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The News: Police Reform Bill Debated in State Senate, Mosby Pleads Her Case, Voting Rights in Maryland

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Police reform bill *might* make the deadline, Hogan’s Korean COVID tests mess, sexual harassment and assault at the Baltimore School for the Arts, and more reporting from Next City, Maryland Matters, WYPR, and other local and independent news sources.

 

 

Senate Panel Concurs With House Amendments to Police Reform Bills
by Hannah Gaskill
Published April 7 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: The General Assembly made big leaps Tuesday towards reconciling a bicameral police reform package to be sent to the governor’s desk before the session adjourns sine die next Monday.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted along party lines to concur with the House’s amendments to the bills in its police reform package, hastening their path to be presented to the governor.

The Senate package, originally consisting of nine, largely bipartisan bills, was condensed to just four through House amendments:

  • Senate Bill 786, sponsored by Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), would return control of the Baltimore Police Department to the city.
  • SB 600, sponsored by Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), would set forth a process to independently investigate use of force incidents that result in death and adopted portions of SB 599 to prohibit law enforcement agencies from procuring weaponized vehicles and other surplus military equipment;
  • SB 71, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), would order police departments throughout Maryland to provide body-worn cameras for on-duty officers by 2025 and adopted portions of HB 670 and SB 626 to implement a statewide use of force policy; and
  • SB 178, sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), would alter the Maryland Public Information Act to allow certain officer misconduct records to be available for public inspection and adopted portions of HB 670 and SB 419 to regulate the execution of warrants.

 

Marilyn Mosby amends her state ethics disclosure and declares her innocence
by Mark Reutter
Published April 7 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby used an amendment made to her 2019 state financial disclosure statement as an occasion to again declare, “I have done nothing wrong.”

Mosby and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, are under a federal investigation that appears to be centered on the couple’s private businesses, campaign finances and charitable donations, judging by subpoenas that have been issued by a Baltimore grand jury.

The amendment that Mosby submitted today to the State Ethics Commission, regarding gifts and reimbursements for out-of-state travel, clarifies material that was previously disclosed in a report by Baltimore’s Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming.

The seven-page amendment declares that Mosby has returned three gifts that were intended to be auctioned at a benefit for crime victims that did not take place. The gifts included candles worth $25, $50 of hair oil, and $188 in cannabis products from an Oregon company.

Among the trips listed today was a retreat taken by Mosby in August 2019 to join other Black female prosecutors at a Virginia spa resort.

 

 

Maryland Faces ‘Extreme’ Threat of Gerrymandering, New Report Says
by Bennett Leckrone
Published April 6 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Maryland is under “extreme” risk for gerrymandering when lawmakers draw up new election districts, according to a new report from an anti-corruption watchdog group.

The Gerrymandering Threat Index from the nonprofit group RepresentUs lists Maryland, alongside 26 other states, in the highest risk category for gerrymandering. States are listed under the group’s “extreme” risk category for giving “politicians complete control over an often-secretive, poorly-protected redistricting process.”

RepresentUs considered five questions when determining a state’s threat level for gerrymandering:

  • Can politicians control how election maps are drawn?
  • Can election maps be drawn in secret?
  • Can election maps be rigged for partisan gain?
  • Are the legal standards weak?
  • And, are rigged election maps hard to challenge in court?

The report cites Maryland’s Democratic supermajority as a flag for potential gerrymandering, since the state relies on the legislature to approve maps. Maryland’s governor initially crafts congressional and legislative maps that are presented to the General Assembly. Lawmakers can pass a resolution (not subject to veto) changing the legislative districts. The Maryland Constitution sets some requirements for legislative districts, including that they must be compact and give “due regard” to jurisdictional boundaries.

See also:

Maryland bills aim to make it easier to vote
by Audrey Decker
Published April 7 in Capital News Service

 

Ousted Procurement Chief: Harsh Review of Korean Tests Kits ‘No Surprise’
by Bruce DePuyt
Published April 7 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: An independent review of Maryland’s purchase of COVID-19 test kits from South Korea found they “were not procured in accordance with State procurement regulations.”

Nor could auditors determine who made the ultimate decision to spend $11.5 million on tests that had to be returned because of performance issues.

Those findings, contained in a “special review” conducted by the Office of Legislative Audits, came as no surprise to the man who served as head of procurement at the Department of Health until his abrupt dismissal in December.

In an exclusive interview with Maryland Matters, Dana L. Dembrow recalled the late-night call he received from a colleague who insisted that “millions” of dollars be sent immediately to South Korea — and his refusal to comply.

“I didn’t even bother getting the details,” he recalled. “I just said, ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Eventually, someone else approved the purchase. Later that year, Dembrow was sent packing, despite numerous “outstanding” performance reviews.

 

 

Students at Baltimore School for the Arts share stories of sexual harassment and assault
by Fern Shen
Published April 5 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: There are places at the Baltimore School for the Arts that female students know can be dangerous.

“The back stairwell. The elevator. So many people squeeze in, you can get lost in there. Some guy will touch you and the others won’t know,” said Sydney Lane-Ryer, a 16-year-old junior at the visual and performing arts-oriented magnet school in Mount Vernon.

Stories of female students being sexually harassed, groped, bullied and assaulted by male classmates have piled up with alarming speed on a recently created Instagram account, survivorsofbsa.

The posts are mostly anonymous, but the stories are strikingly similar.

Grabbed me by my hair and pushed my head down toward his lap as a ‘”joke”… started to put his hand down to my private area but I pushed him away… sitting next to me and out of nowhere grabbed my thigh.

The accounts tell of acts ranging from lewd remarks and online harassment to being “pinned to the wall” of the school stairwell to rapes that were primarily said to have taken place off-campus.

Another recurring allegation: Nearly all the posts describe school administrators dismissing or mishandling the reported harassment and abuse.

 

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
by Janelle Erlichman Diamond
Published April 5 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: It was just over a year ago that the world seemed to come to a screeching halt. One day parents were driving their kids to baseball practice, and the next they were hoarding toilet paper and creating Zoom accounts.

As the country erupted into panic and confusion those first few days in mid-March, three Mt. Washington neighbors started texting each other. Sam DuFlo, owner of Indigo Physiotherapy, wrote the first group message on March 15, 2020, to Samantha Claassen, proprietor of Golden West Café, and Vanessa Pikler, a Baltimore-based psychologist. They decided they needed a community meeting and invited everyone who lived along the alley behind Rogers Avenue and Greenberry Road. Seven families showed up.

“We all stood in a big circle six feet apart,” recalls Pikler. “We didn’t even know masks were important at that point.”

The meeting was simply to acknowledge the fact they were in this together. The neighbors made a promise, offering to pick up groceries, help with medical questions (like where someone could procure a COVID test), walk dogs, and look out for each other, especially the older residents on their block, using a Facebook page and group text. With their calendars suddenly wiped clean and the state in lockdown, they had nothing but time and energy to put toward each other.

 

 

Battleground Baltimore: Make It Make Sense
by Lisa Snowden-McCray and Brandon Soderberg
Published April 2 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: In this week’s round-up of Baltimore news: COVID-19 numbers continue to rise but Maryland stays open, the winding and confusing road to police accountability, the latest on paraphernalia decriminalization, and more.

 

 

City Council Passes Controversial Bill To Create Security Deposit Alternatives
by Emily Sullivan
Published April 5 in WYPR

Excerpt: The Baltimore City Council passed a controversial housing bill Monday that supporters say bolsters renters’ rights and critics say empowers landlords rather than tenants.

The Security Deposit Alternatives bill, lead-sponsored by Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, would create alternatives to lump sum security deposits for some residential leases: a monthly payment plan and “rental security deposit insurance” ⁠— a surety bonds package which some renters’ advocates call a predatory practice.

Despite the name, most surety bonds do not provide renters with any protection from damage claims from landlords, said Marceline White, the executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.

“So you think, Oh, I’m buying insurance for myself, great. I’m protected in case anything goes wrong,’” she said. “But in fact, the tenant still owes money, even after they paid surety bonds, for any damages that would take place. So it’s really like they’re paying twice.”

Molly Amster of Jews United for Justice and Baltimore Renters United called the bill’s proposed installment plan option a positive step in making housing more affordable, but decried the bill’s other alternative.

“If renters are faced with the option of a traditional security deposit that they can’t afford or this ‘insurance’ product that they can afford, they are highly likely to choose the ‘insurance.’ ” she said. “The trouble is, it’s not insurance and could cost families dearly over time.”

See also:

Advocates Warn Bill That Provides Security Deposit Alternatives May Hurt Renters
by Sarah Y. Kim
Published April 2 in WYPR

 

 

Baltimore Land Trusts Plug Away at Vision for Development Without Displacement
by Jared Brey
Published April 6 in Next City

Excerpt: Sometime later this year, or early next, the South Baltimore Community Land Trust will cut the ribbon on its first project: eight new, energy-efficient housing units behind Benjamin Franklin High School, sold to people in the Curtis Bay neighborhood who earn less than 50 percent of the area median Income, and kept affordable in perpetuity through community control of land. Like other land trusts, the SBCLT will maintain ownership of the land underlying the new homes and sell the improvements to low-income buyers. When those buyers decide to move out, they’ll split any equity they may have built with the land trust, which will then sell the house to another low-income buyer.

Meleny Thomas, executive director of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust, says the group is hoping to find buyers “that have roots in Baltimore city and understand the true beauty that we have here.”

“We hear so much negativity about Baltimore, but there’s some amazing things going on,” Thomas says. “And we want to make sure that our residents and the community can partake in what is happening.”

 

 

BONUS

U.S. Bet Big on Covid Vaccine Manufacturer Even as Problems Mounted
by Chris Hamby, Sharon LaFraniere and Sheryl Gay Stolberg
Published April 6 in The New York Times

Excerpt: More than eight years ago, the federal government invested in an insurance policy against vaccine shortages during a pandemic. It paid Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland biotech firm known for producing anthrax vaccines, to have a factory in Baltimore always at the ready.

When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, the factory became the main U.S. location for manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, churning out about 150 million doses as of last week.

But so far not a single dose has been usable because regulators have not yet certified the factory to allow the vaccines to be distributed to the public. Last week, Emergent said it would destroy up to 15 million doses’ worth of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after contamination with the AstraZeneca vaccine was discovered.

Emergent and government health officials have long touted their partnership as a success, but an examination by The New York Times of manufacturing practices at the Baltimore facility found serious problems, including a corporate culture that often ignored or deflected missteps and a government sponsor, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, that acted more as a partner than a policeman.

See also:

U.S. Taps Johnson & Johnson to Run Troubled Vaccine Plant
by Sheryl Gay Stolberg
Published April 3 in The New York Times

 

 

BONUS BONUS

The first Korean American first lady in the US: We will not stand silent any more
by Yumi Hogan
Published April 1 in CNN

Excerpt: Forty one years. That’s how long I have lived in the United States since emigrating from South Korea to pursue the American dream.

Twenty years. That’s how long I spent working multiple jobs, often 14 or 16 hours a day, to raise three daughters as a single mother, all so they could have access to the countless opportunities this country has to offer.

I grew up on a chicken farm in a small town in South Korea as the youngest of eight kids. I was born nine years after the Korean War broke out. Most Koreans were poor. My family worked hard, and I was taught to be sober and diligent — to never get lazy. Leftover and broken eggs that couldn’t be sold from the farm were my snack. I walked 2 miles every day between home and school since there was no bus available.

At 20, I already had a “hard working gene” by the time I arrived to the US. I was humble and determined. That’s how I was taught. But the reality here was tough: I didn’t speak much English, and I was in a completely different world culturally.

 

 

Header image: Photo courtesy of United Workers

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