Trump’s Defense Plan Would have Mixed Impact on Maryland

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President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 federal budget could be a boost to Maryland’s sprawling defense industry but negatively affect the state’s economy in other areas, according to analysts.

The administration’s so-called “skinny budget,” unveiled in March, seeks to increase national defense spending by $54 billion.

Almost any increase would have a ripple effect in Maryland, which ranked fourth among states in defense spending at $20.5 billion in 2015, according to a Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment study.

However, as envisioned by the White House, any increase in the defense budget would be offset by cuts to many other critical programs in the state.

“What matters for Maryland is the overall federal budget,” Benjamin Orr, executive director of the Baltimore-based Maryland Center on Economic Policy, told Capital News Service.

“Increased defense spending means cuts to many other agencies, according to Trump’s plan,” said Orr, noting that the increase would be relatively small compared to the entire defense budget.

The U.S. spent $604.5 billion on defense last year, more than the next 13 highest-spending countries combined, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Many Democratic members of Congress, including those from Maryland, have opposed Trump’s plan because of proposed cuts to the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and numerous health and science agencies.

“The president’s ideas for building up our military at the expense of diplomacy and development, as well as research and development programs, will not make Americans safer,” Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said in a statement to CNS. “We may need to spend more on defense, but sacrificing domestic programs to pay for more warplanes and battleships only degrade our nation economically and socially.”

Cardin also said he does not see how Trump’s budget proposal benefits Maryland.

“Maryland has a strong base of military facilities, but the work done at most Maryland military installations (is) reliant on research and development funding,” the senator said. “Increases in overall defense spending towards personnel and ship procurement would not benefit Maryland and could potentially further strain and reduce additional research and development work in our state.”

Maryland’s military industry accounted for almost 20 percent of the state’s economy in 2012, according to the most recent study by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

“There are about 145,000 employees on Maryland military installations, both uniformed and civilian employees,” Mike Hayes, managing director of military and federal affairs at the Maryland Department of Commerce, said in an interview with CNS.

Hayes estimated that Maryland’s defense industry contributes around $60 billion in economic output and has created more than 400,000 jobs for the state. He noted that Fort George G. Meade, the state’s largest employer, is responsible for about half of this economic impact.

“Typically, the state of Maryland is in the top five or six in defense spending nationally,” Hayes said.

However, until a defense budget is passed, Hayes said, it was “too early” to determine the potential impact on Maryland.

“I don’t think Maryland will suffer any particular losses, nor do I see any significant gains for the defense industry,” Hayes said.

Despite Trump touting his proposed defense spending increase as “historic,” Hayes noted that it did not represent a significant increase from President Barack Obama’s budget proposals.

“Trump has made sweeping statements but offered no specifics to his defense budget,” Hayes said.

The extent of the defense increase in Maryland depends on how much of Trump’s proposal, which he called “a public safety and national security budget,” survives deliberations in Congress.

Some clues may be found in the recent deal on fiscal 2017 spending, which is expected to be voted on by the House and Senate this week. The accord includes defense spending increases Trump and congressional Republicans wanted, but also includes $5 billion in new funding of numerous domestic programs that congressional Democrats secured.

The budget negotiations revealed rifts among GOP lawmakers that, according to some congressional observers, gives Democrats power over future spending plans.

If a budget similar to Trump’s 2018 proposal passed, Orr said the net economic effect on Maryland would be “very bad.”

“Cuts made to the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and programs that help children and families will drastically outweigh the benefits of a small increase in defense spending,” Orr said.

While many Maryland politicians have spoken out against Trump’s budget proposal in general, there seems to be some support for increased defense spending.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, “supports increasing resources for our Armed Forces,” spokeswoman Jaime Lennon said in a statement.

She said the congressman thinks a spending hike is “necessary if we are going to address major gaps in troop readiness, research and development and modernization caused by years of sequestration and band-aid budgets.”

“Congress has already told our military leaders to grow their standing forces as we look ahead to challenges including Russia, ISIS and Iran. Now we need to provide them with the funding to do so,” Lennon said.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, Ruppersberger’s colleague on the House Appropriations Committee, also supports enhancing the military.

“It is imperative that Congress provides the military with the resources it requires to keep American citizens safe…I support increased defense spending,” Harris said in a statement to CNS. “The state of Maryland is home to various government agencies and private businesses engaged in defense activities, and will benefit from increased defense spending.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., supports investments in the military but doesn’t think Trump’s budget proposal adequately meets domestic needs.

“Our budgets should also address other vital national priorities like expanding economic and educational opportunities, and keeping our commitments to America’s veterans and seniors,” Van Hollen said in a statement to CNS. “Unfortunately, the Trump budget fails to reflect that balance. I look forward to working on a bipartisan basis to pass a new budget plan that addresses all our national priorities.”

While Trump has support to hike military spending, many observers think Congress will balk at the size of the increase the president envisions.

“An increase that high won’t likely pass because there will be trouble reaching a bipartisan budget,” Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNS.

“Many conservatives want to increase defense spending,” Harrison added. “Democrats want higher defense spending but refuse to make the necessary cuts to the State Department…In all likelihood, the (defense spending) increase will be much less than Trump’s proposal.”

The specific impact of a spending increase on Maryland’s defense contractors, military installations and economy will not become clear until after the 2018 budget is put into final form months from now.

By Nate Harold

Analysis shows Range of Impacts Due to MD Comptroller Error

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An analysis of the Maryland comptroller’s misallocations to municipalities over several years shows that some areas were far more severely affected, relative to their annual expenditures, than others.

The Maryland comptroller’s office revealed in 2016 that it had misallocated millions of dollars of tax revenue when distributing that revenue to Maryland’s municipalities.

 

Between 2010 and 2014, some municipalities received more money than they should have while others received less. The total amount of money gained or lost by each municipality ranged from a few thousand dollars to several million.

For most municipalities, this error accounted for less than 3 percent of their budget each year.

However, a few municipalities gained or lost funds that were quite substantial, relative to their average annual budgets, a Capital News Service analysis found. This chart shows the 20 municipalities that gained or lost the most due to the misallocation, relative to their average annual budget between 2010 and 2014.

By Jacob Taylor

Maryland Could Host the Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm

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The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.

The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.

The approval of just one farm would put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Communications Director Tori Leonard.

Maryland is required to produced a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.

Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is approved and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.

The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.

“For less than a cup of coffee (per month for homeowners), we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.

If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with US Wind’s being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.

The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the 2017 General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.

Those who support Maryland offshore wind believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.

Opponents are concerned about the costs, and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.

“I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this,” Lewis said earlier this month. “I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air.”

On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.

The US Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.

“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing US Wind project.

Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” Plummer said.

The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.

The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.

The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.

There are reportedly about 2 million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.

While the US Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.

Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the US Wind project to be moved five miles further from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.

Lars Thaaning, the co-CEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.

Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market (for offshore wind in America) if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.

The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville, Maryland, resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.

Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.

“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.

Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.

“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just (receive) the benefits?”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.

“I believe we should more forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “…We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”

Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.

James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable (states) in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.

“Maryland can be a central hub,” he said, during his March 30 testimony.

Morgan Folger, an environment and health fellow for Environment Maryland, testified March 30 that she believed the United States as a whole was behind the curve when it comes to wind energy and that Maryland should take the steps to expand the industry in the country.

“We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water,” Folger said. “We’re all equally impacted by the pollution.”

Leonard confirmed the last date for the commission to decide to approve one or both projects is May 17.

By Cara Newcomer

Opioid and Heroin Overdoses Have Reached ‘Crisis Level’ In Maryland

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When Carin Miller’s son was about 19 years old, he began to abuse heroin by snorting pills, eventually moving on to shooting up. This went on for six years before he got help.

Lucas Miller’s history of drug use started in high school with smoking marijuana. When he moved out of his parents’ house, one of his housemates had access to between 750 to 1,500 pills at any given time between five houses located in Frederick, Maryland.

“My son was addicted to heroin, he’s in recovery by the grace of God since Thanksgiving 2014, I think that’s where we are at,” Miller said.

Opioid overdoses now rank with cancer, strokes and heart attacks among the top killers in Maryland.

State and federal lawmakers have passed legislation aimed at addressing the crisis, although they and public health experts agree the battle will be long.

On April 10, the Maryland General Assembly passed several bills to address this ongoing statewide crisis. The Start Talking Maryland Act, HB1082, and the HOPE Act, HB1329, were both passed.

The HOPE Act would increase access to naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug and would require hospitals to establish a new protocol when discharging patients treated for substance abuse disorders. It also introduced Keep the Door Open, a provision that provides three years of funding to reimburse community health providers. The act also requires the Behavioral Health Administration to establish a crisis treatment center before June 2018.

The Start Talking Maryland Act would require schools to have defined education programs on opioid addiction.

Other opioid related bills passed by the General Assembly were HB1432, which places a restriction on the number of opioid painkillers a doctor can prescribe to a patient per visit, and SB539, a bill that sets new penalties for distributing fentanyl.

The opioid-related legislation have been sent to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his signature. The governor has until May 30 to either sign or veto the 900 bills passed by the General Assembly; otherwise they automatically become law.

On March 1, Hogan signed an executive order, declaring a state of emergency in response to the heroin, opioids and fentanyl crisis “ravaging communities in Maryland and across the country.”

“We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency,” Hogan said in a statement. “This is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

The final numbers for 2016 are expected to show that approximately 2,000 people died from heroin and other opioid overdoses in the state over the last year, about double the number of deaths in 2015.

Additionally, drug overdose deaths rose by 19.2 percent from 2013 to 2014 in Maryland, according to a press release from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“There’s no question, no question there has been a spike in opioid overdoses,” Cardin said in an interview with Capital News Service. “Let me indicate the numbers in Maryland are shocking as we are seeing the doubling and tripling over the last couple of years, but the Maryland numbers are typical to what we see all over the country.”

Both Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen backed passage of the 21st Century Cures Act and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015 (CARA). Van Hollen was a cosponsor for the 21st Century Cures Act.

“The opioid addiction epidemic is having a devastating impact on communities in Maryland and across the country,” Van Hollen said in a statement for Capital News Service. “I fought to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which helps states expand programs to treat those suffering from addiction, but we must do much more to prevent substance abuse and to get help to those who need it.”

The 21st Century Cures Act was signed by President Barack Obama in December. It will provide $1 billion over two years for state grants to support opioid abuse prevention and treatment activities. CARA, a bipartisan bill, was signed into law by Obama last July. CARA assists drug-dependent newborns and their parents.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services has just awarded Maryland a $10 million grant under the 21st Century Cures Act.

“These grants are a small but encouraging step toward addressing the opioid crisis,” Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, said in a statement. He was among those who pressed for the funds in the law. “But to make real progress in our effort to combat the epidemic, it’s the responsibility of Congress to provide additional resources to programs, families and communities in Maryland and across America that are working day in and day out to end the crisis.”

Van Hollen said there is more to be done with the crisis, including “protecting the significant investments made by the Affordable Care Act, and ensuring institutions like the National Institute for Drug Abuse at NIH in Maryland and others across the country have the resources necessary to carry out their critical missions.”

On March 29, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a presidential commission designed to combat opioid addiction and the opioid crisis nationwide. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is leading the commission.

A main reason for the doubling of overdoses for Maryland has been a new street drug, fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that dealers are increasingly blending into regular heroin and selling cheaply.

Fentanyl is coming to the United States from China, and that needs to be stopped, Cardin said. The senator added that there also is work to be done with Mexico to stop heroin from flowing from that country.

“We’ve seen an abuse of using these drugs for pain and an abuse of people selling these drugs on the street and getting people addicted,” Cardin said. “There are things we can do to dry up the supply and help people who have addiction and health issues.”

In response to the rise in drug-related deaths, Hogan announced on March 1 that he has budgeted an additional $10 million per year to combat overdoses over the next five years.

Miller said Hogan’s action would help, but more money is needed from the federal government.

Miller is no stranger to opioid abuse as well. She said her husband, Greg Miller, had been abusing opioids since the late 1990s after he was hit by a drunk driver and had an additional, separate accident at work.

It reached a point where her husband’s withdrawals were so terrible that he almost died after being denied narcotics prescriptions at Frederick Memorial Hospital six years ago, Miller said.

“I was trying to get my husband off the pills, never thinking that my own kids would go on them after they saw the hell that I was put through,” Miller said.

Three years ago, Miller co-founded Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates (MHAA), a grassroots organization in Frederick. It was founded “out of necessity,” by a group of women from Frederick in order to save their children from the opioid and heroin epidemic, Miller said.

“We have all been affected in some way, a lot of my colleagues have lost their children to overdoses,” said Miller, who is the president of MHAA.

Miller noted that there is not enough education about these drugs in schools. While one of her colleagues is invited into middle and high schools in Carroll County to give presentations, MHAA is “just nipping the bud” at giving presentations in Frederick County, Miller said.

Frederick County is a 40,000-student district with 10 high schools.

“We really give the principals the autonomy to address any issue in their community,” said Mike Maroke, Frederick County Public Schools deputy superintendent. “They determine if this is something be address or not.”

If the Start Talking Maryland Act is signed by Hogan, it would require schools to have opioid education programs, possibly through presentations such as MHAA’s.

After one presentation at a school, Miller handed out index cards to the students, ranging from seventh to twelfth grades, and asked for their feedback. She recalled what happened next: “One little girl came up to me and handed me her card and it said ‘Thank you for coming out and telling us about drugs because I wouldn’t want to lose any friends because my dad died a couple of months ago from a heroin overdose.’”

 

by Jess Nocera

 

Lawmakers Override Hogan’s Protect Our Schools Act Veto

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Maryland lawmakers voted Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would specify which measures could be considered when determining a school’s quality, prohibiting student testing from being one of them.

The bill restricts the state’s ability to intervene in failing schools, which opponents worry is intended to limit the creation of charter schools and voucher systems.

The House of Delegates passed the override of the governor’s veto 90-50, and the Senate passed it the same day, 32-15.

Hogan, a Republican, vetoed House Bill 978, known as the Protect Our Schools Act of 2017, Wednesday, saying the bill weakens school accountability, according to a release from the governor’s office. In the press release, Hogan urged legislators to put aside politics and sustain the veto.

The Maryland State Board of Education and the Maryland State Department of Education have sided with the governor in opposition to this bill, according to the release.

Thursday morning, advocates for the bill gathered at a rally to call for an override. Those present included representative from the Maryland State Education Association, the Maryland Parent Teacher Association and some lawmakers.

The bill would help accommodate the needs of the students and allow parents to be involved in the process, Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “We need to do more to end disparities (in education) … we cannot do that giving control to the state,” Washington said.

Bill Sponsor Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, acknowledged the common goal that both sides of the argument shared. “I’m glad we can agree every kid deserves a good education,” Luedtke said on the floor.

Although the State Board of Education opposes the bill, people who are involved in the everyday lives of children, like teachers and parents, support the bill, according to Luedtke.

Multiple delegates opposed to the bill referred to it as a “status quo” initiative on the floor, saying the bill will not bring any noticeable change that would benefit students.

Delegate Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, the House minority leader, said on the floor that this bill is not complicated.

“It traps students in failing schools and lessens accountability in the bureaucracy in education,” he said. Kipke made a point to say the legislation is regressive and takes tools away from the state.

Since both chambers voted to override the governor’s veto, the bill will become law July 1.

By Cara Newcomer

Ecosystem: Lawmakers Blast Trump Budget that would Cut Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

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Lawmakers from states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday expressed bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s proposal to end federal support for cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.

“The president’s budget that would zero out the Chesapeake Bay Program is outrageous,” Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said at a Capitol Hill meeting with members of the Choose Clean Water Coalition. “It’s dead on arrival.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said cutting investments for the bay clean up will not help the economy.

“Our Chesapeake Bay is an economic engine and the cleaner it is the more it produces economically,” he said.

The nonprofit coalition hosted its fifth annual lobbying day, centered around saving the federally funded Chesapeake Bay Program after Trump last month proposed a “skinny budget” that would eliminate the $73 million bay restoration project.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides the program with monetary support to restore the bay’s ecosystem and reduce pollution.

Started in 1983, the program is conducted under a six-state partnership with Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and the District of Columbia.

Advocates from each state attended the meeting with lawmakers.

“We know how important the Chesapeake Bay is for the entire region,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. “We are going to fight harder and harder and harder.”

Ruppersberger said the bay generates more than $1 trillion annually and the restoration of oysters, tributaries and streams is a project that needs to be continued.

The bay is a source of drinking water for 75 percent of the region’s 17 million residents, according to the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

The Chesapeake also is the largest estuary in the United States serving as a place for recreational water activities, as well as a workplace for the commercial fishing and crabbing industry.

Made up of 225 local, state, and national groups, the Choose Clean Water Coalition has been advocating for a healthy Chesapeake watershed since 2009.

“The Coalition will work to continue to push back on the president’s proposed budget, and secure the essential funding that is necessary to return clean water to the Chesapeake Bay,” coalition spokeswoman Kristin Reilly said in a statement Wednesday.

Members of the House and Senate said they were pleased to have bipartisan support for clean water.

“The Chesapeake Bay is the perfect thing to come together around and serve energetically,” said Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, last year’s Democratic vice presidential nominee.

He said everyone has to work together to make sure checks and balances are implemented.

“We have an EPA administrator who doesn’t accept science. If you don’t accept climate science, it’s a fair question to ask if you accept science,” Kaine said, referring to Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA.

Trump signed an executive order last week to shut down the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a program aimed at reducing climate change by cutting carbon emissions from power plants.

“We are faced with a tough budget battle, but an attitude from the EPA that says we can ignore science,” Kaine said.

The bay is a valuable natural resource and if Trump wants more jobs, then he should work to rehabilitate the bay, Wittman said.

The congressman said he was deeply concerned about Trump’s budget plan and wrote a letter to the administration asking to restore resources to the bay.

Wittman wants more money to help revitalize wetlands.

“Our wetlands are the nursery for everything that lives in those ecosystems…mother nature is the sponge that absorbs what man puts in it,” he said.

By Briana Thomas

Annapolis: Maryland Could Expand Options to Treat Addiction Remotely

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A bill that could expand telemedicine to include counseling for substance abuse disorders, which could help thwart the ballooning heroin-opioid epidemic in the state, is advancing in the Maryland General Assembly.

Telemedicine, or the use of virtual tools like video chats to provide health care services, has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2015, about 15 million Americans used telemedicine, a 50 percent increase from 2013, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

Although some health insurance providers do offer telemedicine for the treatment of substance abuse disorder, the bill, sponsored by Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, would ensure that this would include counseling for addiction treatment.

“Counseling is a critical component of the recovery process, and works hand in hand with medication-assisted treatment,” wrote the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland in testimony in support of the bill. “This bill would help ensure the most efficient use of clinicians who are paneled with commercial (health insurance) carriers by allowing them to deliver counseling services through telehealth.”

There has been a growing push for the the adoption of telemedicine for the treatment of substance abuse disorders, said Yngvild Olsen, the director of a Baltimore outpatient substance use disorder treatment program.

However, some Medicaid regulations have hindered reimbursement of telemedicine for substance-abuse counseling services, Olsen said, adding that if regulations are clarified, Maryland could begin seeing a more widespread adoption of the treatment method.

“This is something that there is a significant amount of interest in because of the lack of behavioral health counseling and other behavioral health services in many areas of the state,” Olsen told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

Opioid-related deaths in Maryland have doubled from 529 in 2011 to 1,089 in 2015, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Pockets in the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland have had trouble attracting enough health care providers to treat the problem there, Olsen said.

Moreover, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has designated parts of Baltimore City and all of Harford County as areas where there is a shortage of health professionals, specifically for mental health.

Although other states have begun adopting a more widespread use of telemedicine for opioid-heroin substance abuse treatment, Maryland has only a few pockets where these services are available, Olsen said.

The first telemedicine program to treat addiction in Maryland started with a partnership between the University of Maryland Medical Center and the Wells House, a Hagerstown, Maryland, drug treatment program.

After one of the Wells House’s doctors retired, the staff were looking for a solution to keep up with the “ever-increasing” demand, said Paul Smith, the telemedicine program coordinator.

So they enlisted the help of University of Maryland Medical Center doctors who remotely meet with patients and prescribe them medication to treat their addictions by video chatting through their television screens, Smith said.

“It’s so versatile,” Smith said. “They can literally plug in here in a matter of seconds.”

Wells House prescribes medication for about 30 to 35 patients per week using this technology on average, Smith said. Since the program’s launch in 2015, the University of Maryland Medical Center has expanded its partnerships to include the Garrett County Health Department to offer similar services there, he added.

Recent studies have shown that telemedicine can be an effective way to treat substance-abuse disorders.

West Virginia University physicians recently conducted a study to determine whether telemedicine could provide similar outcomes as in-person treatment for patients in medication-assisted treatment programs.

Doctors remotely met with 46 patients in 30-minute group sessions to prescribe them buprenorphine, an opioid medication, by videoconferencing, and met with 54 patients face-to-face. Both groups followed these sessions with an in-person hour-long therapy group.

In the telemedicine group, 49 percent achieved 90 consecutive days of abstinence, compared with 37 percent in the in-person group.

Wanhong Zheng, a doctor who worked on the project, said expanding programs like these could be especially helpful for those with substance abuse disorders living in rural areas, where some patients have to drive up to five hours once a week just to go to a clinic.

This lack of treatment availability, one of the many challenges those hoping to treat an opioid addiction face, can be overcome by expanding telemedicine programs, Zheng said.

Maryland’s House of Delegates passed the bill and the state Senate is planning to hold a hearing on it April 4.

By Natalie Schwartz

Maryland Democrats Redistricting Reform Hinges on Five other States

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Democrats in the Maryland legislature are advancing a bill that would create an independent commission to redraw the state’s congressional districts, but only if five other mid-Atlantic states implement similar reforms by the end of 2032. 
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan proposed reforms that, if passed in a referendum, would take away lawmakers’ power to create districts. 
 
Redistricting and its ugly cousin, gerrymandering, are emerging as major nationwide issues, and reform efforts have the potential to fundamentally reorder politics in several state governments as well as the U.S. House of Representatives.  
 
The Democrats’ plan creates an independent commission to draw legislative districts if five other states — New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina — do the same by 2032. They would all have to pass reforms by the end of 2020 for the bill to affect the next redistricting process, which will be based on the results of the 2020 census.
 
Hogan’s plan would have added a referendum on a constitutional amendment to the next general election ballot. If passed by voters, the amendment would have stripped the General Assembly of its power to draw congressional districts and replaced the process with an independent commission. Democrats defeated the governor’s plan in committee. 
 
One of the major obstacles to independent redistricting, in Maryland and elsewhere, is the fear that leveling the playing field at the state level will put one national party at a disadvantage against still-gerrymandered states where the opposition party is in control. 
 
The five states mentioned in the Democrats’ bill and Maryland currently send a total of 45 Republicans and 44 Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives. 
 
State Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery, the lead sponsor of the Democrats’ bill, acknowledged that this nearly even split makes it less likely that reform will give either party an immediate advantage at the national level. The dominant party in those states would surrender the advantage that partisan redistricting gives them in exchange for neutralizing that advantage in another state where their party is in the minority.
 
Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that regional compacts, such as the one proposed by Democrats, are unlikely to succeed. 
 
Outside of a Supreme Court ruling that finds gerrymandering unconstitutional, Eberly said, the most likely source of national redistricting reform might be Republicans in Congress. If Republicans lose state legislatures and governorships in the 2018 and 2020 elections, the last elections before the next census, they may lose control of redistricting in the affected states. 
 
If the losses are big enough, Eberly suggested, Congressional Republicans might be motivated to reform redistricting to prevent Democrats from solidifying their victories through gerrymandering.
 
The Supreme Court has acknowledged in principle that partisan gerrymandering could be so extreme in certain cases that it might violate the equal representation clause of the Constitution. The problem is that the Court has yet to find a reliable test to determine how much gerrymandering is too much. 
 
In 2016, Wisconsin’s state assembly maps were ruled unconstitutionally gerrymandered by a federal district court. The case relies on the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, where Democrats won the majority of the statewide general assembly vote, but Republicans still won 60 of the 99 seats in the assembly. That case has been appealed and is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court in 2017. 
 
Widespread redistricting reform, whether through interstate compacts like the one proposed in Maryland or a ruling from the Supreme Court, has the potential to massively reshape American politics. 
 
Excluding vacancies, Democrats currently hold about 45 percent of the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, against the 55 percent held by Republicans. Though difficult to quantify, some of the Republican lead is likely due to the party’s superior strength at the state level, which has allowed it to create favorable congressional district maps in more states, containing more total representatives, than the Democratic Party. 
 
In recent decades, Democrats and Republicans have fallen into a reliable cycle of power. With a unified Republican government in Washington, the question is not whether Democrats will take back control, but when. A sudden shift to non-partisan redistricting would likely narrow the gap between Democrats and Republicans in the House, potentially hastening the return to Democratic power. 
 
That is likely one of the reasons why Barack Obama has reportedly decided to pursue redistricting reform as part of his post-presidency agenda. As president, Obama presided over historic losses for his party at the state level and in Congress. Independent redistricting might offer something of a moon-shot to recover from those losses far faster than the usual cycle of political power would allow. 
By Jacob Taylor

Annapolis: Senate Democrats Push Bills in Time to Override Hogan Vetoes

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Democrats in the Maryland Senate on Tuesday passed several pieces of legislation that are largely opposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, most notably a bill that would regulate the parameters for school evaluations and another that would require the state to fund Planned Parenthood should federal funding for that program be lost.

In addition to the Democrats’ package of legislation, both the House and Senate passed the state’s operating budget for the 2018 fiscal year on Tuesday.

The fiscal legislation passed after Hogan, a Republican, agreed to include $23 million for Baltimore City Public Schools in a supplemental budget. The funding for public schools had been a point of conflict in the budget negotiations.

This year’s budget process reportedly went significantly smoother than it did in the past two legislative sessions. The final budget checks in at $43.5 billion and leaves $144 million unappropriated to deposit into the state’s rainy day fund.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said, “I really felt this year for the first time that (Hogan’s) staff worked a lot (and) were more hands on in terms of working with the budget committees; that makes it a lot easier.”

The Senate on Tuesday also took up legislation that the governor has signalled he is likely to veto. With the end of the session approaching, Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Maryland Legislature, needed to pass the bills soon to ensure enough time to override any vetoes during this session.

On Tuesday, Democrats passed the school-evaluation bill; the Planned Parenthood contingency funding; and a bill to preserve sanctuary oyster beds until December 2018. All three pieces of legislation passed largely on party lines.

Another significant piece of legislation, a resolution that would authorize the state’s attorney general to pursue cases against the federal government on a wide range of issues, was delayed to Wednesday. The resolution is widely seen as an effort to challenge policies coming out of the Trump Administration.

With control of Congress and the White House, Republicans have their best chance in years of cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Maryland Democrats in the Senate passed a House bill Tuesday that would require the state make up the potential federal funding loss.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2017 proposed in Congress, aims to remove to Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.’s access to federal funds for one year.

Hogan’s current budget includes $9.9 million for the Title X Family Planning Program, according to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis. The designated funds include $6 million in general funds, which satisfies the federal maintenance of effort requirement, and $3.9 million in anticipated federal funds, according to the analysis.

The bill would require the state to make up the $3.9 million lost from federal funding to its best ability, taking into consideration the limitations of the budget, according to the analysis.

The Title X Family Planning Program serves approximately 71,000 Maryland women at more than 75 clinical sites, according to the department’s analysis.

Sen. Gail Bates, R-Carroll and Howard, urged for transparency in the bill with an amendment to require the company to provide a report that breaks down the types of services that are provided. She argued that the report might even provide “comfort” if it confirms that abortions are a minimal percentage of the services Planned Parenthood provides. The proposed amendment failed.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said this information can be found in a Medicaid report. Madaleno also made a point to specify that this bill does not fund abortions, but gives funds to allow Planned Parenthood to continue providing other women’s health services.

Another measure, the Protect Our Schools Act of 2017, would set standards for the plan to improve student outcomes that the state submits to the U.S. Department of Education. The sticking point for lawmakers is that the bill may not sufficiently weigh academic achievement when assessing schools, in which case the state could lose nearly $250 million in federal funding. Furthermore, the bill restricts the state’s ability to intervene in failing schools, which opponents worry is intended to limit the creation of charter schools and voucher systems.

The bill specifies which measures could be considered when determining a school’s quality, prohibiting student testing from being one of them.

Republicans opposed the bill largely on the grounds that it undermines school choice and makes it more difficult for students in struggling schools to get an effective education.

Several Republicans expressed concern that the bill would prevent the state from improving struggling schools for several years. Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford, attempted a filibuster, but the Democratic majority limited debate after about 15 minutes.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, defended the bill, saying emphatically that it “does not remove charter schools” and that it only prevents the state board of education from approving charter schools without local input. However, he also said that part of the motivation for the bill is a concern that some leaders in the state department of education want to privatize schools, introduce vouchers, and “destroy our public school system.”

The state’s Department of Education could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sen. Steven Hershey, R- Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s, described the bill as part of a “battle between the school board and the teachers’ union” and said he was “not convinced that this entire body knows what it’s doing.” He proposed an amendment that would have delayed the effects of the bill until five other specific states with highly ranked education systems come forward with similar plans; the amendment was rejected.

Madaleno insisted “we are not rushing this bill,” that “this is not a partisan issue, this is not about who is president or who is governor,” and that “this is our one chance to in fact be a national leader to set up the most comprehensive set of standards to determine how schools succeed and how they don’t.”

Baltimore City schools were repeatedly cited as examples of places where students would benefit from being able to move out of struggling public schools and into charter schools or, through a voucher, pay down the cost of a private school.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, defended the Baltimore public school system, saying that “they may not have succeeded to the extent that some would like to see but our efforts are strong.”

In a statement, Hogan said he believes “very strongly that every child in Maryland deserves a great education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in” and that “this legislation would make that nearly impossible.” The governor has said he will veto the bill.

By Jacob Taylor and Cara Newcomer

–Capital News Service correspondent Jake Brodsky contributed to this report.