Kent Democrats to Hear Watermen’s Role in the Chesapeake Environment

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The Democratic Club of Kent County invites residents to its monthly meeting, Thursday, June 15, in a new location — Waterman’s Restaurant, 21055 E. Sharp St. in Rock Hall.

According to a news release, attendees will hear from a representative of the Maryland Waterman’s Association about the group’s work in Annapolis to balance environmental responsibility with the needs of Maryland’s watermen.

Ron Fithian, Rock Hall Town Manager and Kent County Commissioner, will make opening remarks on this important and historic Maryland profession.

Doors open 5:30 p.m. for a meal, with a brief business meeting at 6:45 and the main program starting at 7 p.m.

League of Women Voters of Maryland to hold 2017 Convention in Chestertown

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The League of Women Voters of Kent County will host the 2017 League of Women Voters of Maryland Annual State Convention at Washington College June 9th -June 11th 2017. League members will participate in a variety of workshops and meetings designed to help local Leagues provide services to their communities and to set the agenda and goals for the coming year.  William Pickrum, President of the Kent County Commission, will welcome convention participants.  Shelia Bair, President of Washington College, will present the Keynote Address “Ban the Debt: Rebuild the Middle Class; Winning at the Game of Loans” for the Saturday evening banquet.  Convention attendees will also have the opportunity to go on a Sunset Cruise on the Chester River Packet, enjoy a waterside picnic on the bay and sample the many offerings of the National Music Festival.

League of Women Voters – Making Democracy Work

For more information, see The League of Women Voters of Kent County website  and FaceBook page.   The League of Women Voters of Maryland website

Allison Galbraith Announces for Congress

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Allison Galbraith is running for Congress.

Allison Galbraith

A small business owner and single mother from Harford County, Galbraith threw her hat into the ring on May 12 as a Democratic challenger for Rep. Andy Harris’s First District seat. Following the official campaign kickoff in Bel Air, she traveled to Chestertown and Salisbury to begin building a base of supporters on the Eastern Shore.

Galbraith’s Chestertown stop was at the Book Plate bookstore. About 20 attended, and the candidate, instead of giving a stump speech, engaged in a lively 40-minute question-and-answer session.

Tom Martin, owner of the store, opened the session by asking Galbraith about her background.

Galbraith said she is the daughter of two college professors. A University of Maryland graduate, she is “amicably separated” from her husband, a military veteran, and has a nine-year-old son and a stepson. She said her business specializes in program management and streamlining projects for the Department of Defense and in consulting with industries bidding on federal contracts involving medical technology that often ends up in civilian applications.

Asked why she is seeking the congressional seat, Galbraith said, “I think we need the perspective of the people in Congress.” The money it takes to run, and the sacrifices it takes to run are a deterrent to “everyday people” who might seek office, she said. “Right now, everything in our lives is under attack; we don’t know what’s going to be taken from us.”

She said her business was made possible by her ability to purchase private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Gender-based criteria such as having had a C-section were considered pre-existing conditions, making the rates unaffordable for her before the ACA. “If they’re going to take my health insurance and they’re going to take my business, I’m going down fighting,” she said. “And it’s not just for me, it’s for every one of us who isn’t adequately represented in Congress. Our voices are not heard, especially with Andy Harris,” who she said votes for the interests of his financial supporters “on the backs of working Americans.”

“I’m one of the working Americans,” Galbraith said. “Aren’t you sick of being trampled on by the  Republicans in government?”

Galbraith said she had spent considerable time traveling throughout the First District even before launching her campaign, “and I don’t intend to stop.” She said candidates from both parts of the district, the Eastern Shore and the Western Shore, tend to neglect the other half of the district, “and it’s not doing any of us any good.” She said she planned to visit each county “at least quarterly,” and that she would be available through social media and texting. “I have a lot of energy, I can run around the district and put 20,000 miles on my car. We deserve that from our reps, right?”

In terms of strategy, she said the Democrats need to flip about 45,000 votes to take back the district. To do so, she said she would probably fight for progressive values using “more conservative framing” of the issues. “If there were a party of critical thinking, that’s what I’d run as,” she said, but she places great importance of issues of personal rights and individual freedoms.

Other questions went into specifics including gun control (“responsible gun ownership is not a threat”), health care (“the health care system will never work out for us as long as they’re profiting by denying us care”), infrastructure (“we’re one of the richest states in the country, and there are parts of this district that don’t even have reliable internet access”), and public education (“if we care about the future, we need to care about education and preparing people for their future.”) Her answers were detailed and energetic, often drawing on personal experience.

A telling moment came when an audience member challenged her to respond to what he said would be the Republican characterization of her as “a tax-and-spend liberal” who doesn’t care about fiscal responsibility. “I have a proven record of saving millions of dollars a year for the federal government,” she said. “In terms of fiscal responsibility, I have a one-up on (Harris) because I actually save the government money.”

At the end of the visit, Galbraith’s campaign manager said her website, allisonforcongress.com, gives her positions on a range of issues. Also, anyone interested can sign up on the site for notifications of events near them, he said. He said she plans to have a series of small, informal meetings to allow people to meet her and discuss issues with her in a living-room type setting. If her appearance at the Book Plate is any sample, they would appear to be well worth attending.

Rep. Andy Harris Working to Defund NPR

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Current Magazine, a division of American University School of Communication, is reporting that Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who railed against public media content during a House subcommittee meeting in March, wants Congress to defund NPR and the Independent Television Service.

During CPB President Pat Harrison’s testimony on public media’s federal funding request, Harris accused CPB of pushing an “agenda” with ITVS films such as The New Black, a documentary about the African-American community’s debate over gay marriage. Admitting he had not seen the films, Harris also cited Kumu Hina, focusing on a Hawaiian transgender woman, and Baby Mama High, about a pregnant teenager. All of the films he mentioned were funded by ITVS and aired on Independent Lens, PBS’s documentary showcase.

Read the full story (warning paywall exists) here.

 

 

 

Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland to Speak on “Democracy at a Crossroads”

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Democracy at a Crossroads: What’s Broken, and Hope for Reform

On Thursday, May 18, Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland, will speak about the core issues triggering the dysfunction in Congress and the reforms that Common Cause is advancing to fight back.  Issues will include money in politics, voting rights, and redistricting reform – with a focus on the state and local policies that can restore equality in our system.  The program will include a review of actions taken (or not taken) on these issues by the 2017 Maryland General Assembly.  Sponsored by the Democratic Club of Kent County.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director, Common Cause of Maryland

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel has been with Common Cause of Maryland since 2013.  According to the organization’s websiteJennifer has spearheaded several significant reforms, including establishing the first local public funding program in the state, modernizing the state’s public information laws, and advancing key voting reforms.

“Jennifer came to Common Cause with a strong background in advocacy at the state and local levels, having worked for 1000 Friends of Maryland and other environmental organizations on a variety of land use and clean water reforms.

“She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland School of Law.”

The meeting takes place at O’Connor’s Pub, 844 High St., Chestertown.  Doors open 5:30 pm for social time, meal — brief business meeting 6:45 — main program 7:00 pm

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

Annapolis: Generic Drug Price Gouging could be Penalized In Bill Sent to Hogan

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A prohibition on generic drug price gouging now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for signature after the House concurred in Senate amendments Monday morning.

The House voted 137-2 for the bill, HB631, and the Senate approved it on Friday 38-7 with a handful of Republicans joining the Democratic majority. All but a few GOP delegates supported the measure.

The legislation would be the first of its kind in the country to hold drug makers accountable for drastic spikes in prices that can’t be justified. Under the new law, the state Medicaid program will notify the attorney general of a spike in drug prices, who can seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

“Generic prescription drugs prices have been like the ‘wild’ west for many Americans” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, moments before Friday’s vote. “There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Attorney General Brian Frosh, who will protect Marylanders from price gouging, and this will also allow future AG’s to protect Marylanders.”

“Frosh will be able to take legal action to stop unconscionable price increases that hurt people without justification when there’s no competition in the market,” DeMarco said.

Subjective judgment

In floor debate Friday, Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, said the proper way to deal with price controls would be to set up a commission rather than allow the attorney general to make a “subjective” determination on what constitutes price gouging.

“If the state of Maryland wants to establish their own version of the FDA and engage in price controls we ought to do in the proper manner,” Cassilly said. “The proper manner would be set up some proper board or commission…or have it come under some aspect of our state bureaucracy.”

Senate Republican Whip Sen. Stephen Hershey. R-Queen Anne’s, said the law could actually harm competition.

“Generic drugs are one of the only indicators in the delivery of health care where prices are actually going down,” Hershey said prior to passage of the bill. “This bill is going to have a negative effect that could potentially eliminate some of the competition that is in Maryland and that is driving these costs down.”

The legislation was rolled out at a Jan. 10 rally in Annapolis three weeks after Maryland joined 19 other states in a lawsuit against six generic drug makers for market manipulation and anti-competitive behavior.

Frosh said a 2014 survey of pharmacists revealed that 25 “off patent” generic drugs saw price increases of 600% to 2000%.

He said normally prices “plummet” when patents expire and competition becomes “robust.” He said generic drugs have consistently run about 20% of the original patented price.

“What we allege is these companies conspired to fix prices.” Frosh said at the rally.

by Dan Menefee

Annapolis: Paid Sick Leave Bill Sent to Hogan, Who has Pledged a Veto

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Five years in the making, the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday passed a widely supported but controversial paid sick leave bill, HB1, which Gov. Larry Hogan has vowed to veto.

Democratic lawmakers are promising an override at the start of the 2018 session, saying they will defend the rights of 700,000 Marylanders to take paid sick leave without fear of losing their jobs.

As the votes went up on the tally board , the bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore City Democrat, lauded the efforts of fellow delegates and called on Gov. Hogan to sign the bill. A broad coalition of unions and progressive groups supported the bill.

“This has been five years… a lot of people have worked very hard to come to the day when nearly 700,000 Marylanders will be able determine they can take the day off to get better as opposed to losing their jobs…I certainly call on this governor to sign this bill when it comes to his desk.”

Veto-proof majorities

The bill cleared the House of Delegates by a veto proof majority, 87-53, concurring with Senate amendments and avoiding the need for a conference committee so close to the end of session – which Clippinger wanted to avoid. There were no votes to spare in case of a veto when the Senate passed the measure 29-18 Monday.

With the 90-day session over next Monday, the legislature cannot send it to Hogan for action, as it did with 27 other bills last week.

If successfully overridden in 2018, the sick leave bill requires companies with 15 or more workers to offer 40 hours of annual paid sick leave. Part-time employees working only twelve hours a week would accrue paid sick leave under the mandate.

The bill originally had offered seven sick days. Any business that currently offers five days of flexible paid leave, whether vacation or sick, complies with the bill.

A job killer, business groups say

The bill saw strong opposition from business interests during the session as a “job killer” and a “debilitating mandate” on small businesses struggling to stay afloat.

Mike O’Halloran, Maryland’s director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the Democratic majority had failed to consider bipartisan input.

“If implemented this bill would cost thousands of jobs, a majority of which would disappear from small businesses,” O’Halloran said soon after the House vote. “[More] than a dozen reasonable and responsible amendments were offered to lawmakers to help Maryland small businesses mitigate the impact of this mandate. Unfortunately, although these changes were supported in a bipartisan manner, the legislature chose not to listen to the pleas from Maryland’s job creators.”

Clippinger’s bill overshadowed a competing bill offered by Hogan at the beginning of the session that would require companies with 50 or more employees to provide 40 hours of annual paid sick leave, as most already do.

Hogan’s plan also budgeted $60 million in tax incentives for smaller companies with 50 or less employees that offered paid leave.

But even support among Republicans was tepid at the start of the session because of mandates on businesses.

Three Democrats opposed

While passage was mostly along party lines, several Democrats voted against the bill because of the impact on small businesses.

“I was concerned this bill was going to hurt the businesses in my district,” said Del. Ned Carey, D-Anne Arundel. “I heard from many that they may have to close their doors or lay people off to get below 15 employees…this could mean the loss of jobs.”

“Many of the businesses in my district are just scraping by and there are times business owners go without a paycheck,” Carey said.

“I don’t have a lot of big businesses in my district, most are mom and pop businesses that can’t afford to offer paid sick leave,” Carey said in interview. “Businesses with 15 or 16 employees will be forced to rethink their staff levels and consider letting some people go.”

Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, grew up in the restaurant businesses working alongside his brothers and mother at The Bromwell Inn in Overlea. He said the family originally lived above the restaurant and “put everything they made back into it.”

“Small business is a part of who I am and how I grew up,” he said. He said his mother very much wanted to offer paid sick leave and health insurance but could never afford it. “It’s a very delicate balance between helping the employees or hurting the business.”

He said this was especially true for family owned restaurants, which would have trouble staffing shifts during the holidays.

“If you have people who’ve accrued sick leave throughout the year it will become a lot harder than it already is to cover shifts during the holidays,” he said.

Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, also voted against the bill, as did four Senate Democrats. Sen. Ed DeGrange, Anne Arundel and three from Baltimore County, Jim Brochin, Kathy Klausmeier and Bobby Zirkin.

Some businesses support it

Not all small businesses opposed the bill.

Clifton Broumand, founder and CEO of Man & Machine, a company that produces waterproof computer keyboards, said the talk of onerous regulations was “a side issue.”

As a small business job creator, he said his biggest asset was his employees.

“If my employees can’t take care of themselves, they can’t be efficient for me,” he said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 10.

“The main issue here is providing paid sick leave,” he said. “There can be a way, and all of you have the opportunity to figure out a way that everyone can have paid sick leave in Maryland.”

Broumand said he provides 15 days of leave annually for his employees, and the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

He said passage of the bill would level the playing field.

“The concept of a level playing field is an honorable thing for everybody,” he said. “If I’m doing this, everyone else should have to.”

by Dan Menefee