Maryland’s Congressional Delegation Voices Support for Kirwan Commission Goals

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Maryland’s congressional delegation has voiced strong support for a sweeping plan to reform the state’s educational system.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has been investigating how to improve Maryland’s public schools for more than two years.

In a meeting in the House Tuesday with some of the state’s congressional delegation, commission chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan, former president of the University of Maryland, College Park and former chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said the state’s educational system is “mediocre” and more needs to be done to strengthen it.

“We are at a huge crossroads moment for our state,” Kirwan said. “One of the hurdles we have to overcome is the complacency about the quality of our education.”

One problem the commission has identified is insufficient financial support for schools located in low-income areas.

“We just aren’t investing enough money as other states and other countries do in these schools,” Kirwan said.

The commission is recommending expanding access to high-quality preschool for three- and four-year-olds and career and technical education for high schoolers.

Another top concern of the commission is the high turnover rate for teachers in the state. According to Kirwan, 47 percent of second-year teachers do not return for a third year.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said “elevating the profession of teaching as a high profession with adequate training and compensation” is imperative to improving the quality of education in the state.

The commission is currently requesting $3.8 billion for the necessary improvements. Cardin said this money would be phased in over a ten-year period in a “fiscally responsible manner.”

Kirwan said he expects the Maryland General Assembly to address several of the commission’s findings in the coming weeks. No significant legislation, though, is expected until next year’s legislative session as the commission continues to work through the fall of 2019.

Kirwan said the leaders of the Maryland General Assembly are committed to considering legislation that implements the recommendations of the commission.

The delegation members made it clear that they consider education reform one of their highest priorities at the state and federal level.

“I think implementing the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission (has) to be the top, number one priority of the state,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said “the greatest threat to our national security is our failure to properly educate every single one of our children.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a statement that “we must ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed, from early childhood education through secondary education.”

“It is critically important that we bolster school readiness and college and career readiness as well as address disparities for students of color and students in low-income communities,” Hoyer added. “The delegation is committed to supporting the implementation of Dr. Kirwan’s recommendations and working with local leaders and stakeholders to improve public education in our state.”

By Carolina Velloso

 

Maryland Makes 4th Try at Aid-in-Dying Bill

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A bill in the Maryland General Assembly would allow people with a terminal illness six months from the estimated time of their death to end their lives with a lethal dose of prescribed medicine.

Individuals should have the right to choose when they die, supporters said, while opponents of the measure — known variously as “death with dignity,” “physician-assisted suicide” and an “end-of-life option” — said public safety could be put at risk if the legislation passes.

An individual would need to consent three times, twice orally and once in writing. At least two doctors would have to confirm that person is of sound mind, if a physician deems a psychological evaluation necessary, under the bill.

“Lethal injection, mercy killing, or euthanasia,” would not be legalized, and people who falsify requests or coerce others into ending their lives would be penalized with felony charges under the bill.

Lawmakers in a Senate committee heard testimony on Tuesday on Senate bill 311; delegates heard testimony on its twin, House bill 399, on Feb. 15.

Senate bill 311, or the “End of Life Option Act,” was heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday.

California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized physician-assisted suicide, and Montana has no law prohibiting it.

“I’m going to give a lot of heartfelt and thoughtful consideration,” to the act, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said last week.

Seventy-two percent of Americans would support ending a terminally ill patient’s life, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

The act will “bring about tremendous relief during the most difficult time in a person’s life,” at almost no cost, Kim Callinan, CEO of Compassion and Choices, told lawmakers.

The Department of Legislative Services estimated costs to the state of $173,700 for fiscal year 2020, and around $80,000 per following year.

The legislation would give people a tool to control not if, but rather how they die, said lead sponsor Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard.

“I believe people have the right,” Pendergrass told Capital News Service. “Why should I stand in their way?”

There are religious arguments for and against the act, but the element of compassion and understanding is not talked about as much, said lead sponsor Sen. William Smith Jr., D-Montgomery.

“If you have a personal reservation for it, then that’s fine,” said Smith. “But we should still go ahead and make sure that that’s available for other folks.”

“He was ready to die,” said Diane Rehm, former radio host of “The Diane Rehm Show” on WAMU and NPR, speaking of her husband who she said died of Parkinson’s disease after refusing to eat, drink and take medication for 10 days due to pain and loss of motor functions.

“Why did laws infringe on an individual’s decision to die peacefully, when dying was inevitable within a few months?” Rehm asked lawmakers.

What is being argued for is the right of an individual who is psychiatrically together to make a personal decision, said Rabbi Emeritus Donald Berlin from the Temple Oheb Shalom congregation in Baltimore.

“The end of life is coming soon, the option is just to not make it linger indefinitely,” said Berlin, who has testified on the legislation in the past.

A significant update from the last version of the bill, in 2017, states “one of the oral requests must be made while the individual is alone with the attending physician.”

However, this year’s legislation has not fixed the concerns that have prevented its passing in previous years, opponents said.

Oregon, the first state to legalize assisted suicide, found being a burden to one’s family is the most common reason for death, not pain, said Kate Alexander, director of communication and engagement for Maryland Catholic Conference.

Of 143 patients who died in 2017 from lethal medication in Oregon, 55.2 percent reported concerns of being a burden on family, friends or caregivers, according to a report from the Oregon Health Authority. The most common concern reported (more than one could be selected), by 88 percent of patients, was “decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable.”

A psychological evaluation is very fluid, and a doctor who does not know a person may only see them for the first time in a fragile state, said Therese Hessler, associate director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

“There is no kind of mental evaluation that could attest for that,” Hessler said.

The bill is bad public health policy, said Annette Hanson, chair of the Maryland Psychiatric Society Legislative Committee.

The law would apply to everyone in the state, including people in the public health system who are not educated, lack social support and do not have financial resources, Hanson said.

There is no requirement that a patient’s decision-making capacity be assessed at the time of taking the lethal medication, instead it is only once when the medicine is initially prescribed, Hanson said.

A patient must ask twice verbally and once in writing to obtain the medicine, but after a prescription is sent to a pharmacist, the bill does not mandate any further contact between physician and individual.
This session’s bill was first introduced in 2015, and was titled the “Richard E. Israel and Roger ‘Pip’ Moyer Death with Dignity Act.”

Israel was a Maryland assistant attorney general and Annapolis alderman, and Moyer was an Annapolis mayor. Both died in 2015 following battles with Parkinson’s disease.

Israel was an outspoken supporter for the bill’s first introduction to the legislature.

“As the body continues to fail to respond to the mind, life loses its meaning, purpose and hope,” Israel said in written testimony to a House committee.

The legislation was an effort to make humanity the master of science in an age when, “modern medicine can keep the heart and lungs working long after the brain has ceased to function,” said Israel.

“I can appreciate the irony that if my advocacy is successful … my voice will be forever stilled,” Israel wrote. “So be it.”

Medical Cannabis is a High Priority in Maryland Legislature

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Creating and selling edible medical cannabis products; allowing inmates to receive medical cannabis treatment; and prohibiting employers from asking about marijuana use could become law in Maryland under bills being pushed in this year’s General Assembly.
 
The Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee is expected to hear 18 bills regarding medical cannabis and marijuana use in the state on Tuesday.
 
While medical cannabis is legal at the state level for patients given approval by the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, which develops policies and regulations on the drug and qualifies patients to receive it as treatment, recreational marijuana is not yet legalized.
 
Committee Chair Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, is the lead sponsor on 11 of the 18 bills and told Capital News Service that the objective of pushing so many pieces of legislation is to normalize medical marijuana as medication, as it’s still treated as an illicit drug under federal law. 
 
Over his years serving in the Maryland legislature, Zirkin told Capital News Service, he’s seen medical cannabis help people and wants to take away as many roadblocks to it as he can.
 
Senate bill 857, sponsored by Zirkin, will allow certain dispensaries to acquire, possess and sell food containing medical cannabis to qualifying patients, along with allowing certain processors to distribute and sell to specified dispensaries. 
 
However, the development of edible products containing cannabis is very different from dealing with flower, or the smokable part of the cannabis plant, or processed cannabis products, as all food produced or sold in the state is regulated by the Maryland Office of Food Safety, said Joy Strand, executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
 
“We’re very excited to be able to bring an edibles program to Maryland, but our top focus on any of the products we’re doing or regulating is that they’re high-quality and safe for patients as a medicinal product,” Strand said in a briefing to lawmakers on Jan. 17.
 
The Senate bill was cross-filed with House bill 17, sponsored by Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore. Glenn, whose mother is the namesake of the commission, is a leading sponsor of medical marijuana legislation. A hearing for that bill was cancelled and has not yet been rescheduled. 
 
Zirkin, with Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll, is working to advance legislation — Senate bill 97 — that states that a person can’t be denied the right to purchase, possess or carry a firearm solely based on their authorized status as a medical cannabis patient.
 
Current federal laws bar medical cannabis patients from purchasing or possessing firearms under the Federal Gun Control Act, and marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug and is illegal on the federal level.
 
Maryland State Police can ask individuals looking to purchase a gun about their status as medical cannabis patients and can bar patients from completing the transaction, according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website.
 
Zirkin is also sponsoring Senate bill 855, which would allow certain qualified inmates to receive medical cannabis as treatment in state and local correctional facilities.
 
While inmates are eligible for medical care and treatment while incarcerated, medications prescribed to them prior to being placed in detention are not always given to them once locked up.
 
However, Sen. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, is presenting an opposing bill — Senate bill 86 — which would bar possession of marijuana or cannabis on the grounds of a local or state correctional facility, or while a criminal offender is in a home detention program. 
 
Serafini’s bill clarifies current legislation by stating that civil and criminal penalties can be imposed if an individual violates the law and possesses or uses marijuana or cannabis in any correctional setting.
 
Another bill from Zirkin is Senate bill 863, which would prohibit certain employers from requiring employees or applicants to disclose their use of marijuana and cannabis.
 
However, the bill doesn’t prohibit employers from making inquiries or taking other actions otherwise mandated to them by local, state or federal laws, or if applicants or employees were using, possessing or under the influence of marijuana at their place of employment.
 
While medical cannabis is legal for qualified patients and many individuals are aware of its availability, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission is prohibited from publishing ads for medical cannabis or associated products on radio, television or billboards.
 
Senate bill 859, also sponsored by Zirkin, aims to change advertising laws for medical cannabis to be consistent with federal regulations on prescription drug advertising.
 
The bill will prohibit such advertising from being false or misleading and will be required to state that the product being advertised is only for use by qualifying patients.
 
“If this helps them, why would we hide it from them?” Zirkin asked during a legislative briefing on medical cannabis on Jan. 17.
By Natalie Jones

Maryland Lawmakers Push Bill to Simplify Financial Aid for Independent Students

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Maryland lawmakers are proposing a bill to simplify the process of applying for federal aid for students who have no contact with their parents.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, and John Sarbanes, D-Towson, introduced the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2019 in the House, while Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

“We believe this is an important piece in making college more affordable for more students,” Van Hollen told Capital News Service in an interview. “This is a small but important measure to help students who, for all practical purposes, do not have parents who can help them participate in paying for college.”

The bill would apply to students who do not have contact with their parents because they escaped abusive homes, were abandoned or have incarcerated parents.

“Students that have faced difficult and abusive life circumstances that leave them unable to contact their parents should have the same chance as their peers to apply for federal student aid and make informed financial decisions,” Cardin said in a statement..

The current FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) does not allow for students to apply under independent status.

Students with special circumstances must contact each college or university to which they applied and request a ”dependency override” before their aid package is calculated. This process can be arduous and dissuade students from completing their applications, Van Hollen said.

The bill includes a key provision that would allow students to apply under a “provisionally independent” category. They would instantly receive a conditional calculation of their financial aid award and complete the dependency override only with the school at which they are enrolling.

“This bill will help prevent our financial aid process from continuing to be an unintended barrier to higher education,” Cummings said in a statement.

Van Hollen said simplifying the FAFSA application process became important to Maryland lawmakers because of concerns voiced by their constituents.

“We’ve been hearing about the need to do this…from students across the state,” he said.

Cummings, Cardin and Van Hollen first introduced the bill last year as the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2018, but it did not pass the Republican-controlled House. Democrats took control of the House in January.

This time, Van Hollen said he expects the bill to garner bipartisan support.

The FAFSA bill is expected to be part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which Van Hollen says the House will take up this year.

“The most likely route to success would be to include this provision as part of that larger bill,” Van Hollen said.

Several educational organizations have announced support of the bill, including the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the American Council on Education.

Lawmakers Press To Eliminate Job Discrimination Against Former Felons

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Former felons could have more success securing employment under bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday that would bar federal employers from asking requests for applicants’ criminal histories before conditional job offers.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, and Doug Collins, R-Georgia, joined with Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, to propose the Fair Chance Act, an attempt to decrease rates of recidivism by helping ex-convicts secure jobs.

The bill would “ban the box,” directing employers to discontinue applications requiring candidates to check a box indicating their criminal records.

“This bill would give individuals who are reentering society from prison a fair chance at truly achieving the American dream and becoming contributing members of our communities,” said Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“We have a criminal justice system where the collateral consequences for Americans with a criminal conviction are like getting a life sentence — affecting their ability to vote, to get housing and critically, to get back to work,” Booker, a presidential candidate, said in a statement.

Thirty-three states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted laws or policies that “ban the box,” extending the jurisdiction of such policies to almost three-fourths of the U.S. population, according to the National Employment Law Project.

The Fair Chance Act specifically prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from making inquiries into the criminal histories of ex-offenders before the conditional offer stage.

This follows President Donald Trump’s Tuesday State of the Union address in which he spotlighted criminal justice reform, saying “America is a nation that believes in redemption.”

Trump invited a former inmate to the address who was directly affected by the First Step Act, a bill Trump signed in December that seeks to help nonviolent offenders readjust to society.

“This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community,” Trump said.

Similarly, Cummings’s panel noted that black men with a criminal record “have been 60 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer than those without records.” That is nearly 10 percentage points higher than the callback rate for male felons in general.

“Getting people back to work improves the safety of our communities, strengthens families, and reduces government dependence – goals that all Americans share,” Johnson said in a statement. “If someone getting out of prison wants to work and be a productive member of society, we should do everything possible to facilitate that. The Fair Chance Act is an important step in that direction.”

By Ambriah Underwood

Legislation Would Update Justice Reinvestment Act

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After a comprehensive law overhauled the state’s criminal justice system, Maryland has seen a decline in the state’s prison and jail populations and more streamlined treatment for addicts who are charged with crimes, but advocates want to add to the law to keep inmates from returning behind bars.

Signed into law in 2016, the Justice Reinvestment Act is a thorough criminal justice system reform that focuses on increasing supervision and treatment and decreasing incarceration rates in Maryland prisons.

Described by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, as the “most comprehensive reform” he’s seen while serving in the Senate, the law has significantly reformed many criminal justice policies since becoming fully effective on Oct. 1, 2017. But some of its provisions are up in the legislature again.

The law aims to keep spots in prison beds open for serious, repeat violent offenders while also enforcing mandatory minimum sentences for high-level drug dealers.

It also places caps on maximum sentences for nonviolent offenders who violate probation on a technicality.

About 700 inmates have been screened for administrative release since the legislation went into effect, with 21 percent, or 147 inmates, being found eligible. Of those, 60 percent have been released and the rest are fulfilling their minimum length of stay, according to a report from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The state’s prison population dropped 1.8 percent in fiscal year 2018, and the local detention population dropped 10.3 percent, according to the report.

The bill also emphasizes treatment over incarceration for individuals struggling with addiction and has sparked a drastic drop in wait times for psychiatric beds.

Between fiscal years 2012 and 2014, placement times averaged around 167 days, dropping to 91 days in fiscal year 2017. With the Justice Reinvestment Act’s new 21-day deadline adding pressure, average placement times dropped to just 10.6 days for the 788 individuals placed in treatment in fiscal year 2018, according to the report from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

For those returning to life outside the correctional system, the law states that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services must issue a certificate of rehabilitation to specified individuals.

Professional licensing boards then can’t deny occupational licenses or certificates to former convicts solely based on the fact that the individual had previously been convicted of a crime.

But for some individuals, return to life outside is complicated by how the state categorizes and links related charges.

Under the Justice Reinvestment Act, expungement is permitted after 10 years of good behavior, including any parole, probation or supervision, for misdemeanor charges.

After 15 years of good behavior, expungement is permitted for second degree assault, felony theft, intent to distribute controlled, dangerous substances and burglary in the first, second and third degrees.

Before the law was enacted, only nuisance crimes such as public urination or other activities not normally done in public were eligible for expungement through the Justice Reinvestment Act.

Under current state law, a charge is not eligible for expungement if one conviction in a group of convictions is not eligible for expungement.

However, House Bill 13, sponsored by Delegate Erek Barron, D-Prince George’s, seeks to repeal that provision, and would authorize a person to file a petition for partial expungement of certain criminal records under certain circumstances.

The bill, previously introduced in the 2017 General Assembly, has been a topic in the legislature since 2012, and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate on Thursday.

Alphonso Smith of Baltimore wrote to lawmakers this year that he has been working at the Maryland Transit Administration as an operations instructor for 20 years. He submitted written testimony that he is an ex-offender, and described the 34 years following his conviction, which he did not detail, as “somewhat successful.”

“There are many limitations and road blocks in place due to prior, non-expungeable convictions preventing any further advancement in law enforcement, child care and many other career paths,” he said Jan. 22 in a written testimony supporting the bill. He added that the bill’s passage would clear a path for himself and others to begin the expungement process and to advance in his career without convictions weighing them down.

Along similar lines, House bill 19, sponsored by Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, seeks to authorize individuals to file a petition for expungement if the person was convicted of a nonviolent crime.

For former convicts entering the workforce again, employers also don’t often understand the difference between conviction and non-conviction dispositions, said Delegate Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.

Non-conviction dispositions are standard police records listing an individual’s involvement with courts or law enforcement, and conviction dispositions are criminal records with formal penalties.

Even if a charge receives a non-criminal disposition, under the Justice Reinvestment Act, if it’s in the same unit of charges as a criminal one, it can’t be expunged.

“Even when they understand these differences, employers often draw negative impressions about job applicants who have been involved with the criminal justice system, regardless of case outcome,” Barnes stated in his written testimony supporting House bill 13.

Another factor to consider is race, Barnes said. Black residents make up 28 percent of the state population, yet they comprise over 70 percent of the incarcerated population.

With higher conviction rates for persons of color, these individuals face exclusion from the job market, challenges finding stable housing, and other cyclical problems affecting communities of color, according to written testimony from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Ex-offenders who are employed are much less likely to commit new offenses than those who are unemployed, according to a 2017 Greater Baltimore Committee report that described employment as the “single largest determinant of rearrest and reconviction.”

The expungement legislation faces opposition from the Maryland Judicial Conference, Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association.

Law enforcement officials generally oppose legislation that increases categories for expungement because it could interfere with access to prior criminal information and be a safety factor for law enforcement personnel, according to written testimony from co-chairs Chief David Morris of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Sheriff Darren Popkin of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association.

Technological roadblocks are also a reason for opposition, according to representatives of the Maryland court system.

Online access to case records in Maryland are available through the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website, which currently has no functionality to remove single records at the charge level from the website, according to written testimony from the Maryland Judicial Conference.

Each charge is also assigned an individual number for each case. If a partial expungement is granted for one charge of a two-charge case, the system can’t renumber the charges to appear as if only one charge exists, according to written testimony from a Maryland court system representative.

“A missing numbered charge could raise more questions and red flags, therefore, nullifying the purpose of the expungement,” the Legislative Committee of the Maryland Judicial Council, the main policy advisory body to the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, said in written testimony opposing the bill.

Maryland Could Be Banned From Dredging Man O’ War Shoal

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State legislation could ban the Maryland Department of Natural Resources from dredging the Chesapeake Bay’s Man O’ War Shoal for shells destined to become homes for new baby oysters elsewhere.

In recent years, the harvest of native oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has fallen to 1 percent of what it was during the 19th century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since 2004, the state’s Department of Natural Resources has established sanctuary areas of the bay where the harvest of wild oysters is prohibited in order to protect the remaining population.

The proposed legislation—one set that would take effect upon passage and another bill that would commence in June—would prevent the Department of Natural Resources from extracting oyster shells from the historic reef, located in Baltimore County near the mouth of the Patapsco River.

While the Department of Natural Resources and watermen wish to disperse the recovered shell to replenish oyster beds elsewhere in the bay, some lawmakers and opponents of the bill have argued that alternative substances may be a more viable option for restoring their habitat.

Proposed in 2009, the dredging project would use the estimated 5 million bushels of shell that would be recovered from the Man O’ War reef—about 5-5.5 percent of the reef—to create or restore oyster habitat in up to 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

When water temperature reaches a certain level, usually between June and September, oysters will begin to spawn.

The oyster larvae drifting through the water need a solid foundation to attach to in order to grow.

While they usually cling to beds of old oyster shells like those at Man O’ War, in recent years, materials like granite have been tested as an alternative resource, according to Department of Natural Resources Assistant Secretary Bill Anderson.

Though the long-term effects of putting these substances in the bay have been researched, scientists hold conflicting opinions about their harmfulness, Anderson said.

The Department of Natural Resources is opposed to all of the proposed legislation and plans to proceed with their dredging proposal, according to Anderson.

Lawmakers, however, have disagreed on the best course of action for oyster bed restoration.

“The science is getting better and better, and research is getting more clear,” that usage of alternative substrate—material other than oyster shells—could be the solution to restoring the oyster population of the bay, said Delegate Stephen Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, the primary sponsor of the emergency bill.

Delegate Robin L. Grammer Jr., R-Baltimore County, said he is optimistic that the legislation will pass despite the failure of a similar bill last session. The non-emergency version, which Grammer is sponsoring, would go into effect June 1; lawmakers heard testimony on that bill late last month.

Grammer said he doesn’t believe the shell-removal project would be beneficial to the long-term health of the bay. He said the proposed dredging would be “destroying a natural resource as a short-term solution.”

One emergency bill — part of a paired set of twinned legislation — was heard by the Maryland Senate Thursday.

The Department of Natural Resources received a provisional permit May 17 from the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The permit is pending for final approval from the Maryland Board of Public Works and the Maryland Department of the Environment Tidal Wetlands Division, Lafferty said.

But watermen are hopeful the state will scrape shell from the Man ‘O War Shoal and spread it elsewhere in order to eventually boost the state’s historically declining oyster population , according to Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

“We need shells now to enhance our oyster bars and our tributaries,” Brown said.

Brown noted that in Virginia, it takes about 90 days to receive a dredging permit, while this project has taken nearly 10 years to get underway.

Since its inception, the Department of Natural Resources’ Man O’ War Shoal Dredging Project has narrowed the portion of the reef intended to be dredged.

The eastern boundary of the proposed dredging region was tapered in April in order to remove the portion located within the Man O’ War/Gales Lump Sanctuary from the dredging area, Anderson said.

The western third of the reef has also been excluded from the dredging region to avoid disturbing the spat on shell, or freshly attached oyster larvae, that had been placed there in 1995, 2000, 2006 and 2013, according to the project proposal.

By Charlie Youngmann

Moms Group Rallies to Push Gun-Control Laws

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Led by chants of “moms demand action” and “gun sense is common sense,” dozens of red-shirted volunteers from the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America lobbied in Annapolis to support stricter gun laws Thursday.

The members of the gun-control advocacy group, along with several legislators and survivors of gun violence, expressed their desire for bills banning ghost guns and 3D printed guns and enforcing background checks for purchasing long guns and shotguns in Maryland.

The ban on “ghost guns” and 3D printed guns are among the top legislative priorities for Maryland Democrats this session.

Ghost guns are undetectable, untraceable and disguised firearms without serial numbers that can be built at home from parts and kits available online.

The online kits allow for the purchase of 80 percent of the lower parts of the gun, which needs the other 20 percent to be legally considered a firearm. The other 20 percent can be purchased from gun shops, said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery.

“Bare minimum is no 3D guns in Maryland and no ghost guns,” Dumais said.

Obtaining 80 percent of a ghost gun doesn’t require a criminal background check, meaning that they can be obtained through a loophole by felons, domestic abusers and other individuals who are legally prohibited from owning or accessing firearms.

However, some opponents said the bills are unnecessary.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll counties, told Capital News Service that he doesn’t know of a crime in Maryland that’s been committed with a ghost or 3D printed gun, but can think of plenty of crimes with illegal handguns that have killed children in Baltimore recently.

While there may have not been crimes involving 3D printed guns in Maryland yet, creating legislation on them is proactive, said Danielle Veith, the leader of the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action.

Hough added that 3D printed guns can cost thousands to manufacture, a prohibitive amount of money when normal guns can be assembled or purchased for less.

Estimated costs for the guns can be anywhere from two- to five-figure sums, varying depending on the gun’s material and type of printer used.

“Our time is better spent on other things,” he said.

Laws concerning long guns and shotguns are another topic in the General Assembly this session following several fatal local shootings.

It was a shotgun that fired through the glass door of the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis in June when five staff members were fatally shot.

Criminal background checks are not required to purchase long guns or shotguns in Maryland. An individual only needs to fill out a form and pass an instant background check.

Senate Majority Whip Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, plans to introduce a bill that will require background checks for shotguns and rifles.

Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard, voiced her support for a bill requiring the background checks.

“I am a mom and I demand action,” she said. “We are going to close the loophole.”

Maryland Legislature’s Democrats Announce 2019 Priorities

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Banning 3D printed and “ghost” guns, preserving health care access, raising the minimum wage, increasing the purchasing age of tobacco and lowering child care costs for parents are priorities for the 2019 session, Democrats in Maryland’s Legislature announced on Tuesday.

Senate President Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said the agenda is a progressive package that will carry Maryland through 2019 into 2020.

“Maryland Democrats are taking common sense steps to protecting our middle class,” Miller said.

Miller said the supermajority-Democratic Legislature will work with Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, but that, “he (Hogan) will have to compromise.”

“We are going to stay strong and stand firm on what our Democratic principles are,” said House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery.

Dumais said gun safety is important in Maryland, and that allowing easy access to plastic weapons made with 3D printers would be a threat to security systems.

Ghost guns are untraceable as they are made by purchasing separate parts and assembling at home.

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said $20 million would go toward making child care more affordable.

“Make it possible for people to work without having to worry about their children,” said Kelley.

Democrats said they are putting forward legislation that would mandate a right to health insurance, without regard to pre-existing conditions, if the Affordable Care Act is overturned.

Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, said Maryland needs to continue its efforts against cigarette deaths by increasing the purchasing age to 21.

Davis said the time has come for minimum wage to be raised to $15 for struggling residents.

However, Hogan and some industry representatives are concerned an increase in wages would cause businesses to switch to automation and move to cheaper neighboring states.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, said often times, policies that sound good for the middle or working class actually hurt them.

“Republicans continue to advocate for more jobs, better jobs, lower taxes, limited government,” Szeliga told Capital News Service. “We know these are proven philosophies and principles of government that work for everyone.”

Republican state lawmakers on Friday proposed a public registry for violent offenders, lowering the income tax rate by a quarter percentage point, flexibility for schools to hire police officers and single-member state districts for better voter representation.

Hogan’s legislative priorities include reducing small-business taxes, raising sentences for firearm offenders and creating a nonpartisan Congressional redistricting process.

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