Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Releases FY 2020 Budget

Gov. Larry Hogan, R, this week released a $44.6 billion state budget for the upcoming 2020 fiscal year, fortifying his objectives for the 2019 General Assembly session — education, economic growth, health, state employees, transportation and the environment — into writing.

The budget grew 4 percent over last year, and includes $19.6 billion for operating expenses.

At a press conference on Thursday, Hogan said he made a record investment of $6.9 billion for Maryland’s K-12 education, and has set aside $438 million in a “Building Opportunity Fund,” a $3.5 billion five-year school construction program.

Maryland senators and delegates said based on the budget highlights, many of the priorities of the legislature were funded as they liked.

Senate President Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said a proposed salary increase for state employees and correctional officers, money for retirement relief, and provisions for much-needed facilities in some areas of the state were all good things.

“Obviously there’s going to be changes (to the budget),” Miller said Friday. “But the initial reflections … is that it’s a very positive budget.”

Hogan said he ignored formulaic recommendations to decrease some school funding and instead raised money for all jurisdictions in Maryland.

“Every single penny that every single jurisdiction anticipates from the state for education (will) be funded at 100 percent,” Hogan said Thursday.

The budget sets aside $56.5 million for a tax credit to be given to businesses that expand in “Opportunity Zones,” or low-income areas.

“More businesses are open and more people are working than ever before,” Hogan said.

In addition, he said that Marylanders should be allowed to deduct 100 percent of interest paid on student loans for income tax returns.

Hogan said no new taxes were implemented for the fifth year in a row, and all state employees will receive at least a 3 percent raise, including members of the AFSCME trade union who Hogan said refused to negotiate.

He said these proposals were made with the goal of easing tax burdens on hardworking families and individuals.

Transportation expenditures rose 4 percent, with a total of $3.3 billion funding the state’s transportation network.

$1.7 billion of support went to state highways, $221 million to the Purple Line, and $167 million to improvements for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Hogan said Program Open Space, a initiative that works to restore the Chesapeake Bay, would return to full funding of $62.6 million.

However, total expenditures for natural resources and the environment fell 5 percent since last year, to about $1.03 billion.

Hogan said “fiscal discipline” and “belt-tightening” have been and will be the priority for his budgets, and warned against reckless spending.

$1.3 billion were put in reserves in the case that the state faces an economic downturn.

“We want to remain vigilant about maintaining savings,” said Hogan. “That is what our budget has once again accomplished.”

Funding for health remained the same at $14.6 billion, with $1.3 billion for the developmentally disabled and about $250 million for those with substance use disorders.

In the budget, revenues across the board are expected to rise an average of 2 percent, though lottery and other special funds are expected to bring in $172 million less.

However, Miller said there was not enough money set aside for the city of Baltimore.

He said the city has a major crime problem, with a lack of funding for police officers and an “embarrassing” response time of 15 minutes.

“People need respect, they need their properties to be protected,” said Miller. “They need their personal lives to be protected, and we’re not doing that in Baltimore City.”

House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, said she was happy to see the increase in salary for state employees, but said she hopes more correctional officers will be hired.

She said the budget funded many legislative priorities, but that “the devil would be in the details,” after she had read more than just the highlights.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said the Kirwan Commission — a panel nicknamed for its chairman and charged with developing educational improvements — had asked for $325 million, but only received $200 million.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, had no criticisms of the proposal, and said Hogan presented a balanced budget that fully funds education and other priorities.

“It should diminish partisan rancor over the budget, that is our only constitutionally mandated duty,” said Szeliga.

Here is a look at some additional highlights:
–$1.45 billion was provided to the University System of Maryland, with a focus on S.T.E.M. programs.
–$11.5 billion for Maryland’s Medicaid program
–Correctional officers receive a 4 percent raise.
–Doubles funds available as tax credit for zero-emissions vehicles from $3 million to $6 million.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Inaugurated for Second Term

Beating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma into remission and being the first Maryland Republican governor elected for a second term since 1954 is no small feat.

But Gov. Larry Hogan will continue to work against the odds this legislative season, with Democrats maintaining a supermajority in the Maryland House and Senate.

Regardless, Hogan has previously touted his bipartisanship, and Wednesday’s inauguration was no different.

Cold reporters huddled together on the State House steps for a press conference with Hogan in the morning.

An excited governor said then he was excited, humbled and ready for the challenges ahead.

Hogan said after his swearing in that in this term, he plans to continue the harder work of putting the people’s priorities before partisan interests.

“Do the right thing, and the politics will work itself out,” said Hogan.

Much of Hogan’s speech took jabs at the federal government’s inability to compromise.

“Heat, finger-pointing and rancor suffocates the light,” said Hogan. “That’s not politics, that’s political theater.”

Hogan said instead of putting on a show, over the next four years he will strive to be moderate, find compromise, and encourage a government that will work together to find bipartisan solutions.

“I still believe that what unites us is stronger than what divides us,” Hogan said.

Maryland Lt. Gov Boyd Rutherford addressed that divide after being sworn in.

He said four years ago, he and Hogan had pledged they would be different from past administrations; they would serve as one executive power with the same agenda.

Hogan signaled his willingness to reach across the aisle by having Isiah “Ike” Leggett, former Montgomery County executive, make the opening statement.

“This inauguration is not an ordinary event,” Leggett said. “It is the official recognition and acceptance of the people of Maryland.”

Leggett was the first black Montgomery County executive and served for 12 years, until 2018.
Jeb Bush, 2016 GOP candidate and former governor of Florida, said Hogan’s governance contrasted the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington.

“There’s not a lot of people I would leave paradise for,” said Bush, referencing warm weather in Florida, “but Larry Hogan is at the top of that list.”

In standing by one of President Donald Trump’s former Republican rivals, Hogan further distances himself from the conflict between parties on Capitol Hill.

During his last term, Hogan said he worked with Democrats to pass legislation on health care, transportation, the Chesapeake Bay and fracking.

Now for his second term, Hogan said he is focusing on four areas: Education, economic opportunity, crime and redistricting.

Hogan wants to relieve student debt, reduce taxes on small businesses, raise sentences for firearm offenders and drunken drivers as well as create a nonpartisan redistricting process, according to his 2019 legislative proposals.

But he may face significant opposition in the state House and Senate, especially after eight House Republicans were ousted for Democrats in the 2018 elections.

Maryland Delegate Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery, said Hogan often talks up his bipartisanship but does not always work with Democrats.

Kaiser told Capital News Service that over the last four years, Hogan “advanced our agenda or signed off on it at the end, and claimed it as his own.”

Kaiser said she is curious to see what Hogan’s vision for the next four years will be, but said the House will provide for the working class no matter his plans.

Even with a House and Senate with the power to veto his decisions, Hogan still holds a 67.3 percent favorable opinion among Marylanders, according to an October 2018 Gonzales poll (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/docs/Gonzales_Maryland_Poll_-_October_2018.pdf).

Queenstown, Maryland, resident Michael Parsons, 49, a Republican, said Hogan is “one of the most likable politicians you’ll ever meet.”

Parsons said Hogan found ways to pass good economic policy and improve business, even with a Republican minority in the House and Senate.

Jay Walton, 37, a Republican from Dundalk, Maryland, said he was particularly impressed by Hogan’s steps toward improving education.

“He’s trying to hold education officials more accountable,” said Walton.

Walton was just appointed to Hogan’s P-20 Leadership Council of Maryland, a schools-business partnership that aims to prepare students entering the workforce.

Melinda Craig, 68, a Republican from Havre de Grace, Maryland, said Hogan is well-liked and well-loved in all counties, and that he truly cares about the people and the state.

“You can’t get anything done if you’re not for everyone,” said Craig.

Michele Cordle, 58, a Republican from Annapolis, Maryland, said it is Hogan’s ability to put aside partisanism that makes both Republicans and Democrats love him.

“He has some challenges, but like anything that Larry faces, he’s going to take on the challenge,” said Cordle.

Maryland Lawmakers Look to Ban Untraceable Guns 

With about a month until the 2019 Maryland General Assembly reconvenes on Jan. 9, the new Democratic state House Majority Leader is looking to continue the progress made last session on gun violence prevention by banning 3D and ghost guns in the state.

House Majority Leader Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, said she will be introducing a bill banning the possession of 3D-printed guns — plastic guns capable of shooting live ammunition and made in a 3D printer — and ghost guns — nearly complete and without serial numbers — in Maryland.

Federal law already prohibits the creation of untraceable guns.

Dumais said her bill would provide legislative support to the legal actions already taken by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

In July, Frosh joined a lawsuit filed by Washington state’s attorney general to block the release of instructions for 3D guns to the public by Defense Distributed Inc., an organization that sought to distribute the digital schematics. A final ruling on the case is expected to be made this month.

“Obviously, the state can’t regulate the internet, but we can certainly indicate what is allowable in Maryland or what you can possess in Maryland,” Dumais said of the plastic guns. “They might be legal otherwise, but you’re not going to be able to create them or have them in Maryland.”

Specifics on how the ban will be implemented are not yet clear, but a draft of the bill would be available in the coming weeks, she said.

Mark Pennak, the president of Maryland Shall Issue, a Second Amendment advocacy group, called the potential legislation “absurd” and would represent a ban on “the possession of knowledge.”

“No one has ever used it in a crime,” Pennak said. “It would cost far more to 3D-print (a gun) than to acquire a gun from on the street. It’s just hysteria and nothing more.”

Most 3D printers, devices that create three-dimensional objects from a computer-generated model, cost hundreds of dollars, while the more complex models can reach several thousand. This makes acquiring a 3D gun cost-prohibitive, Pennak said, and the guns are designed to shoot one low-caliber round at a time, making it an ineffective way to carry out a crime.

But newly appointed vice chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery, said that 3D gun technology is rapidly evolving, which should spur the General Assembly to address the issue.

“In the last five years, we’ve gone from being able to essentially print figurines, to operable firearms,” Smith said. “We’re trying to keep ahead of the curve but this is still something that has proliferated so fast we’re still behind. … The last thing we want is for the next gun tragedy to be the result of a 3D-printed gun.”

Of more concern, are what are known as “ghost guns,” said Cassandra Crifasi, assistant professor of health policy and deputy director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University.

Ghost guns are incomplete kits of metal weapons available for purchase online. The nearly complete guns, as Crifasi called them, do not require serial numbers because they are not technically complete guns but may be made functional with some parts purchased separately.

“It’s an actual metal gun that’s much more like what you would buy from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Far more effective and functional than something that’s plastic,” Crifasi said. “I would be more concerned about people being able to purchase nearly complete firearms, finishing it either themselves or using a gunsmith to finish them up and then you have something that is equivalent to what you can get in the store with no serial number.”

Last session, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed three bills to tighten gun laws in the wake of school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Great Mills, Maryland. Calls to address gun violence were renewed after a shooting in June at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis.

Two of the bills aimed to restrict firearm access for individuals who have been previously convicted of domestic violence, or have shown “red flags,” like being a danger to themselves or others. The red flag law passed largely along party lines, while the domestic violence bill received nearly unanimous support in both chambers.

The third bill, banning bump stocks — a device that makes guns fire more rapidly — also passed along party lines. Bump stocks are most notably known for being used in a mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017.

To the dismay of Second Amendment advocates like Pennak, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed all three bills. In response, the National Rifle Association downgraded Hogan from an “A” grade to a “C-” and declined to endorse his reelection bid for governor after doing so four years ago.

Crifasi applauded the General Assembly for focusing on removing guns from at-risk individuals but said imposing bans on weapons and devices like 3D guns and bump stocks can sometimes have the reverse effect. Bans can draw people’s interest to something they were previously unaware of, she said, equating it to cities warning people about a dangerously strong batch of drugs.

“Rather than people taking it as a warning and avoiding the risk, it could have the unintended consequence of drawing people in,” Crifasi said.

Here are some other legislative issues that the General Assembly is expected to address next month:

Recalculating income share models for child support payments: These models are required by law to be reviewed every 10 years. The state will work with an economist to make “major changes” to how those income models are calculated, Dumais said.

Pretrial services: Stemming from the 2013 case DeWolfe v. Richmond, which required the state of Maryland to provide legal representation to defendants at their pre-trial appearance, Dumais said more work can be done to fund these services for all jurisdictions.

Parole reform: After the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016, which sought to reduce the state’s prison population and improve parole and probation systems, Dumais said more can be done to further improve the parole system, especially among older inmates. “When does it make sense if someone is ill and elderly and really needs constant medical care — is there a point we should consider nursing homes instead of prisons if they are not a danger to themselves or others,” Dumais said.

Debt reform: Smith hopes to eliminate the use of “body attachments,” which are debt-related arrest warrants, for amounts less than $5,000. Hundreds of these arrests were made in the last year, according to a Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition report, forcing some in the state to spend time in jail awaiting a hearing.

By Brooks DuBose

Maryland Taking Steps Aimed at Addressing Climate Change

While the Trump administration’s report last month detailing the effects of rising global temperatures said Maryland had begun feeling the consequences of climate change, lawmakers and state agencies already are taking steps aimed at combating it.

From 1901 to 2016, the global average temperature has increased by about 1.8 degrees, according to the report, and “without significant reductions” in emissions of greenhouse gases, the annual average global temperatures could increase by 9 degrees by the end of this century.

Those 1.8 degrees have resulted in documented issues in Maryland, including, but not limited to, warmer weather, rising sea levels and poorer air quality.

“There are several findings that raise concern,” Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), told Capital News Service in an interview. “One is the potential effects on our seafood and agriculture industries. Another is increased flood potential around much of the state and also the loss of coastal lands in some areas around the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, there is the potential for increased health-related issues.”

President Donald Trump dismissed the report’s dire warnings.

“I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,” he told reporters. As for the severe economic impacts of climate change, he said, “I don’t believe it.”

All evidence, the 1,600-page report states, points directly to human activities as the cause of climate change. Without drastic action, meteorological conditions and noticeable impacts will continue to worsen, the report warns.

“In Maryland, we are facing climate change effects that place our ecosystems and our economy at risk and threaten to transform the coastlines many of our citizens call home,” Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in a statement.

“The continued protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay also relies on a healthy climate,” he said. “It is crucial that we continue to work to address climate change through collaboration between our fellow states and the international community.”

Maryland lawmakers and agencies appear to be focusing on mitigating the looming threats that citizens could face.

Both Republican and Democratic legislators in the Maryland General Assembly plan to propose the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act next session. If passed, the act would set a new statewide standard committing Maryland to using 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Currently, the standard is set to 25 percent by 2022, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In addition to moving away from fossil fuels, the bill also envisions economic benefits for Maryland, according to Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery, one of the measure’s lead sponsors.

By the end of 2030, Feldman said, the state would gain 20,000 additional solar jobs and $400 million in direct economic benefits every year going forward, beginning in 2030.

“To have 13 federal agencies, all with a consistent message, which is ‘if we do nothing and stand pat, we’ve got huge, huge problems down the road, both economically, as well as with the climate and the implications of that,’ it is a call to arms,” Feldman said.

“So, there is renewed interest in bringing in legislation in Annapolis and I don’t think we are going to be the only state,” the lawmaker said. “I think we are going to have action all over the United States on this subject.”

To help “coordinate mitigation, response and recovery activities” in Maryland, MEMA held a retreat last month that included nearly every state agency, according to McDonough, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Governors Association and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s Executive Council.

“We will continue our efforts to mitigate the effects of these changes,” McDonough said. “Agencies involved with natural resources, the environment, land use, insurance regulation, public health, and disaster response and recovery all play a role in making Maryland more resilient.”

MEMA also started the “Know Your Zone” campaign this year in areas of Maryland subject to tidal flooding or storm surge, working to simplify the evacuation process in case of flooding.

According to the federal report, flooding events are expected to become more frequent as a result of climate change.

“The danger is imminent if we don’t do anything,” Feldman said. “We need to take action right now in 2019; we can’t wait until 2020, 2022, etc.”

“The report that the federal government outlined includes things that we hadn’t even thought about, like (more) insects and (less) agriculture – all the negative implications of just standing pat,” he said. “I’m most concerned if we as a state do nothing.”

By Samantha Rosen

Death with Dignity: DC Residents Learning about New End-of-Life Law

More than a year after a controversial end-of-life law went into effect in the District of Columbia, advocacy groups say they are now seeing a higher public response to its efforts to ensure city residents know the law exists.

How many people have used the law will become clearer in an upcoming February report. As of last April, no patient had yet used the law, according news accounts.

The Death with Dignity Act allows mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months to live to request lethal doses of prescription medication so they can die peacefully and comfortably in their homes or any place where they have been granted permission to do so.

One of the law’s main proponents, Compassion & Choices, has helped the District of Columbia Council advocate for the legislation and educate Washington residents about the new option for patients with terminal illnesses.

The administrative side of the end-of-life process apparently has dissuaded physicians, pharmacists and patients from using the law, but local public service announcements have helped spike interest and attention, Sean Crowley, spokesman for Compassion & Choices, told Capital News Service in an interview.

His group declined to say how many doctors in the District registered to use the law, as it did not have access to such records. But as of last April, only two doctors among the roughly 11,000 doctors in the city had registered to use the law and just one hospital had approved doctors for the practice, according to The Washington Post.

The District of Columbia Department of Health is set to release a detailed report in February on how many patients have utilized lethal drugs and how many physicians have administered them. But to date, no patients have volunteered to go public with their stories.

During September, Compassion & Choices distributed television public service announcements promoting the end-of-life law, featuring prominent Washingtonians Diane Rehm, a former WAMU radio show host, and Dr. Omega Silva, a retired physician.

The announcements, which began Labor Day weekend, aired on various Comcast stations. Compassion & Choices reported that there were 229 visits to the group’s page during September, compared to only 56 for the same month a year ago – a 400 percent increase.

In addition to the District, six states have end-of-life, or physician-assisted dying laws: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, according to the nonprofit Death with Dignity National Center, based in Portland, Oregon.

Efforts to pass a similar law in Maryland have been unsuccessful.

Since the District’s end-of-life bill was introduced in 2015, organizations such as Right to Life and conservatives in Congress have opposed it and tried to defund it.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, introduced an amendment in 2017 to defund and repeal the law. The amendment failed to pass the House Appropriations Committee.

Harris, a physician, criticized what he called “the so-called Death With Dignity Act,” saying “most people don’t associate suicide with dignity in any way shape or form.”

“It sends a strong message that regardless of the many types of disease you might have and the many types of treatment that may be available, there is one common pathway that in this case the District would say is perfectly acceptable, it is legal,” he said. “It’s actually to go to a physician and ask if they can participate in your suicide. That doesn’t lead to more choice – that leads to one choice.”

The House will be controlled by the Democrats next month, making the prospects for repealing the District bill more remote.

In any case, Crowley said that “lawmakers from outside the District should not dictate to district lawmakers what laws they should pass for their local constituents.”

“Other states would never allow lawmakers from outside their state dictate what their states can do,” he said. “Why should they be allowed to dictate in D.C.?”

Since its founding as the seat of the federal government, the District of Columbia has not had voting representation in Congress, although it has some limited autonomy. Even so, Congress has the power to review and repeal District laws.

“That Congress thinks it should substitute its judgment for the judgment of the residents of the District of Columbia is odious enough,” said Councilmember Mary Cheh, who sponsored the end-of-life bill. “That it would presume to substitute its judgment for the judgment of people who are dying is unconscionable. Such an action is fundamentally undemocratic and it should not stand.”

By Morgan Caplan

Maryland Voters to Decide on Two Statewide Ballot Questions

Commercial gaming and voter registration may not be hot topics in the Maryland gubernatorial election, but voters will have a say in their future.

Across the state, voters will have the opportunity to decide on two ballot questions — both amendments to the Maryland Constitution — in the general election.

One amendment would require the governor to budget commercial gaming revenues for supplemental public education funding, and the other would allow same-day voter registration on Election Day.

The first question specifies that, starting in 2020, the education funding from gaming revenues must be supplemental, and cannot be used as a substitute for other schools funding that is already required by law.

If the constitutional amendment is approved, the governor must allocate at least $125 million in fiscal year 2020, $250 million in fiscal year 2021, and $375 million in fiscal year 2022.

The amendment states that the governor identify where the supplemental funding be used within certain parameters, including early childhood education programs, career and technical education programs and school construction and renovations.

The second question would amend the state constitution to allow qualified individuals to register and vote on the same day.

Current law allows same-day registration and voting during the early voting period, the second Thursday before the election through the Thursday before the election. This amendment would expand that to include Election Day, according to the Board of Elections.

Ballot questions have a history of being passed in Maryland. According to the Board of Elections, about 90 percent of ballot questions have been approved since the turn of the century, with an average of about three questions per ballot in midterm years.

Maryland’s local jurisdictions can also proffer their own local ballot questions.

Maryland’s High Court Weighs Texts as Marital Privilege

The Maryland Court of Appeals is considering whether to deem sensitive text messages between husbands and wives confidential communication, which usually may not be admitted as evidence in criminal trials.

On Oct. 4, the state’s highest court heard arguments from Peter Naugle, one of the state’s assistant attorneys general, and Erin Murphy, representing Kevin Sewell of Pocomoke City, Maryland.

The court had not released its opinion on the case by early Friday afternoon.

The argument revolves around a 2015 case, Kevin Sewell v. State of Maryland.

That May, Sewell was arrested on charges of murder in connection with the death of his 3-year-old nephew.

In his original trial, where text messages were introduced as evidence, the jury found Sewell guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree child abuse and the neglect of a minor. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Murphy argued this should be considered more a “burden of production” case — a question of whether the state followed correct procedure in admitting the evidence to trial — than a case about whether these texts fit marital privilege boundaries.

She said the state had initially failed to present an argument for why they could use what Sewell asserted as confidential spousal communications in trial court against his will.

Naugle argued that the text messages shouldn’t be presumed, in the first place, to be confidential marital communication.

In arguing against their confidentiality, Naugle said to send a text is to actively create a “functionally permanent” transcript of the conversation; that other people could possibly see the messages when they pop up on recipients’ phones; and state law mandates that people immediately report suspected child abuse “notwithstanding any other provision of law, including a law on privileged communications.”

Naugle said Sewell should therefore not have expected the texts to his wife to be, or stay, confidential.

Some of the text messages from Naugle to his wife read, “He ignores you like he’s retarded. He’s thrown up twice and all he does is whine;” “I didn’t even bite him hard, but, apparently, he bruises easy;” and “I’d be more concerned about all the bruises.”

In 2016, the Court of Special Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, saying the state did not present a reason for denying Sewell’s motion to exclude his text messages from the evidence.

Naugle and Murphy each pointed to decisions in former cases to support their arguments.

Particularly, they cited the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ 2002 opinion in Wong-Wing v. State of Maryland, and its 1977 opinion in Coleman v. State of Maryland.

In the 2000 initial trial against Junior Wong-Wing of Baltimore, the defendant was convicted of sexual assault and child sexual abuse against his stepdaughter.

When he faced trial, the court admitted into evidence a transcript of a message left on his wife’s answering machine where the defendant expressed remorse to the point of suicidal thoughts.

The Court of Special Appeals upheld the trial court’s evidence because Wong-Wing did not try to invoke Maryland’s marital communication privilege in trial court, and because the answering machine could have been accessed by people other than his wife.

The other relevant case law comes from Coleman v. State of Maryland — where the defendant, Eugene Coleman, had appealed his 1975 conviction of rape and larceny, according to the Special Appeals court opinion.

Coleman was married, but in his wife’s testimony, she said they had stopped living together, and when the court delivered its opinion, she had started divorce proceedings, the court documents explained.

In appellate court, Coleman’s wife willingly testified about a phone call he had placed from jail to her workplace, in which he asked her to go to his apartment and hide a diamond engagement ring the trial court determined he stole from the victim.

Coleman objected, but her testimony was permitted because the court found their marriage had practically ended, so it could not be protected by the privilege as was the statute’s primary intention, and she was not testifying about facts that were unknown to other witnesses.

Naugle said these cases established that circumstances surrounding the communication could be enough to negate confidentiality.

“Most phones today, when you receive the text, it comes up. Anybody who’s around could see the text,” Naugle said. “Again, it’s not whether or not somebody did, it’s whether or not somebody could.”

Murphy read the opinions differently, saying the Coleman case’s focus on preserving marital relations showed how protected this privilege should be. She said the court should not have waived Sewell’s privilege so easily.

“Perhaps if the state had put someone on, for example, from the restaurant where she worked, and that person said ‘Oh, she leaves her phone out, I can clearly see (her texts) pop up.’” Murphy said. “But just to say that it’s a text message … that possibly could have been seen by someone, that’s not enough to erode this privilege.”

Jessica Vitak, a researcher and seventh-year professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, studies privacy and human-computer interactions. She said there’s a strong argument for people expecting their text messages to be private.

She said there are fewer ways of privately sharing a text than of privately sharing an email, and the password protection on most cell phones provides a barrier from general public access — but those measures aren’t absolute.

“The interesting thing here is that people’s expectations of privacy are not matched by reality,” Vitak said. “I don’t think it ever crosses their mind that a third party like AT&T and Verizon can see that content.”

Vitak said she believes text messages are less private than letters, since there are laws against opening other people’s mail; as private as phone calls, because those could be heard aloud but leave no records; and more private than messages left on traditional home-phone answering machines, because those generally aren’t password-protected.

She said the court should lay out some principles with their decision, so the state need not have individual cases for new platforms like SnapChat or encrypted communication apps.

“I think the courts need to consider higher-level aspects of communication … to get ahead of what new technologies are going to be,” Vitak said.

Some marriage counselors said they are wary of offering opinions, one way or another, on the view of text privacy in relationships.

Lisa Eschbach, who has worked as a social worker for about seven years and as a marriage counselor in Annapolis, Maryland, for one year, said most of the time when text messaging comes up in her sessions, the problem people are having is that it’s not a good way to communicate.

“I bet there are some serious ramifications (of this decision) because couples do communicate a lot through text,” Eschbach said. “And again, it’s not productive, so it tends to get very negative very quickly.”

Doug Tilley, who has been a marriage counselor in Annapolis for 40 years, said he hadn’t encountered many cases where texts between spouses were used in court.

“Where it comes up sort of routinely in my work is when one partner discovers the other partner has been texting someone else in a romantic relationship,” Tilley said.

He said sometimes those accused of cheating were indignant that their spouse had looked through their phone, and other times, they were found out because texts would pop up on a lockscreen.

“I don’t know whether they ought to be confidential,” Tilley said.

Murphy concluded her arguments by saying it was the role of the Legislature to make exceptions in marital communications law.

“The bottom line is, over and over, they (the state) reference that it’s the first degree murder of a child — a horribly tragic event, but that doesn’t mean that you get to change case law and change burdens of production, based on the fact that the crime is severe,” Murphy said. “Communication between husband and wife should be protected.”

Naugle, arguing for the state, ended his discussion by telling the judges they should beware of limiting the evidence in crimes like child abuse, that often take place in the privacy of homes.

“Privileges are disfavored rather than favored, and are to be strictly construed, rather than liberally construed,” Naugle said. “The tide goes to the evidence, not the privilege.”

By Savannah Williams

Maryland Democrats: Trump Health Care curbs could Affect 260,000 in State

As many as 260,000 Maryland residents could see higher premiums or lose their health care coverage altogether because of pre-existing medical conditions, age or gender under a new Trump administration legal strategy, state Democrats warned on Tuesday.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, along with other Democratic members of the Maryland congressional delegation and state Attorney General Brian Frosh attacked the Trump administration for refusing to protect Americans guaranteed the right to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The protections, the Democrats argued, are of the utmost importance and won’t be invalidated without a legal fight.

“We’re better than that,” Cummings said. “We’re a better country than that.”

In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., that the Justice Department would not defend key provisions of the health care law, a regular target of attacks by President Donald Trump and repeal efforts by congressional Republicans.

Cummings released a report by the Democratic staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that detailed potential impacts of such a policy on Marylanders. Frosh is among more than a dozen attorneys general challenging Sessions’s decision in federal court.

“Even more troubling, they did not offer any alternative,” Cummings said at a press conference.

He was flanked by Frosh, Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger of Timonium and John Sarbanes of Towson. All are Democrats.

Trump has largely moved to defund the ACA since taking office, scaling back federal funding from $62.5 million in 2016 to just $10 million this year.

But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has challenged attacks on Trump’s handling of the health care law.

“The president trying to sabotage the (Affordable Care Act) is proving better at managing it than the president who wrote the law,” Azar said during a Sept. 27 speech in Nashville, The Washington Examiner reported.

Under the new Trump policy, 167,000 Marylanders with pre-existing conditions could lose coverage or face hikes in premiums, the Democrats’ study estimated. Of those, 79,000 have such severe pre-existing conditions that insurance carriers could deny them any coverage.

Up to 160,000 Maryland women could be charged more than men for the same health care coverage, the report said. Such discrimination was barred by the health care law.

In addition, up to 108,000 older Maryland residents could be charged more, according to the report.

Maryland workers in higher-risk occupations also could lose protections: 19,000 construction workers, 9,700 shipping clerks and 4,800 emergency medical technicians.

“Defending the Affordable Care Act will affect the lives of Marylanders and people all over this country,” Cardin said. “It’s critically important that the American people understand what’s at stake when the president does not defend the Affordable Care Act.”

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in September showed that 50 percent of adults held a favorable view of the ACA. Forty percent held an unfavorable view. Another Kaiser poll found that 75 percent of people polled said it was “very important” that the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions ensuring guaranteed coverage remains law.

“When the Trump Administration decided not to defend the law … they’ve given a green light to all those who want to undo that protection through the courts,” Van Hollen said.

Trump, who said during his campaign that he wanted to put somebody on the Supreme Court who would help overturn the ACA, has done just that in nominating Brett Kavanaugh. In 2011, Kavanaugh was the dissenter in a 2-1 federal appeals court ruling on the constitutionality of the ACA’s individual mandate provision.

Cummings said the administration’s hostility to the health care law has caused unease even among government attorneys.

“Their actions are so indefensible,” Cummings said, “that three of four career attorneys representing the government withdrew from the case rather than sign their names on the brief. One attorney even resigned.”

Joel McElvain and two other lawyers withdrew from the case this summer; he later resigned. All three worked on a lawsuit brought by Texas and other Republican-led states that challenges the constitutionality of the ACA and is likely to find its way to the Supreme Court.

by Jared Goldstein

Healthcare Plans See Reductions of Premiums in Maryland for 2019

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday announced a reduction in next year’s insurance premium rates for individual healthcare plans in the state.

The two health insurance providers in the state’s Maryland Health Benefit Exchange — which operates the marketplace consumers use to purchase healthcare under the Affordable Care Act — Kaiser Permanente and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, will offer an average of about a 13 percent reduction in premiums across the board, the governor said. The new rates will take effect on Jan. 1.

The announcement comes after the federal government in August approved the state’s request for a waiver to establish a reinsurance program to stabilize the insurance market and prevent rate spikes.

“Rather than huge increases in health insurance rates, we are instead delivering significantly and dramatically lower rates for Marylanders,” Hogan said. “For the first time since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, all individual insurance rates in Maryland will go down instead of up.”

Prior to the waiver’s approval, insurance premiums were expected to increase dramatically next year for both HMO and PPO healthcare plans. CareFirst’s PPO rate was expected to increase by more than 90 percent. It will now decrease by 11 percent, the governor said.

CareFirst’s HMO plan, which covers more than half of the nearly 200,000 Marylanders with health insurance plans purchased in the individual market as of June 30, will see a 17 percent decrease.

Kaiser had proposed a rate increase of almost 40 percent. Instead their rates will drop by about 7 percent.

“As a result of these rates, the health insurance market in Maryland will finally have the chance to become more competitive and dynamic,” Hogan said, adding the reinsurance program will make healthcare more affordable and increase competition by coaxing more insurers into the market.

The reinsurance program is a temporary fix, however. The waiver runs through 2020 but could last through 2023, according to the waiver application — and a more permanent solution must be enacted by the federal government to ensure rates do not increase down the line, said Maryland Health Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer.

“Most of the rules regarding the Affordable Care Act are embedded in federal law. Very little authority is given to the states,” Redmer said. “What we really need — and what we’ve been advocating for years — is for Congress to put aside those partisan differences and come up with common sense solutions or give us more authority to make changes here in the states.”

Redmer declined to speculate whether insurance rates would increase after the waiver expires without a long-term solution in place.

“Short term, our health insurance rates are (going to be) much more competitive than they were this year,” Redmer said, adding that the lower rates will add more consumers to the insurance market making it healthier overall.

By Brooks DuBose

Hogan Establishes Statewide Schools Investigator General

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Tuesday forming an Office of Education Accountability, an independently appointed investigator general, to look into allegations of corruption, abuse and other improprieties in the public education systems across the state.

The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of several high-profile scandals in Maryland school systems.

In Prince George’s County, school board members last year accused county school system leadership of artificially inflating graduation rates by altering students’ grades, and in March cited unapproved pay raises for some school system staff.

Hogan highlighted former Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance’s recent jail sentence after he pleaded guilty in March to perjury as an example of the need for more oversight. Dance failed to disclose income he received from a company that he helped to obtain a no-bid contract with the school system.

“After repeated allegations of wrongdoing, mismanagement and corruption, citizens have lost confidence in the leadership of their local school systems,” Hogan said at a State House news conference. “Our children cannot and should not have to wait until the Legislature returns in January,” the governor said. “They deserve action beginning right now.”

The newly formed office “will act as a liaison between local boards of education, the state Board of Education and Maryland’s concerned citizens,” Hogan said. “This new unit will be responsible for analyzing, coordinating and providing recommendations on matters including procurement improprieties, abuse, neglect, safety, grade fixing, graduation requirements, assessments, educational facilities and budgetary issues.”

A bill Hogan, a Republican running for re-election, spearheaded earlier this year to establish an investigative oversight office for schools failed in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

The governor’s executive order will be followed by the introduction of the Accountability in Education Act of 2019 to the General Assembly after the legislative session begins Jan. 9, Hogan said. The act would establish the Office of State Education Investigator General, an independent part of the Maryland State Department of Education, and would be appointed by Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel.

“This new office will be charged with investigating complaints of unethical, unprofessional, improper or illegal conduct in our schools,” Hogan said, and “will be able to make inquiries, have the ability to obtain information by subpoena and hold hearings in order to get to the truth.”

John Woolums, the director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said his office has previously opposed similar legislation to create a statewide inspector general, and their position would not change with the governor’s announcement.

“It’s not reflective of any reluctance to be subject to accountability but in fact it’s because there is ample authority residing with the state’s superintendent of schools and the state Board of Education to provide oversight and enforce state laws and regulations that they determine are not being followed or adhered to by local school systems,” Woolums said. “There have been bills in the past introduced to create an inspector general and we’ve traditionally and consistently opposed those.”

Hogan appointed Valerie Radomsky to be the director of the newly formed office. Radomsky, a former Baltimore County school teacher, is a Board of Public Works coordinator in the Maryland comptroller’s office.

The new office would be responsible for responding to complaints and referring them to the State Board of Education or other public school agencies. The complaints, and their resolutions, would be maintained in a database, Hogan said. An annual report of the findings and recommendations would be submitted to the General Assembly, he added.

Hogan’s gubernatorial opponent, Democratic candidate Ben Jealous, criticized Hogan’s announcement.

“A political investigator run out of the governor’s office won’t change the fact that our schools are underfunded by billions of dollars and our teachers are underpaid. As governor, I will fully fund our schools, not blame our hardworking teachers and support staff.”

Hogan maintains he has spent record amounts of money on education in Maryland, in excess of the Legislature’s mandated funding formulas.

Jealous announced a piece of his own education agenda Tuesday, promising the creation of a Teacher School Supply Fund. The money would come from other Marylanders choosing to donate a portion of their tax returns.

Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost voiced her disappointment at Hogan’s decision to sign the executive order.

“On what should be an exciting first day (of school), to hear Gov. Hogan highlight failures when he, for the past three years has underfunded our schools…” Bost said. “The governor’s office already has agencies available to look into claims of fraud. This is a diversion of resources, and campaign rhetoric.”

By Brooks DuBose