Questions Mount for Maryland’s Next Session

Delegate Julian Ivey, D-Prince George’s, far right in dark suit jacket, sits with special session demonstrators on Sept. 16. (Philip Van Slooten / Capital News Service).

By Philip Van Slooten
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — General Assembly leaders in Maryland ended the 2020 session early and recently declined a special session due to pandemic and presidential election concerns. But they have yet to announce plans, particularly regarding legislative voting, as the next session draws near. 

“The reason we aren’t having a special session is because we need information,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, on Sept. 16 told demonstrators staging a mock General Assembly session outdoors while wearing masks and sitting six feet apart. “We need to do the work to make sure that when we convene as a General Assembly, we solve the problems that you care about.”

Ferguson and Jones further explained in a Sept. 17 letter to legislators concerns about acting “with imperfect information that will only be clear after the November 2020 Presidential election,” and stated convening an early session “would be a misstep and a disservice to the people of Maryland.”

In the letter, the legislative leaders articulated priorities such as police reform, long-term housing stability and improvements to working conditions, but stated the need for “greater clarity of federal support for state and local governments.” 

Ferguson and Jones indicated more information regarding federal funding and policy could be clearer after the election. 

The Maryland General Assembly ended its previous session early, on March 18, due to pandemic concerns. Though a special session had been planned early on for May, in a joint statement released April 20, both Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, stated it was still too soon to safely reconvene. However, virtual committee meetings continued. 

“After consulting with health experts, this is the best course of action at this time,” Jones stated on April 20. 

Sen. William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, told Capital News Service on Thursday one option was for legislators to meet in Annapolis in person, masked and socially distanced, and to live-stream proceedings for the public, lobbyists and others. 

“That’s why the hearings are so important,” he said of the virtual committee meetings being held since the session ended. “We are road-testing the technology to make sure things work and the public can still be involved.”

However, Christianne Marguerite, the digital and communications organizer for Progressive Maryland, one of the groups behind the call for a special session, told CNS the purpose of last week’s mock assembly was to show it was possible for the legislature to return to work even during the pandemic. 

“According to the constitutional constraints, the General Assembly doesn’t have to meet in a statehouse but in the capital of Annapolis,” Marguerite said. “That’s why we’ve mentioned outdoor venues (as possible demonstration sites) that can hold 141 individuals safely.”

Organizers chose the football field next to Phoenix Academy in Annapolis because it was a five-minute drive from the State House and could safely hold legislative members as well as members of the public and press. 

According to data collected by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 41 states have met in either a regular or special session since March, including Virgina, which began a special session on Aug. 18 to address the budget, police reform and pandemic-related issues. Maryland is one of seven states that adjourned sine die in March without reconvening. The conference reported Texas and North Dakota as “not in session” for 2020. 

A number of states held special sessions during the pandemic and past Maryland’s early end on March 18. (Data Source: National Conference of State Legislatures)

But Ferguson and Jones remained unconvinced, with Ferguson repeatedly telling demonstrators about the need “to get it right.”

Similarly, Republican House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, told CNS the constitution may require in-person voting on legislation, and leadership was “looking into how this can be done as safely as possible,” but there were no final plans for January as of yet.

On Aug. 14, General Assembly Counsel Sandra Benson Brantley — who works in the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh — responded to questions from legislative leadership regarding the “legality and constitutionality” of making changes to how the session is conducted during a pandemic. 

She responded in a detailed memo that changes to floor votes “involving a remote or virtual component” could risk “a successful legal challenge.”

Additionally, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup on Sept. 16 his concerns about gatherings for long periods of time, particularly as more activities move inside during the upcoming winter months. 

“The risk to indoor activities has not gone away,” he said, mentioning a recent CDC report finding indoor dining remained a high risk factor for contracting COVID-19. 

According to the report, “Adults with positive (COVID-19) test results were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative (COVID-19) test results.”

Researchers noted restricted airflow was also a factor in transmission “even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance.”

During last week’s special session demonstration, Jones told the crowd she was concerned about legislators at higher risk for contracting the disease, but still signalled an intent to reconvene as scheduled Jan. 13. 

However, questions remain as to how the session will be safely conducted, how votes will be counted so as to withstand legal challenges, and what precautions will be in place that were not available in either March, May or even now. 

While Ferguson’s and Jones’s offices stated by email that they were not ready to comment on preparations at this time, not every legislator is convinced that an outdoor special session, while the weather is still agreeable, is not a reasonable option. 

Delegates Gabriel Acevero, D-Montgomery, and Julian Ivey, D-Prince George’s, spoke during last week’s demonstration in support of convening a special session. 

“For 83 days I have been highlighting victims of police brutality and calling for a special session so that we can address that issue specifically,” Ivey told CNS during the protest. “Just like our essential workers are working, I believe legislators are essential and we should be doing our job that we were constitutionally elected to do.” 

Similarly, Acevero stated it was important for legislators to find a way to return to work during the crisis and address pressing issues such as police reform, health disparities and rent relief. 

“I support a special session for us to address the economic and health crises that this pandemic has created,” Acevero told CNS. “And to support working families who during this time are not only vulnerable but in desperate need of relief.”

“The only way we’re going to do that,” he added. “Is if we actually show up and if we legislate.” 

The Color Theory: Full Speed Into Hoodie Season

As the temperature begins to drop, nights grow longer and we no longer have to endure this humid, summer Maryland weather again for another year. Fall season is officially here! And more importantly, hoodie season is here to stay.

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

The modern day hoodie has been around for almost one hundred years – dating back to 1930 developed by the Knickerbocker Knitting Company, which would later be known as Champion.

Phillip Mak, writer for Frank and Oak, explains the creation of the hoodie as we know it today,. “It was first developed to help warehouse workers in New York to fight off cold weather.”. No one expected this to become in style, but later to become popularized by pop culture icons and athletes in the 90s.

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Comfortability has always been the focal point of hoodies. What else do you think of when hoodies come to mind? Laziness? Sleeping in? Bad hair days? Netflix and Chill? Girlfriend stealing your hoodie? It all ties back to one thing: throwing on a hoodie and calling it a day and being comfortable in it.

It is one of the simplest forms of fashion you will ever encounter, so there is no need to overthink your fit. Hoodies have always been relevant to streetwear since the culture’s emergence.

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

But let’s not be mistaken for our love of hoodies, sweater weather is here too – and so are crewnecks, jackets, turtlenecks, and cardigans. They are all here to stay for a while like it always has been for generations.

In the words of Maya Rudolph, “Oh my god, it is Sweater Weather.”

Photo Credit: Jeff Dominguez – The Sting

Here’s a tip: whatever article of clothing (ex: your shirt, pants, shoes) you have chosen as your primary piece (the one you really want to wear for the day), make it as your emphasis – In this case, make your hoodie stand out from the rest of your outfit.

You can also refer back to my last post on The Color Theory: take a look at your patterns and designs of the hoodie – just like your shoes, but flip the idea. Take a look at your color scheme and see which colors clash and which colors compliment each other.

Whatever hoodie or sweatshirt you choose, feel free to wear any kind of denim jeans or black pants (ex: sweatpants, yoga pants, etc.) as your bottoms and white shoes to go with them. Denim and a black-white combo are always your safest complementaries when it comes to streetwear.

We are closing in on a pretty shitty year. So wear your sweatshirts and stay comfy in your favorite fits for the season.

Jeff Dominguez is the Communications Director for The Sting and writes The Color Theory, a bi-weekly fashion column.

Weekly Sting Roundup: 28 September 2020

Some weeks are slow news weeks. I don’t think we’ve had a slow news week in 2020. The past week is no exception.

Each week, members of The Sting’s editorial team put together a “synopsis” of what happened in the week prior, including local and national headlines, as well as goings-on around campus.

Got something that should be in the Weekly Roundup? Let us know by shooting us an email here with “Weekly Roundup” in the subject line.

Now onto the news –


Trump’s Tax Returns Finally Released

Perhaps the biggest story of the week came yesterday, when The New York Times revealed that President Donald Trump only paid taxes in five of the last 15 years. In 2016, he paid just $750 to the IRS.

Since his candidacy announcement in 2015, Trump has been quite adamant about keeping his financial records private. Critics of Trump say these newly-released documents will hurt his standing with many working-class Republicans with the presidential election just over a month away.

Amy Coney Barrett Nominated to Supreme Court

On Saturday, President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court.

The nomination of Barrett was expected, with many media outlets breaking the news on Friday. Barrett is likely to pass the Senate confirmation process easily. If confirmed, Barrett will be President Trump’s third SCOTUS nominee in just his first term.

A staunch conservative, Barrett would give the Supreme Court a 6-3 conservative majority, potentially putting LGBT rights, Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act in jeopardy, though The Sting editor-in-chief Leonard Robinson believes that Justices Roberts and Gorsuch will side with liberals on these issues.


Coronavirus in Maryland

Maryland’s coronavirus numbers showed significant improvement over the past week, with the Maryland Department of Health reporting a record low positivity rate of 2.5% for the first time. Johns Hopkins, who calculates the positivity rate with a different formula, saw their percentage dip below 5% as well. This comes roughly three weeks after Governor Larry Hogan further loosened restrictions on businesses, moving into stage 3 of the Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery.

The Hapless Orioles Aren’t So Hapless Anymore.

The Baltimore Orioles finished up their shortened season last night with a 7-5 victory over the Blue Jays last night. Baseball was one of the first sports to return in the COVID-era, and the Orioles were expected to finish in dead last following disappointing performances over the past two seasons. Somehow, the Orioles managed to finish in fourth place in the American League East with a somewhat respectable 25-35 record on the 60-game season.

From The Sting

Supreme Court fiasco brings important lesson for us all

Editor-in-chief Leonard Robinson wrote an excellent piece memorializing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and analyzing the SCOTUS confirmation and court battles ahead. As mentioned above, Robinson writes that the crisis we now find ourselves in is a result of years of hypocrisy by both major political parties.

UB Hires New VP of Enrollment, Roxie Shabazz

Staff writer Kopper Boyd gave some insight on UB’s new Vice-President of Enrollment, including her background and what she brings to the table. Coming from the University of Hawai’i, Roxie Shabazz is looking forward to helping UB improve, with the pandemic threatening to hurt schools’ enrollment for years to come.

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting.

Friday Groove: Forty Years Gone – John Bonham

It was late September of 1980, forty years ago, when Led Zeppelin was preparing to kick off their North American tour in the coming October. 

Dad had tickets to see them, and years later, I would discover that many others also had tickets to a Led Zeppelin show scheduled for that year.

The group was rehearsing at guitarist Jimmy Page’s house in Windsor on the morning of September 25 when John Paul Jones, bassist, and tour manager Benji LeFevre went to check on Bonham, at the tail end of a half day drinking binge from the day prior. They couldn’t wake him.

Between noon and midnight on September 24, Bonham had consumed roughly 40 units (a little over 32 oz.) of vodka. When he passed out, an assistant put him on his side with some pillows for support. Suffice it to say it didn’t help.

Jones and LeFevre were now faced with informing the other members of the group, and eventually the rest of the world that John Bonham, unequivocally the greatest drummer to ever live, was dead at 32.

I say he was the greatest drummer to ever live not as opinion, but as bonafide fact. The man could perform a drum solo that would put anyone else (save for maybe Ginger Baker or Keith Moon) to shame. 

On How the West Was Won, a live album recorded in 1977, Bonham’s drum solo lasted for just over 19 minutes. A drum solo that long could get boring, but Bonzo never falters. His drum solos “Moby Dick” and “Bonzo’s Montreux” were even recorded in the studio, which was and still is incredibly rare. 

Despite the hard pounding grooves on tracks like “Rock and Roll” or “The Rover”, Bonham’s dynamic range behind the kit was apparent too. His drum parts on reflective songs like “Ten Years Gone” or “The Rain Song” show his ability to hold back when needed, even though he was a human-dynamo who could punch out some of the loudest and most ferocious playing you’d ever hear.

But it wasn’t just his playing that earned him notoriety.

In a time where recording equipment in the UK lagged behind the US, drums tended to sound a little tinny, and didn’t sound as good as other instruments in the band. Bonham was the first drummer to make drums sound good on a recording. He knew he had to tune the drum a specific way in order to get the best possible sound to come out. He played with a technique tailored to make a recording sound good. 

Led Zeppelin producer Eddie Kramer even said he “could’ve recorded Bonham with the most primitive equipment” and it still would’ve sounded good.

Unfortunately, alcoholism got the better of Bonham in the end.

In the late 1970’s Led Zeppelin dealt with tragedy left and right. The band was unable to tour for their album Presence in 1976 after singer Robert Plant was involved in a serious car crash. Presence was met with mixed reviews, but the band found themselves falling further and further out of public acclaim. In 1977, Plant’s son died at the age of five from a stomach virus.

Faced with tax exile status from the UK, the band was forced to record what would be their final studio album in Sweden. Both Page and Bonham were dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, forcing Page and Jones to write most of the record.

The result was 1979’s In Through the Out Door, probably my favorite Zeppelin album, not because of the sound, but because of how much emotion rings through. That album is the story of four people who were profoundly broken trying to come back. They were trying to do something difficult. They were trying to go in through an out door.

There’s no way of knowing what Zeppelin would’ve done next. It’s speculated that their next album would’ve gone back to their roots: hard driving guitar and drums. 1980 could’ve been the year that Led Zeppelin returned, once again becoming the greatest band in the world. 

Fate had other plans. 

By the end of September 25, 1980, Dad and all the other fans’ hopes of seeing Led Zeppelin in concert that year evaporated.

A toxicology report was released a few days after Bonham’s death. “Consumption of alcohol” was all it read. The death was ruled an accident. The future of the band had been a topic of conversation for some time, but Bonham’s death was the nail in the coffin.

On December 4, 1980, the band released a statement that was so simple, yet so powerful.

“We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”

Led Zeppelin

Tony Sheaffer is managing editor for The Sting and writes Friday Groove, a weekly music column.

Supreme Court fiasco brings important lesson for us all

Ruth Bader Ginsburg served on the Supreme Court since 1993. She passed away on September 18, 2020.

On Friday evening, the first night of Rosh Hashannah, the highest court in the land lost its greatest member: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg’s career as an attorney and jurist is remarkable beyond words and a testament to progress in America, namely for women and other minorities, such as Jewish Americans. Tributes here, here, here, here, here, and here are some of the few that have done more justice than my words could ever imagine.

Mere hours after her passing was announced, unfortunately, many Republicans were hardly able to restrain themselves from blaming Ginsburg for millions of abortions or plotting a conservative takeover of the court.

Anyone with a sense of decency should be troubled.

Ardent followers of the saga that has become American politics should remember the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016 when Republicans stalled the nomination of Merrick Garland. Their rationale? No nominees in an election year.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) even said to “use his words against him” in opposing Garland’s nomination in the case that a Supreme Court vacancy arrives in 2020 because he’d oppose it. Let’s all not act too surprised that he’s seen to have suffered some memory loss.

Republicans cite historical precedent saying that most Supreme Court confirmations that have taken place in an election year have involved the President and the Senate being of the same party.

History is on their side too. There’s been 29 Supreme Court vacancies in an election year with presidents making nominations each time. (Even righteous men fall into temptation!) 19 of these 29 vacancies came when both the White House and Senate was controlled by both parties. 10 of these nominations came before the election and nine were successful. For the 10 nominations that came prior to an election with the White House and Senate in opposing parties, only one was successful: Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller in 1888 appointed by then-President Grover Cleveland.

Short of raw politics, there’s no need to appoint a Supreme Court justice until after the election. Even Honest Abe knew this. After all, he waited until after his re-election to fill a Supreme Court vacancy that arose 27 days before the election.

The modern day Republican Party is neither honest nor representative of Abe’s legacy.

But, here’s a pill more painful for some to swallow: Democrats would do the same thing if given the chance.

In fact, want someone to blame? Former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D- N.V.) is a good place to start.

Through his procedural changes to earn some short-sighted legislative gains, he has given Trump and his Republicans some of the biggest advantages imaginable: from ending the filibuster, the most powerful Majority Leadership in American history, and yes, a lower threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

Want solutions? I have no idea. I’m a college newspaper editor trying to push out a weekly column but I can give you a story.

But here’s a great place to start: realize that the world will not crash over.

Donald Trump will probably nominate Amy Coney Barrett on Saturday morning. She’ll more than likely pass Senate nomination and be sworn in weeks before the election.

Is she more conservative than Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Oh, you bet. Will your life change that much? Maybe, but not in the way that you would imagine.

Roe v. Wade is here to stay. Between Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and the liberal members of the court, it’ll be a shock if a challenge to Roe v. Wade is ever even considered.

Gays should not fear for our marriage rights, either. Again, this court even with Barrett probably wouldn’t agree to hear a challenge nor should any substantive one be met.

The Court will face a lot of important issues in the months and years ahead, but our focus shouldn’t be on nine unelected judges. It belongs in the halls of our state and federal legislatures where hundreds of people are elected to hear our pleas and cater to our needs or get the boot come November.

Regardless of who fills this seat and when it happens, your life will go on as normal and so will everyone else. Who knows? You might grow, evolve, and change your mind.

For the big brains in Washington, it’ll just be same old, same old. Hypocritical, solution seeking bureaucrats specializing in what the late Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken referred to as, “plain, simple, and wrong.”

Leonard A. Robinson is editor-in-chief of The Sting.

Honeycomb Hideout: Balancing School, Work, Life, and Everything Between

Dear Honeycomb Hideout,

School has started and I’m so stressed out. Everything seems to be piling up on top of me and all I want to do is climb back in bed and throw the covers over my head. I’m struggling to adjust to everything from online school, work, and personal time for myself, and let’s not even get around to mentioning a social life (or as much as possible during a pandemic). Any advice?

Sleepless on St. Paul Street

Dear Sleepless, 

Let me just say that what you’re feeling is something we all are. 

Reading this, it’s officially the second day of fall. I can speak for everyone here and say that, in the blink of an eye, we went from March to September. Spring break literally turned into one long prison sentence that somehow robbed most of us of the summer. 

Saying that, you either did one or two things in terms of social distancing: you quarantined or you didn’t and broke out constantly because you didn’t want to be cooped up. If the latter applied to you, you more than likely enjoyed house parties, bars, parks, and everything either because you could work from home or was out of work collecting larger-than-usual unemployment checks. Now, three months later, we’re all here with the world somewhat trying to get itself back on track. 

Yet, here you are, now used to Margarita Monday, Kickback Tuesdays, Wine Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday, and then weekend festivities. Maybe I’m projecting, but I also saw the same people when I was out on the daily so I’m going to assume you were one of them. 

Here’s my blunt advice: It’s time to get back into focus and find what we and experts call a healthy work-life balance. Balance means a lot of things, like cutting back on the amount of time spent with friends, dedicating a certain day to all of your school work, or even gathering all six infinity stones and wiping out half of the universe like the mad titan Thanos himself. Seriously,  only you know what you need in terms of a balanced schedule.

Personally, I love my giant whiteboard with my month planned out, allowing me to take time to set daily goals which can prove helpful. In this new Covid-19 world we’re all stressed out, so know that you’re not alone and it’ll get better as long as you keep trying to make it through.

Wash your hands, wear your mask, and if someone offers you a tequila shot they’re more likely trying to ruin your life.