Hogan Signs Bills on Hate Crimes, Cyberbullying

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Gov. Larry Hogan, R, pored over almost 200 bills Thursday, signing into law measures concerning cyberbullying, hate crimes and a state-recognized Freedom of the Press Day.

At this stage, Hogan has the choice of signing a bill into law, allowing it to become a law without signing, or vetoing the bill — with the exception of legislation he’s already vetoed that has been overridden.

Thursday marked one of four bill signings Hogan has scheduled for April and May. Subsequent signings are scheduled to take place April 30, May 13 and May 23.

While these signings generally begin the day after the legislative session ends, Hogan delayed the ceremony out of respect for House Speaker Michael Busch, who died April 7, one day before the end of the session.

Hogan later on Thursday called a special session of the legislature for May 1, to allow the House of Delegates to elect a new speaker.

Hogan signed House bill 181 and Senate bill 103, named “Grace’s Law 2.0”, which will provide an updated version of the protections against cyberbullying put in place by the first “Grace’s law,” which was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2013.

The law and its predecessor are named after Grace McComas, who killed herself on Easter Sunday 2012 after being cyberbullied, according to a Capital News Service report.

Hogan signed several bills that will increase penalties for threatening hate crimes or acts of mass violence, as well as a bill that will require the Maryland State Police to collect and record data on hate crimes.

Hogan also signed House bill 871 and Senate bill 690, which will reclassify human trafficking as a violent crime. House bill 734 and Senate bill 689 will increase penalties for labor trafficking as well.

A joint resolution Hogan signed will make June 28 Freedom of the Press Day in Maryland. The date chosen marks the anniversary of the shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis that resulted in the deaths of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.

Because the Capital Gazette newspapers cover Maryland politics and public policy, Rick Hutzell, editor of Capital Gazette Communications, said his paper couldn’t endorse an honor awarded by the state.

“The most important honor we get is from our readers who subscribe to us,” Hutzell said, echoing the paper’s editorial that addressed the measure. “Every day is press freedom day for us,” he said.

Hogan signed House bill 1428 and Senate bill 619, which will enact a new conflict of interest policy for the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors in order to increase transparency.

Soon after the bill’s introduction, an investigation by the Baltimore Sun uncovered no-bid contracts between the University of Maryland Medical System and its board members. Among these contracts was a deal to sell Democratic Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” children’s book to the University of Maryland Medical System, according to a Capital News Service Report.

Hogan also signed Senate bill 521, which will require the Maryland Department of Health to provide more health service accessibility to veterans in order to prevent veteran suicide.

By Charlie Youngmann

Halting Human Trafficking Requires Public To “See The Unseen”

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Bringing a halt to human trafficking needs help from the public, which must learn to “see the unseen,” an anti-trafficking advocate recently told church members here.

Civilian training is the first step, said Rebecca McDonald, founder and president of Women at Risk, International (WAR), a Michigan-based non-profit organization that works to provide protection to those at risk, for the event.

“Until you take this personally, nothing is going to change,” McDonald told members of the First Baptist Church in Waldorf.

The church partnered with WAR for a seven-hour Civilian First Responder program for 250 attending members, teaching them about what human trafficking is, the horrors of victims’ experience, how they can detect signs of the crime in their community and resources they can contact to get help.

Human trafficking, often considered a forgotten crime, is modern day slavery. An umbrella term, human trafficking encompasses a number of crimes like sex trafficking, forced labor and debt bondage.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 40.3 million people are trafficked globally, according to Polaris, an organization dedicated to eradicating modern slavery.

In 2014, 396 survivors of human trafficking were identified and provided assistance in Maryland according to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force. As most victims are not identified or reported to an agency, this number is only a fraction of the actual number of people being trafficked in the state.

WAR provided pamphlets and documents that had further information about human trafficking and ways to see its signs. In a booklet specifically aimed at the general public, the organization lists 15 demographic characteristics that make an area more prone to human trafficking.

Tourism, for example, invites people to come in and out of an area for short periods of time. These tourists, primarily men, are more likely to partake in human trafficking activities, like sex trafficking, and leave the area before there are any repercussions. Sex tourism “treats sex as just another visitor attraction,” according the WAR’s website.

Because of Maryland’s close proximity to cities like Washington and Baltimore, the state is vulnerable to sex tourism.

Six men, including two from Anne Arundel County, were arrested by county police in a prostitution sting operation at the Extended Stay America hotel in Linthicum, only a 10-minute drive from the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to an article by the Annapolis Capital.

Maryland has about 12 or 13 of these 15 demographic characteristics, according to McDonald.

McDonald said the real problem of human trafficking is that it is “good business.” Traffickers can sell a human over and over again and still have deniability, according to McDonald.

The church event also had separate break-out sessions for parents and educators, hospitality workers, teens and young adults and homeland security and local law enforcement to learn how to detect human trafficking in these specific groups.

Speakers for these sessions included representatives of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and an advocate for Human Security Investigations.

Two human trafficking victims, Jill Short and Wendy Schoonmaker, spoke about their experiences during the lunch break. Short, a mother of 10 and grandmother of six, uses beauty pageants to talk about her personal story and won the position of 2019 Mrs. Downtown DC America, the official Washington preliminary pageants to Miss for America and Mrs. America.

Schoonmaker said people are sometimes taught to mistrust themselves and ignore or shutdown their own feelings, which can be passed on to children, creating a major source of vulnerability.

“If you don’t acknowledge someone else’s feelings, someone else will,” she said. “And often times it’s someone who will exploit them.”

Schoonmaker said she was able to walk away from the first 16 years of her life by having people, either mentors or volunteers, who spoke about positive things in her life.

Both survivors urged attendees to be vigilant about signs of trafficking.

Church member Charlotte Vass organized the training session with help from other members. Having previously worked with domestic violence victims and then with WAR, Vass said the sinfulness of human trafficking “struck her” and made her want to make a difference.

A group of women at the church have been praying about this problem for years and started planning the event about eight months ago, according to Vass.

“It just became apparent that people are really uninformed about the human trafficking situation in general,” Vass said. “Most people seem to think it’s over there, they don’t realize it’s in your own backyard.”

By Sanchali Singh

Maryland may Expand Electric Vehicle Tax Credits

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Maryland state legislation could increase the tax credit received for electric cars to $3,000 per vehicle.
 
Marylander’s currently receive $100 times the number of kilowatt-hours of the battery capacity of their electric vehicle with a maximum of $3,000. With this bill, each new electric vehicle purchased will count for $3,000 regardless of battery size.
 
While plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles are both currently covered, this tax credit would only apply to fully electric vehicles and would not cover hybrid cars, according to the bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery.
 
House bill 1246, named the Clean Cars Act of 2019, would also increase the maximum price of qualified electric vehicles from $60,000 to $63,000 to adjust for inflation from when the initial limit was set by the Clean Cars Act of 2017, according to Fraser-Hidalgo.
Due to of a shortage of funding for electric vehicle tax credits in 2017, this legislation is intended to provide enough money to incentivize more Marylanders to purchase zero-emission vehicles, Fraser-Hidalgo said.
 
This bill would allow the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration to raise the total amount of tax credits to be awarded in total for fiscal year 2020 to $6 million, an increase from the $3 million set aside annually for tax credits by the Clean Cars Act of 2017.
 
The U.S. also offers a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 for owning an electric vehicle, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
 
“That $3,000 tax credit, coupled with the federal $7,500 tax credit…is extremely important to getting the new vehicles in a budget range in which Marylanders can afford,” Fraser-Hidalgo said. “The electric cars, they’re just better in pretty much every way,” he said.
 
A separate Clean Cars Act of 2019–Senate bill 168–was proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, R, with the primary difference being that Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill would also provide a $1,500 tax credit to people purchasing used electric vehicles, Fraser-Hidalgo said. Senate bill 168 was heard by a Maryland Senate committee Feb. 12.
 
While Fraser-Hidalgo’s bill would rename the Maryland Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council to the Maryland Zero Emission Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council, Hogan’s bill would change the name to the Maryland Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Council. Both measures would focus the organization on promoting fuel cell vehicles. 
 
In 2007, Maryland became one of eight states that adopted California’s Zero Emission Vehicles program, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Adhering to the standards of the program—later enforced through Maryland legislation in 2011—Maryland must have 60,000 registered zero emission vehicles by 2020 and 300,000 registered by 2025.
 
The number of electric vehicles registered in Maryland doubled between 2017 and 2018. As of February, there are over 18,000 electric vehicles registered in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration.
 
Members of the petroleum industry argued that the tax credits outlined in the Clean Cars Acts disproportionately benefit the wealthy and educated. Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors Association Inc. Executive Vice President Ellen Valentino said this bill and its 2017 predecessor are “talking to a very narrow segment” of the population.
 
“This has not been a successful program,” Valentino said. “Six million dollars is a lot of money for people shopping for a $63,000 new vehicle,” she told legislators on Tuesday. 
 
House bill 1246 passed through the Maryland House of Delegates March 18 and was heard by a Maryland Senate committee on Tuesday. 
By Charlie Youngmann

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Maryland, North Carolina Redistrict Challenges

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For the second time in as many years, the Supreme Court heard arguments on partisan redistricting cases from Maryland and North Carolina Tuesday, but it remains unclear whether a constitutional standard for regulating the practice will be issued.

North Carolina’s entire congressional map is being contested, which is currently made up of 10 Republicans and three Democrats despite the state being almost evenly split politically.

At issue in Maryland is the state’s 6th Congressional District. Democratic lawmakers are accused of moving Republican voters out of the district that covers most of the state’s rural Northwest and putting in large numbers of Democratic voters from the Washington suburbs in order to turn the district blue.

The justices seemed to be split evenly down philosophical lines, with the more liberal wing of the court encouraging the deliberation of a manageable standard to apply to future questions of gerrymandering, while the conservative wing seeming wary of intervening in a process left largely to the states.

The question, said Chief Justice John Roberts, is whether “any partisanship that has a consequence is impermissible.”

The conservative justices pointed out dozens of times that the Constitution does not require proportional representation — the idea that the percentage of seats awarded to any party should correspond with the percentage of votes it won in the states.

Michael A. Kimberly, attorney for the voters challenging Maryland’s 6th District, said that proportional consideration should be considered when debating a possible constitutional standard. He argued that “it is a legitimate state interest to pursue proportional representation in redistricting.”

Justice Samuel Alito wondered whether “the First Amendment might require or even tolerate the regulation of speech, and in this instance, the speech is the votes, for the purpose of providing a proportional representation of viewpoints.”

The justices repeatedly asked counsel for the appellees for a test that would appropriately determine which cases of gerrymandering were so extremely partisan that they crossed a constitutional line.

The conservative justices, however, did not seem to find a suitable measure that could determine when an innately political process became too political.

“Is another way…of putting the test: I know it when I see it?” Justice Neil Gorsuch asked derisively.

The court’s liberal justices pushed back, saying the problem of extreme partisan gerrymandering had gotten out of control and seemed willing to conceive of some sort of regulatory measure.

Justice Elena Kagan characterized “the court leaving this all to professional politicians who have an interest in redistricting according to their own partisan interests” as “dramatically wrong.”

Another concern expressed by the conservative justices was the possibility that the judicial branch would essentially become the arbiter of elections should the court get involved in setting a standard for redistricting.

The gerrymandering of Maryland’s 6th District, which was at issue in Lamone v. Benisek, was unique in that the map in question had been put to a referendum and was approved by 64 percent of voters.

Gorsuch still seemed hesitant to judicially intervene.

“So, in effect, you are asking the court, no matter how good the referendum might be, no matter how much the people themselves might approve these lines, this court has to tell them it — it’s unconstitutional?” Gorsuch asked counsel for the appellees.

Justice Stephen Breyer proposed a standard that would only catch the “extreme outliers,” so that not every single election would be judicially contested.

“What I’m trying to do is to figure out if there’s a way to catch real outliers,” he said, so that it would not “lead to every election contested and throw it all to the judges instead of the people.“

Breyer said he considers a scenario where a party wins a majority of the statewide vote but the minority party wins two-thirds of the state’s congressional seats to be “pretty extreme.”

Breyer thus proposed a mathematical standard whereby congressional election results would be re-examined if one party won a majority of the statewide vote but one-third or less of the congressional seats.

Steven M. Sullivan, the solicitor general of Maryland and representative of the appellant, seemed doubtful that a formula that would only catch extreme outliers for review is unrealistic.

“If you’re concerned about limiting the Court’s intervention to the extreme circumstance,” he said, “you would not be limiting it to extreme. You would be saying ‘get ready, Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee.’”

The court is expected to issue a decision on whether to keep the drawing of congressional district maps in the hands of the states by July.

By Carolina Velloso

Maryland Voters Tally to Support fairer Redistricting Process

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Maryland voters, political groups and state elected officials all rallied together outside the Supreme Court Tuesday morning to support a case being heard on partisan gerrymandering in the state’s congressional districts.

Held on the steps of the Supreme Court, the Fair Maps Rally, sponsored by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, drew hundreds of supporters to raise public awareness of transparent redistricting and to protest against unfair congressional districts in states across the country.

While supporters chanted and spoke outside for several hours, oral arguments for two Supreme Court cases on gerrymandering were heard inside.

The Maryland case, Benisek v. Lamone, focused on whether the redistricting of the state’s 6th Congressional District was constitutional after the district map was redrawn in 2011 following the release of 2010 political census data, flipping it from being a solid Republican district to majority Democratic in the 2012 election.

Maryland now has seven Democratic representatives and one Republican in the House.

The case from North Carolina, Rucho v. Common Cause, dealt with the redrawing of the entire state’s congressional map after it was found to be racially gerrymandered in 2016.

Although a new map drawing was ordered, the mapmaker created a 10-3 Republican majority in the House.

While both cases involve districts being drawn to favor one party over another, some who oppose gerrymandering say that it’s not a partisan issue.

“This is not a fight between right and left; this is a fight between right and wrong,” said Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who was elected in a heavily Democratic state.

Agreeing with Hogan was former Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who jointly filed an amicus brief with him to the Supreme Court supporting O. John Benisek, the plaintiff of the case who argued against the constitutionality of gerrymandering.

“The villain is not the party; it’s the politician,” Schwarzenegger said. “We must terminate gerrymandering.”

Free and fair elections are the basis of democracy, Hogan continued, and both parties are guilty of unfairly drawing districts to ensure more representation.

“Representatives shouldn’t be picking their citizens, citizens should be picking their representatives,” Hogan added.

Lone Republican Rep. Andrew Harris of Maryland’s 1st District represents the whole Eastern Shore, as well as parts of Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties.

Constituents at the farthest points of the 1st District are geographically more than four hours’ drive from the other end of the district, but are still represented only by Harris.

“I benefited from gerrymandering, but it’s about time that it ends,” Harris said. “It disenfranchises people.”

Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, argued that gerrymandering takes power from the people and gives it to politicians.

“That is not democracy,” Flynn said. “Voting is sacred … and no liberty is more important than our right to vote.”

Without fairness in the electoral system, democracy doesn’t work, Montgomery County resident Steve Daubresse, protesting with the League of Women Voters, told Capital News Service.

The problem is a power issue that won’t fix itself, said Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters, adding that justice can be found in the form of fair district maps.

To create a more fair redistricting process, Hogan said that he’s been pushing for the establishment of a nonpartisan redistricting commission to be signed into law this session of the Maryland General Assembly, but the legislature has not brought it to a vote yet.

Without action from the state legislature, Maryland can only rely on the Supreme Court’s decision to bring gerrymandering to an end, Hogan said.

By Natalie Jones

Congressman Andy Harris’ Statement on the Mueller Report

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Congressman Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01) made the following statement about the release of findings by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on the 2016 presidential campaign for President Trump:

“The United States government has spent two years, $25 million dollars, and a ridiculous amount of wasted time and energy on a special counsel that has officially exonerated the president from allegations of collusion with the Russian government during his 2016 presidential campaign.

According to the Attorney General, there was no collusion between President Trump and the Russian government, and there was no obstruction of justice. Now it’s time to move on and take care of the things that the American people really care about, like the economy and border security.”

Maryland May Raise Smoking Age to 21, Limit Vape Marketing

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Several bills in the Maryland General Assembly could raise the age to purchase tobacco and vape products from 18 to 21 as well as prohibit certain types of “vape” packaging that target minors.

Usage of electronic nicotine delivery systems—known as vapes—has increased among among high school students nationwide from over 11 percent in 2017 to nearly 21 percent in 2018, according to the United States Surgeon General.

In addition to raising the legal age, House bill 1169—sponsored by Delegate Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George’s—would change the definition of tobacco products to include vapor devices, parts and juices.

Nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers had tried smoking by the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This bill is intended to prevent more minors from trying cigarettes before they are of legal age, Davis said.

“The information about smoking is irrefutable. You can drink responsibly, you can gamble responsibly but you can’t smoke responsibly,” Davis said. “Those are carcinogens and anything else is just hype,” he said.

Another bill would prohibit the sale of vape products that feature cartoons, teen celebrities or the likeness of a person who appears to be younger than 27 on their packaging. Sponsored by Delegate Ned Carey, D-Anne Arundel, House bill 1185 would also require products to be sold in child-safe, tamper-evident packaging.

This bill was proposed by members of the vapor industry as a means of self-regulation, Carey said.

Lawmakers and industry professionals have criticized certain types of vape packaging as marketing targeted at minors. Various vape juices emulate the flavors of candies and breakfast cereals, and their labeling often bears a striking resemblance to their edible counterparts, according to Vapor Technology Association representative Rob Garagiola.

“There should not be Cocoa Puffs or Tony the Tiger-type marketing,” Garagiola said.

This bill would also require retailers to keep all vape products behind the counter and display signs that prohibit minors, as well as increase the maximum fine for the sale of these products to a minor from $1,000 to $2,500 for a second offense within two years of the first, according to Garagiola.

“Vape shops and vape shop owners like myself are in this business to get people off combustible cigarettes,” Maryland Vapor Alliance member Mary Yaeger said. “I don’t want (vapes) in the hands of children, not my grandchildren, not my friends’ children, not my own children,” she said.

Both measures have corresponding legislation in the Maryland Senate. On Thursday, Senate bill 708 was heard by a Senate committee; Senate bill 895 advanced with amendments in the chamber. House bills 1169 and 1185 were heard by a House of Delegates committee Feb. 27.

Bill would Give Some Md. Students Free Eyeglasses and Exams

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Students in Maryland public schools who fail required vision screenings and do not receive recommended services would be provided free eye examinations and eyeglasses by a new Maryland Department of Health program, under legislation expected to be heard by a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Senate bill 915 and House bill 1242 would create the Vision for Maryland Program, which would coordinate with Johns Hopkins University, local boards of education and local health departments to carry out the eye exams for students and give glasses to them if necessary.

The Ways and Means committee had a hearing for the House bill on March 7, but it has yet to receive a committee vote.

Local boards of education or local health departments are mandated to screen vision and hearing for all public school students when they enter the school system, in first grade and in eighth or ninth grade under current law. This would remain largely unchanged under the legislation.

Students who have behavioral or learning problems would be given eye exams — regardless of their grade — when documentation of the problem begins, or when the school is notified of a medical change, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Parents and guardians of students are required to receive results of the screenings, and if a student fails, would be given additional information on how to follow up with an eye exam, under a 2017 state law.

The bill ensures students in the state who otherwise could not see the blackboard have access to success, lead sponsor Sen. Clarence Lam, D-Howard and Baltimore counties, told Capital News Service last week.

“Where learning is concerned … the ability to read and see is critical,” Delegate Terri Hill, D-Howard and Baltimore counties, also a lead sponsor, told legislators at a committee hearing on March 7.

Before passage of the 2017 legislation, 50 percent of students who failed the screening never got an eye exam, and a significant portion never got the glasses, Hill told legislators.

“Early diagnosis and treatment of children’s vision problems is a necessary component to school readiness and academic learning,” Latisha Corey, president of the Maryland Parent Teacher Association, said in written testimony to a House committee. “Vision screening is not a substitute for a complete eye and vision evaluation by an eye doctor.”

However, the government organization tasked with operating the program opposed the bill, because it would place a “substantial fiscal burden” on the Maryland Department of Health, and would put “logistical burdens” on school systems, according to written testimony from Robert Neall, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health.

“During the 2017-2018 school year, 38,638 students received a referral after vision screening,” Neall wrote. “The cost for the provision of an eye examination and glasses for these students could be approximately $5,449,688 annually.”

An estimated 9,349 students in special education programs and 5,000 students in different learning environments were reported by Anne Arundel County Public Schools, the Maryland Association of County Health Officers said in a written statement on March 7. “Extrapolating this to the population of the state, the annual cost to the local Board and Health Departments is estimated at over $20,000,000.”

But according to a legislative analysis, the bill would cost the Maryland Department of Health an estimated $231,889 to hire employees to coordinate the program.

The same analysis said it would cost local boards of education and local health departments an estimated $900,000 a year to provide eye exams to students who begin a special education program or notify their schools of a change in medical history. This estimate did not include local costs for students who need behavior or learning intervention, who would also be covered under the bill.

Some local boards of education and local health departments opposed the measure, saying it is overreaching and questioning the practicality of its mandates.

The “unfunded mandate,” would require “the hiring of ophthalmologists and a mobile van to travel between schools to provide services required by the bill,” the Montgomery Department of Health and Human Services said in a written statement on March 7.

“While this legislation is well-intentioned, (Anne Arundel County Public Schools) has concerns with the requirement that county boards of education coordinate with the Vision for Maryland Program,” Anne Arundel County schools attorney Jeanette Ortiz said in a written statement on March 7. “Such a responsibility does not fall on a county board of education.”

Congressman Harris to Host Town Hall Meeting in Queen Anne’s County March 20

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Congressman Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01) will host brick-and-mortar town hall meeting in Queen Anne’s County on Wednesday, March 20th. All residents of Maryland’s First District are welcome to attend the town halls to ask questions and voice their concerns about issues under consideration in Congress.

Queen Anne’s County Town Hall
Date: Wednesday, March 20th
Time: 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Location: Grasonville VFW
203 VFW Ave., Grasonville, MD 21638

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