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Poor communities surrounding Baltimore Casino getting less revenue than anticipated

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ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s fifth casino, Horseshoe, debuted in Baltimore in August under a flurry of bells, whistles, and high expectations that it would create jobs, raise education funds and revitalize the state’s struggling economy.

But as initial revenues on the low end of projections are spurring debate about the casino’s financial potential, disputes are also brewing in impoverished Baltimore neighborhoods over who should pay for the infrastructure improvements and police and fire needs that have spiked with the casino’s opening.

The casino, plopped right in the middle of impoverished South Baltimore, was supposed to inject new life into “historically ignored” communities mired with high crime and unemployment rates, poor health and lackluster housing.

The 5.5 percent of casino slots funds designated for “local impact” were expected to go toward boosting lagging communities — building local businesses and career centers, empowering youth, beautifying parks and bringing in healthy, fresh food to areas overrun with corner stores.

But 78 percent of this year’s “impact” funding from Horseshoe — $5.5 million out of $7 million — will most likely go to mitigating casino needs, including increased police and emergency medical services, traffic enforcement, sanitation, security cameras and road work, according to the mayor’s proposed budget.

The other $1.5 million is going mostly to studies and needs assessments for future community projects, as well as an employment connection center and small grants for immediate neighborhood projects.

Horseshoe’s lower-than-expected earnings this fall also mean most proposed community projects for this fiscal year will be pushed to the next, including creating youth job and internship programs in a city where 9 percent of residents were unemployed on average this year.

http://cnsmaryland.org/interactives/casino-poverty/index.html

Some local leaders of the six neighborhoods in the “impact zone” said initial hopes were too good to be true.

“I work in the Cherry Hill community. There are a lot of issues; there are a lot of issues that the casino could address,” said Baltimore neighborhood leader Michael Middleton. “We need to see some different signs of something good that’s coming from the casino to those communities.”

Casinos’ local impact has long sowed contention among state governments touting the benefits of gambling revenue, and some economists, sociologists and local leaders who say the gambling centers leech wealth out of communities and foster expensive and unhealthy gambling addictions in often-impoverished groups.

Over the next two years, relocating a steam pipe that some consider a public safety problem from beneath the casino will take $3 million out of impact grants. Both the pipe’s contractor, Veolia Transportation, and Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns Horseshoe, refused to pay for the upgrade, state Sen. Bill Ferguson, chair of the Baltimore local development council that monitors impact funds, wrote in an August statement on his blog.

The casino will pay the city about $30 million over three years, which the mayor will use for reducing property taxes and constructing schools, Ferguson wrote. Caesars believed these payments required the city to construct “a site on which the facility could be built and operated safely,” he wrote.

Ferguson responded to resident concerns at the Oct. 30 meeting by insisting the spending plan balanced mitigating casino impacts with revitalizing communities.

The legislation that laid out casino funds’ distribution states the money can be used for “infrastructure improvements, facilities, public safety, sanitation, economic and community development … and other public services and improvements.”

Many initial costs “modernizing” the area will go away after the first few years, said Ethan Cohen, a project coordinator in Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office.

But city agencies’ needs have skyrocketed since the casino’s opening — and the community-intended fund has absorbed the costs.

FIRE SERVICES EXPAND DUE TO SPIKE IN EMS CALLS

Between the casino’s opening on Aug. 26 and Oct. 5, the Baltimore City Fire Department saw medical calls in the area increase more than 450 percent compared to same period last year, department statistics show.

Medic teams responded to 83 emergency medical service calls in those first 40 days versus 18 in the same period in 2013 and 23 in 2012. Seventy-seven calls within this year’s period were emergencies, including three suicides and three people struck by vehicles.

The spike in calls is consistent with more people in the area, said Mark Wagner, the fire department’s assistant chief of operations. The casino expects more than 5 million visitors a year, casino spokesman Dave Curley said.

The department will spend $300,000 of this fiscal year’s $7 million in impact funds on a new emergency medical services unit. The new engine cannot fit inside the firehouse, so part of the department’s $2.7 million request next year is for two firehouse renovations. It is also requesting another unit.

Eighteen police officers are also assigned to a new casino “mini-district,” and the city’s police department will receive at least $1.5 million by July for additional coverage in the area.

The spending trend is similar at the Maryland Live! casino in Hanover, where 54 percent of the $55.6 million in impact funds since fiscal year 2012 have gone to fire and police.

About 1 percent, or $600,000, also funded community projects ranging from elementary school field trips to a grief support program, homeless “grooming” services, and hats and mittens for newborns.

Seventeen-year Baltimore resident Bill Marker said he understood people might “win $100,000 and have a heart attack,” but communities shouldn’t be tacked with the bill.

“If you decided to start a business that had major impact on things, you would
be expected to bail the costs,” he said.

Horseshoe responded to concerns that the casino should be absorbing the extra costs by expressing their pride for “every penny” they contributed to “local impact funds, employee wages and city and state coffers.”

As of Dec. 5, Horseshoe had raised $2.4 million in impact grants, according to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

“While the casino does not dictate how money is allocated within the community, we are pleased that in just 100 days of operation our business is making a major contribution to the local economy through the creation of new jobs, new tax revenues and new funding for neighborhood projects,” Chad Barnhill, Horseshoe Casino senior vice president and general manager, said in a statement.

http://cnsmaryland.org/interactives/Baltimore-Local-Grant/

FALLING CASINO REVENUE MEANS LESS MONEY FOR LOCALS

Voters statewide approved building the Baltimore casino — the state’s second-largest, with 2,500 slot machines and 145 table games — in a 2008 constitutional referendum that also approved four other casinos.

Perryville’s Hollywood Casino opened in September 2010, then Berlin’s Ocean Downs in 2011, Hanover’s Maryland Live! in 2012, and Allegany’s Rocky Gap Casino Resort in 2013. The sixth, which got the green light in 2012, will open in 2016 in Prince George’s County’s National Harbor.

This fiscal year, which will end July 1, the casinos have raised $278.9 million, including $14.9 million in local impact grants, Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency statistics show. But with overall drops in year-to-year casino revenue (excluding Horseshoe) this September, October and November compared to the same months last year, some question whether there’s still enough demand for gambling venues.

The Baltimore mayor’s office and neighborhood council had planned for lower and higher revenue levels by creating two “tiers” of possible impact grant spending.

But this fall’s lower-than-expected receipts at Horseshoe, about $22 million to $23 million each month, mean that yearly, the city will most likely only reach the lower “tier” — which prioritizes city agencies, putting community projects at the bottom.

In Baltimore, a fourth of people in 2012 already lived below the poverty line. A 2013 report by civil society think tank the Institute for American Values showed casinos typically weakened local businesses and slashed property values, and people living close by were more likely to become the “problem gamblers” casinos depend upon.

Around Horseshoe, traffic jams will likely increase, as will bankruptcies, divorce rates, drunken driving and people addicted to gambling, said economist Richard McGowan of the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance.

The casino responded by pointing to studies conducted by U.S. government agencies and universities in the late 1990s and early 2000s that showed casinos did not increase bankruptcy rates, street crime or social problems in surrounding neighborhoods.

COMMUNITY-INTENDED FUNDS REALLOCATED TO CITY-LED PROJECTS

One of the few planned community projects for the first year was a $500,000 fund to create a “community benefits district” that would give neighborhoods leeway in spending the money.

But lack of time to craft the district meant $300,000 of that pot was reallocated in October to jumpstarting small-scale projects the city can complete by July 1.

The city will decide on options including tree planting, re-striping crosswalks, painting a mural and installing streetlights, Cohen said. Each of the six neighborhoods will get $50,000.

Residents were concerned the city was “making decisions for every dime that’s spent.”

Stark wealth cleavages exist among the neighborhoods. Local development council member Keisha Allen was worried priorities of poorer areas, such as her Baltimore Westport neighborhood — including workforce development, GED programs and fixing vacant lots — would get pushed behind areas such as the Federal Hill neighborhood just blocks away, “where everyone has a decent job or a high school diploma.”

But mayor’s office representative Cohen said securing non-city-led services — including giving the neighborhoods control — would slow the process and make costs unpredictable.

As Baltimore leaders plan casino funding for the coming years, residents are hoping for “revival.”

In South Baltimore, “businesses have been boarded up for 40 years,” Allen said.

“We’re just kind of off the beaten path: out of sight, out of mind,” she said. “Now, we can get some things quicker. We need to figure it out, because we need to see something. We need to see change.”

cnsmaryland.org original story

Maryland school systems grapple with influx of Central American minors

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ANNAPOLIS — In July, she came on foot and by bus, traversing thousands of miles on a harrowing month-long journey through Mexico to the United States.

She had hoped to come legally — but, threatened by gangs in El Salvador, 18-year-old Yanci said she was forced to flee.

Now a student at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Yanci is one of thousands of Central American “unaccompanied minors” finding a new home in Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Since August, most of the minors who came to Maryland over the summer — often to escape gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — moved into the two jurisdictions.

As alarm over the influx quieted in September when numbers slowed, school systems took up the challenge of educating the non-English-speaking, often-traumatized youth.

Photo of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) chair William Melvin, ESOL counselor Meg Evans-Headley and Patricia Chiancone, outreach counselor at the Prince George’s County Public Schools’ International Student Counseling Office, in the Northwestern High School ESOL office in Hyattsville on Nov. 14, 2014. The counselors were discussing alternative options for one international student who might have to withdraw due to security concerns. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).
Photo of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) chair William Melvin, ESOL counselor Meg Evans-Headley and Patricia Chiancone, outreach counselor at the Prince George’s County Public Schools’ International Student Counseling Office, in the Northwestern High School ESOL office in Hyattsville on Nov. 14, 2014. The counselors were discussing alternative options for one international student who might have to withdraw due to security concerns. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).

CNS is withholding students’ last names in this story due to privacy concerns and school confidentiality codes.

Maryland received 3,301 minors by Sept. 30 — the sixth-most nationwide — and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties took in more than 2,000, U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement statistics show.

Most moved in with friends or family in longstanding Central American immigrant enclaves that are battling poverty, low education rates and gangs.

School enrollment is required to maintain immigration status. In Prince George’s County schools, more “unaccompanied or homeless youth” registered through November of this school year than all of the last school year. In one year, Montgomery County saw a two- to three-fold increase in the number of Central American students.

The dramatic spike has strained school resources, causing program waitlists, bigger classes and longer hours — and schools say they need more staff, mental health services and parent outreach to tackle the group’s challenges.

“When you’re in a new language, new cultural environment, everything is new… a lot of newcomers can walk around just being shell-shocked,” said Karen Woodson, director of Montgomery County’s ESOL/Bilingual Programs. “The children are fleeing violence in their home countries… many of them may have had traumatic journeys crossing the border — you’re dealing with a student that has tremendous need.”

Photo of a map on the wall of an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class in Northwestern High School in Hyattsville on Nov. 14, 2014. The map shows the number of students in the class who recently immigrated from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, depicting the influx of Central American unaccompanied minors who came to the U.S. in summer 2014. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).
Photo of a map on the wall of an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class in Northwestern High School in Hyattsville on Nov. 14, 2014. The map shows the number of students in the class who recently immigrated from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, depicting the influx of Central American unaccompanied minors who came to the U.S. in summer 2014. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).

“TOO MUCH WORK”

In a large, chattering classroom in Prince George’s County’s Northwestern High School in mid-November, one ESOL teacher called her class to order.

“Guys, lápiz down, she said. “Ojos on me.”

Colorful sticky notes on a wall map labeled each student’s origins: those from El Salvador spilled off the sheet.

It was a “newcomer” class in the English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, program, which teaches international students language along with academics.

Across the hall, ESOL teacher Sue Donegan said her class had grown from 12 to 23, reflecting Prince George’s 4,852 new international students and English language learners who enrolled between April and October. About 40,000 international students were enrolled in the county by the end of October. The county enrolled 5,550 new students over the entire 2011-2012 school year, and 7,628 in 2013-2014.

At Northwestern, with 550 ESOL students, some gym and art classes were cut because so many students couldn’t understand their teachers, school ESOL chair William Melvin said.

Both counties’ ESOL programs received more federal funds this fiscal year than last – Prince George’s received $337,029 more, a 14 percent gain – but since funds were based on last year’s enrollment, officials said resources were “tight.”

Prince George’s new “school-based budgeting,” which frees principals to use ESOL funds elsewhere, also creates uncertainties.

Over the summer, Prince George’s International Student Counseling Office increased hours and staff to register students, but now, “you’ve got equal or (fewer) counselors doing intake for more families, and it’s too much work,” said outreach counselor Patricia Chiancone.

She added that made it difficult to plan or implement programs necessary to help the unique group of students.

Still, schools have responded as best they could, enhancing staff professional development programs centered on Spanish skills and training on the kids’ unique challenges.

Prince George’s County counselors and principals received training on Hispanic immigrants, and the county is expanding its 15-week “Spanish for Staff” language program from one school last year to five or six schools this year, Chiancone said.

Montgomery County is crafting an “unaccompanied minors toolkit” to include lesson plans representing immigrant children’s cultures and teacher strategies to encourage the new students.

Photo of a facilitator’s training guide for a new Prince George’s County parent outreach program focusing on issues of immigrant family reunification. The program was implemented partly in response to issues arising from the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central American countries during summer 2014. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).
Photo of a facilitator’s training guide for a new Prince George’s County parent outreach program focusing on issues of immigrant family reunification. The program was implemented partly in response to issues arising from the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central American countries during summer 2014. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).

“THIS NEW PERSON CALLED ‘MOM’”

But three months into the school year, educators said schools need more staff training on issues of family reunification and dealing with students battling trauma.

Many children were reunited with parents they hadn’t seen in 10 to 15 years, so most crises stem back to “leaving their grandparents in their country and not feeling comfortable with this new person called ‘mom,’” Northwestern High School ESOL counselor Meg Evans-Headley said.

“A lot of times, schools say, ‘oh, we’re going to call you into a meeting about your kid,’ and you’re sitting there, and the kid’s sitting there, and there is clearly a problem between you,” Chiancone said. “You feel like you’re an incompetent parent, and the kid feels like oh, you don’t love them, because in the first place you abandoned them.”

Chiancone often learns of family problems when leading emotional development activities with newcomer groups.

“At first, I felt happy because I came to know my mom and dad, and I had 15 years of not knowing them,” she read from one child’s response paper. “But I felt bad, because I left my grandma in my country, and it was with her that I was brought up. And when I got here, I had serious problems with my dad — and it was horrible; he treated me very badly.”

Prince George’s County is holding a new program for parents on how the school system works and will implement another focused on family reunification, Chiancone said.

Lack of strong parent-child relationships made the teacher-student one even more important: “A lot of the times they really depend on the teacher,” Chiancone said.

BATTLING TRAUMA, SCHOOLING GAPS  

Educators said students needed more mental health services to help newcomers battling emotional issues or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some students expressed suicidal thoughts, Chiancone said. She knew an 11-year-old who witnessed his father’s murder in Central America after he refused to pay gangs. She’d heard of another kidnapped at home and then tortured on his journey.

Most of the kids have suffered trauma, even once they arrive, Melvin said.

“You see a mark in an arm and they say – ‘oh, I fell,’ and then you push them a little harder — ‘oh, my mom grabbed me, and then, well, she tried to kill me; she threw a knife and missed me,’” he said. “Then we hold them and call the police and try to deal with it.”

Schools send students identified with such issues to talk with social service workers and counselors. Four county high schools have “wellness centers,” which provide physical health treatment and mental health counseling.

But an intensive Montgomery County program for newcomers that includes mental health counseling, the Multidisciplinary Educational Training and Support program, was overwhelmed with a 37-student waitlist this fall before the county eventually hired two new teachers.

Challenges deepen with students’ varying education levels: Many have missed years of school, especially in areas where gangs block safe access, Chiancone said.

Last class period on a November Friday afternoon, Northwestern ESOL teacher Barbara Cook surveyed her loud class working on an exercise to learn American textbook layout: glossaries, indexes, chapter titles.

It was hard to catch up new students to the rest of the class. “They may have gone up to ninth grade, but the schools are in rural areas and the education level is not the same,” Cook said.

Other students struggle balancing school with work. Northwestern student Alan J. immigrated last year to send money back to his ill mother in Guatemala, so he hadn’t started school until this fall.

Another student, 18-year-old Junior, said he fled Honduras because he’d been in a motorcycle accident and the other driver wanted to kill him.

But now, his favorite part of the United States is “la escuela”: school. He hopes to stay in the U.S. and go to college.

“I’m learning a whole lot, and it’s going to help me,” he said through a translator.

Despite the challenges, Woodson said educators shared a “collective responsibility” to give each child a “fair shot.”

“Many students are with Grandma out in the countryside one day, and then the next day on a 1,300-mile journey to the U.S.,” she said. “A couple weeks later, you’re in a 21st century bustling high school. The change is just so great it takes their breath away. They need someone to help process that and get them acculturated to this new environment.”

cnsmaryland.org original story 

Photo of Karen Woodson, director of Montgomery County’s ESOL/Bilingual Programs, on Nov. 6, 2014, in the Montgomery County Public Schools’ International Student Admissions Office at Rocking House Road Center in Rockville. Woodson was talking about how the school system was affected by the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central American countries during summer 2014. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).
Photo of Karen Woodson, director of Montgomery County’s ESOL/Bilingual Programs, on Nov. 6, 2014, in the Montgomery County Public Schools’ International Student Admissions Office at Rocking House Road Center in Rockville. Woodson was talking about how the school system was affected by the influx of unaccompanied minors from Central American countries during summer 2014. (Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis).

Live Blog: Maryland Votes 2014

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Capital News Service

Capital News Service reporters will be reporting live from election night parties as the votes are counted.


Hogan Supporters Surprised at Upset Victory over Brown

ANNAPOLIS — Republican gubernatorial candidate and business owner Larry Hogan Jr. trumped his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Tuesday night in a race that reflected a national and statewide disillusionment with Democratic leaders.

At the Westin hotel in downtown Annapolis, Hogan told a crowd of cheering supporters that “tonight, real change has come to Maryland.”

“We have sent a clear message to Annapolis,” he said. “This race was never a fight between Republicans and Democrats. … It was a fight for Maryland’s future.”

“Voters showed they were completely fed up with politics as usual,” he said. “Tonight, Marylanders held our leaders accountable for eight years of failed economic policies.”

Tomorrow, Hogan said, his team would “roll up their sleeves” and begin working to fix the “serious financial problems” that he said plagued the state.

Many attendees at Hogan’s Annapolis election night party said it was not an outcome they had expected.

Small-business owner Jamie Kirkwood, from Queen Anne’s County, said she thought Hogan won because he “stayed on message” and “played a positive message.”

She said she thought O’Malley had polarized the state, hurting Brown’s campaign.

Kirkwood was leaving “excited” for her two kids’ future.

Steve Culp, 45, from Annapolis, said it was a “complete surprise.”

He attributed the upset to widespread frustration across Maryland – among moderate Democrats as well as Republicans – with taxes that have grown in number and amount under O’Malley’s administration.

Ellicott City resident Jeannine Mianulli said she and her husband were considering retiring outside of the state because of high taxes.

Now, Hogan’s win means that she can stay, Mianulli said.

Fifty-one-year-old Hillsmere resident Barbara Allgaier said she knew “a lot of people” who wanted to move out of the state due to economic problems.

“We are so excited about Larry Hogan winning – at last, he got people to listen,” she said. “People want change in this town.”

Though Hogan’s campaign “didn’t have money, they had audacity,” Allgaier said, adding that she was leaving in a “very hopeful” mood for the state.

As supporters trickled out, singing and cheering, the loudspeakers broadcasted the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.”

“I got a feeling that tonight’s going to be a good night…” the music played. For Hogan, that rang true.

Annika McGinnis with Dani Shae Thompson, 1:44 a.m.


Brown Can’t Shake Lieutenant Governor Curse

Anthony Brown could not shake the lieutenant governor’s curse as he conceded the Maryland gubernatorial race to his Republican opponent, Larry J. Hogan Jr.

Appearing on stage shortly after midnight, Brown thanked his supporters and congratulated Hogan on a hard fought campaign.

Brown conceded with 91.4 percent of the votes counted and Hogan holding a 6-point lead.

He spoke before a shrinking crowd as Democrats relived the election of 2003, when Republican Robert Ehrlich Jr. beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in deep blue Maryland.

“I’ll never forget the love, the support and encouragement from the people on this stage, all outstanding friends,” Brown said, flanked by his family, his running mate Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, and Maryland Democrats, including Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Donna Edwards and Rep. Elijah Cummings.

– Lejla Sarcevic , 12:36 p.m.


Hogan Camp Remains Cautiously Optimistic with 61% of Vote Counted

The hors d’oeuvres were running dry, but spirits were high at Larry J. Hogan Jr.’s election night headquarters in Annapolis as report after report of vote tallies rolled in – all spelling optimism for the Republican in his gubernatorial campaign.

Hogan, an underdog in a state dominated by Democrats, was in a solid early lead with 61 percent of precincts reporting: 53.7 percent to Brown’s 44.6 percent.

As the band rose for its third set, another round of drinks were poured and supporters at the Hogan camp danced and drank with cautious optimism.

“We’re Republicans – all we can be is optimistic!” said Murphy Hartford of Anne Arundel County.

“I’m extremely excited – it’s a game-changer for Maryland for sure,” said 33-year-old Mike Deskin, managing partner at Columbia-based IT support provider Dresner Group, LLC.

To Deskin, the prospect of electing a Republican governor meant “happiness.”

But Deskin said Hogan’s initial lead didn’t mean much because it was still early.

As each vote tally announcement showed Hogan further in the lead, the diverse crowd cheered Hogan’s name and embraced enthusiastically.

“Republicans felt more energized this year. We were ready to get out and vote,” said Lee Gaines, a Baltimore County resident who voted early.

“We’re all here tonight because we think we can win,” Gaines said.

Other attendees included toddlers, such as 4-year-old Vanessa, held in the arms of 35-year-old Frederick resident Monique Canale.

Canale’s husband worked for Hogan’s Annapolis-based real estate business, The Hogan Companies, and the two men were childhood friends. They’d played in Little League together, Canale said.

Despite the prospect of a late night, Canale said she and her family were in for the long haul. She also has a 6-year-old son whose bedtime was extended for the special night.

“He’s playing video games on my phone right now,” Canale said.

– Annika McGinnis and Dani Shae Thompson
, 11 p.m.



Early Voting Results Going Back and Forth

COLLEGE PARK – Brown supporters gathered at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center at the University of Maryland for his election night party where he hoped to celebrate becoming the first lieutenant governor to rise to the state’s top job.

At one point, early voting results showed him edging ahead of his Republican opponent, Larry J. Hogan Jr., with about 51 percent of the early vote result.

But just a little while later, Hogan had taken an equally slight lead. Only about one-fifth of precincts had reported.

Supporters began filing in to Brown’s election night party at about 8 p.m., and the crowd grew steadily over the next 90 minutes.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., acknowledged the tight race saying that Marylanders are unhappy with where the state is and that it causes people to think about the election.

“I think being the party in power in Maryland, in any state today where people are unhappy, that that causes a concern. I think the division in Maryland is fully understandable,” Cardin said. “The key now is whoever governs, and I hope it’s Anthony Brown, brings us together.”
– Lejla Sarcevic, 9:50 p.m.



Hogan Supporters Nervous, But Hopeful

ANNAPOLIS – Supporters of Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry J. Hogan Jr. trickling into the campaign’s election night party around 8 p.m. Tuesday were nervous but optimistic their candidate would win.

Caterers uncovered silver platters of charcuterie and fruit in the large, airy room at the Westin Annapolis hotel, which was filled with flower lilies and Maryland-colored balloons.

Jeff Dixon, a grocery clerk from Lusby, came in early with the press to take photos. He’s photographed political events ranging from President Barack Obama’s two inaugurations to Hillary Clinton’s campaign event for Democratic gubernatorial challenger Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown Thursday in College Park.

But this was his first election night party, and as a Hogan supporter, he was both excited and nervous.

“I’m optimistic for a win, but I won’t be surprised if the results don’t (match up),” he said. “I’m scared. I’m really scared. It doesn’t seem like Hogan’s been getting out to the public as much as Brown has. And he probably doesn’t have the money like Brown does.

“Hopefully that won’t matter,” Dixon said.

After leading campaign events at the Greenbelt Metro Station, South County Senior Center and Chick and Ruth’s Delly in Annapolis Tuesday morning, the Republican candidate and Annapolis real estate company owner “took it easy” in the afternoon, said Hogan press spokeswoman Erin Montgomery.

But the Hogan campaign made calls to voters “all day, up until the last moment,” and regional campaign field offices were out encouraging voters at polls throughout the state, she said.

A Hogan campaign internal poll several days ago showed the candidate 5 points ahead, but Montgomery was uncertain about the night’s outcome. She said results would most likely come in after 11 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s going to be close,” she said.

Kirstin Shea, 30, a registered nurse from Edgewater, said she voted “the very first day, the very first hour.”

Shea, Montgomery’s sister, said she thought Hogan would have a “landslide” victory because Marylanders were “fed up” with Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

She added that Hogan had also led a more positive and less attack-centered campaign than Brown.

Monday night at her nurse job, Shea was taking care of a patient who told her she’d moved to Delaware since her last visit because she couldn’t afford Maryland’s taxes, Shea said.

“Just hearing that made me feel so sad,” she said. “It was just a weird thing to hear the night before Election Day.”

At 8:11 p.m., a full brass band from Crownsville, Bobby and the Believers, cranked up the music. The room was filled with optimistic energy as Hogan supporters danced through the food line to “I Will Survive.”

“I really do think in my heart that it’s going to be a landslide,” Shea said.
–Annika McGinnis, 9:11 p.m.

Euthanizing pets increasing as vet costs rise

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IMG_00000648.jpg
Ohio’s Montgomery County Animal Shelter raised money and used some of its own late last year to have this dog treated for smoke inhalation after one of its owners died in a house fire and her significant other couldn’t afford to treat the dog or pick him up. The shelter cared for the dog for a month.(Photo: Montgomery County Animal Shelter)

Dogs may be “man’s best friend,” but in a still-struggling economy with rising veterinary costs, more Americans are choosing to put their ailing pets to sleep rather than pay for expensive treatments, experts say.

At Montgomery County Animal Resource Center in Dayton, Ohio, the rate of people seeking to euthanize their pets because they can’t afford treatment is rising between 10% and 12% a year, says Director Mark Kumpf. And at The Pet Fund, which raises money for people who can’t afford pet care, calls requesting financial support have doubled, says Executive Director Karen Leslie.

Each year, 3 million to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized in animal shelters, including about 2.7 million that are considered adoptable, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Though “economic euthanasia” isn’t tracked nationally, Kumpf, Leslie and some other pet experts say the cost of veterinary treatment has risen higher than many pet owners can afford and is contributing to an increase.

At the Thomas Beath Veterinary Clinic in Fredericksburg, Va., two-thirds of the pets put to sleep every week are euthanized for economic reasons, clinic owners say.

“I’ve never seen as many people lining up to turn over pets,” says Kumpf, former executive director of the National Animal Control Association. “It’s heart-wrenching to see so many people come through the door.”

Americans own 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats, according to research out last fall from the American Pet Products Association and the Humane Society of the United States. These owners spent about $55.53 billion on these pets in 2013, about $2 billion more than in 2012.

Costs are rising because vets are paying more for rent, employees, medication and equipment. The standard of care has also increased as vets adopt advanced treatments such as MRIs and bone marrow transplants, says Dog Fancy magazine editor Ernie Slone. Sophisticated medical care for an ailing cat or dog can easily run into thousands of dollars.

In December, a dog with salmonella had to be euthanized at Thomas Beath because his owners waited 10 days to bring him in out of fear of the costs of treating him, says Beath co-owner Jeanette Allard. But by then, their only choice was to pay $1,000 daily at a specialty hospital, which they couldn’t afford, she says.

“It kills me because it’s an emergency, so we can’t help them,” says Allard, whose facility is a low-cost clinic. “Pets to many people are like family members. … If you feel that way about your pet, you’re going to be devastated.”

Turning pets over to animal shelters isn’t necessarily a better solution. Many shelters are under financial constraints themselves and, especially in rural areas with low rates of spaying and neutering, often have high kill rates. Local rescue groups, such as Lost Dog and Cat Rescue and 4Paws cat rescue in the Washington, D.C., area, move as many pets as they can from shelters into foster homes before they are put to sleep. But they, too, rely on donations to pay for medical care.

There are options for owners struggling to pay for vet care:

Crowd-sourcing. Owners have used crowd-sourcing sites such as Gofundme to raise money for pet medical care. One person found a stray dog that was hit by a car and raised $6,000 to treat the dog’s fractures on Gofundme. The dog, once named Crash, has a happy ending and a new name. Winston has starred in commercials for the Ohio shelter.

Non-profits. Groups including The Pet Fund and Best Friends Animal Society and some shelters including Kumpf’s will also help owners find ways to get help with bills. The Pet Fund, based in Sacramento, has volunteers around the country, and pet owners in every state are eligible for assistance.

Insurance. Pet insurance can help with treatment costs, but it can often be more expensive than the treatment. Trey Simpson, 26, says without the Trupanion pet insurance he bought for his basset hound, Hashbrown, he likely still wouldn’t have the pet today. But a 2011 Consumer Reports analysis of four policies concluded insurance was “rarely worth the price.” Setting money aside periodically for vet bills and getting annual checkups at a low-cost clinic may be better options.

Rescue groups take in all the pets they can, as they know how traumatic it is for people to have to give up their four-legged companions. Barbara Hutcherson, director of programs at Lost Dog and Cat Rescue in Arlington, Va., says pet owners sometimes just can’t “provide what that animal needs due to changes in their family finances or job changes that have caused them to have a tighter budget.”

“The saddest thing that I see in my e-mail inbox is probably when someone needs to give up an older pet that they have had for many years because the care has become so expensive,” she says.

Contributing: Jayne O’Donnell and Ana Christina Spies

usatoday.com original story 

Growing minority populations ‘diluted’ in new General Assembly districts, lawmakers say

Posted on Updated on

By Annika McGinnis, Capital News Service (Oct. 15, 2014)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – More signs are in Spanish than English on a stretch of Wheaton’s Georgia Avenue, a road lined with “lavanderias,” Latin American grocery stores and the Guatemalan fast food chain Pollo Campero.

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery County, registering new voters at Montgomery County's Wheaton Library

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery County, left, is registering voters Oct. 4 at Montgomery County’s Wheaton Library. Montgomery’s Hispanic Democratic Club sponsored the event, seeking to register new voters in a county that has become majority-minority. Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis.

Down the road, at noon on Oct. 4 in the Wheaton Regional Library, “Inscribase para voter” – register to vote – was written on a poster on Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez’s table. By 12:30 p.m., the Montgomery County Democrat, 11-year delegate and first Latina member of the state legislature had enrolled five new voters, including several new citizens.

Though small, the grassroots push showed the slow but steady increase in minority political participation across Maryland. It parallels the state’s Hispanic and African-American populations’ increase over the past decade.

Despite an increase in minority candidates running for seats in the state legislature, diversity in the General Assembly will still likely not keep pace with these changing demographics – due partly to map redistricting that some minority lawmakers and political groups said clumps together or slices across minority populations to keep Democratic incumbents in power.

The new map makes some inroads, adding two new African-American majority state Senate districts and the state’s first majority Hispanic House of Delegates district.

And though African-Americans made up 31 percent of Marylanders in 2012 and Hispanics 8 percent, the legislature’s minority caucus leaders anticipated African-American and Hispanic legislators would make up just 24 and 3 percent of the General Assembly following this November’s elections.

“What we see is just a huge continuation of the status quo,” said Gutierrez, an El Salvadoran native. “We don’t have an equitable representation of our population.”

Following new U.S. Census data released every 10 years, the Maryland Constitution mandates the state remodel its legislative districts to take into account changing population demographics.

Between 2000, the census basis for the last map, and 2012, when the last figures were tabulated, 260,000 more African-Americans moved into the state, a 2 percent increase in the group’s proportion of state population, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show.

African-American groups swelled especially in Harford, Charles and Baltimore counties: In Charles, which is 41 percent black, the demographic grew 57 percent.

Over the decade, the Hispanic population doubled, growing in every Maryland county, including 138,000 more people in Montgomery and Prince George’s alone. The two counties surged from 12 and 7 percent Hispanic or Latino in 2000 to 17 and 15 percent in 2012, census data shows.

Montgomery includes the nation’s third-largest group of El Salvadorans, the Pew Hispanic Center reported.

Gutierrez called Maryland’s Hispanic growth “enormous.”

“As immigration has continued, many have come to the area because that is where they have sisters, brothers, cousins, friends,” she said.

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery County, leading Gaithersburg resident George Ndinu through the voter registration process.

Gutierrez leading Gaithersburg resident George Ndinu through the voter registration process. Capital News Service photo by Annika McGinnis.

‘I WANT THIS NEIGHBORHOOD, NOT THAT NEIGHBORHOOD’

Forty-three incumbents from the 141-member House of Delegates are retiring or running for other positions, and seven incumbent senators out of 47 will not run.  That leaves about 70 percent of the House and 85 percent of the Senate campaigning to keep their spots.

The new map affected most districts. It was designed to keep in power “not just the majority party – but specific people who are in specific positions in the majority party,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s County.

Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two to one, has the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation, according to a 2012 report by geospatial analysis firm Azavea.

Gutierrez said when redistricting began in 2011, House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel County, appointed a state delegate to meet one-on-one with each Montgomery incumbent delegate and prepare the county’s “preferred” districts.

“Ten questions were asked: ‘Where do you live? Where do your parents live? Where do your friends live? And the people who are running against you?’ And then there were changes made to ensure that incumbent would be re-elected,” Gutierrez said.

But the Maryland Court of Appeals stated in 2012 that intentionally creating a map “helping or injuring incumbents or political parties” was allowed, as long as it did not violate constitutional or federal requirements.

A five-member governor’s redistricting committee created the official map, but any legislator could come to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services and ask them to create a proposed map to recommend to the committee, said Michelle Davis, a senior policy analyst in the department.

Lawmakers wouldn’t come in and say “‘Oh, we want to screw all the Democrats in Calvert County,’” but they could say ‘“Oh, I want my district to look like this,’” Davis said.

“They may say, ‘I’ve got too much population in my district – can you lighten that up, make it legal? And when you do that, can you take more of this and less of that?’” Davis said. “More times it’s in terms of geography: ‘I want this neighborhood, not that neighborhood.’”

But in effect, the map “tore apart communities,” Braveboy, the chair of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, said.

“That wasn’t as important as preserving power,” she said.

A THREE-COUNTY DISTRICT

Take District 27, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr.’s district, said Tamara Brown, South County Democratic Club president. The district, which used to fall in Prince George’s and Calvert, now includes part of a third county: Charles.

Brown said it was modified to offset the increasingly Republican Calvert with mostly Democratic votes from Charles’s growing African-American population.

“It’s an atrocity of gerrymandering regardless of the party,” Brown wrote in an email. “Redistricting keeps [Miller] in office. He can’t or won’t live with us anymore, but sure keeps our highly reliable votes.”

Over two weeks, Miller did not respond to repeated calls and emails for comment.

But in 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals struck down a case that claimed several multicounty districts disenfranchised minorities and disregarded the state constitution’s requirement that districts regard “natural and political boundaries” such as county lines.

There was no evidence of racial discrimination, and the state could create multicounty districts in order to ensure population equity or other requirements, the court ruled.

Carving the Lines: Behind Maryland’s New Legislative Districts
By Annika McGinnis

Every 10 years, the Maryland governor’s office reshapes the state’s voting districts. Here’s a breakdown of the 2012 process:

It follows the U.S. Census: In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau released new national data tracking state population and demographics. The data shows how the population has moved and how demographics have changed over the past decade. 

Both the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Constitution require the state to use this information to craft new electoral districts. Districts are supposed to be formed to ensure every person has the same voting power.

Maryland creates two maps: Maryland must reshape both the districts that elect U.S. representatives to Congress and those that elect state senators and delegates to the General Assembly. These districts are different, so the state must create two separate maps.

The legislative map is carved up to elect state senators and delegates: The Maryland General Assembly has 47 senators and 141 delegates, so there are 47 state Senate districts that each elect one senator and three delegates. One Senate district can elect all three delegates, or it can be divided into three smaller districts that each elects one delegate. It can also be split into one district that elects two delegates and one that elects one delegate.

How the 2012 maps were approved:

·      In March 2011, Gov. Martin O’Malley received the Census data.

·      In July 2011, O’Malley appointed a five-member committee to craft the new maps.

·      The committee held 12 public hearings across Maryland during the summer.

·      The state’s Departments of Planning and Legislative Services helped the committee analyze data, create potential maps and review third-party plans.

·      Throughout the year, members of the public submitted 23 alternative plans for consideration.

·      In December, the committee released its proposed map for Maryland’s legislative districts and held a public hearing. Minor amendments were made.

·      In January 2012, the governor submitted the plan to state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch. They then introduced it to the General Assembly.

·      The map became law automatically on Feb. 24, 2012, after the legislature did not adopt an alternative plan.

THE NEW MAP’S “DILUTING” EFFECT

Miller, the state’s Senate president since 1987, was one of five members serving on the governor’s committee that designed the redistricting map following the 2010 national census.

The group also included Busch, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Secretary of Appointments Jeanne Hitchcock and former Republican Anne Arundel County Del. James King.

The fifth member, Prince George’s County business owner Richard Stewart, was sentenced in June 2012 to two years in prison for not paying almost $4 million in taxes.

O’Malley eventually presented his plan to the General Assembly in January 2012, and it went into effect in February of that year.

Gutierrez called the redistricting process “totally flawed.” Though the state held 12 public hearings between July and September 2011, Gutierrez said, there had not been any proposed map to discuss at those meetings.

During the planning stages, Gutierrez proposed two additional majority-minority districts in Montgomery County: a Hispanic one in District 18’s Wheaton and Aspen Hill area and an African-American one in District 20’s Takoma Park. Gutierrez said she also pushed for another district within District 19 near Gaithersburg and Germantown.

Twenty-two other alternative plans were submitted for all or some of the state’s legislative districts. But the redistricting committee had no obligation to comment on or use them in any way, according to the state’s Department of Planning.

Instead, the new map broke apart Montgomery’s District 39, which borders Gaithersburg and includes Washington Grove and Montgomery Village, into three districts that “diluted” minority voting power, Gutierrez said.

And though the first majority-Hispanic state House district was created in Prince George’s County, Gutierrez said she thought the size of the voting-age Latino population in that district- 19,086 people, or 60 percent – warranted more than a one-member district.

Baltimore City lost two districts due to its declining population. As district lines changed, three African-American incumbents were pitted against each other – and former Democratic delegates Keiffer Mitchell and Melvin Stukes lost against Democratic Del. Keith Haynes in the primary.

Affecting a “very poor” district, the move diluted a “stronghold” of the African-American community at the city center, said Baltimore City NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston.

A group of 22 voters, filing in the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2012, claimed the new map underpopulated almost all African-American districts and violated both the state and national constitutions.

However, the court denied any racial discrimination and ruled that all districts met population requirements.

 

MEANDERING AROUND A ‘SALAMANDER’

Complaints of Maryland gerrymandering are nothing new: Following 2002 redistricting, former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry sued the state on claims that the plan lacked adequate majority-minority districts in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties to match the area’s black and Hispanic populations. The Court of Appeals threw out the governor’s map and created a new one.

After the 2010 census, congressional district redistricting also drew fire from the Fannie Lou Hamer PAC, which sued unsuccessfully on claims that the new maps diluted Montgomery’s minority power.

Mid-September, about two dozen Maryland residents, angry about what they called a “salamander”-shaped Third Congressional District that snakes from Owings Mills to Olney to Annapolis, biked, ran and kayaked for three days and 225 miles around the district’s confines.

Annapolis resident Tom DeKornfeld ran 55 miles in the so-called “gerrymander meander” before helping deliver a petition to gubernatorial candidate representatives near the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis on Sept. 23.

Maryland League of Women Voters representative Gabrielle Strandquist, also from Annapolis, said at the event that gerrymandering to benefit incumbents was “unhealthy” and “undemocratic.

“History has proven that even if the guy’s a jerk, they almost always get re-elected,” she said. “Because it’s ‘Oh, I know him; let’s just vote for him, you know. And he or she may not be a good person.”

A MORE DIVERSE BALLOT

Despite redistricting complaints, districts are still seeing more minority candidates running for seats in the general election as the legislature prepares for a huge November turnover.

Some called it an inevitable generational demographic change; others called it national attention to minority issues or inspiration from the prospect of electing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the state’s first African-American governor.

Cassandra Beverley, a Democrat from Harford County running for the District 34B House of Delegates seat, said there were four African-Americans running in her district, including herself- more than she’d seen in two decades.

She said part of why she ran was to better reflect Harford’s growing diversity. The district increased from 10 to 14 percent black between 2000 and 2012, census statistics show.

“I think there was just a lot of motivation for people to do something to fight the status quo,” she said. “When they’re looking at a governing body that doesn’t seem to have anyone who looks like them or thinks like them, they’re less likely to have confidence in the legislature.”

Black Republican Council Chairman Tony Campbell said more African-American Republicans are also running: five for General Assembly seats, four of them from Prince George’s County.

The increasing diversity represents a “generational shift,” Campbell said.

But the increases are still marginal. Braveboy anticipated just one or two more African-American members to the 44 currently in the legislature’s black caucus, including an additional one from the majority-minority Montgomery, where non-Hispanic whites made up 49 percent in 2012.

To the four current Hispanic legislators, Gutierrez anticipated, two more delegates would be elected: Maricé Morales in Montgomery County and Will Campos in Prince George’s County’s new Hispanic-majority district.

In recent months, immigration issues and the race riots in Ferguson, Missouri, stemming from this summer’s shooting of African-American teenager Michael Brown have brought festering race-related issues into the limelight.

With a more diverse legislature, Braveboy said she hoped state policy would also address more issues affecting minorities. Last session, she said it “took a lot” to get a bill passed mandating the state hire more minority troopers.

Enacting real policy change, including on language access bills, minority businesses and culturally appropriate services and hiring, requires legislators who represent those affected, Gutierrez said.

“If we don’t bring up the issues, they would not be on the table,” Gutierrez said.

A GROWING VOTER BLOC

Gaithersburg resident George Ndinu stopped by Gutierrez’s voter registration table in the entryway of the library on Oct 4.

“I always want to make sure I’m available to vote,” Ndinu said, though he had lived in the United States for 15 years since moving from Cameroon and had voted several times before.

Even with more minority candidates running, candidates need to do a better job reaching out to minority and underrepresented communities, Gutierrez said. Often, she said, candidates target so-called “super voters” – those who have been registered for years – and neglect new voters such as many Hispanics.

But minorities could become a strong voting bloc: This year, Gutierrez said she had seen between 1,000 and 2,000 newly registered Latino voters in her district.

“There’s been a real concerted effort to say to Latinos: ‘Register to vote; it’s in the voting box and voting process that you can make a difference,’” she said.

Though Braveboy said minorities had been “woefully underrepresented” in the state legislature, she anticipated some “marginal gains” next month and hoped for an escalating trend toward diversity.

“In numbers, you have power,” Braveboy said.

More doctors run for General Assembly seats as health care interest rises

Posted on Updated on

By Annika McGinnis, Capital News Service (Sept. 16, 2014)

ANNAPOLIS — Five physicians are running for seats in the Maryland General Assembly this year, a spike in doctor interest in political service that the candidates say coincides with rising state regulation over health.

About a year after Maryland’s troubled rollout of its Affordable Care Act individual exchange website and in a time when health care is dominating the nation’s conversation, the physicians are running to have more of a direct role in forming the decisions they said are affecting their patients and practices.

Most of the Maryland candidates are Democrats, echoing the state’s majority party. On the national level, most physicians running for Congress are Republicans critical of President Barack Obama’s controversial health initiative.

In Maryland, the doctors said, Obamacare was just a sliver of the pie representing increasing state health regulation, including everything from approving medical marijuana use to requiring licenses for doctors to mix medications.

Each of the five candidates is a board-certified physician, Maryland State Medical Society “MedChi” CEO Gene Ransom said.

“It’s not just the ACA; it’s everything,” Ransom said. “I think as doctors realize that more and more of their care is government-funded and regulated, they’re going to get more involved in how the rules are made — and that’s good.”

With more government mandates affecting physicians’ day-to-day work, doctors are concerned about a “fundamental” change in the way health care is practiced — moving away from traditional family-based relationships to more of a corporate structure, said Republican District 42 Senate candidate Dr. Tim Robinson, a retired anesthesiologist at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.

“Physicians are very, very concerned about what is happening with the physician-patient relationship,” Robinson said. “The people making the decisions need to be better informed.”

Often, “seemingly very reasonable and logical regulations and laws can impact people in unexpected ways,” said Democratic District 12 House of Delegates candidate Dr. Terri Hill, who runs a plastic surgery practice in Columbia.

“It’s about understanding, on a day-to-day basis, what are the things that really affect people’s lives,” Terri Hill said.

Physicians are rare in the state’s General Assembly: Only three have served in the past 25 years, MedChi reported. Delegate Dr. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, who has served since 1995, is the only practicing physician serving in the state legislature.

Often the “only person in the room who’s made clinical decisions,” Morhaim said he’s seen a “disconnect between those making decisions and those who actually live with them.”

For instance, a 2013 law requiring doctors to obtain licenses to mix medications causes “a huge amount of confusion” and delay in medical services, Terri Hill said.

That’s just one example of a law the state passed that needed more input from doctors on the actual on-the-ground effects, the candidates said.

“Sometimes when (legislators are) dealing with these issues, it’s helpful to say, ‘OK, this is what we’re planning on doing — what does that mean from a practical point of view?’” Ransom said.

Obamacare issues will likely come into the fray again as the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley aims to roll out the state’s rebuilt health care exchange in November.

The General Assembly needs to “step up” and ensure “proper oversight and accountability” during that process, said Dr. Clarence Lam, a District 12 Democratic House of Delegates candidate and preventive medicine physician at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Lam said he also hoped to address rising medication shortages of some drugs that he attributed to ownership issues, quality problems or contamination.

The candidates said the state has not fully worked out implementation of a new law allowing people with certain illnesses to obtain medical marijuana.

If elected, Robinson said he had talked with some fellow candidates about forming a bipartisan physicians’ caucus, though the other candidates said such a group had not yet been formally discussed. Robinson added he hoped more doctors in the legislature could help de-politicize health issues that have become increasingly divisive across the nation.

Along with Robinson, Morhaim, Hill and Lam, Democrat Jay Jalisi, an ear, nose and throat physician who is not currently practicing, is also running for a House of Delegates seat in District 10.

The doctors also said they hoped their background in patient care, including making critical decisions in stressful situations, could bring a more personal and “holistic” way of thinking to issues beyond health.

But doctors could come with their own set of issues. Balancing clinical work with time in Annapolis isn’t easy, Ransom said. Morhaim works emergency shifts several weekends in session before taking a break until his legislative work ends. Terri Hill said she plans to run the surgical side of her practice for the nine months the General Assembly is out and then do administrative work on weekends and Monday mornings while serving in office.

But the candidates said the tradeoff would be worth it.

“All of us got into this business because we wanted to help people,” said Dr. Hugh Hill, an emergency physician and former Democratic District 16 Senate candidate who lost in the primary. “(It was) the sense and duty of not sitting on the sidelines and griping anymore but getting in and pitching.”

cnsmaryland.org original story

Researchers hope new bridge sensors will prevent disasters

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By Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers (Aug. 9, 2012)

— Five years after the devastating collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis, university researchers are developing new wireless technology that would warn of problems that could cause such disasters.

On Aug. 1, 2007, rush-hour traffic moved along the Interstate 35 West bridge in Minneapolis. Suddenly, most of the bridge broke off and fell into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring 145. It was one of the worst bridge disasters in U.S. history.

The bridge had passed federal inspections for years, the National Transportation Safety Board found.

As the nation’s bridges age, they’re becoming more dangerous, especially the “baby boomer bridges,” the large number built during the 1950s and ‘60s, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. In 2010, the Federal Highway Administration labeled more than 11 percent of highway bridges – almost 70,000 – “structurally deficient,” meaning the bridges had significant defects requiring major improvements or replacement.

As part of the push for increased bridge safety stemming from the Minneapolis disaster, separate engineering teams at the University of Maryland and North Carolina State University are designing wireless sensors that can detect problems early and alert authorities in time to prevent similar tragedies.

“You go to a checkup, you find a condition of your body,” said Chung Fu, a University of Maryland engineering research professor who helps lead one of the teams. “So you put a sensor on the bridge and find the health of the bridges.”

For instance, the tiny sensors are placed on areas of the bridge where there are cracks or that are prone to cracks, Fu said. Then the bridge’s health can be monitored from computers at another site. In the event of an emergency, a text message or email alert would be sent to authorities, said Mehdi Kalantari, a University of Maryland research engineer who leads the other team.

One of the projects conducted by University of Maryland researchers has developed wireless sensors that can detect problems including strains, cracks, deformation, vibration, temperature and humidity – all aspects of bridge health, said Kalantari, who led the project and recently started a company to manufacture his systems. The project has been tested on an Interstate 495 bridge in Maryland for two years with great results, he said.

“We have detected certain changes on the bridge from time to time,” Kalantari said, saying the sensors recognized changes that had come about through repair jobs. “Our system detected each and every structural modification, which means if these changes were due to a structural problem, that would’ve been detected.”

In the future, Kalantari said, he hopes to gain official state and federal approval for the technology.

The other project, paid for by state and federal funding and conducted with North Carolina State University, is designing sensors that can detect bridge fatigue as part of “smart bridge” technology, said Fu, the project’s leader. Unlike Kalantari’s sensors, these aren’t yet wireless, but hopefully they will be by November, when the researchers plan to test the technology on bridges, probably in Maryland and North Carolina, Fu said.

The wireless aspect, which North Carolina State researchers are designing, makes the new system more affordable than systems that require the presence of crews to track possible problems, Fu said.

Monitoring bridge health often is very expensive, Fu said, especially in this economy. He said bridge maintenance was “on the list” for all state governments but that it often was neglected because of the high price tag.

According to Kalantari, bridge safety is a huge problem that cannot be ignored, however. And he said most bridges relied only on visual inspections for safety monitoring.

Problematic metal plates, called gusset plates, on the Minneapolis bridge most likely caused the disaster, the National Transportation Safety Board wrote in its report on the collapse. There was an “inadequate use of technologies for accurately assessing the condition of gusset plates on deck truss bridges,” the report said.

The new sensors are much more reliable, the researchers said. Fu said they might even have prevented the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge.

“You probably would have seen the sensors change, the signals become more intense, probably getting higher – and those are the signals we want to see, that’s all the warning message,” he said.