Bill would Criminalize Knowing Failure to Report Child Abuse

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Legislation that would make knowingly failing to report child abuse a crime in Maryland was passed by the Senate, but faces some skepticism in the House.
 
Under current law, if a mandatory reporter – defined as health care practitioners, police officers, educators, and human service workers – believes that a child has been abused or neglected, they must notify the local department of Child Protective Services or a law enforcement agency. 
 
Failure to do so could result in a loss of license, due to a 2016 law in Maryland, but it is not a crime. 
 
“This closes that loophole,” said Adam Rosenberg, the executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, who testified in both chambers on behalf of the new proposal. “This is about being able to hold that very last group of people, who have been enabling abuse to go on, accountable.” 
 
The House bill (HB0500), sponsored by Delegates Carlo Sanchez and Erek Barron, Democrats representing Prince George’s, proposes that a violator would be guilty of a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The Senate version (SB0132), sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, includes the same punishment.
 
The Senate bill has been approved by that chamber; the identical House bill has had a hearing but hasn’t advanced out of committee, where a number of House Judiciary members have raised concerns about the new child-abuse proposal.
 
Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, sponsored the 2016 law, in which a complaint about a failure to report is brought to the worker’s licensing board for review and possible termination. She told the Capital News Service that she’d like to see effects from that law, which began in October 2016, further develop before creating “new crimes.” 
 
“Creating a crime (could) mean that we’re going to have a lot of reports that shouldn’t have been reported,” said Dumais. “I think we just need to tread carefully. We have some pretty strict laws on the books already.”
 
Dumais – who sponsored a bill this session denying parental rights to rapists that Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law Tuesday – said she is concerned that mandatory reporters would plead the fifth in court if they face possible indictment. 
 
Sanchez said he doesn’t see over-reporting as an issue. He said reports can fall through the cracks in transition from the mandatory reporter to Child Protective Services – which is the current system – so the ability to take a claim straight to a prosecutor could take pressure off social services and make abuse easier to catch early. 
 
Last year a similar bill passed in the Senate but died in the House. The latest proposal has less opposition. The Maryland State Education Association, for example, was against it last year but said in an email to Capital News Service that this bill “takes a step in the right direction by clarifying reporting requirements.” Which, they added, “will help prevent misreporting that drains resources and distracts from real cases of abuse.”
 
Variations of these efforts have been around for close to a decade, but they’ve gained more attention after the case of Deonte Carraway, a 24-year-old school worker in Prince George’s County who was arrested in February 2016 .
 
Carraway was sentenced in August 2017 to 75 years in federal prison for 15 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor to produce child pornography, involving 12 children from 9 to 13 years old. He was sentenced to 100 years on 23 counts of sex abuse in Prince George’s County a month later.
 
Despite complaints to the principal of Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School, Michelle Williams, from parents and administrators about Carraway’s behavior, Williams could not be prosecuted, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks told state lawmakers. 
Williams was placed on administrative leave shortly after Carraway’s arrest, Alsobrooks said. An attorney for Williams said late last year that she denied wrongdoing in this case and was unaware of abuse. 
 
This new bill would enable the state to prosecute a knowing failure by an adult to report abuse. 
 
“We learned that the principal knew something wasn’t right, as did other school officials, but did nothing about it,” said Alsobrooks, who was one of the prosecutors in that case. “We were able to hold Mr. Caraway accountable for his crimes. But what we have not done is further close the loophole – to (be) able to assure parents that this will never happen again.”
By Zach Shapiro

Sponsor of Bill to Legalize Hemp in Maryland Thinks this is the Year

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Proponents of industrial hemp say legalization of the cannabis relative offers many potential benefits, and, if a bill in the state Legislature is approved, Maryland might be part of a growing acceptance of the plant.

A key obstacle remains lack of education about hemp’s properties and capabilities, proponents say.

“There’s no hidden agenda, they are business people and they are trying to grow a product,” said Rona Kobell, who spoke at an Abell Foundation Hemp forum on Feb. 2 in Annapolis, Maryland.

According to a Jan. 25 report by Kobell, hemp is controversial because it’s associated with marijuana. Both plants come from the genus Cannabis, but hemp is mainly grown for its fiber and oil.

Michael Renfroe, a biology professor from James Madison University, spoke at the forum about the common misconceptions between marijuana and hemp. Forum participants said they are not the same.

“To say you can’t tell the difference between hemp and marijuana is to say you can’t tell the difference between broccoli and Brussels sprouts,” said Renfroe.
The main differences between hemp and marijuana are the tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — content, and the cultivation process said professor Ronald Turco, Agronomy Department head at Purdue University.

Hemp, when grown, contains less than 0.3 percent THC, whereas marijuana can contain up to 30 percent, Turco said.

He also explained that hemp is grown as a row crop in fields for its seeds and fiber, whereas marijuana is hand grown and harvested for buds containing THC, which is what gives marijuana users a high.

Turco said marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance making it illegal at the federal level, and the only way to distinguish between hemp and marijuana is through lab procedures measuring THC content.

Federal regulations state that industrial hemp can be produced if a state legalizes an agricultural pilot program to study its cultivation, growth and marketing.

As of 2016, it is legal for the Maryland Department of Agriculture or any institution of higher learning to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.

Maryland has legalized medical cannabis, and decriminalized marijuana use in smaller amounts; proponents say this should encourage the expanded legalization of hemp in the state.

According to the Abell Foundation’s hemp report, the crop would bring economic and environmental opportunity to the state.

Economically, the report said, hemp creates new jobs and generates more revenue.

The report justifies that environmentally, hemp requires no pesticides to grow. It also explained that hemp replenishes the soil, reduces pollution and helps with land erosion and runoff.

The report also states that the main uses of hemp include fiber, fuel, food and medicine.

“Hemp is grown for fiber and oil…,” said Renfroe. “You cannot get high from it.”

Kobell said during the hemp forum that many people have claimed that hemp could do things it couldn’t actually do. Accurate information about hemp has been crucial to push legalization.

“There is hope for hemp because of education,” said Kobell.

Hemp seeds can be used in foods, such as snack bars.
Since the seeds are not legal to grow outside of the department of agriculture or an institution of higher education, anyone else who wishes to use the seeds must import them from overseas. It is against federal law to transport the seeds across state lines.

According to the Abell Foundation Hemp Report, most hemp seed is imported from Europe, and countries such as Canada, Ukraine and China as large leaders in hemp cultivation.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, this year introduced an Industrial Hemp Pilot Program bill to facilitate its growth in Maryland.

Fraser-Hidalgo first introduced the legislation for hemp legalization in 2015 but it failed largely because of lack of education about hemp use, he said.

The 2018 bill establishes regulations that allow the agriculture department or universities to register farmers who could then grow, process, manufacture and market industrial hemp.

Alex Hempfield, whose last name was legally changed from Joseph, is the owner of Livity Foods LLC in Rockville, Maryland, a business selling nutritional bars that contain hemp seeds.

Hempfield said the legalization of hemp growth will alter customer perception and make people more informed about the product.

“Its economic value will get better. It will employ more people and make more money,” said Hempfield.

Even if the legislation Fraser-Hidalgo introduced on Jan. 31 passes, Hempfield said, the process to obtain infrastructure, create and grow the crop will take a few years.

Four states grew hemp in 2015, according to Kobell’s report. As of 2018, there are 19 states that grow hemp, the report found, and product sales accumulated a revenue of $688 million.

Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 14 in the House Environment and Transportation committee.

By Layne Litsinger

New Program Allows Dogs to Comfort Children during Witness Testimony

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A new pilot program that brings dogs into the courthouse to help children during court proceedings has launched in two circuit courts in Maryland.

The Courthouse Dog and Child Witness Pilot Program is now available within Anne Arundel and Harford County circuit courts. This pilot program allows facility and therapy dogs to accompany child witnesses who are testifying or appearing in court in criminal or civil cases.

State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, District 31, spearheaded the idea behind the pilot program. Anne Arundel County Circuit Court partnered with the Caring Canines Pet Therapy team to assist with the implementation.

Caring Canines is a pet therapy program created by Dogwood Acres Pet Retreat in Davidsonville. It provides certified pet therapy teams in an effort to create a peaceful presence to those in need in our community.

“The Dogwood Acres and Caring Canines teams are thrilled to see this program up and running,” said Erin Bogan, marketing director for Dogwood Acres Pet Retreat. “It has been a long-time dream for us to see our amazing dogs helping those in the court system who may need extra support to make their experience less traumatic.”

According to the court administrator for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, witnesses eligible for the program will be identified by the state attorney’s office, a best interest attorney or a volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocate, also known as CASA. The request must be made in writing to the court and will go before the court’s administrative judge for approval.

Since the program’s inception, both Anne Arundel and Harford County circuit courts have not received any written requests; however, both courts expect to see requests in the coming months.

“We’re looking forward to receiving requests because we’ve seen how helpful dogs can be in easing the stress of children who come to court,” said Judge Angela Eaves, Administrative Judge for Harford County Circuit Court.

Teams of trained facility dogs and their handlers will join Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, Judge Laura Kiessling, Administrative Judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit (Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties), and State Court Administrator Pamela Harris for a ceremony at the Anne Arundel Circuit Court in Annapolis this afternoon. Following remarks, the facility dogs and their handlers will take a short tour of the courthouse.

Annapolis: Bills on Live Video, Pink Hunting Gear, and Organ Transplants

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In a move to bring more transparency to the state government, the Hogan administration has proposed legislation, Senate bill 295, that will require all sessions of the Maryland General Assembly — including floor sessions, voting sessions and hearings — to be livestreamed to the public. Maryland is one of seven states that doesn’t have audio or video of what’s happening on the floor, according to the governor’s office. The bill was heard by a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Tax bill would alter personal exemptions
A bill altering personal exemptions passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday. The legislation, Senate bill 184, clarifies that a taxpayer can deduct personal exemptions for themselves, their spouse and eligible dependents for state income tax purposes. Prior to 2018, taxpayers were able to write off personal exemptions but the value was indexed for inflation and reduced or eliminated if the taxpayer’s federal adjusted gross income exceeded a certain dollar amount.

Slavery-era insurance provision addressed
A bill repealing provisions of laws that would require insurers to provide the Maryland Insurance Commissioner with information regarding slavery-era insurance policies advanced in the House of Delegates on Tuesday
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Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, is sponsoring the legislation, House bill 189, which cuts provisions that authorized insurers in the state to submit information related to slaveholder insurance policies to the Maryland Insurance Administration, which could then compile and report that information.

The current law consists of a policy issuing or benefitting a slaveholder that insured against a slave’s injury or death. Insurers then had to submit information about the policy, but the proposed legislation repeals the “obsolete” provisions.

Hogan bill addresses repeat drunken driving
The Hogan administration is cracking down on repeat drunk-driving offenders with a bill scheduled to be heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday. Senate bill 296 increases the penalties for a person who is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and either has three or more prior convictions or was previously convicted of a specified homicide, manslaughter, or life-threatening injury by motor vehicle. Violators would be given a felony charge and could be subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000 — up from a maximum of 4 years of imprisonment and/or fine of $4,000.

Legislation bans passenger-seat marijuana smoking
A bill that would prohibit both the driver and passengers of a motor vehicle from smoking or consuming marijuana in the passenger area of a motor vehicle on a highway was scheduled to be heard on Tuesday by a Senate committee. Sponsored by Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, Senate bill 345 would make the offense a misdemeanor and the existing public marijuana use and possession penalty of a maximum fine of $500 will apply.

Learner’s permit time may be shortened
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is sponsoring legislation, Senate bill 424, that reduces the period of time by six months during which certain adults younger than age 25 who hold a learner’s permit must wait before taking a drivers test for a provisional license. Young drivers must wait nine months before getting a license under current legislation. Instructional permit holders convicted of, or granted probation for, a moving violation are not eligible.

Hunting in neon pink could become law
A Maryland lawmaker is advocating for the authorization of “daylight fluorescent pink” as a color for certain outerwear hunters must wear. Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, has drafted Senate bill 341 that would allow hunters to wear specified pink clothing, or wear daylight fluorescent orange clothing. Daylight fluorescent pink has been authorized in six states. The bill was heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Bills address organ donation
Two measures related to organ donation are under consideration in the General Assembly. A bill heard on Tuesday by a Senate committee would authorize the Motor Vehicle Administration to designate a vehicle used to transport organs as an emergency vehicle if it meets certain requirements. Under Senate bill 475, sponsored by Delegate Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, these vehicles would be equipped with lights or signal devices and all drivers will be required to complete a course approved by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. And on Tuesday morning, House Speaker Mike Busch, D-Anne Arundel, honored the University of Maryland Medical Center transplant team and his sister, who donated part of her liver to him last year. Busch is the sponsor of House bill 96, a tax measure that creates an income reduction for up to $7,500 of qualified expenses incurred by a living organ donor.

Motorcyclists could go helmet-free if bill passes
A bill heard on Tuesday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee could exempt some motorcycle riders from helmet requirements in Maryland. Any licensed motorcycle operator who has been riding for at least two years and has completed an approved motorcycle rider safety course, as well as their passengers, will be exempt from headgear. Senate bill 439 was sponsored by Sen. Wayne Norman, R-Harford and Cecil.

Bills would allow collective bargaining at college; crack down on hazing
Multiple Senate bills were on track to be heard in the House Appropriations committee on Tuesday regarding higher education, including collective bargaining rights to certain adjunct faculty (House bill 163) and graduate assistants (House bill 199) at certain public institutions of higher education; and written policy and educational programs on hazing (House bill 368).

By Hannah Brockway. Capital News Service correspondent Sean Whooley contributed to this report.

 

Maryland Legislature Overrides Two of Gov. Hogan’s Vetoes

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The Maryland Senate on Friday, following the state House one day earlier, overrode two vetoes by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, including one that would require some businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees.

Under the new paid sick leave law, any business with 15 or more full-time employees will be required to give workers at least five days of earned sick and safe leave and is expected to extend to more than 500,000 Marylanders.

The law, which took about five years to pass, will pay the leave at the employee’s regular wage, according to a state legislative summary.

Republicans argued that the legislation could hurt smaller businesses and deter hiring, especially among “opportunity employers,” — who take on less-skilled or riskier hires — said Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford and Cecil.

In the Senate, the override passed largely along party lines, 30-17.

Democrats, who hold the majority in both the Maryland House and the Senate, sponsored both pieces of legislation, which Hogan had vetoed last spring.

The Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday also overrode the same two vetoes by Hogan — paid sick leave and the Maryland Fair Access to Education Act of 2017, also known as “Ban the Box.”

This law will prohibit colleges and universities in Maryland from requesting information about the criminal history of applicants on initial admissions forms. Schools could still consider an applicant’s criminal history later in the admission process.

Overrides of that legislation passed 90-50 in the House on Thursday, and 32-15 in the Senate on Friday.

The votes in both chambers were largely along party lines, during a General Assembly session expected to be influenced by national and state politics.
The sick-leave legislation passed 88-52 in the House.

“We have to hear the cries of people like me…,” Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, said on the House floor Thursday, referring to a period in her life when she experienced domestic violence.
Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline, has a small business with 14 employees. This bill, he said, would make him think twice before hiring a 15th because he would have to provide paid sick leave for all of them.

Democrats, however, argued that paid sick leave was long overdue and that they owed it to their constituencies to act.

Hogan supports paid sick leave, but said in a statement the Democrats’ bill would penalize small businesses.

On Wednesday, Hogan introduced a “compromise” bill that would start with larger businesses and eventually apply to companies with 25 or more employees, phasing in by the year 2020. It also would not require an explanation for the absence.

House Republicans said the Democrats’ measure, which would require employees to disclose the reason for an absence of more than two consecutive days, would violate privacy.

Hogan is running for reelection, and a number of Democrats have announced they are running in the primary to challenge him. Maryland lawmakers are also bracing for changes at the federal level, under the administration of President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress.

The sick-leave measure is expected to take effect in 30 days.

By Hannah Brockway and Alex Mann.  CNS correspondent Katherine Brzozowski contributed to this report.

Count Maryland In: Hogan Announces State will join Coalition to Fight Climate Change by Tim Wheeler

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Declaring that the need for states to work together to fight climate change “grows stronger every day,” nnounced Wednesday that Maryland would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a mostly Democratic coalition of states committed to reducing greenhouse gases.

The move, disclosed in a letter released by Hogan’s office, represents a shift for the Republican governor, who had remained noncommittal to pleas last year for Maryland to join the alliance, saying he wasn’t sure what the group’s intentions were.

In the letter to the alliance, Hogan recalled that he had publicly disagreed with President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord reached by nearly 200 nations, including the United States.

The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of another move to distance himself from the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations and initiatives. On Monday, Hogan’s office released a letter by Ben Grumbles, his secretary of the environment, opposing the Trump administration’s proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants adopted by the Obama administration.

For much of last year, Hogan had been sparing in his public comments, pro or con, on the Trump administration, something Democrats had relentlessly highlighted. But Hogan is seeking re-election this year in a state where voters are overwhelmingly registered Democrats, and where surveys show they tend to support environmental protections.

Some had pressed Hogan last June to join the alliance, a group of 15 states — including Delaware, New York and Virginia in the Bay watershed — that have pledged to curb greenhouse gases in accordance with the 2016 Paris agreement.

Hogan rebuffed those calls then by saying Maryland’s clean air standards were already more stringent than those called for in the Paris deal. He reiterated that stance in the letter Wednesday, but indicated that his views about the need for state action have changed.

“The importance of aggressive but balanced action in states, communities and businesses, and the need for multi-state collaboration and international leadership on climate change, grows stronger every day,” Hogan wrote.

His chief reason for joining the alliance, the governor said, will be to urge all states to adopt air quality standards and greenhouse gas reduction goals as strong as Maryland’s.

The state is on track to meet a goal set in 2009 of reducing climate-altering emissions 25 percent by 2020, and is working on a plan to reduce emissions even further — by 40 percent by 2030.

Hogan’s pledge to join the Climate Alliance drew a mixed reaction from environmentalists, who are continuing to press for even stronger climate action in Maryland.

Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, applauded the Hogan administration’s decisions to address climate change as the federal government balks. But she added that Maryland can “continue to lead on climate” by increasing renewable energy production in the state even more.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, saw nothing to praise, arguing that Hogan should have joined the alliance months ago. “Why did it take so long?” he asked. “What evidence was he weighing?”

Tidwell charged that Hogan had been similarly slow to publicly criticize the Trump administration’s move to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. “[Hogan] has never embraced the single-most powerful tool for reducing carbon pollution in the state — the renewable portfolio standard,” Tidwell said. That standard, adopted in some form by 30 states, requires electricity generators to produce a portion of their power from renewable sources.

In 2016, Hogan vetoed legislation that increased Maryland’s renewable energy requirement from 20 percent to 25 percent by 2020, saying it would force citizens to pay for “overly expensive” solar and wind energy credits. The Democrat-dominated General Assembly overrode that veto last year.

New legislation is being introduced this year that, if passed, would raise the goal to 50 percent renewable power by 2030. Environmental activists rallied at the State House Wednesday in support of that bill.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Cummings Cancels Appearance, Suspends Campaign

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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings

The Kent County Democratic Club announced in a Jan. 5 email that Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who was scheduled to visit the  club Saturday, Jan. 13, will not be appearing. Ms. Cummings has suspended her campaign for governor for personal reasons.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Ms. Cummings’ husband, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, has been hospitalized for about a week. No details on the congressman’s condition, or on the possible relation of his health issues to his wife’s suspension of her campaign, were available at press time.

Year-End Tax Tips from Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (December 27, 2017) – The office of Maryland’s Comptroller Peter Franchot forwarded these year-end tax-tips.  You can still make donations and take other actions to help your tax situation.  But hurry!  Many things must be dated or mailed by December 31!  Others have later deadlines.

As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers that there are things they should do now to get ready for filing season. Here are some tips to get ready:For most taxpayers, Dec. 31 is the last day to take actions that will affect their 2017 tax returns. For example, charitable contributions are deductible in the year made. Donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2017 count for the 2017 tax year, even if the bill isn’t paid until 2018. Checks to a charity count for 2017 as long as they are mailed by the last day of the year.

Taxpayers over age 70 ½ are generally required to receive payments from their individual retirement accounts and workplace retirement plans by the end of 2017, though a special rule allows those who reached 70 ½ in 2017 to wait until April 1, 2018, to receive them.

Most workplace retirement account contributions should be made by the end of the year, but taxpayers can make 2017 IRA contributions until April 18, 2018. For 2018, the limit for a 401(k) is $18,500. For traditional and Roth IRAs, the limit is $6,500 if age 50 or older and up to $15,500 for a Simple IRA for age 50 or older.

Taxpayers should be careful not to count on getting a refund by a certain date, especially when making major purchases or paying other financial obligations.

Taxpayers who have moved should tell the U.S. Postal Service, employers and the IRS. To notify the IRS, mail IRS Form 8822, Change of Address, to the address listed on the form’s instructions. For taxpayers who purchase health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace, they also should notify the Marketplace when they move out of the area covered by their current plan.

For name changes due to marriage or divorce, notify the Social Security Administration so the new name will match IRS and SSA records. Also notify the SSA if a dependent’s name changed. A mismatch between the name shown on your tax return and the SSA records can cause problems in the processing of a return and may even delay a refund.

Some refunds cannot be issued before mid-February. By law, the IRS cannot issue refunds before mid-February for tax returns that claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. The IRS expects the earliest EITC/ACTC related refunds to be available in taxpayer bank accounts or on debit cards starting on Feb 27, 2018, if they chose direct deposit and there are no other issues with the tax return.

Some Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers must be renewed. Any Individual Taxpayer Identification Number not used on a tax return at least once in the past three years will expire on December 31, 2017. Additionally, all ITINs issued before 2013 with middle digits of 70, 71, 72 or 80 (Example: 9XX-70-XXXX) will also expire at the end of the year. As a reminder, ITINs with middle digits 78 and 79 that expired in 2016 can also be renewed. Only taxpayers who need to file a U.S. federal tax return or are claiming a refund in 2018 must renew their expired ITINs. Affected ITIN holders can avoid delays by starting the renewal process now.

Those who fail to renew before filing a return could face a delayed refund and may be ineligible for some important tax credits. More information, including answers to frequently asked questions is available on IRS.gov/ITIN.

Keeping copies of tax returns is important. Taxpayers may need a copy of their 2016 tax return to make it easier to fill out a 2017 tax return. Some taxpayers using a software product for the first time may need to provide their 2016 Adjusted Gross Income, or AGI, to e-file their 2017 tax return.

Taxpayers who do not have a copy of their 2016 return and are existing users can log in to IRS.gov/account if they need their AGI. Otherwise the IRS will mail a TaxReturn Transcript if requested online or by calling 800-908-9946. Plan ahead. Allow five to 10 days for delivery. Visit the IRS’ website to learn more about identification verification and electronically signing tax returns.

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Proposed MD Legislation Aims to Stop Online Sex Trafficking

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Last year, Maryland had the 13th-most sex trafficking cases in the country with 161, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

This year, the hotline reported 61 sex trafficking cases in this the state as of June 30. Half of the incidents involved a minor, and about 84 percent included a female victim.

A House Energy and Commerce hearing Thursday examined legislation that would close loopholes in federal law that critics fear has allowed pervasive online sex trafficking.

Under current law, the Communications Decency Act does not hold online services liable for content that secondary users publish. Sites such as Reddit, Facebook and YouTube are not responsible for vile material that its commenters post in a thread or comment section.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, introduced the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” earlier this year to make it easier for states to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking. The measure also would give victims the right to sue such sites.

The bipartisan measure has 171 House co-sponsors, including Maryland Reps. Andy Harris, R- Cockeysville, and Anthony Brown, D-Largo.

A member of the committee, Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, said in a statement that human trafficking inside and beyond the United States “is a scourge on society that preys on our most vulnerable. We must do everything we can to curb trafficking in all its forms, including sex trafficking online.”

“If Congress establishes a real tool to ensure that businesses cannot commit crimes online that they could never commit offline, fewer businesses will enter the sex trade, and fewer victims will ever be sold and raped,” Wagner said in her testimony.

Yiota Souras, senior vice president for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that over the past five years, 88 percent of the center’s reports concerned online sex trafficking. He said roughly 74 percent of the center’s reports came from Backpage.com, a website that offers advertisements for dating, services and jobs, among other resources.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michael Doyle of Pennsylvania, citing a Senate report, asserted that Backpage’s owners were aware of the sex trafficking taking place, and even encouraged sex-trafficking advertisers to falsify their postings to hide their true intentions.

Souras added that children online may be seeking attention that they are not receiving at home, and are vulnerable to false promises made by predators online.

“That’s probably how they are lured, they’re seeking the smallest remnant of kindness from someone,” Souras said. Online predators are manipulative and know how to extend that branch of kindness to their victims, she added.

Still, Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said in his testimony that Wagner’s measure would “reinstate the moderator’s dilemma,” which forces websites to decide whether to exercise full editorial discretion, or none at all.

Goldman added that leaving this discretion to websites could inadvertently increase online sex trafficking because it may be more favorable to leave users’ content entirely unchecked.

Goldman also expressed concern that punishing these sites differently at the federal and state levels could damage the integrity of the Communications Decency Act, which he dubbed “one of the most important policy achievements of the past quarter-century.”

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said he saw firsthand the lasting impact sex trafficking can have on victims.

While in South Africa, his daughter was rushed by three men – one of whom brandished a pistol – but she was saved when one of the men yanked her backpack from her shoulder instead of grabbing her, he said.

The congressman’s voice quivered as he recounted her experience.

Although she escaped, Olson said, she “has not been the same.”

“(Sex traffickers) are devils, absolute evil devils,” he added. “This has to stop.”

Even if the law is changed, Souras said she knows that an online marketplace for sex trafficking will likely remain. But she said she believes that the issue is rectifiable.

“It’s important that there be a professional approach to this,” Souras said. “Sex trafficking is a multifaceted problem, it requires a multifaceted solution.”

 

By Conner Hoyt And Michael Brice-Saddler