Hogan’s Nonpublic schools funding gets ‘BOOST’ from Students

Share

Hundreds of private school students, faculty, parents and supporters piled onto Lawyers Mall in Annapolis on Tuesday for a rally to support Gov. Larry Hogan’s funding for nonpublic schools.

Hogan, legislators and education administrators spoke at the event, put together by the Maryland Council for American Private Education to support the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today program, known by its acronym, “BOOST.”

Cheered on by the many speakers, including Hogan, the crowd chanted “give a boost to BOOST” and “support all kids” throughout the rally.

The BOOST program “provides scholarships for some students who are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program to attend eligible nonpublic schools.”

Hogan told the crowd he himself attended private Catholic schools.

“It’s really important that you’re here,” Hogan, a Republican, told the crowd. “We’ve got some legislators across the street in the State House that need to hear from you and I want to make sure you guys are ready to make some noise.”

Among the schools with students and faculty present was St. Francis International School of Silver Spring and Hyattsville, Maryland.

The school’s principal, Tobias Harkleroad, told Capital News Service his fifth graders came to Annapolis to make sure government officials knew they were thankful for support.

They also went to the rally to learn about the political process and make their voices heard.

“We want to make sure that kids like them in nonpublic schools across the state are just as important to our elected officials as the wonderful children in our public schools,” Harkleroad said.

Marianne Schwenz is the mother of an eighth grader at St. Joseph’s Regional Catholic School in Beltsville, Maryland.

Schwenz said the potential funding provided by BOOST would particularly help grow special needs programs, especially in Catholic schools, where she feels there isn’t enough staffing to address the needs of some students.

However, she’s happy with how legislators have responded to the nonpublic school needs over time.

Hogan’s budget, approved by state lawmakers, has increased in each of the past three years funds directed toward the BOOST program. An appropriation of $5 million in fiscal year 2017 was followed by a $5.5 appropriation the following year. Hogan’s proposal for fiscal year 2019 climbs up to $8.85 million. That budget remains under review by the legislature.

“I think (the funding) does definitely need to continue to grow, although I do think our voice is being heard a little more each year,” Schwenz said.

Other supporters included Delegates Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County, and Dana Stein, D-Baltimore County. Representatives from the Archdiocese of Washington and Baltimore Catholic schools also spoke, along with Maryland State Board of Education member, pastor Michael Phillips.

“Today, this is where all of you who attend wonderful nonpublic schools are going to go make sure that we protect our funding and our scholarships,” Hogan said.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy conducted a survey of 625 Maryland voters between Feb. 20 and Feb. 22 that found nearly two-thirds supported an increase in funding for the BOOST program. The poll also concluded 58 percent of voters surveyed would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports increasing the BOOST program.

“The facts are that since taking office, Governor Hogan has committed record K-12 education funding in his four budgets, totaling $25 billion,” Eric Shirk, spokesman for the state’s Department of Budget & Management wrote in an email. This includes $6.5 billion in the proposed 2019 fiscal year budget.

But Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller disagreed with Hogan’s use of funds in a Jan. 17 statement.

“Another year, another Gov. Hogan budget that follows the policy priorities of Betsy DeVos rather than Marylanders,” Weller said, citing the U.S. education secretary, an advocate of charter schools and private school vouchers.

Weller said Hogan should not be funding a voucher program that “overwhelmingly benefits” students in private schools.

By Sean Whooley

Maryland Schools Need more Physical Education, lawmaker Says

Share
The majority of jurisdictions in the state set aside fewer than 90 minutes per week for physical education.
 
But for the past eight years, legislation introduced to require a higher physical activity and education standard in the state has still not seen progress. 
 
The sponsor of the legislation, Delegate Jay Walker D-Prince George’s, called it “a bill that we’ve seen too many times over the years.”
 
The proposal requires all public elementary schools to set aside a maximum of 150 minutes per week for physical activity, including a minimum of 90 minutes per week for physical education.
 
For required minutes not spent in physical education, elementary schools would have to designate a physical activity leadership team to plan and coordinate extra opportunities for activity, the bill states.
 
The biggest issue remains what the school districts would cut from their academic curriculums to provide more time for physical activity. 
 
Walker said he “talked to people that work with Boards of Education in the state (who) said if it’s mandated they would find a way to make it work.” 
 
During the bill’s hearing on Feb. 8, Delegate Carolyn Howard D-Prince George’s, asked how to incorporate more physical education.
 
“The question has always been, what do you remove or delete in teaching in schools so that we can get the 90 minutes?” asked Howard.
 
Newport Mill Middle School physical education teachers Matt Slatkin and Shannon Spencer have supported this legislation “from the ground up” because, they told Capital News Service, lack of elementary school physical education affects students when they attend middle school. 
 
Slatkin told the Capital News Service that Montgomery County Public Schools, where Newport Mill is located, “skirt” around the term physical activity by counting physical education with recess. 
 
While the county includes the 30 minutes a day for physical activity during recess, students may not even move at all, Slatkin said. He added that recess is often held indoors during the winter and in times of bad weather. 
 
Slatkin said physical education is taught by a professional teacher, whereas recess does not require a curriculum or standards, and does not teach anything. 
 
“You can’t try to compare recess to physical education,” said Slatkin. 
 
According to the Maryland State Department of Education, as of January 2018, Montgomery County has the lowest minimum amount of required physical education per week at 30 minutes, followed by Prince George’s with 40 minutes per week. 
 
According to a state analysis, 18 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions do not meet the 90-minute standard under the bill; at least four of those would need to hire additional staff — at a total cost of $13.7 million — to meet that requirement if the legislation passes. 
 
This includes $1.1 million for Allegany, $1.2 million for Cecil, $10.9 million for Montgomery, and $542,000 for Queen Anne’s; these amounts are expected to increase marginally over the following few years, according to the state analysis. Allegany would need 14 teachers, Cecil would need 17, Montgomery would need 133 and Queen Anne’s would need eight to meet the bill requirements, according to the fiscal analysis.
 
The other 14 jurisdictions that don’t require at least 90 minutes may also need an increase in funds to meet the standard, but they have not been assessed in the fiscal analysis.
 
The remaining 10 jurisdictions would not need additional funding because they already meet the proposed standards.
 
The bill would take effect on Oct. 1, but a local school system may apply for an extension until July 1, 2021, to ensure compliance.
 
The federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 altered allotted time for certain school activities, according to the state fiscal analysis.
 
Following the No Child Left Behind Act, a national study on curriculum by the Center on Education Policy found that schools prioritized time on tested subjects, including math and language arts, and spent less time on other subjects and activities, including lunch, physical education and recess. 
 
Walker said during committee testimony on Feb. 8 that the bill’s cost has decreased over the years and that “it is possible to implement this program.”
 
Patricia Swanson, legislative aide for Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education,  told Capital News Service the board opposed this legislation because it is a large unfunded mandate and does not believe this issue should be decided at a state level. 
 
Swanson also said “MCPS has taken action to clarify physical education time with schools beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, and is taking steps to gather information directly from each school on current schedules and class time.”
 
In the 2018 to 2019 school year grades K-5 will be required a minimum of 45 minutes of physical education per week, she said.
 
Children between 5 and 12 years old should get at least an hour per day of physical activity, according to The National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The activity should be intermittent and a mix of moderate and vigorous exercise, the association said.
 
While the bill is not expected to progress in the legislative session, Slatkin told the Capital News Service that he believes that as the public’s knowledge grows, so will support for the bill. 
 
“Nobody knew about this bill the past eight years and now it’s finally getting out,” said Slatkin. “It’s something that the parents want, the students want, and the teachers want.”
By Layne Litsinger

Resolutions Address Gender Gap in Maryland Businesses

Share

Lawmakers in Annapolis are calling attention to a gender diversity deficiency in Maryland’s boardrooms and influential private sector companies: Women are not being equally represented in top management positions.

Women make up 49 percent of the labor force in Maryland and 46.8 percent of the total U.S. labor force, according to the Maryland Commission for Women.

In 2016, a “Census of Women Board Directors in Maryland” by a Baltimore-based women’s advocacy group found that 14.6 percent of board seats at 77 publicly traded companies headquartered in the state were held by women.

Within those 77 companies, 10 had no women in executive positions or in their executive suites. The number decreased from 14 companies in 2015, according to that “Census.”

Overall, the number of women holding board seats from 2015 to 2016 increased by three, to 93 women directors, the Census found.

House and Senate joint resolutions urge all private-sector companies in Maryland to increase their gender diversity. Supporters hope that by December 2021, at least 30 percent of the directors of all companies doing business in the state will be women, and that companies measure their annual progress toward a goal of equal representation of men and women in leadership positions, according to the resolutions.

Both resolutions have been heard in their chambers’ respective committees, but by Wednesday afternoon had not advanced.

The resolutions were prompted by request by the Executive Alliance, an organization based in Baltimore that focuses on the success and leadership of accomplished women, according to Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, lead sponsor of the House resolution.

The group put out their 10th “Census of Women Board Directors in Maryland” this year, said Karen Bond, president of the Executive Alliance Board and executive director of Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore.

“We were shocked … to see how the needle had barely moved at all (from previous years),” said Bond of the Census findings.

“We felt we needed to go to our lawmakers and ask ‘Is this level of progress acceptable to you?’” added Bond.

“We have to break down those mythical barriers that have always existed and reach out to all of the successful women running companies…or we will never make it to the 30 percent (goal),” said Avis Yates River, president and CEO of Technology Concepts Group International, and a former executive at Exxon.

“There is a lot of value into investing in women entrepreneurs,” said Betty Hines, founder and CEO of the Women Elevating Women Symposium and Chapter Chair for the Women Presidents’ Organization, a nonprofit organization for women presidents of multimillion-dollar companies.

Hines acknowledged Maryland as a leader that has made many strides for gender equality, including having a greater percentage than the national average of women in the workforce, but also noted that to stay ahead the state must continue making progress.

“When corporate boards meet, each board member should bring a guest from outside and get to know them/ help give them more experience…I know many women who are more than qualified and deserve a seat at the table,” said Hines.

By Hannah Brockway

Maryland Senate Passes Revised Cyber-Bullying Law 

Share

Maryland lawmakers in 2013 passed “Grace’s Law,” a bipartisan bill that made it a misdemeanor to repeatedly and maliciously bully someone through use of a computer or cellphone. Five years later, some of the same legislators are back to update the law to reflect the new media landscape.

“Grace’s Law 2.0,” which is designed specifically for social media cyberbullying, passed in the Senate unanimously Thursday despite pushback from First Amendment advocates last week.

Lead sponsor Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, remained firm that this is to protect against “egregious” messages, intended to personally harm, posted online. He’s determined to adjust laws to the speed of dissemination of such material.

“Facebook doesn’t stop when you leave the school grounds,” Zirkin told lawmakers. “Neither does Twitter or any of these other things. These are growing problems, not isolated to Maryland, and we have to get better at this.”

“Unfortunately, once somebody does this – (simulates pushing a button) – it’s all she wrote,” he said. “You’re about to do that harm the second you push that button to your thousand friends.”

In today’s media world, Zirkin said, a warning means it’s already too late. Which is the basis of his other proposal in the two-bill package.

Senate bill 725, which is expected to hit the full Senate floor next week, gives authority to school principals to report cyber abuse to law enforcement directly, instead of having to first go through a board of education. Based on legislation in Texas nicknamed “David’s Law,” created after 16-year old David Molak of San Antonio committed suicide in January 2016, it also makes it easier for victims to get court relief.

Under current rules, Zirkin said, civil injunctive relief requires a plaintiff to show “immediate, substantial and irreparable harm,” a process he believes is slow and outdated. “A single, huge act by that bully … you can’t take it back,” Zirkin said.

The more encompassing proposal of the two, Grace’s Law 2.0, cleared the Senate on Thursday.

That legislation, Senate bill 726, would increase the penalty for threatening or defamatory statements about a minor, or the parent of a minor, from a one-year maximum sentence and $500 fine to three years and $10,000. In addition, it adds a clause that would increase the jail term to 10 years if the violator intends to “induce a minor to commit suicide,” as written in the text.

The bill also broadens the scope of social media cyberbullying. Updates include prohibiting the creation of fake social media profiles and material meant to “intimidate, torment or harass a minor”; prohibiting logging into a minor’s social media account and distributing pictures; and establishing that telling a minor to “go kill yourself” online isn’t protected speech.

Lastly, Grace’s Law 2.0 incorporates David’s Law for school-related cyberbullying. For that reason, Zirkin said, the bills must go together. Reporting such incidents at school, he said, only helps if the revisions are adopted.

The effort doesn’t come without resistance. The ACLU, which stood in opposition to the 2013 law, is concerned about over-criminalization and too drastic of penalties.

“However well-intentioned – and I believe (Grace’s Law) is well intentioned – I believe this bill is hopelessly overbroad,” said David Rocah, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, during the Feb. 20 hearing.

“One does not have to be unconcerned about bullying or blind to the incredible cruelty that people can inflict on each other, to also be concern about giving the government the ability to punish, as a crime, huge swaths of protected speech.”

Christine McComas, whose late daughter, Grace McComas, was the inspiration for Grace’s Law, joined a couple other mothers and an aunt of suicide victims to testify in favor of the bills. Grace killed herself on Easter Sunday in 2012, the victim of repeated cyber abuse. Christine said these laws would target “dehumanizing cyberbullying” faster.

“The proliferation of cyber equipment and applications continues to quickly morph and change,” McComas said. “Children need additional protections from those who would use it for harm.”

Marla Posey-Moss, vice president of advocacy with the Maryland PTA, said in an email Tuesday that her organization supports the Senate’s effort.

“Maryland PTA is pleased that legislation has been introduced to protect youth from bullying via the consideration of expanded forms of social media and technology,” she said.

Posey-Moss called the effort “very strategic,” but added that it’s important to be precise when criminalizing certain speech.

Zirkin, for his part, has acknowledged the difficulty in navigating such a law but told Capital News Service that if Maryland addressed it five years ago – and other states have since taken it a step further – Maryland can do it again.

“The ACLU had the same argument (against the 2013 law), but it wasn’t unconstitutional,” Zirkin said. “The sky didn’t fall down.”

By Zach Shapiro

In Congress, Only One Maryland Lawmaker gets NRA Money

Share

As congressional gun talks ramp up, advocates for stronger safety laws have called for their representatives to stop accepting campaign finance donations from the National Rifle Association.

The gun rights advocacy group has given $263,818 to candidates in the first two months of 2018 – 98 percent of that going to Republican candidates, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org), a non-partisan research group that tracks money in U.S. politics.

No Democratic lawmakers from Maryland have received any campaign contributions from gun rights or gun safety groups so far this year.

However, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, has received $1,975, bringing the total since his first campaign in 2008 to $25,447 in funding from the NRA. No other senator or House member from Maryland has received contributions from gun rights advocacy groups, records show.

Neither the NRA nor Harris’s office responded to media inquiries by phone or email about his campaign contributions.

On the other side of the gun debate, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, has received the most money among current senators from gun safety advocates between 1989 and 2016: $105,595, according to Open Secrets data. Almost all of that came during his 2016 Senate campaign.

“This issue shouldn’t be political – it should be about doing everything we can to prevent the loss of another child, another parent,” Van Hollen said in an email to Capital News Service. “With over 90 percent of Americans saying they want something done, the GOP leadership’s refusal to consider measures that are proven to save lives is gross negligence.”

Van Hollen last year urged the National Institutes of Health to renew funding that had lapsed for firearm violence research and introduced legislation with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, which would have set aside $10 million each year from 2018 through 2023 for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct or support research on gun violence prevention and firearms safety.

Another Maryland representative, Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Upper Marlboro, introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday that would raise the minimum age required to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 to 21.

“This common-sense bipartisan bill is a critical first step that closes a dangerous loophole in our gun laws,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown has not received any contributions from gun control groups during his career. Neither have Democratic Reps. John Delaney of Potomac, Jamie Raskin of Kensington, Dutch Ruppersberger of Timonium and John Sarbanes of Towson.

Over the course of his political career, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, has received $2,000 in total contributions from gun control advocates; Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, received $2,450, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, received $2,000, according to Open Secrets.

By Jarod Golub and Julia Karron

Bills would Update Maryland’s Forest Conservation Law

Share

Maryland’s forest conservation law has failed to protect some of the state’s best forests, scientists and environmentalists say.

Enacted in 1991, the state’s Forest Conservation Act was intended to protect Maryland’s forested areas from development. The law outlined a formula for builders to follow when clearing land for development.

For each tract of forest cleared, developers of certain parcels were required to mitigate forest lost by replanting trees, or pay a fee-in-lieu.

Under current law, developers in some circumstances can replant at a ratio of one-fourth of an acre planted for every acre cleared.

The new bill would increase the ratio to one-for-one.

It would also clearly define “priority retention areas” — considered to be the state’s best forests — and lay out a framework that determines when state and local authorities can approve the clearing of these forests.

Developers say the bill is too onerous and could jeopardize local planning goals.

Some of the disagreement among developers, the state and environmentalists comes down to how trees are counted.

Developers and the state have cited tree canopy cover as a way to measure the state’s forested lands.

But canopy cover includes all trees — including suburban and streetside plantings — and does not accurately count forests, which environmentalists say offer superior health, economic and ecological benefits.

The current conservation formula worked for areas that originally had little forested land, Elaine Lutz, Maryland staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, told Capital News Service. But the same formula has enabled the clearing of some of the state’s most dense and ecologically beneficial forest.

According to the current law, priority forests are “trees, shrubs, and plants located in sensitive areas,” including 100-year flood plains, riparian buffers to streams and coastal bays, steep slopes, critical habitats and contiguous forest “that connects the largest undeveloped or most vegetated tracts of land within and adjacent to the site,” a state analysis shows.

But the language is too ambiguous, Lutz said, and has resulted in the varying interpretations of replanting requirements and, in some cases, failure to protect the best forests.

Maryland has lost over 19,000 acres of forests between fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2016, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation told lawmakers in the fall. More than 7,000 acres were cleared in Prince George’s County alone, the report showed.

Disproportionate forest loss in her county prompted Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, this year to introduce House bill 766, which modifies the Forest Conservation Act to better define “priority forest” and to increase the replanting requirement. Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick, introduced an identical bill, Senate bill 610.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs and House Environment and Transportation Committees addressed Young and Healey’s bills last week.

Testimony from proponents — primarily environmentalists — and opponents — land development and real estate industries — dragged on for hours in the hearings, with the sides producing conflicting statistics and accounts of the Forest Conservation Act’s success.

Environmentalists argued that too much important forest has been cleared. The ecological and health benefits of mature forests, they said, outweigh additional costs to developers.

Beyond providing critical habitat for many forest-dwelling creatures, “forests are the No. 1 most protective land cover for water quality,” Lutz said.

States surrounding the Chesapeake Bay and federal authorities continue efforts to clean up the nation’s largest estuary, but President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would slash 90 percent of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding.

One-third of nitrogen pollution in the bay comes from the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Forests are efficient air filters that could help reduce air pollutants, Lutz said.

Those representing the development community staunchly opposed the bill, arguing that the Forest Conservation Act is already working and there is no need to change it.

Lori Graf, CEO of the Maryland Building Industry Association, which represents some 100,000 Marylanders, submitted in written testimony that, “Maryland’s forest canopy cover” increased to 51 percent in 2017, citing a Department of Natural Resources report.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources submitted a letter of concern, and Allison Cordell, the department’s legislative director, also told lawmakers this week that Maryland has a “51 percent statewide tree canopy cover,” according to the letter.

But tree cover is not the same as mature forest, environmentalists say. Individual trees, or patches of them, simply cannot replicate the ecological benefits of mature forests.

“I planted thousands of street trees and other communities are doing that, and they create cover, but they don’t do the same thing that forest stands do,” Young said. Trees “do a lot and they’re good, but this is directed at trying to protect forested areas.”

Healey and Young’s bills are “narrowly tailored to address the most critical need of our most pressured forest land,” Healey said. “We’re not against development.”

Developers aren’t convinced, though.

“We’re very concerned that this bill contradicts a generation of land use planning,” said Tom Ballentine, vice president for policy and government affairs for the Maryland chapter of NAIOP — a commercial real estate development association — in his testimony before the Senate committee Feb. 20.

“It makes the existence of priority forest the single most important factor in determining the location and density of future development,” Ballentine added.

The amended Forest Conservation Act would also change the standard by which state and local authorities can approve the clearing of priority forest areas. Existing law “requires ‘sufficient justification’ to remove priority forest areas,” but doesn’t provide detailed guidance and has been varyingly interpreted across jurisdictions, according to Lutz’s written testimony.

Developers said the process for clearing priority forest is already arduous. It’s expensive and time-consuming, they say.

The new restrictions, Ballentine said, will “make it nearly impossible for local governments to approve clearing of priority forest.”

Bill Castelli, who represented Maryland REALTORS at at the Senate committee hearing Feb. 20, said this bill would increase the cost of development, and “the more development cost that occurs when you’re developing property… the more difficult it is for developers to create” affordable housing.

Former International Monetary Fund economist John Wakeman-Linn, a Shady Side, Maryland, resident, testified in favor of the bill at both hearings. He argued that the cost developers accrue for having to mitigate forest clearing pales in comparison to the value of services all Maryland citizens are deprived of when forest is cleared.

“A 2015 study in Prince George’s County found the benefits received from trees there are worth around $13 billion annually, or roughly $80,000 per year per acre of trees,” Wakeman-Linn said in his testimony.

“Compare this to the one-time cost developers would face in adhering to the regulations in this act,” which, based on one developer’s written testimony, Wakeman-Linn estimated to be about $33,000 per acre of trees cleared, he said. “In Prince George’s County, this one-time fee would be less than the benefits (of trees) lost every six months.”

And protecting forests is about more than the health, environmental and economic benefits, Healey said.

“(The forest) is a place to refresh yourself spiritually and mentally from the stresses of city life,” she said. “It makes life more livable.”

By Alex Mann

 

Critics Hit Trump’s Food Program as ‘Devastating’ to Maryland

Share

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal 2019 includes an overhaul of a supplemental food assistance program for low-income people that could affect nearly 750,000 Marylanders.

Many in the state’s predominantly Democratic congressional delegation are attacking the White House plan, which envisions replacing the current program with a “Blue Apron”-style delivery program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, originally established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, is “our nation’s first line of defense against hunger for millions of low-income families and their children,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland.

“The president’s budget proposal to significantly cut the SNAP program would have a devastating impact on Maryland,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson. “One in eight Marylanders relies on the SNAP program, and gutting it would threaten the nutrition and food security of more than 744,000 Maryland residents – including many children and the elderly.”

Almost half of the Maryland residents in the food and nutrition program are under the age of 18. In 2017, the average SNAP recipient across the United States “received about $126 a month,” or just $4.20 per day, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said those SNAP recipients “will be negatively impacted” by the Trump proposal.

“And for what? To provide a windfall tax break to big corporations and millionaires,” the senator said. “That is simply wrong and I will fight this reverse Robin Hood policy.”

Under federal law, households must meet a number of requirements in order to be eligible for SNAP, although there are exceptions for elderly and disabled individuals.

In the program’s current iteration, recipients receive money loaded onto debit cards they can use to purchase food. SNAP recipients can purchase breads, fruits, meats, and other regulated foods with their benefits, but cannot purchase tobacco products, alcohol, or nonfood items, such as pet foods or paper products.

Under Trump’s proposal, the SNAP program would get a significant makeover.

Instead of allowing SNAP recipients to purchase their own food, the USDA would deliver prepackaged goods, similar to the way “Blue Apron” gourmet-style boxed food is delivered.

Roughly 80 percent of all SNAP recipients would receive about half of their benefits as these food packages, containing “shelf-stable milk, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables,” but no fresh fruits or vegetables, according to the budget proposal.

“The president’s proposal to create a government-controlled food delivery program for SNAP participants would not only create a logistical nightmare for the USDA, but also ignore the health and nutritional needs of program recipients,” Sarbanes said, referencing the lack of fresh food in the prepackaged boxes.

The White House Office of Management and Budget’s claim that Trump’s proposal amounts to “dramatic reductions in the regulatory burden on…individual freedom” flies in the face of original SNAP objectives – to “focus on moving people into self-sufficient lives,” according to the Brookings Institution.

The food program beneficiaries “should have the same ability to choose fresh vegetables, fruits and dairy as other Marylanders,” Cardin said. “Struggling families should not have to choose between healthy staples and paying bills.

“As with much of his budget, President Trump’s (USDA food) box idea will never become reality,” the senator added.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, agreed with Cardin, saying “the administration’s plan to replace some benefits with a so-called ‘food box’ is not only inefficient and deeply patronizing, but would be particularly unworkable in the rural areas of the Fifth District.”

“The budget proposed by President Trump for fiscal year 2019 is nothing short of cruel to the most vulnerable in our state,” Hoyer said. “Not only does the proposal severely slash funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but it proposes substantial cuts to critical benefits for families in Maryland. This reckless and irresponsible budget must be rejected outright.”

“At a time when more than 50 million Americans face the threat of food insecurity, it is more important than ever that we ensure critical programs like SNAP are properly funded and efficiently delivered,” said Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac.

The Trump administration claims the proposed budget would reduce the overall cost of SNAP by $129 billion over the next decade, saving an average of $12.9 billion per year.

By Julia Lerner

Bill would Criminalize Knowing Failure to Report Child Abuse

Share
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

Recovery: Bill gives Parents ‘New Tool’ to Fight Child’s Addiction

Share

One more day without treatment for a person struggling with opioids — as a Maryland delegate, a recovery expert and parents of children mired in addiction have said — could be the difference between life and death.

A relatively recent spike in deaths related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, its cousin carfentanil and ever-emerging variations of the two has emphasized the importance of getting addicts into treatment immediately, said Delegate Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel.

That’s why Kipke, the Maryland House minority leader, is sponsoring a bill granting parents of adults struggling with addiction more authority to act on their children’s behalf.

Fentanyl has overtaken heroin as the deadliest drug in Maryland. Statewide, deaths related to fentanyl surged from 192 over the first three quarters of 2015, to 1,173 fatalities over the same period in 2017 — a 510 percent increase, Maryland health department data show.

Carfentanil — a drug commonly used to sedate elephants — also continued its emergence. There were 57 carfentanil-related deaths statewide over the first nine months of 2017 compared to zero over the previous two years, according to the state health agency.

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin; carfentanil is 5,000 times more potent than heroin, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Fentanyl “can be lethal in the 2-milligram range,” the DEA says, while the lethal range for carfentanil is uncertain, but minute.

Considering the potency of the drugs, which are often created in clandestine laboratories in China and Mexico, “this is a different kind of addiction, a different problem,” Kipke told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

His 2018 bill would allow parents or guardians of adult children — who must be dependent through health insurance — to involuntarily admit their child to an in-patient treatment facility. Kipke introduced then withdrew the same bill during the 2017 General Assembly session after the House Health and Government Operations Committee delivered an unfavorable report on it.

The person must “not be a minor,” must have “experienced a drug overdose” and have “health insurance coverage as a dependent under the individual’s parent’s” plan, according to a fiscal and policy note for the 2017 bill.

“What I’m seeking to do is provide parents of children who are still dependent … an opportunity to interrupt their child’s addiction,” Kipke said.

The Maryland State Medical Society, MedChi, agrees with Kipke that the scale of the opioid epidemic warrants new tools, said Gene Ransom, the organization’s chief executive officer.

“Given that we’re in a crisis,” Ransom said, there needs to be more options to get people into
treatment. “Giving parents another tool to help solve the problem is a no-brainer.”

Survivors’ perspectives

Carin Miller, president and co-founder of Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates, said that her oldest son started using then abusing Percocet — a common opioid painkiller — in his early 20s, developing an addiction before turning to heroin.

“It was frustrating and heartbreaking when you see your son so sick and gray and on death’s door,” she said. “As a mother, when your child is sick or hurt … you always work your hardest to make them better.”

“But when they’re addicted,” Miller said, “you can’t.”

Kipke is concerned for many of his constituents, many of whom have asked him for a tool to help their children, he said.

This year there were 108 opioid-related overdoses in Anne Arundel County through Feb. 8, compared to 113 through the same date a year prior, according to county police data.

But 18 of the 108 overdoses resulted in death — a 100 percent increase over the nine fatalities through the same date in 2017.

Over the first nine months of 2017, the county recorded 145 fatal opioid-related overdoses, a 12 percent increase over January-September of 2016, state data show.

A non-fatal overdose can be an important opportunity for intervention, experts say, but in Maryland and other states, those who are hospitalized because of overdoses can sign themselves out.

“If somebody who needs Narcan because they just overdosed, they need to be committed,” Miller said.

Narcan is a brand name of the overdose-reversing opioid antagonist, naloxone. All first responders in Maryland are equipped with a form of the life-saving drug, which comes in a nasal spray form.

Miller, a Frederick County, Maryland, resident said these kind of tools weren’t available to her as a mother throughout her son’s struggle with addiction. Had involuntary admission been an option, Miller said she “most certainly would have” utilized the authority to admit her son.

“I would’ve done anything in the world to save my son,” she added.

Pasadena, Maryland, native Rob Snead, 24, said he’s been clean for seven months after using and abusing drugs for a decade. He has overdosed.

“When you come to, you’re in withdrawal,” he said. “And the only thing you can think about is getting yourself in a position to get well again.”

Snead said that in the moment, addicts “don’t care about seeking the accurate help, they think about what they can do immediately to feel better.”

Snead described withdrawal from opioids as “overwhelming” and “a miserable state of being,” and said that often the quickest way to feel better was to score more drugs and to take them.

Treatment community divided

It’s been said that an addict must be ready for treatment in order for it to be successful, a notion Kipke acknowledged.

But that line of thinking could be outdated.

“If we continue to look at it like they’re not ready,” Miller said. “There are some that will never be ready.”

Dr. Sally Satel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who works part time in a methadone clinic in Washington, said the idea that addicts must be ready for treatment is “so wrong,” and called it “one of the many cliches” surrounding the opioid crisis.

“Why do you think drug courts work?” she said.

But other addiction treatment experts have concerns about the practicality, effectiveness and safety of involuntary commitment.

“You really can’t force someone to participate in treatment if they don’t want to,” said Vickie Walters, executive director of the Baltimore-based REACH substance abuse treatment program at the Institutes for Behavior Resources.

Getting an assessment of a patient is always important, but that if that patient was forced, Walters said, “it’s tough to get good information.”

Howard Ashkin, president of the Maryland Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, said he worries that involuntary commitment could lead to a litany of problems.

“I’ve never read anything that has borne out any good outcomes,” of forced treatment, Ashkin said. “I don’t envision good outcomes.”

Involuntary admission could make some of the adult children angrier, he said.

Ashkin said he worries that addicts will go along with the treatment, then go out to use again. But their tolerance will have diminished, he said, which increases the odds of overdose and possibly death.

Involuntary treatment programs, like drug court, Satel said, often work because it gives the individual a chance to take a step back to think about their situation and “internalize the values of the program.”

Involuntary admittance could lead the individual to resent the family member who mandated their admission, Ashkin said.

Ashkin and Walters said they aren’t convinced that it’s worth the risk. Addicts rarely recover successfully their first time through treatment, and about 40 percent to 60 percent relapse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Forcing an addict to get help could “leave a bad taste in (their) mouth about treatment,” discouraging them from seeking treatment in the future, Walters said.

Both Ashkin and Walters were concerned about whether treatment facilities around the state were capable of or ready to admit involuntarily committed patients.

“The court will only order this type of thing if there is a bed for the individual,” Kipke said.

“Are there enough beds? No,” the delegate said. But they’re becoming “increasingly available as this problem is getting support and funding from the government.”

Is this bill the answer?

More than 30 other states have enacted similar statutes that allow for the involuntary commitment of adults for substance abuse, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

Massachusetts is one such state, and its “system has become an unintended mechanism for getting people into treatment,” said Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences at the Northeastern University School of Law. In many ways the statute “was designed to be a system of last resort.”

Massachusetts has been using prisons as treatment facilities for those who are involuntarily committed, Beletsky said. Many of the patients’ treatment is un-medicated, increasing the risk for overdose and death after treatment, according to Beletsky.

The law professor said that putting somebody into treatment without their consent is “fundamentally un-American,” and that the Massachusetts policy “basically fails” from the perspective of health and civil liberties.

“Evaluating what other states have done was extensively considered and we’re open to any other suggestions as to how we could gain the support of the legislature to enact a reasonable policy, like this,” Kipke said.

Snead said that Kipke’s bill “has the potential to be very beneficial to people,” but that success varies depending on the individual — treatment works differently for everybody.

Self-described as stubborn, Snead said that for him, the decision to get clean had to come from within.

“I had to decide myself. I had to decide that I was done,” he said.

But, he said, he understands the standpoint behind his delegate’s bill, as “a lot of parents are losing their kids.”

Through her organization, Miller hosts family peer support groups in Frederick County. She’s heard many heart-wrenching stories, some from parents who weren’t able to save their children “from this dark path to death.”

Miller’s son is alive, but she lost him for the six years of his life that were “hijacked by heroin.” Now, she said, he lives in another state, away from temptation and connections back home.

He’s “a good man who has a bad disease,” she said.

She supports Kipke’s bill because she doesn’t want other parents to feel like she did, “Like you’re a failure as a mother because you can’t make (your child) better.”

By Alex Mann