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

 

The 1st District: Introducing Candidate Jesse Colvin

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It’s too bad that one of Jesse Colvin’s most compelling examples of his character is pretty much reserved for those who know something about college basketball.

A candidate in the Democratic primary for the Congressional 1st District seat now, and with four active tours of duty in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger behind him, Jesse still has a hint of horror in his voice when he recalled before our formal Spy interview of being a freshman reporter on Duke University’s student newspaper and asking the famed Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) why he had ‘screwed up’ after a critical match against the University of Maryland.

The crowded press room fell silent as Jesse’s basketball heroes started to awkwardly shuffle their feet as Duke’s only living god, who is referred to on the Duke campus as “GOAT,” as in “Greatest of All Time,” came down on the cub reporter in a rage of fury that would crush a typical nineteen years old. But that might be the point; Jesse Colvin is not your ordinary anything.

A gifted student with a bright future in the field of international relations, Colvin instead signed up to not only serve in the military but sought out and earned a position in the 75th Ranger Regiment, perhaps the most elite fighting force in the world.

With all that in mind, it doesn’t seem so shocking then to see someone of Jesse’s age, with no significant political background, decide that he has what it takes to win what is turning out to be a hotly contested Democratic primary contest in June of next year and then defeat Representative Andy Harris in November.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. We have included Jesse Colvin’s “Coach K” story after the credits. For more information the Jesse Colvin for Congress campaign please go here

Maryland Lawmakers weigh Integrating Services to break Poverty Cycle

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To end multi-generational poverty, state and local agencies should integrate services such as early childhood development, temporary cash assistance and mental health programming, a governor-mandated commission told Maryland lawmakers Tuesday.

Two state legislative committees met Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland, to evaluate the benefits of the two-generational approach, which looks at the needs of a family as a whole, rather than viewing children and parents separately. Proponents of this approach consider early childhood development, economic assets, postsecondary and employment pathways and the importance of health and well-being in evaluating the needs of a family.

“This is a process for working toward benefitting whole families,” Sarah Haight, the associate director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute, a think tank that studies and advocates for a multi-generational approach to ending poverty, said Tuesday.

With a two-generation approach, for families with young children who have an annual income of $25,000 or less, a $3,000 annual increase throughout the years of early childhood yields a 17 percent increase in adult earnings for those children, according to data from Ascend.

The institute said it has helped 3.5 million families annually in several states by pushing to integrate programs among agencies, including departments of human services and labor.

In 2016, Connecticut approved $3 million in funding to establish pilot programs in six communities across the state, according to Ascend. Colorado and Tennessee are among other states that have coordinated their resources through leadership and rehabilitation programs to benefit low-income families.

“Recent census data shows that the number of Maryland children living in poverty would fill 2,434 school busses,” said Nicholette Smith-Bligen, executive director of family investment within the Maryland Department of Human Services. “That’s saying to us that this program (the two-generation approach) is critical.”

Allegany County, in rural Western Maryland, where 20 percent of the population lives in poverty, has already begun viewing their local systems with a two-generation approach. In the last six months, many agencies and departments in the county have worked together to establish a Head Start center, GED classes and financial education programs.

“It’s not a new program, it’s a change in the way we deliver services,” Courtney Thomas-Winterberg, the director of Allegany County Department of Social Services, told the committee members.

Thomas-Winterberg read out loud letters from several families within the county who have benefited from integrating services in Allegany County.

“No one was telling me what to do for the first time,” Thomas-Winterberg said one parent wrote. “They were actually asking me what I wanted to do.”

The county is creating a needs-based intake assessment that will connect a low-income family with the specific agency or agencies required for their circumstances. This opportunity allows families to have one set plan moving forward with intentionally linked services, which the commission hopes to replicate statewide.

“I think it’s absolutely a step forward,” Smith-Bligen told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “I think that the committee seemed very interested in our work and what it could look like in the future and how they can help, so I think this is just the beginning.”

The commission is scheduled to release an interim report on or before Dec. 31, as required by Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order, signed in March.

By Jess Feldman

Heather L. Sinclair to Speak to Queen Anne’s Democrats

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Heather-Sinclair

Heather L. Sinclair, a resident of Kent County, will challenge Steve Hershey for the seat of State Senator in our District 36. She will speak to the Queen Anne’s County Democratic Club on Thursday, November 2, at the Centreville Library.

As a citizen lobbyist, Sinclair worked with legislators in Annapolis to pass several bills, including a bill that permits homeless citizens to obtain a birth certificate.  She argues that corporate lobbyists have had more power than citizens, specifically on issues of health care and government transparency.

Michael Welker, another local citizen running for office, is a resident of Cecil County and will run for the House of Delegates in District 36. The QAC Democratic Club hopes to meet him and hear his positions very soon.

What does it take to run for local office?  Have you thought about running? Sheila Tolliver will lead a discussion on this topic, so bring questions and comments. Tolliver worked as Howard County administrator for many years, then ran for and sat as Alderman for Ward 2 in Annapolis.

Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP, now candidate for governor, will speak at our first meeting in 2018, Wednesday, January 3 at the Kent Island library.

Join us on Thursday, November 2, 6:30, at the Centreville Library. Beginning in January 2018, meetings will switch to first Wednesday of the month, held at one of the library branches. Watch this space for notification of speakers or go to qacDems.org and on Facebook for updates on locations and other events.

Stand with us in defense of human rights and democratic values.

 

Meet Candidate Ben Jealous Nov. 4

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Ben Jealous

The Kent Branch of the NAACP and the Democratic Club of Kent County are proud to announce an important event in the DCKC “Meet the Candidates” series.  Ben Jealous, former CEO of the national NAACP and candidate for Maryland Governor, will visit Kent County on Saturday, November 4.  Come join us for a Meet & Greet and an opportunity to hear from Mr. Jealous about his plans as Governor for the State of Maryland.  For more information on the candidate, go to: https://benjealous.com/meet-ben

 

The event starts at 2 p.m. at the Kent County Community Center at 11041 Worton Rd. in Worton, MD.  Light refreshments will be served.

Meet Jim Shea, Candidate for Governor

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Jim Shea

Saturday, October 21 Jim Shea, a candidate for Maryland Governor, will meet with interested voters at the Kent County Democratic headquarters, 347 High St., Chestertown from noon to 2 p.m.

Jim Shea is a native of Baltimore, and has lived in Baltimore County for the last 40 years with his wife, Barbara, and their family. After graduating from University of Virginia law school in 1977, Jim was a federal law clerk before entering private practice. Shortly after that he served as a Maryland Assistant Attorney General. He then went to work for the law firm of Venable LLP in 1983. For 22 years beginning in 1994, he served as Venable’s managing partner and its chairman, making it Maryland’s largest law firm.

Shea’s civic involvement has included serving as chairs of the Board of Regents of the University of Maryland, the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, and the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance. He has also served on the Equal Justice Council Of the Maryland legal aid bureau, the board of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the board of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and was a founding member of the Board of the Hippodrome Theater.

Marylanders Collect Donations to Help Puerto Rico

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Organizing aid collections is one way that many Puerto Ricans on the mainland have begun to shake off the “impotencia,” or powerlessness, they feel since Hurricane Maria slammed into their home island almost two weeks ago.

While Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday that he was sending a 26-member team of the Maryland National Guard to assist on the ground in Puerto Rico, many people from the territory believe that more work needs to be done. As a result, donation sites, many set up by former residents of Puerto Rico, have sprouted across the state.

A sign on the front door of the Tabernacle Church lists items it is collecting in its lobby for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Helen Parshall / Capital News Service)

“The fact is that our families being alive is not enough,” said Carolyn Faría, of Gaithersburg, Maryland. “It is a blessing and we are happy that they are alive, but it is not enough. We need them being okay day-to-day.”

Faría, originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, was one of several people in neon vests directing cars through the drop-off lines at Dynamite Gymnastics Center on Saturday. The Rockville site served as a centralized hub for some of Maryland’s suburbs to send donations to be shipped to the island through the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA).

“Everyone here today has been touched by a family member who is suffering in one way or another,” Faría said, speaking both for herself and other volunteers, many of whom have family on the island. “We are voters, we are citizens and we are part of the United States. We are here and we need help.”

There were more than sixty volunteers on site Saturday, Faría told Capital News Service. On Sunday, the number had almost doubled with more than 100 people lending support.

Over the course of the two days, Faría said that volunteers filled a dozen 26-foot trucks with the donations bound for Puerto Rico.

“We’re a big community of Puerto Ricans in this area,” Faría said. “When bad things like this happen, although I pray they never do again, it doesn’t matter what town you’re from. We’re all working together because our families need us.”

Hyattsville was another of several sites in Maryland that sent shipments to the Dynamite Gymnastics Center. Candace Hollingsworth, Hyattsville’s mayor, was outside the municipal building with several volunteers to “stuff the van” for Puerto Rico on Saturday morning.

Hollingsworth has been critical of the federal government’s actions since the storm, saying in a tweet that President Donald Trump should “work harder” at relief efforts in the Caribbean. She drove the van to Rockville herself on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m here because I have friends from Puerto Rico, and I think it’s important that we help since the federal government isn’t doing anything in a timely fashion,” said Justine Christianson, one of the Hyattsville volunteers.

In the days after the storm, friends Waleska Cruz, Tanya Malpica and Eileen Romero channeled their heartbreak into working across almost two dozen local collection sites to gather supplies to send through PRFAA to communities on the devastated island.

“Being in the United States, you never think you’re going to get the call from your family that they need food and water,” Romero said. “The tedious work of these donations is almost therapeutic when you’re stripped of the ability to be there and help them.”

All three women are from Carolina, a northeastern town in Puerto Rico. While Malpica and Cruz were friends growing up, they did not meet Romero until they were living in and around Laurel, Maryland.

“Most of my family is on the island,” Malpica said. “I’m blessed that even though I can’t be there yet, I have amazing friends checking in, and I know people are taking care of my family.”

“I want to be there and help,” added Cruz. “From food, water, gas – there are so many concerns, and we want take a flight down there to do anything we can.”

Tabernacle Church and Loving Arms Christian Center are two of the main collection sites the women are working with in Laurel, Maryland. The churches’ involvement means a lot because it is the “home churches” opening their doors, Romero said.

Vernice and Roberto Gonzalez, the pastors of Loving Arms Christian Center, canceled the usual Thursday Bible study to be able to organize donations and fill trucks with supplies.

“We are joining forces with everyone willing to sow a seed to Puerto Rico,” Roberto Gonzalez said as he led the community in a closing prayer. “In this difficult and trying moment, this is where the Bible becomes reality.”

“This is us putting our love for one another into action,” said Vernice Gonzalez. “We’re praying for God to help them, and we will be continuing to do this as long as there is need.”

For Cruz, Malpica and Romero, it also important to plan for the future.

“In the longer term, things will stabilize and get better, but right now we don’t want to deplete resources from people who need them on the island,” Romero said.

The three are brainstorming ideas – from 5K races to dance parties – to keep communities on the mainland engaged once the immediacy of the storm damage begins to fade from public consciousness. They hope to be able to fly down by the end of October to be able to help rebuild and clean up their homes.

“The hardest part is the waiting game,” Romero said. “It feels like it’s been a month since Maria but it’s not even been two weeks.”

“We have to understand that this is not a three-, six-, or even one-year situation,” Malpica added. “This will take years to recover from. When the hype dies down, people on the island will still be suffering. That’s when our support matters even more.”

by Helen Parshall

To Counter Opioid Epidemic Leads State Panel to Revisit “Recovery Schools

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A fire led to the eventual end of Phoenix — a groundbreaking Maryland public school program for children with addiction that closed in 2012 — but the state could see institutions like it rise again from the ashes.

Recent spikes in the Maryland heroin and opioid epidemic have triggered calls for substantial changes in education systems statewide, and a state work group is weighing the return of recovery schools after a Sept. 7 meeting.

For Kevin Burnes, 47, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, attending a recovery school separate from his hometown high school was life-changing.

Burnes said in a public letter that he began to experiment with drugs and alcohol at age 10, and his addiction to alcohol quickly escalated to PCP. He found himself homeless and was admitted into a psychiatric institute, he wrote.

However, after finding Phoenix, a recovery program for secondary school students with addiction, and attending for two years, his whole life turned around.

“What I can tell you is that this program undeniably saved my life,” said Burnes, now a full-time musician living in Frederick, Maryland. “The largest part of Phoenix’s success was due to the fact that everyone was involved. It was a community effort. It’s a community issue.”

State legislation that passed this year — known as the Start Talking Maryland Act — came into effect in July and directed schools in Maryland to take precautionary measures against opioid exposure and abuse. It also established the work group.

The panel is charged with evaluating and developing behavioral and substance abuse disorder programs and reporting their findings to the General Assembly, according to a state fiscal analysis.

The legislation additionally requires:

–To store naloxone in schools and train school personnel in the drug’s administration
–Public schools to expand existing programs to include drug addiction and prevention education
–Local boards of education or health departments to hire a county or regional community action official to develop these programs
–The governor to include $3 million in the fiscal 2019 budget for the Maryland State Department of Education for these policies
–Schools of higher education that receive state funding to establish these similar policies and instruction in substance use disorders in certain institutions

The Phoenix program and similar secondary schools that followed it were created specifically for students in recovery from substance use disorder or dependency, according to the Association of Recovery Schools.

“What we’ve known anecdotally for a while, we are starting to finally see with data. These high schools have positive effects on preventing and reducing adolescent alcohol and drug use as well as supporting the abstinence of kids post-treatment and seeing a positive impact on academics,” Dr. Andrew Finch, Vanderbilt University researcher and co-founder of the Association of Recovery Schools told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

The first of its kind in the United States, the original Phoenix I school opened in 1979 as an alternative program in Montgomery County, Maryland, that provided both an education and a positive peer culture centered on recovery. Phoenix II followed, also in Montgomery County.

Since then, about 40 schools have opened nationwide, according to Finch, but none remain in the state of Maryland.

“It was amazing the support that the students gave to each other. We would have weekly community meetings where they would praise each other for their commitment, but if they weren’t working toward sobriety these kids were the first ones to rat on each other,” Izzy Kovach, a former Phoenix teacher told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. “It was a real sense of family…”

Critical to the Phoenix schools were outdoor challenges, said Mike Bucci, a former Phoenix teacher for 20 years, in a report. Along with regular days of classes and support groups, students would go from climbing 930-foot sandstone cliffs at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, to biking the 184-mile length of the C&O Canal to sailing the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

“These trips helped form lifelong bonds along with an ‘I can’ attitude,” Bucci wrote.

The Phoenix schools at their largest enrolled about 50 students each at a time, according to a state report.

After years of successful work, the Phoenix schools began to lose their spark. Tragedy struck in 2001 when the Phoenix II school burned down.

However, instead of remaining a standalone recovery school, Phoenix II continued on as an in-school program, and eventually Phoenix I followed, according to Kovach.

“The program lost its validity with this model (with students back in traditional high schools). The students knew it, the parents knew it, and eventually key staff left because they also saw it was ineffective,” Kovach said.

Eventually, enrollment dwindled down to only three students and the Phoenix program closed its doors in 2012, according to a report compiled by a community advocacy group Phoenix Rising: Maryland Recovery School Advocates.

Five years later, with the rise in drug use throughout the state, talk of bringing back recovery school programs have reemerged.

“Whenever you have a program where there aren’t many of them, like recovery schools, people just don’t don’t think of them as an option. But, it is slowly changing and it’s even starting to be picked up by the media,” Finch said.

The epidemic is gathering attention and resources in Maryland — Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency from March 1 to April 30 and committed an additional $50 million over five years to help with prevention.

From 2014 to 2017, the number of opioid-related deaths reported in Maryland between Jan. 1 and March 31 more than doubled — taking the death toll up to 473, according to state health department data. Since then, the work group has begun to look at these numbers and is beginning to discuss various models for these new recovery programs.

Lisa Lowe, director of the Heroin Action Coalition advocacy group, said she fears that the work group will not be able to understand how to move in the right direction without having students, parents or teachers with lived experience contributing.

“Instead of just guessing what’s going to work, why not ask the people who are living it?” Lowe said.

The work group has considered either creating a regional recovery school or bringing the recovery programs into already existing schools — both models in which Burnes, Lowe and many others are not in favor.

Lowe said students in recovery need to get away from “people, places and things,” a common phrase that is used in 12-step programs. With a regional school or an in-school program, Lowe said, it is more difficult to maintain after-school programming and local peer support groups, and it will bring recovering students back to where their problems started.

The start-up costs for Year 1 for one recovery school are estimated to range from approximately $2,258,891 to $2,473,891 depending on whether the school is operated only for Montgomery County students or as a regional recovery school, and again should enroll about 50 students age 14 through 21 years (or Grades 8 through 12), according to a state report.

“The overdoses are not occurring as much at the high school level, but that’s where they start. They start in high school and they start in middle school. We have to get the program in place so that we don’t have the deaths later on,” said Kovach, the former Phoenix teacher.

Rachelle Gardner, the co-founder of Hope Academy, a recovery charter high school in Indiana, said that these recovery schools are needed all over the country to help battle this substance abuse crisis.

“Addiction is addiction, when you walk into a 12-step meeting you’re in a room of addicts. You have to treat the addict in itself and we have to meet everybody where they’re at regardless of their drug of choice,” Gardner said.

The workgroup is continuing to develop their ideas for recovery schools and are expected to present their findings to the State Board of Education on Oct. 24.

By Georgia Slater

Candidate Baker to Visit Kent County Democrats Sept. 30

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Rushern Baker

The Kent County Democratic Club’s “Meet the Candidates” series continues Saturday, Sept, 30, when  Rushern Baker, candidate for governor of Maryland, will visit the Democratic Club’s booth in the Farmers Market at 11 a.m. At noon, he will move to a Meet & Greet session in the Yellow House at the Kent County Public Library.

Baker, age 58, is the County Executive of Prince George’s County, a position he has held for nearly seven years. He is a former Delegate to the General Assembly. He holds a law degree from Howard University. If elected, he would be Maryland’s first African American governor.