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 (

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.

Talbot County Bipartisan Coalition Reorganized and Refocused

The Bipartisan Coalition of community organizations and individuals that played such a large part in the past County Council election, helping to unseat the former Council President, has determined that it will continue in existence but with a modified mission appropriate to citizens’ needs in coming years.

The group’s Chairman, Dan Watson, said, “Our alliance has been re-christened for the long term as ‘The Bipartisan Coalition of Talbot County PAC.’ It will serve as a network of community groups and engaged individuals devoted to sound local government for Talbot County. While we came together at first focused on a single election, our stated goal from the outset has always been ‘good local government.’ That very positive, policy-focused objective has not changed. The community’s recent success has ushered in a new era of awareness and engagement for many voters which we hope to sustain and strengthen.”

The network, formed initially by four community groups, has expanded to include people from all segments of the Talbot community, including members from the towns of Easton, Oxford and St. Michaels; people particularly focused on diverse issues such as education, the budget, and environmental issues; and, of course, registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. It is an open-ended and growing network, and everyone is welcome to enlist, whether as a formal member or even informally, as a means of staying informed.

The specific purposes of the Bipartisan Coalition going forward are, first, to maintain and grow our network of engaged organizations and individuals who recognize the importance of responsive local government to Talbot’s future. Secondly, we are committed to keeping our network reasonably informed, tracking activities at the County level, though not overloading people with minutia. The Coalition will also speak out as appropriate, whether in response to actions inimical to the Talbot’s future, or to advance positive initiatives that would strengthen the County. The Bipartisan Coalition of Talbot County hopes to play a positive and constructive role going forward.


Hogan Administration Announces $300,000 to Preserve Maryland Historical Sites

The Hogan Administration today announced that the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), a division of the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning), has awarded ten projects $300,000 in Non-Capital Historic Preservation Grants to Maryland nonprofit organizations and local jurisdictions for FY 2019.

“Investing in Maryland’s historic communities leads to increased economic activity and tourism, as well as a better quality of life for our citizens,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “These grants will help identify and record sites across our state, enhancing and preserving Maryland’s rich history for generations to come.”

The grants, made available through Maryland General Assembly special funds, support and encourage research, survey, planning, and educational activities involving architectural, archeological, and cultural resources.

“This funding provides the important base for documenting Maryland’s history to be preserved in a meaningful way and will provide the opportunity to enhance heritage tourism,” said Planning Secretary Robert McCord.

The goal of the Non-Capital Grant Program is to identify, document, and preserve buildings, communities, and sites of historical and cultural importance to the State of Maryland.

This year’s grant awards range from $6,000 to $55,000. MHT received more than $836,000 in Non-Capital grant requests this year.

The availability of fiscal year 2020 Non-Capital grant funds will be announced in the spring of 2019 on MHT’s website ( Application deadlines and workshop dates will also be found at the same link.

MHT, the State Historic Preservation Office, is an agency of the Maryland Department of Planning. The Trust was formed in 1961 to assist in identifying, studying, evaluating, preserving, protecting and interpreting Maryland’s significant prehistoric and historic districts, sites, structures, cultural landscapes, heritage areas, cultural objects and artifacts, as well as less tangible human and community traditions.

For more information about the grant program, contact Heather Barrett, Administrator of Research and Survey at MHT, at 410-697-9536 or  Details on the projects are below.

The Archeological Society of Maryland, Inc. – Location to be Determined
($15,000 grant awarded)

This grant will partially fund the 2019 Field Session in Maryland Archeology at an as-yet undetermined site in the spring of 2019. The field session provides a hands-on opportunity for laypersons to learn archeological methods under the direction of professional archeologists.

Park Heights Renaissance, Inc. – Baltimore City ($20,000 grant awarded)

Project includes the preparation of a National Register nomination for Park Heights Historic District in Baltimore.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Archaeological Foundation, Inc. – Dorchester County ($15,000 grant awarded)

This project involves conducting a coastal shoreline archeological survey within the Fishing Bay watershed and Nanticoke River mouth in southern Dorchester County. The survey will be carried out along 86 linear miles of coastline to update existing site records and record newly discovered cultural resources.

Hyattsville Community Development Corporation – Prince George’s County ($21,000 grant awarded)

The project includes comprehensive documentation of restrictive deed covenants historically employed in Hyattsville and the development of educational and outreach programs that incorporates the research.

Historic Sotterley, Inc. – St. Mary’s County ($30,000 grant awarded)

Historic Sotterley, a National Historic Landmark, proposes to conduct archeological survey on the historic property to assess, expand, and update its inventory of archeological resources. The Sotterley property has expanded in size since the last archeological survey, with 52 acres now completely un-inventoried.

John Wesley Preservation Society, Inc. – Talbot County ($6,000 grant awarded)

This project includes an archeological survey for planning purposes prior to construction at the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church in Talbot County, as well as costs associated with development and installation of interpretive signage, and development of a “virtual tour” and oral history website.

The Lost Towns Project, Inc. – Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties ($43,000 grant awarded)

An interdisciplinary team from the Lost Towns Project, Anne Arundel Co., MNCPPC, and Washington College will undertake Phase I of a three-year/multi-phase project to survey and evaluate the prehistoric archeological resources of the Jug Bay Complex. This grant will contribute to a planned National Register nomination in year three.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Frederick, Howard, and Washington Counties ($50,000 grant awarded)

The project involves a survey of four Maryland state parks spanning six counties. Work includes the preparation of Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties (MIHP) and Determination of Eligibility (DOE) forms, plus additional historic context related to park development in the New Deal era.

Somerset County Historical Trust, Inc. –  Dorchester and Somerset Counties ($45,000 grant awarded)

Project work includes the completion of a historic sites survey of threatened sites in Somerset and Dorchester counties (Phase II). Phase I of the survey project was funded with FY 2018 Non-Capital grant funds.

The Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, Inc. –
Statewide Project 
($55,000 grant awarded)

This project will develop a historic context for LGBTQ history in Maryland and create a digital map and accompanying database of related sites. The work includes the preparation of one National Register nomination and recommendations for future nominations, amendments, and MIHP forms. Public tours of sites and lectures will highlight the research efforts.

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’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

New Chesapeake Bay license Plate Revealed

The Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) revealed the new design for Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay license plate during a special unveiling ceremony today. The newly redesigned plate features two prominent Chesapeake icons: the blue crab and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Sales of the Chesapeake Bay license plate support funding for K-12 outdoor education, environmental restoration projects, and community engagement in natural resources. The new plate will be available for purchase beginning Monday, October 29, 2018.

The unveiling of the new plate, frequently referred to as the Bay Plate or Chesapeake Bay Plate, is the culmination of an extensive process that engaged multiple Maryland-based artists and incorporated input from thousands of Marylanders who considered over 250 alternative designs. Ultimately, TM Designs, a Frederick-based design firm and member of the Maryland State Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program, created a design that won the majority of survey respondents’ votes and resonated with Marylanders’ desire for a plate that evokes “Chesapeake Pride.”

“The Maryland Department of Transportation is proud to partner with the Chesapeake Bay Trust and support its efforts to restore and protect the Chesapeake Bay through the Bay Plate,” said Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn.

The Bay Plate is a popular choice among Maryland drivers, with 7 percent of all vehicles displaying them and 12 percent of households across the state reporting that they have at least one set of Bay Plates in the family. Close to 338,000 Bay Plates are on the roads today.

“MDOT MVA is pleased to offer this new option to Maryland drivers,” said MDOT MVA Administrator Chrissy Nizer, whose agency administers the Bay Plate program. “We look forward to providing premier customer service to all those interested in purchasing the new Bay Plate at one of our branches or through our convenient web services starting on Monday, October 29th.”

The new design is the third design in the history of the Bay Plate, with the first introduced in 1990 and the second in 2004. All Maryland license plates are manufactured by Maryland Correctional Enterprises, a division of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service

Andy Harris Responds to Aggressive Protesters Outside his Office

Congressman Andy Harris made the following statement on aggressive marijuana protesters outside of the D.C. office on October 2, 2018:

“After I was physically confronted by protestors attempting to physically force their way through a private doorway into my office in Washington, D.C., the same violent protesters then attempted to forcibly open the main door to the office.

In potentially dangerous situations like this, especially when a physical confrontation has already occurred, staff and Members of Congress are instructed by the Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol police to immediately lock down the entire office suite, and to call for Capitol police support. And that’s exactly what my staff did, despite the efforts of the protesters to force the second door open as well. Some of these same protesters have participated in, and disrupted, town halls by talking over other constituents. I commend my staff for keeping a level head during dangerous circumstances.

Yesterday’s events were truly shocking, and I strongly condemn those who promote physical confrontation as an appropriate response or solution to policy disagreements.

Despite the protestor’s aggressive confrontation, I remain committed to pursuing legitimate medical research into marijuana through legislation in a bipartisan effort that I have sponsored alongside some of Congress’ leading marijuana proponents.”


House Appropriations Committee Approves Harris Language Repairing H-2B Visa Program

Today, the House Committee on Appropriations is considering the FY19 Homeland Security Appropriations bill. Congressman Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01) authored, and the committee approved, an amendment to permanently fix the H-2B visa program. The seafood processing industry and other employers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore depend on this program to hire temporary workers when they cannot find Americans interested in their job openings. Congressman Harris made the following statement after the amendment was passed:

“Unfortunately, the current structure of the H-2B visa program cannot accommodate the recent and substantial increase in demand for temporary guest workers. My amendment will ease the current strain on the H-2B program by exempting returning workers from the annual 66,000 visa limit, and by fixing the current problem of the “all or nothing” allocation system. In the event that even the higher limits authorized by my amendment are not enough to satisfy all the needs in a given year, the Department of Homeland Security will be able to distribute visas through a proportional allocation system, so all businesses in the application pool will receive at least a portion of the visas they requested.

The hardships created by this year’s shortage of visas should never be allowed to happen again. Small businesses on the Eastern Shore and across the United States depend on these temporary guest workers when they cannot find Americans to fill their job openings. I commend my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee for supporting this important reform, and I hope Maryland’s Senators will support this reform as well.”


Legislature Passes Bill to Expand Post-Conviction Relief

Many bills remained in the balance as the minute hand ticked toward midnight on April 9, the last of Maryland’s 90-day legislative session.

Among them was legislation addressing the rights of criminals to petition for post-conviction relief — a process of challenging a conviction in court.

Until two years ago in Maryland, filing a petition for a writ of actual innocence or petitioning to test newly discovered DNA evidence were two ways a defendant could seek post-conviction relief — and potentially win their freedom.

Criminal defendants could have filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence if new evidence was uncovered that called into question that person’s conviction.

But in two Maryland Court of Appeals decisions — Yonga v. State (2015) and Jamison v. State (2016) — the court determined that individuals who accepted pleas were no longer eligible to petition for a writ of actual innocence or the testing of newly discovered DNA evidence.

More than 95 percent of defendants in criminal cases nationwide accept plea bargains, according to the Innocence Project, a legal group working to free innocent people who are incarcerated.

Proponents of Senate bill 423, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, argued — and opponents conceded — that innocent people sometimes plead guilty to crimes they do not commit.

“The bottom line is, if you’re innocent, you should not be in prison,” Zirkin told Capital News Service. “There are times when individuals plea to things that they may not have done because it’s the better idea in terms of … if you’re looking at a ton of time and there’s a plea for less.”

Baltimore resident Demetrius Smith, 34, served time in prison for a crime he did not commit.

In 2008, then 26-year-old Smith was charged with the murder of Robert Long in Baltimore.

A judge granted him bail despite the seriousness of the offense, “because he knew something wasn’t right,” Smith told lawmakers in February.

Smith — while out on bail — was charged in a different case for shooting his neighbor, who survived.

In 2010, a jury convicted Smith of murdering Long. He was sentenced to life in prison.

A year later, at the trial for his neighbor’s shooting, prosecutors offered Smith a plea bargain.

“My sister begged me to take the (plea) deal,” he said.

Smith accepted an Alford plea — an agreement in which the defendant maintains their innocence, but recognizes that the prosecutor has enough evidence to convict them.

“I had lost all faith that I would ever get justice in the courts the day I entered the Alford plea,” Smith told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

He was sentenced to 10 years of incarceration to run concurrently with the life sentence he was already serving for Long’s murder.

He maintained his innocence in both cases throughout.

Smith’s powerful testimony shook the committee.

However, Senate bill 423, which would extend post-conviction relief rights to individuals who accepted plea bargains, did not go unopposed.

Representatives from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office sought changes in the legislation; the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center and two state’s attorneys testified against the bill.

As originally drafted, opponents argued, the bill would open the floodgates for criminals to appeal their convictions, effectively disrupting the criminal justice system.

But, “a blanket dismissal of petitions for post-conviction (relief) undermines justice and is a threat to public safety,” Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, wrote in support of the legislation.

Innocence Project testimony highlighted the public-safety aspect of the bill.

“For every innocent person who is wrongfully convicted, the person who committed the crime remains free,” Amshula Jayaram, an Innocence Project policy advocate, told lawmakers.

The actual person responsible for the crime was identified in 84 percent of the Innocence Project’s cases where an innocent person was wrongfully convicted, Jayaram added.

Opponents were not convinced. Those representing crime victims’ interests pointed to the additional pain that victims may experience if the case returned to court.

“(Crime victims) have an interest in avoiding unnecessary confrontations with those who perpetrated crimes against them and their loved ones,” Russell Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, submitted in written testimony. “Finality of convictions is a bedrock principle of the judicial system.”

Jayaram and Michele Nethercott, director of the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic and one of Smith’s attorneys, argued that this bill would simply allow defendants to petition the court for their case to be retried.

A federal investigation in 2012 determined that Smith had not murdered Robert Long. Smith and his legal team were able to secure his freedom, and the murder conviction was eventually expunged from his record.

The conviction for shooting his neighbor, which was eventually vacated, remained on Smith’s criminal record for years.

And the two Maryland appeals court decisions meant that Smith’s Alford plea barred him from presenting new evidence — a witness was prepared to recant, Nethercott said — as part of a writ of actual innocence.

The wrongful convictions for years “stopped me from getting jobs, houses, a lot of stuff,” Smith said. “It’s just getting a little better now. Just now.”

With amendments, Senate bill 423 establishes that people who were convicted by way of guilty plea, Alford plea or a plea of nolo contendere — no contest — may petition for a writ of actual innocence and for the testing of newly discovered DNA evidence.

Under the bill, the court will grant a writ or the test by determining whether “a reasonable probability exists that the DNA testing has the scientific potential to produce exculpatory or mitigating evidence relevant to a claim of wrongful conviction or sentencing.”

The court may either “grant a new trial or vacate the conviction if the court determines that the DNA test results establish by clear and convincing evidence the petitioner’s innocence,” the bill says.

Zirkin negotiated with proponents and opponents to find compromising amendments.

One such amendment states that if the court orders a new trial, both the prosecution and defense can bring in any evidence in the possession of law enforcement at the time of the original trial, regardless of whether it was included in the statement of facts accompanying the original plea bargain.

Zirkin’s amended bill also contains a provision that allows either party to appeal the court’s post-conviction ruling. Under existing statute, the state has not been eligible to appeal the court’s decision.

The amended bill passed 134-1 in the House before returning to the Senate, where it came up about 20 minutes before Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, D-Prince George’s, Calvert and Charles, struck the gavel for the last time in 2018.

The Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill.

Smith told lawmakers he didn’t want “what happened to me to happen to the next young man that’s 19 or 20, that’s going to sit in jail for six or seven years for something that he didn’t do.”

The bill awaits Gov. Larry Hogan consideration.

“The legislature passed a record number of bills this session,” Hogan spokeswoman Shareese Churchill wrote in an email to Capital News Service. “The legislature has 20 days to present passed legislation and the governor has 30 days from that point to make his decision.”

“The governor will closely review this legislation,” Churchill added.

Barring the Republican governor’s veto, the law’s success would be determined by how Maryland courts apply it.

“We’ll have to see how this plays out in the real world,” Nethercott said, “in terms of how it actually works out in the courts.”

By Alex Mann