University of Baltimore Law School professor tests positive for COVID-19.

John Bessler, professor at the Angelos Law School at the University of Baltimore, with his wife U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar in their home state of Minnesota. Photo credit: Jim Mone, AP

The Baltimore Sun reported on Monday that Dr. John Bessler, a professor at the Angeles Law School at the University of Baltimore, has tested positive for COVID-19, the latest and most deadly strain of the coronavirus. This makes the first confirmed case within the University of Baltimore.

“He is exhausted and sick but a very strong and resilient person,” writes his wife, U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar in a statement released earlier today. “Now he has pneumonia and is on oxygen but not on a ventilator.”

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Members of the university community were notified about this case through an email from President Kurt Schmoke.

“The professor was last on campus on March 11. We are working to ensure that anyone on campus who was in contact with this person can take appropriate steps to self-isolate for a two-week period and stay alert for possible symptoms,” said Schmoke. Furthermore, he encouraged UB community members to “as much as possible, stay away from other people in your home. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.​”

Klobuchar writes that her husband quarantined after the earliest signs of symptoms. She has also stated that since they have been apart for two weeks and that since she is outside of the 14 day window, she will not be tested.

Students at the University of Baltimore are returning to classes being held online this week and for the remainder of the upcoming semester.

For anyone who may have been exposed, President Schmoke writes, ” Self-observation is an important first step. Be alert for symptoms. If you feel feverish or develop a cough or difficulty breathing during the self-observation period, you should take your temperature, self-isolate, limit contact with others, and seek advice by telephone from a healthcare provider or the local health department to determine whether medical evaluation is needed.”

Leonard Robinson is editor-in-chief of the UB Post.

‘Life and death crisis’ in Baltimore leads Hogan to push crime bills

By: Jeff Barnes

Baltimore City- A view of the city at night

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND — Calling it a “life and death crisis,” — particularly in Baltimore — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announced Thursday he will redesignate his violent crime package as emergency legislation.

The emergency designation would allow the legislation, a package of bills led by a measure to increase penalties for certain gun crimes, to take effect immediately upon Hogan’s approval. The bills would first need to pass each chamber of the General Assembly with a three-fifth’s majority.

During a State House press conference, Hogan voiced his frustration with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for focusing on a proposed multibillion-dollar overhaul of the state’s public schools — known as the Kirwan Commission plan — while failing to advance his violent crime package.

“We don’t want to hear any more excuses. There cannot be any more delays,” Hogan said.

Hogan’s bills — The Violent Firearm Offenders Act, The Judicial Transparency Act, The Witness Intimidation Act of 2020 and The Victims’ Right to Restitution Act of 2020 — have yet to advance out of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee since being heard on Feb. 6. The cross-filed bills were heard in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 4.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, took exception to Hogan’s claim that the legislature was not making crime a top priority.

“The bills have already been heard, I think it’s about making sure that they actually do something,” Ferguson said after the Senate session Thursday. “Not only have they gotten a fair hearing, they are a constant conversation of our leadership.”

During his press conference, the Republican governor scoffed at a comment made Monday by Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young during testimony for Kirwan-related legislation, in which the Democrat mayor called the schools plan “a matter of life and death.”

Since the 2020 General Assembly session began Jan. 8, Hogan said, 104 people have been shot and 39 people have been killed in Baltimore.

“The actual and the only life and death crisis is the people being shot and killed every single day on the streets of our largest city,” Hogan said.

Gov. Larry Hogan, R, announcing the redesignation of his crime bills at a press conference in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Jeff Barnes/Capital News Service)

Hogan’s office has repeatedly cited a January Gonzales Maryland poll, which identified crime as the top issue among 31% of 838 registered voters, compared to 16% who deemed education the top issue. Hogan said during the news conference that the public overwhelmingly supports his proposed crime-prevention legislation.

“I don’t believe there have ever been bills on any subject that have ever had more enthusiastic and nearly unanimous support,” Hogan said. “The public is literally crying out, pleading with the legislature to take these actions.”

The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday that the Democrats were unlikely to pass the Violent Firearms Offender Act — Hogan’s signature crime bill — as they oppose the bill’s mandatory minimum sentences for certain gun crimes. In that article, Hogan suggested that lawmakers who don’t support his legislation are out of touch with voters and should consider stepping down.

During the Senate floor session Thursday morning, Ferguson gave an impassioned defense of Sen. William “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, the chair of the Senate committee that heard Hogan’s bills. Smith, a lieutenant with the United States Navy Reserve, was deployed to Afghanistan before the conclusion of the 2019 session and was tapped this year to lead the committee. Ferguson said any calls for him to step down are “totally unacceptable.”

“There’s no question no one feels comfortable with where things are when it comes to the status of violence across the state,” Ferguson said. “The only solution will be when we come to the table together and solve it.”

After the session, Smith told Capital News Service he was grateful for Ferguson’s remarks and said Hogan was “engaging in hyperbole.”

“To wield tools of fear-mongering and shift the debate, you’re not helping anyone,” Smith said. “You’re not helping anyone in Baltimore.”

Smith said later Thursday he wanted more evidence that Hogan’s legislation would decrease gun violence and other crimes before he would support it.

Sen. Charles Sydnor, D-Baltimore City and Baltimore County, who also serves on Smith’s committee, told Capital News Service the committee has doubled up on voting sessions this week. He said the committee is considering all ideas to help solve the crime issue.

“I don’t think any one bill is being held up more than any other,” he said.

During the press conference, Hogan also took aim at Democratic legislation introduced Thursday that would expand the state’s sales tax to help fund the Kirwan plan.

Under House bill 1628, the state’s sales tax would be reduced from 6% to 5%, while being expanded to include professional services that currently aren’t taxed.

The addition of professional services, which would include things like legal services, daycare and landscaping, is expected to bring in an additional $2.6 billion a year.

Hogan said the tax increase is “not ever going to happen” during his term as governor.

“This will destroy everything we’ve done for five years,” he said. “It will destroy our economy.”

Cardin and Van Hollen aim for net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050

By: Anna Hovey, Capital News Service

Tailpipe emissions are major contributors to greenhouse gases. Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen are proposing a bill to get the United States to “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Photo Credit: Anna Hovey/Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — A bill aimed at achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by no later than 2050 has been introduced by Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen.

The United States produced 16% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2016, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That is second only to China, the world’s most populous country, which accounted for 29%.  

“As the climate crisis, which threatens the health and well-being of my constituents in Maryland and Americans across the nation, becomes increasingly apparent, people are rightfully demanding action from their federal government,” Cardin said in a statement.

The senators’ Clean Economy Act was introduced in the wake of last month’s United Nations annual Emissions Gap Report, which revealed that current efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally are not yet sizable enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic increase in the global temperature. 

The new measure also follows a series of environmental law rollbacks under President Donald Trump. Some 95 air pollution and emissions laws have been eased in the last three years, according to The New York Times.

Trump has also announced his intention to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, a decision that will not take effect until November 2020. 

Prospects for the bill are uncertain in the GOP-controlled Senate, which has not been receptive to major environmental legislation. 

Besides Cardin and Van Hollen, the legislation is co-sponsored by a total of 30 other senators – 29 Democrats and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.

The senators’ bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to set emissions targets for 2025, 2030 and 2040. 

“This legislation provides EPA with important tools to confront carbon pollution change while promoting economic growth,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

“The Clean Economy Act recognizes that the EPA lies at the center of America’s climate future and empowers it to address climate change proactively,” Cardin said. “Making the necessary investments to reach net-zero will strengthen our economy, create good-paying jobs, and protect public health and national security.”

“It’s past time we get serious about addressing climate change,” said Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democrats’ 2016 vice presidential nominee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“The success of our economy is directly linked to our ability to develop innovative clean energy technologies and avoid the escalating costs of climate change,” Van Hollen said. 

Among the bill’s supporters are the United Steelworkers, the American Federation of Teachers, Clean Water Action, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and Environment America.

Andrea McGimsey, senior director for Environment America’s Global Warming Solutions Campaign, said in a statement that it was essential that the federal government follow the many states that have made addressing climate change a top priority. 

“By cosponsoring and supporting the Clean Economy Act, senators will put the American government’s might behind the great work that’s being done in states across the country,” McGimsey said. “Record-breaking extreme weather is devastating families and communities… Before it’s too late, members of Congress who haven’t already done so must step up and counter the existential threat of climate change.”

Presidential candidate and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, are among the bill’s other co-sponsors.

“In California, we’re ahead of schedule to meet the ambitious goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045, “ Feinstein said. “At the same time, our economy has grown to be the fifth-largest in the world. That’s proof positive that fighting climate change supports a strong economy.”

Bill looks to make single-occupant restrooms gender-neutral

By: Fatemeh Paryavi, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Many public buildings in Maryland would be required to make their single-occupant bathrooms gender neutral under legislation in the state’s General Assembly.

The proposed law would require public facilities to change their pictorial or gender-exclusive signage for single-toilet bathrooms to gender neutral, according to the bill’s state legislative analysis.

It would apply to places of “public accommodation,” including hotels, theaters, sports venues, restaurants and other similar facilities.

The lead sponsor of Senate bill 401, Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, told Capital News Service last week that new signs could be purchased online for as little as $15.

The bill would make more restrooms available for women, who tend to wait in lengthier bathroom lines than men, Kagan said at the hearing Wednesday.

She added that it would ensure that people with disabilities wouldn’t need to navigate the building in order to find a gender-specific restroom, as well as making it easier for parents and caretakers to enter the restroom in order to assist their family member or patient.

The bill would also aim to help people who are transgender to feel more comfortable using the single-occupant restrooms, she said at the hearing.

Localities would be allowed to set their own fines, not to exceed $250, under this legislation.

The bill has bipartisan support, as Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, is co-sponsoring the legislation.

Silvie Gallardo, the mother of an 8-year-old child from Bethesda, Maryland, said her son is on the autism spectrum, and testified in favor of the bill at its Wednesday hearing.

She said that she’s not asking lawmakers to provide an attendant for her son, she’s asking them to remove a label so that she can more comfortably help her son use the restroom.

The MoCo Pride Center submitted written testimony in support of the bill, writing that it would be more welcoming to “transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming people.”

The bill also saw support from businesses. The Greener Kitchen in Baltimore submitted testimony in support of the bill, writing that it “prioritizes having gender inclusive restrooms in our space because we believe in making our restaurant accessible to all.”

An identical House bill, 1147, is set to have a hearing on March 3 led by sponsor Delegate Jared Solomon, D-Montgomery.

Maryland bill would ban plastic carryout bags from stores

By: Hugh Garbrick, Capital News Service

A plastic carryout bag. These would no longer be available in Maryland beginning in mid-2021 under legislation proposed in the 2020 General Assembly. Picture Credit: Hugh Garbrick/Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Plastic carryout bags would essentially be a thing of the past in Maryland if a bill in the General Assembly gathers enough lawmakers’ votes.

The bill would ban plastic carryout bags at the “point of sale” next year in July, require stores to charge customers a 10 cent fee per “durable” carryout bag — like paper bags — money that retailers would keep, and create a “Single-Use Products Workgroup,” according to a state legislative analysis.

At a bill hearing Feb. 11 in the House Environment and Transportation Committee, Delegate Jerry Clark, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, asked the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore, whether paper bags are better for the environment than plastic bags.

Lierman said paper bags are better, though the goal of her bill is to encourage bringing reusable bags to stores, limiting overall waste.

“You don’t go to the store without forgetting your wallet, and if we move this forward we won’t go to the stores without remembering our bags because people don’t want to pay (a bag fee),” Lierman said.

During testimony, Lierman presented a 2019 survey that shows 88.2% of Prince George’s County and 76.6% of Howard County shoppers — who are not charged a bag fee — take disposable bags; and only 41.8% of Montgomery County shoppers, who are charged 5 cents, take disposable bags.

The bill is estimated to cost the state $71,700, which is the price of Maryland’s Department of Labor hiring an assistant attorney general in the program’s first year to develop regulations and communicate with counties and industry associations, according to the state legislative analysis.

The ban only applies to plastic carryout bags at the “point of sale,” like at grocery store checkouts; bags not banned are ones used for: packaging fruits and vegetables, wrapping meats and frozen foods, containing flowers, bagging bakery items, delivering newspapers, covering dry-cleaned clothes and carrying medicine from pharmacists, according to a state legislative analysis.

Lierman’s bill, House bill 209, has 43 other legislators signed on, and Sen. Malcolm Augustine, D-Prince George’s, is sponsoring identical Senate bill 313.

Similar bills failed to pass in 2015 and 2016, but Augustine told Capital News Service he has “done his homework” and expects the ban to become law. Augustine’s legislation is scheduled to be heard in a committee Thursday.

Recently, Baltimore issued a ban on plastic bags that is scheduled to go into effect in January, according to a statement from Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who supports Lierman’s bill.

Other jurisdictions also regulate carryout bags: besides Montgomery County’s 5 cent fee per carryout bag, Howard County plans to implement a fee in October and the cities of Takoma Park, Westminster and Town of Chestertown all regulate single-use bags, according to the state legislative analysis.

Counties could no longer collect the revenue from bag fees under this state bill; Montgomery County collects about $2.5 million annually, which goes toward stormwater management and water quality improvements, according to the legislative analysis.

Testifying on Tuesday, legislative director for Maryland Association of Counties Natasha Mehu wants an amendment that would “preserve” county programs like Montgomery County’s “Water Quality Protection Charge Fund.”

Mehu said the association is not in favor of the bill unless a “portion” of the proposed 10-cent fee per “durable” carryout bag is left for county programs.

Howard County’s planned fee on disposable plastic bags would charge consumers 5 cents per plastic bag, 1 cent going to retailers and the rest to the county, according to a news release from the county’s council.

The revenue would go into the “Disposable Plastics Reduction Fund,” a part of which would provide reusable bags to “vulnerable individuals,” according to county legislation CB64-2019.

Maryland Hunger Solutions director Michael Wilson testified Tuesday, voicing concern that the bill has a “disparate” impact on low-income consumers.

Wilson said Hunger Solutions would support the legislation with an amendment that either exempts or creates a fund for people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — also known as food stamps — to reduce the fee’s potential impact on low-income consumers.

Maryland Retailers Association president Cailey Locklair said they support the bill because a statewide ban is preferable to multiple county bans, which are burdensome to “multijurisdictional” retailers.

Locklair brought out a paper bag during Tuesday’s bill hearing, telling delegates that retailers would not turn a profit off of the 10 cent ”durable” bag fee.

“Our retailers want one law that they can comply with that is straightforward for consumers in the state,” Locklair testified.

Locklair told Capital News Service that the Maryland Retailers Association worked with the bill’s sponsors.

“One size fits all (legislation) can’t work for everyone, but we want to be at the table when this gets negotiated,” Locklair said.

J.S. Edwards LTD President Edward Steinberg testified in favor of the bill and said the plastic bags the men’s clothing store uses cost 45 cents while paper bags are $1.20.

“Bags, in price, can vary considerably. Another thing to consider is … it’s the face of your store, it’s your advertising,” Steinberg said.

Melvin Thompson testified against the bill on behalf of the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

Sitting next to Thompson was Eric King, co-owner of Sea King Seafood Markets in Ellicott City, who also testified against the bill.

King said plastic bag use should be “curbed,” but the bill has “some unintended consequences.”

“When you get steamed crabs, we put them in a brown paper bag. You get that paper bag in a plastic bag because 30 minutes later the steam and condensation from the crab has soaked through, and your crabs will be on the floor of your car,” King said.

The bill creates a civil penalty worth up to $500 for stores caught violating the plastic bag ban or failing to charge 10 cents per “durable” carryout bag, according to the state legislative analysis.

Currently, eight states ban disposable plastic bags: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Delaware, Maine, Oregon, New York and Vermont, according to the legislative analysis.

“This bill is really a win for our consumers, a win for our state and local governments, a win for the environment and a win for our businesses,” Lierman said at Tuesday’s bill hearing.