimer told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “Okay, you’re stripping this away. What are we going to have left? Are we returning to health care the way it was before the Affordable Care Act, or is something else going to come in its place?”

With a Republican White House and a Republican Congress, it’s possible that legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act could be introduced as early as next year.

Medical professionals in Maryland are in favor of Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, but are looking to the new administration to consider some changes within the Affordable Care Act, said Gene Ransom, the chief executive officer of MedChi, the Maryland state medical society.

“We don’t want to keep things that create barriers between a physician-patient relationship,” he said. “We’re seeing this as an opportunity to look at it and maybe try and make things better.”

Among the components MedChi is looking to roll back include the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel responsible for enforcing a limit on Medicare spending increases.

“We don’t think the government bureaucrats should be deciding what services are delivered to the patient,” said Ransom. “It should be decided by the physician and patient, not someone sitting in an office in Washington.”

But any changes to the Affordable Care Act aren’t going to happen overnight, said Leni Preston, president of Consumer Health First, an organization launched in May to continue the work of the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform.

“When we woke up on Wednesday morning (after the election), our agendas changed completely,” she said. “Instead of continuing to move forward, we are now looking at an agenda that requires us to look carefully at those state laws and those state regulations and make sure that we can provide policies and advocacy to make sure that Maryland keeps moving forward.”

Maryland’s use of a state-based exchange might work in the state’s favor to ensure some protections under the Affordable Care Act, but nothing is for sure, said Preston.

“It’s incredibly complicated; there are a lot of players from the president-elect on down and there are a lot of moving parts that people are going to be watching out for,” she said.

If the Affordable Care Act were to be completely repealed, it could be salvaged at the state level — but only if Gov. Larry Hogan decided Maryland would cover the cost of the program.

Currently, the federal government covers 59.8 percent of the cost of the program in the state, while Maryland is responsible for the other 40.2 percent of the funding, according to data from the Kaiser Family Health Foundation.

However, Maryland is “several months out” from being able to tell just exactly what Trump’s impact on Obamacare will be, said Chris Garrett, the director of communications for Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“It’s way too premature for us to be able to lay out specific changes to the Medicaid program as it pertains to the new administration, because the president-elect hasn’t been inaugurated yet,” he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois and minority whip, is hoping that Trump’s softer comments about Obamacare during his Nov. 13 interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” could mean reform to the law instead of complete eradication.

In the interview, Trump called the stipulation to ensure coverage to people with preexisting conditions one of the program’s “strongest assets,” in addition to the rule that allows people younger than 26 to remain on their parents’ plans.

“If President-elect Donald Trump is serious about pre-existing conditions, he has just really taken a major step toward keeping a big element of Obamacare,” Durbin said. “You cannot have that protection without a large pool of insured people.”

By Hannah Lang and Maya Pottiger

Maryland Democrats Look for Ways to Influence GOP-run Congress

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Despite the return of Republican majorities in both houses of Congress in January, Maryland’s Democrats still plan to find ways of influencing policy debates and legislation.

In fact, even with some new faces in the Maryland congressional delegation, it is in roughly the same position it was in before the Nov. 8 election, with one major difference: Republican Donald Trump will replace Democrat Barack Obama in the White House.

Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Ben Cardin will be among the 48 Democratic senators tasked with trying to defend Obama’s health care legacy as well as other domestic and foreign policy achievements and entitlement programs. The Marylanders say they also will oppose any Republican effort to restrict women’s rights and will seek to keep the issue of economic inequality in the forefront.

“We’re going to continue to fight on the issues of economic fairness – equal pay for equal work,” Van Hollen told Capital News Service last week. “We will fight tooth and nail against any effort to roll back the clock on social justice, women’s rights and all the efforts we’ve made in our country to build a more perfect union. We know we’ve come a long way down that road, but we have a long journey still ahead and we’re not going back.”

 

What clout the Maryland senators and their Democratic colleagues have is limited, but they have help from the unusual rules of the Senate, which generally require 60 votes to pass most significant legislation.

Cardin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and thus is in a position to define differences with President-elect Donald Trump on foreign policy.

Late last week, Van Hollen landed an assignment on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the panel that shapes all the spending bills and a rare plum for a freshman senator.

Outgoing Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., was the vice chairwoman of the appropriations panel. She said in a statement that Van Hollen would be “an excellent advocate for meeting the day-to-day needs of Maryland’s families and the long-range needs of the nation.”

Look for Van Hollen to also become a more national figure: incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., tapped the Maryland senator to be chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which will be responsible to defending the party’s Senate seats in 2018. Van Hollen is the first freshman senator to hold that key party post.

In the House, Maryland’s seven Democrats face a GOP that only needs a majority vote on legislation.

Representative-elect Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, told Capital News Service he still was assessing what kind of influence he could wield.

“I’m going to check it out,” he said.

Meanwhile, Raskin said he is “trying to make friends” in the House with Republicans as well as Democrats.

“I do think this is a moment of some political fluidity, because of course the Republican leadership was opposed to Trump and he was opposed to them and they were fractured in a dozen different ways during their election, so there are different strains within the Republican coalition,” the new congressman said.

“There are some that are truly libertarian, and we can work with them on criminal justice issues and we can work with them on marriage equality and LGBT rights,” Raskin said. “There are parts of the coalition that are frankly authoritarian and are not interested in criminal justice reform.”

Maryland’s lone Republican, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, sought to boost his standing in the new Congress with a bid for the chairmanship of the GOP House’s think tank, the Republican Study Committee. But he lost last week to Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C.

Republicans maintained narrow control of the Senate in the Nov. 8 elections, winning 51 seats (a runoff in Louisiana will determine which party gets the 100th seat but it will not change the balance of party power). Republicans also hold 239 of the 435 seats in the House.

While that gives Trump a major advantage as he crafts legislation and policy, the Republican Party was deeply divided over their nominee and it remains to be seen how various GOP factions will find common ground on such thorny issues as immigration reform, foreign policy and taxes.

And it’s possible Senate Democrats could be called upon by the White House for help in some instances, said Bruce Oppenheimer, a Vanderbilt University public policy professor.

“There are some areas where the Trump Administration or Trump may want to go which will not be popular with conservative Republicans,” Oppenheimer said. “So it may be on some of those policy issues that he seeks out Democratic support, where they can play a bigger role.”

One of Trump’s goals drawing early criticism from some conservatives is his 10-year plan to invest $1 trillion into restoring highways, bridges and other infrastructure. Democrats also campaigned on making infrastructure spending a priority.

“We want to work with Donald Trump on the areas where there’s common ground,” Van Hollen said. “Modernizing our national infrastructure – we know around this area how important it is.”

“It’s not just roads and bridges and transit ways, but also broadband, clean energy platforms,” he continued. “I’ve put forward proposals in the past to help address that issue. I would welcome the opportunity to work on those particular issues and the other issues where there’s common ground.”

However, Senate Republicans have expressed confidence in their ability to enact legislation without Democratic assistance.

“We have a temporary lease on power,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters after the election. “We have to use it responsibly.”

McConnell repeatedly has said the GOP will be gunning for Obamacare, calling it one of the “single worst pieces of legislation among many bad pieces of legislation” from the first two years of Obama’s presidency.

One tactic Republicans could use to end all or portions of Obamacare is a Senate procedure called reconciliation. It can be used once a year and requires only a simple 51-vote majority from the Senate, making it filibuster-proof.

Reconciliation is meant for revenue and spending bills, and the relevancy of reconciliation provisions can be challenged. While reconciliation cannot explicitly repeal Obamacare, it can cut off its funding and thus severely cripple it, Oppenheimer said.

“I think the bigger question is not whether they have the power to sort of emasculate Obamacare …using reconciliation rather than repealing it directly,” Oppenheimer said. “The real question is, doing that, what do they have left?”

Republicans used reconciliation last year to try to repeal major portions of Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. The bill made it to Obama’s desk, where he vetoed it in January. The House subsequently failed to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to override the veto.

Van Hollen told Capital News Service that it was not clear whether the Republicans would try to use the reconciliation procedure.

“But that’s an issue, that’s a real issue,” he said.

Whatever health care program Republicans try to install to replace the Affordable Care Act, along with any other legislation they come up with, will have to come to the Senate floor under normal procedures.

To pass their proposed bills, Republicans will need some bipartisan support. Maryland might not have the senators the Republicans reach out to though.

“If you’re the Trump Administration, or Mitch McConnell, those would not be the first two senators you go after,” Oppenheimer said. “So my sense is, if you’re looking to get 60 votes, you wouldn’t expect the difference between 52 and 60 to include the two Maryland senators.”

Still, being in the Senate gives Van Hollen a stronger chance to make a difference, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

“In some ways, it’s better for Chris Van Hollen to be in the Senate,” Eberly said.

He explained Van Hollen will have more sway as a junior member of the minority in the Senate than as a senior member of the minority in the House because “norms and rules (in the Senate) give respect to individual members.”
By MAYA POTTIGER, CONNOR MOUNT and CHARLIE WRIGHT

Will Trump make Maryland’s Transportation Great Again?

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While President-elect Donald Trump vowed to build a wall, Maryland lawmakers and officials are hopeful he will build up the state’s roads, tunnels and public transit.

Trump has plans to invest in infrastructure. According to his website, he wants to pursue “an ‘America’s Infrastructure First’ policy.” Among other industries, like water quality, telecommunications and energy, the businessman wants to put money toward transportation.

According to Trump’s website, he wants to “implement a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways, and pipelines in the proud tradition of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who championed the interstate highway system.”

And this gives state leaders and legislators a glimmer of optimism.

Maryland State Highway Administration Administrator Greg Johnson said any talk of investment in infrastructure is positive. He pointed out Maryland’s transportation funds are insufficient to fulfill needed projects.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who did not endorse Trump, allotted $14.4 billion in transportation investment for fiscal years 2017-2022.

“We have $14 billion worth of funds for the next six years and our needs are $75 billion,” Johnson said about transportation spending in Maryland. “So if they can help close that gap, we’re good.”

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-9-55-19-amIn fiscal 2016, Maryland received about $1 billion in federal money for transportation, which is about 8.8 percent of the $11.6 billion the state received in federal funding. According to Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services, federal funds for transportation have increased by $240.3 million since fiscal 2007, experiencing an annual growth of about 3 percent.

Trump’s infrastructure plan means Maryland’s Purple Line light rail and the regional Metro system could have additional funds, as both are two of the state’s largest federally funded programs.

Congressman-elect Jamie Raskin, a Democrat elected to the state’s 8th District, said he is hopeful that Trump’s background will allow massive reinvestment in Maryland’s infrastructure, especially in Metro. The president-elect is a business and real estate mogul who has developed hotels and skyscrapers.

“We need national leadership here to reinvest in a Metro system befitting a great capital city and a great capital region,” Raskin told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service Tuesday. “I know Donald Trump is a builder and developer and I think he should see the importance of a great Metro system, which … is not only going to be near his office in the White House, but his hotel, which is a few blocks away.”

Raskin said Maryland’s bridges and roads could use the extra attention as well.

Maryland’s transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, said he also looks forward to Trump’s effect on transportation.

“I am encouraged to hear any conversation that’s talking about additional investment in kind of the foundation of our economy and that’s what our infrastructure represents,” Rahn said.

While Rahn said it is too early to predict what effect Trump might have on Maryland transportation, he said administration selections will be more

“We’ll know more, I think, when we see some of the selections for cabinet positions and what the philosophies are, because those cabinet secretaries then will be refining policies with the current president-elect,” Rahn said.

Greg Sanders, vice president of Purple Line NOW!, agrees.

“We’ll learn more when his pick for secretary of transportation is announced,” Sanders said about Trump. Purple Line NOW! is a coalition of organizations that works with state officials with a mission to build the Purple Line light rail.

The Purple Line, which will run through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, is expected to cost about $5.6 billion. Maryland is expected to pay about $3.3 billion of this cost over three and a half decades, according to state officials.

But the Purple Line’s progress is at a stalemate after a Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in August for the Federal Transit Administration to perform additional studies on the project. His decision put $900 million in federal funding for the project on hold.

Sanders also said that while Trump has vowed for surges in infrastructure, this may take time.
“The way infrastructure spending actually works in this country, it typically takes a few years of preparation, at least, before projects are ready to break ground and start producing construction jobs, let alone provide infrastructure benefits,” Sanders told Capital News Service. “Surging infrastructure spending, to have any near-term effect, would mean building up on top of projects already in the queue rather than starting again from scratch.”

In his victory speech, Trump reiterated on election night that he will rebuild a United States infrastructure that is “second-to-none.”

And Maryland Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen said he and other Democrats will especially work with the new administration to bring infrastructure to the 21st century.

“We want to work with Donald Trump on the areas where there’s common ground,” Van Hollen said in a press release Tuesday. “Modernizing our national infrastructure — we know, around this area, how important it is.”

By Vickie Connor

Maryland Takes Measures to Increase Voter Access

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The state of Maryland, whose voters experienced long lines in the 2012 election, made big changes to the voting system to correct wait time problems and accommodate a group of newly eligible voters: ex-felons.

Those that make their way to the polls on Tuesday will find the most noticeable change to be the return to paper ballots instead of the electronic touch-screen machines the state had used since 2002.

The new balloting system was tested by an increase in the number of early voters, but official said the results were positive.

This year’s 122,880 first-day voters was a dramatic increase from the 78,286 who cast votes on the first day they could before the 2012 election, according to state Board of Elections data. Through the first six days of 2016 early voting, an average of more than 101,000 ballots were cast per day. Over five days of 2012’s early voting period, about 86,000 voted per day.

The state also is revising its methods for distributing polling place workers and balloting materials to adjust to the paper balloting system.

“We’ve moved away from a rigid formula to provide some flexibility that considers historical turnout,” said Nikki Charlson, the deputy state administrator of the elections board. “There’s less equipment in the facility, so we are still learning voter behavior with the new voting system.”

The paper ballot system is intended to not only combat wait times, but also to eliminate concerns about illegal voting practices. Officials were concerned the digital touch machines could be subject to hacking and voter fraud.

Touch screen ballots also left no paper trail, making any recounts needed to inspect the original votes unreliable, if not impossible to conduct.

With the new technology, provided by the Nebraska-based company Election Systems and Software, voters fill out their paper ballots and insert them into a scanner that interprets the markings. Any faulty ballots will prompt the printing of a new ballot to be resubmitted.

“This will be the first presidential election where we use paper ballots, so I do anticipate there will be some bottlenecks because of that,” said Alisha Alexander, elections administrator for the Prince George’s County Board of Elections. “We have hired additional election judges, but because there is no time limit (for voters), that is where there could be a bottleneck.”

Maryland was among the three states (Florida and South Carolina were the others) in 2012 with the longest lines in the country, prompting researchers Christopher Famighetti, Amanda Melillo and Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice to analyze precinct-level voting.

The researchers found in their 2014 study that a lack of poll station workers and a limited number of voting machines contributed to long lines, especially in minority areas.

In the 10 Maryland precincts with the lowest number of voting machines, Hispanic citizens of voting age represented 19 percent of the population, nearly triple the statewide average of seven percent, the study said. A lack of resources negatively affects voting totals, as lengthy wait times tend to discourage voters.

“When voters are waiting up to an hour or in some cases four or five hours, there’s the danger that voters will leave the line and choose not to cast a ballot,” Famighetti said.

The new paper ballot system was tested in Maryland during the primary election, and only 14 of the 4,000 new machines malfunctioned, according to the Washington Post. Maryland Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone said that voters responded very well to the paper ballots and there were no difficulties or delays using them.

Voter fraud already was rare nationally, but the extra measures will make it practically impossible in this year’s election, Lamone said.

“There was a recent report that came out that examined the vote in the entire United States in the past 10 years,” she said. “And in the millions and millions and millions of votes cast, I think they found 30 fraudulent votes.”

Fraud might be a minuscule concern with this year’s election in Maryland, but long lines remain an issue, especially with a percentage of ex-felons coming to the polls for the first time. More than 40,000 ex-felons regained the right to vote in March, thanks to the Maryland legislature’s override of a veto by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Legislation restored voting rights for those on parole and probation who previously were prevented from voting until completely exiting the criminal justice system.

Grassroots organization Maryland Communities United is working to make sure the potential new voters cast their ballots in this election, member Reginald Smith said.

Smith said the group registered 500 ex-felons to vote in the first month after the bill passed. In three months, 2,000 signed up with Communities United, he said.

“We busted,” Smith said. “We definitely had some crazy, astonishing numbers for voter registration.”

Communities United operates out of Baltimore, where 20,000 of the state’s 44,000 ex-felons reside. But the 2,000 ex-felons registered account for only 10 percent of ex-felons recently declared eligible within the city limits.

Registration doesn’t guarantee people will cast ballots in the presidential election, either. While Smith said he has talked to ex-felons reminding them to vote or encouraging them to register, often he has been met with indifference.

“Those are the ones that would be saying, ‘It doesn’t make a difference if we vote because nothing’s gonna change,’” Smith said. “Those are the ones that I’m telling, ‘If you don’t vote, nothing’s gonna change. That’s why you vote.’

“Those are the ones that I’ve really got my foot on their neck, so to speak, to try to make them register and do something positive.”

A widely-cited study by University of Minnesota professor Christopher Uggen and New York University professor Jeff Manza found that ex-felons who voted in the 1996 election were far less likely to have committed crimes in the following four years.

They suggest that as ex-felons begin voting and participating in the community, “it seems likely that many will bring their behavior into line with the expectations of the citizen role, avoiding further contact with the criminal justice system.”

Across Maryland, 65 percent of the disenfranchised ex-felons are black, while the state’s total black population is 30 percent.

Nationwide, one in 13 African-American adults is barred from voting because he or she is imprisoned, on probation or parole, according to the non-profit criminal justice-focused organization The Sentencing Project.

By Connor Mount and Charlie Wright
Capital News Service

Maryland’s Newest Citizens Vote to Defend Undocumented Immigrants

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Faced with a Republican candidate who threatens to identify and deport all undocumented immigrants on his first day in office, many Maryland Latino voters see the election as an opportunity to send a message from those unable to speak for themselves.

University of Maryland undergraduate student Tatiana Escobar, 20, a naturalized citizen as of Oct. 5, said she feels that it is her duty to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Election Day now that she has the privilege.

“Voting gives people voices,” she told Capital News Service. “Maybe some people don’t see it that way, but I really do think that way and mainly in a presidential election…we need to focus on who we elect as commander-in-chief.”

Latino voters are a growing portion of Maryland’s electorate, and many feel solidarity with undocumented friends and family unable to cast ballots. They feel that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s promise to deport immigrants without proper papers has struck close to home.

“The reality is we all know someone who is undocumented,” said Janet Hernandez, senior civic engagement project manager for Washington-based National Council of La Raza. “When people vote, they’re going to vote with that in mind.”

La Raza’s Action PAC has endorsed Clinton.

If Trump became president and deported all of the undocumented immigrants in the country, Maryland would lose $15.3 billion in economic activity as well as a loss of approximately 73,267 jobs, according to the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based nonprofit organization.

Trump has made building a wall along the United States-Mexico border a centerpiece of his campaign. On the day he announced his candidacy, he said Mexico was “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with (them). They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Nearly 50 percent (420,334 people) of all immigrants in Maryland in 2013 were naturalized citizens with the right to vote, according to the council.

Escobar, who is originally from El Salvador and immigrated to the United States with her mother in 1999, said she always felt like she belonged in this country.

“Being a legal resident honestly has felt the same,” she said. “I have not felt that there was anything that was different. When I became a citizen, at that moment, it felt great to know that you’re finally a citizen after living here for so many years.”

Maryland’s Latino population accounted for 3.9 percent of Maryland voters in the 2012 election, according to U.S. Census data, and is on track to become an increasingly larger factor in elections.

In the 2012 presidential election, 44.6 percent of Hispanics living in Maryland voted, according to U.S. Census data. That’s more than a 10 point increase from the election of 2008, when 34 percent of Maryland Hispanics headed to polls.

On Oct. 17, a Latino Decisions poll found that 76 percent of registered Latino voters said Trump’s pledge to identify and remove up to 6 million undocumented immigrants made them less likely to vote for the Republican candidate.

That’s up 10 percent from the beginning of September, when 66 percent of Latino voters said they were unlikely to support Trump.

“We are hearing that on the ground, people are talking more and more about this hateful rhetoric,” Hernandez said.

Nationwide, Latinos are poised to cast the most lopsided presidential vote in history. Latino Decisions predicts that just 15 percent of Latino voters will support Trump; the lowest fraction of that population to vote for a Republican candidate.

Juan Cortez, 26, a newly registered Latino voter in Washington, said he feels obligated to vote on behalf of undocumented immigrants.

“We are in a position where we can not only cast a vote, but represent folks who want to be placing their votes, but they can’t, because they’re not allowed,” he said.

Cortez plans to vote for Clinton, he said.

Maryland’s undocumented immigrant population has been declining. A Center for Migration Studies paper found that there were 233,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state in 2014, a 2 percent decrease from 2010.

This mirrors national trends. The same paper found that the nation’s total undocumented population has declined every year since 2008, falling below 11 million in 2014 for the first time since 2004.

Thirty-two percent of undocumented immigrants living in Maryland in 2012 were from El Salvador, 12 percent were from Guatemala, and 12 percent were from Mexico, according a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center.

However, undocumented immigrants still will have an impact on the election, said Luis Aguilar, the head of the immigrant advocacy group CASA’s political action committee, CASA in Action, which has endorsed Clinton for president.

“I cannot vote, but I am the one running the program,” said Aguilar, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico under the DREAM Act and is here on a three-year work visa.

Although CASA in Action focuses primarily on the swing state voters in Virginia, many of the volunteers involved are undocumented immigrants from Maryland, Aguilar said.

“I specifically tell them: whether you have documents or not, you are here to influence the election,” Aguilar said. “You have family here, you have communities here.”

Following this election closely, Escobar said she is certain that the Latino community will go out and vote against Trump.

“The way he discriminates isn’t something that we want to see,” she said.

By ELEANOR MUELLER and KIMBERLY ESCOBAR
Capital News Service

(Tatiana Escobar, a person interviewed in this story, is no relation to reporter Kimberly Escobar.)

Maryland Looks to Revise Youth Shackling Policies

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Maryland legislators and juvenile justice advocates are reviewing the state’s policy for placing children in mechanical restraints and studying other states’ laws to form a best practice.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that adults should not be shackled in court to maintain the presumption of innocence, yet 22 states allow children to be restrained in the courtroom.

The mechanical restraints used on children include leg irons and belly chains and can weigh up to 25 pounds, according to the National Juvenile Defender Center. Handcuffs alone are considered a form of shackling.

A resolution from the Maryland Judiciary was adopted in Maryland in September 2015 to prohibit the shackling of children in juvenile court, although the practice was continued until July, when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued an order requiring restraints to be removed from children, said Christina Gilbert, the lead of the Campaign Against Indiscriminate Shackling with the National Juvenile Defender Center.

“In the United States, we treat children in our court system worse than any other industrialized nation,” she said. “Really what we should be doing is promoting well-being and positive outcomes and everything we know about shackling is contrary to those goals.”

Some legislators in Maryland wanted to take the shackling ban a step further during the last session of the General Assembly to completely prohibit the use except in special circumstances. However, the bill was changed to instead establish a task force to further study the effects of shackling and strip searching juveniles.

The task force has conducted several meetings this year and is expected to submit a final report to Gov. Larry Hogan by the end of the year, and create a series of recommendations that would outline possible legislation.
The Maryland Department of Juvenile Services has also said it is open to making changes within the department that wouldn’t require legislation, said Audra Harrison, a spokeswoman.

“The department always seeks to balance the needs of youth with the safety and security of our facilities, youth, staff and our communities,” she wrote in an email. “The department will propose recommendations that can be safely implemented in our facilities that also protect the dignity of the youth in our care.”

Shackling — or placing a person in restraints — is helpful to minimize violence and protect law enforcement officers, said Sue Esty, the legislative director for Maryland’s American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, a union for state workers.

Gang activity and violence pose a threat at many of Maryland’s juvenile detention centers, she said.

“In Annapolis, there’s a lot of issues where we can sit down in a room and work on issues together and it’s not always partisan,” said Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll, a member of the task force. “Sometimes it’s trying to figure out the best public policy.”

The task force is also comparing common practices in other states to those in Maryland.

In 2014, only 10 states had a limit on automatic shackling of children in court, said Gilbert. Now, 28 states — including Maryland — as well as Washington, D.C., have laws that prevent restraints in the courtroom.

However, only Vermont and New York have laws prohibiting shackling children during transportation, which subsequently means children are not shackled in courtrooms either.

Similar policies should be applied to other states, Gilbert told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. The effects of shackling in the courtroom undoubtedly apply to other locations as well, she said.

“We know about the trauma and the mental health harm that shackling causes, and trauma doesn’t stop at the courtroom door,” she said.

While there has been limited research on the psychological impact of shackling a child, some evidence from individual cases could point to several negative effects, said Jennifer Woolard, an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University.

“Adolescents are really attuned to thinking about fairness and so those kinds of things could lead us to wonder and to be concerned about what the impact of shackling might be,” she said.

Woolard — who has been conducting research on juvenile justice issues for more than 20 years — testified at the task force’s Oct. 7 meeting about the importance of considering the psychological differences between children and adults.

“We’re focused on research about the medical and mental health harm and trauma, but also there’s research that we have that shows that shackling impairs communication skills and cognitive ability,” she said.

But removing shackles could pose a safety issue for both employees and other children in detention centers, said Ready, who said he is “firmly against” changing the shackling policies.

“Most of them are 15 to 18 years old and they’ve earned their spot to be there,” he said. “You do need to be sure that you’re protecting the community, you’re protecting the workers that are there and you’re protecting the other young people that are there.”

Shackles do help to limit violence in detention centers, said Esty.

“Restraints are actually very important considering the potential of youth to harm themselves,” she said during the public comment at the task force meeting earlier this month.

Still, Gilbert says the juvenile justice system is “designed to be rehabilitative rather than punishing,” and the idea of shackling goes against that concept.

“I think it’s definitely time that the rest of the country follows suit both in the courtroom and out of the courtroom,” she said.

By Hannah Lang
Capital News Service

Smithsonian’s New African American Museum Gears Up for Schools

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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

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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