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.”

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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

Maryland Explores Changing Tolls to Electronic Only

The Maryland Transportation Authority has started working to phase out all cash toll booths across the state within in the next 13 years.

Today, tolls are collected three ways: by cash, or electronically, by either an E-ZPass transponder or by video tolling — when the state uses a license-plate photo and mails drivers their bill.

Transportation officials say that the transition to all-electronic, high-speed toll collection will: save drivers time on their commute, save the state money, reduce accidents at toll plazas, and reduce CO2 emissions as less fuel is being burned, according to a national study by the University of Central Florida.

Drivers in Maryland could start seeing new plazas that only collect tolls electronically at highway speeds by the summer of 2019, said Kevin Reigrut, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The transition will also mean that anyone driving on Maryland toll roads will soon need an E-ZPass to avoid paying higher fees, and 218 toll operator positions will be phased out across the state.

If you pay using video tolling, Reigrut said, you pay 1.5 times the base rate for that road — and if drivers don’t have an E-ZPass by the time Maryland’s electronic tolls are phased in, that’s the price they’d pay across the state.

This means that drivers from other states who use Maryland roads will be forced to pay more if they don’t have an E-ZPass by the time of the transition.

As part of the transition, which has been a strategic goal of the transportation authority since 2004, the state has eliminated the monthly fee and offered toll discounts to pass holders to prompt more Marylanders to buy an E-ZPass, Gov. Larry Hogan said at a Board of Public Works meeting Feb. 21.

Drivers who use E-ZPass save 25 percent at tolls on all but two roads across the state and 37.5 percent on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, compared to paying cash, said Reigrut.

The two exceptions are the Intercounty Connector and the I-95 Express Toll Lanes, which already reflect the cost savings, and already collect tolls electronically at highway speeds, via video tolling or E-ZPass.

The state has already seen the advantages of all-electronic tolling facilities at the Intercounty Connector — the second-most used toll facility and the quickest route for commuters who are traveling east-west across the state. This is because drivers can travel through tolls on this road at highway speeds.

The discount was funded by a $270 million toll relief incentive over 5 years by the Hogan administration in July 2015 — the first time tolls have been cut across the state in 50 years — according to a May 7, 2015, press release.

“There is no better time to be a Maryland E-Zpass customer than right now,” Reigrut told Capital News Service.

The budget is still under development for the entire All Electronic Toll project, Reigrut said, but the initial contracts were approved by Maryland’s Board of Public Works on Feb. 21.

The two, 13-year option contracts totaled more than $360 million — $89 million to Kapsch USA Inc. for tolling systems and services and $273 million to Transcore LP for customer service center services.

A toll increase isn’t likely when the all-electronic tolls are entirely phased in, Reigrut said.

In the long term, Reigrut said, there will be cost savings as a result of this project because there won’t be a need to pay for toll collector salaries and benefits, armored cars to transport money to secured rooms at the transportation building or for significant auditing functions relative to using cash.

The transition would phase out 218 toll collector positions over the 13-year contract, and the transportation authority is no longer hiring for the positions, Reigrut said. They will be using temporary employees to fill vacant positions to minimize the number of employees affected by the project.

As toll facilities are converted, collectors will be given the opportunity to serve at nearby toll plazas, and can apply for other jobs within the state, Reigrut said.

The transportation authority’s approach to the project is to address one to two facilities at a time, starting with toll plazas that have the highest number of people who already use E-ZPass.

The first two areas that will be prioritized are the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge in Cecil County — where 93 percent of those who cross use E-ZPass — and the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge on I-695 in Baltimore County — where 78.5 percent of those who cross use E-ZPass, according to Reigrut.

There will “never” be an issue where lanes will be closed during the all-electronic transition, and any work that requires traffic changes will occur in off-peak hours, said Reigrut.

The all-electronic toll conversion at the Key bridge will not be completed by the start of the I-895 project, and therefore won’t offer traffic relief at the onset.

I-895 has two safe, but “structurally deficient” bridges, according to Reigrut, that need to be rebuilt. The first stage of the project included reconfiguring the lanes leading up the bridges and began in March.

The second phase of the project will begin around Thanksgiving of 2018 and will direct north- and southbound traffic across one of the bridges, knocking down and rebuilding the other, and then channeling the two-way traffic across the new bridge while the second is completed, according to a Dec. 21, 2017, press release by the transportation authority.

The entire I-895 project is scheduled to be completed by 2021.

In anticipation of the I-895 project, the transportation department announced a $49.4 million project in March 2017 to reconfigure 4 miles of I-95 roadway, north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, by the summer of 2018, according to a March 31, 2017, press release by Maryland’s Department of Transportation.

According to Reigrut, facilities undergoing change will start with the installation and coverage of signs to signal the cashless transition.

Then, at existing toll plazas, booths will be converted for non-cash operations to encourage drivers to keep moving without stopping, and overhead tolling equipment will be built and activated.

Finally, the old equipment will be turned off and the booths themselves will be gutted, one to two booths at a time, and the roadways will be reconfigured.

For example, 10 toll lanes that merge to two lanes on a bridge will see new speed limit signs, new road striping, and construction to narrow the road to a consistent two-lane approach to the bridge.

Though drivers can start to see non-cash toll at some plazas within the next year, the Customer Service Center system cannot transition into the new system until all the toll lanes across the state have been transitioned, according to state documents.

Customers will start seeing these changes two years into the project start, Reigrut said.

Customer service improvements will include a mobile app for payments, notifications and account management, a Web chat service, a modernized website and a content management system, according to state documents.

Customers will also have the ability to transfer video tolls to a prepaid account and receive faster notification. A “robust” system will also be implemented for toll users who have credit issues or have missed paying their mailed video toll charge, Reigrut told Capital News Service.

Today, E-ZPass has slightly more than 1 million customers in the state, which has a population of about 6 million people. In 2017, 78 percent of toll transactions — including out-of-state drivers — were recorded using EZ-Pass, Reigrut said.

The transportation authority expects to engage in nine to 12 months of “aggressive public outreach” to notify Maryland drivers of facilities they will be converting, said Reigrut. This outreach would include attending city council meetings in person, posting information online, direct marketing and paying for radio and billboard advertisements.

John Townsend, AAA’s public affairs manager in the District, said he worries about the people who don’t have E-ZPass and agrees that there needs to be an aggressive marketing campaign to create awareness for the transition.

Out-of-state drivers, who are not from E-ZPass states, often use the Bay Bridge; and the Baltimore tunnels will be most vulnerable to this change, because outreach is only happening in-state, Townsend said.

When Virginia began converting Route 66 inside of the Capital Beltway to electronic lanes, the Virginia Department of Transportation engaged in marketing and also increased the number of vendors selling E-ZPass transponders, said Townsend.

In Maryland, the transportation department is using a similar strategy — selling E-ZPasses at the cash toll booths, in some supermarkets, and on their website when drivers register their vehicle.

“You’d have to work hard not to get this information,” Reigrut said.

Today, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia use E-ZPass.

By Katherine Brzozowski

In-state Tuition Bill aimed at ‘Dreamers’ advances in Maryland

A bill that aims to ensure young, undocumented Maryland students referred to as “Dreamers,” can pursue higher education by giving qualified individuals access to in-state tuition is advancing in the Maryland General Assembly.

The circumstances under which Dreamers and residents with temporary protective status are exempt from paying the out-of-state tuition rate at public institutions of higher education will be altered under House bill 1536, which is cross-filed as Senate bill 546.

Under the legislation, qualified students would soon be able to pay the in-state tuition rate at any Maryland public higher education institution or the in-county rate at any community college, regardless of whether they live in that county.

The current state Dream Act, passed in 2012, says that an individual who attended a Maryland high school for at least three years and graduated or received the equivalent of a high school diploma pays the same tuition rates that resident students pay.

Current law also states that students are required to begin at a Maryland community college in the same district as the high school they graduated from. Once the student completes 60 credits, they may enroll at a public four-year institution and pay in-state tuition.

The new bill removes the credit requirement and would allow students to directly enter any public state college or university, and extends the period of eligibility from four to six years after graduating from high school. It would go into effect on July 1.

“Countless students who qualify (for in-state tuition) are more than ready to begin higher education at a four-year university right away. This bill will allow these Dreamers to continue their academic career at the college of their choice,” said sponsor Delegate Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, in a statement to Capital News Service.

High school senior and advocate for CASA, an immigrants-rights advocacy group, Jesus Vicuña, 18, one of the 9,700 Dreamers under protective status in the state, worries that his time will run out before he is able to pursue his dream of running track at Coppin State University, which just sent him an acceptance letter.

“I started to feel a sense of stability, I no longer had to live in the shadows. … For the first time I started to picture myself at a university and I finally had the opportunity to make my parents’ sacrifices worth it,” said Vicuña, who lives in Baltimore and attends Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a public high school, about receiving DACA at the age of 15 after immigrating from Mexico with his family at 9 months old.

His DACA waiver runs out in April 2019, he said.

Vicuña got involved in CASA and his high school’s Hispanic club to promote legislation that helps students like him and testified in front of the Maryland House Ways and Means committee in favor of House bill 1536.

“This is a big step towards progress because everything is so unsure at the federal level,” he said.

The Trump administration announced Sep. 5 it was phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and gave Congress six months to figure out a solution. It was further delayed by rulings from federal judges in California and New York, who both ordered the Trump administration to resume processing DACA renewal applications.

While the deadline has passed without a fix from Congress, the case is still going through the federal appeals process, leaving DACA recipients in limbo.

A recent Supreme Court ruling has given DACA participants a reprieve.

The University System of Maryland is monitoring this legislation and will continue to welcome qualified students as they have since the Dream Act was enacted, according to a representative for the University System.

By Hannah Brockway

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

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

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

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

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

Hogan told the crowd he himself attended private Catholic schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Sean Whooley

Maryland Schools Need more Physical Education, lawmaker Says

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

Resolutions Address Gender Gap in Maryland Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Hannah Brockway