Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grasmick Out as Superindent

(Annapolis) - As word spread of Dr. Nancy Grasmick's departure as Maryland's School Superintendent questions swirled as to why? What was even more evident was her impact on schools in the state. When she arrived as a part of the Governor William Donald Schaffer's administration machine, education was not a priority. There were pockets of excellence, but there was very little coordination. According to Dr. Grasmick, "school systems knew the superintendent would come in one day and we could go back to what we were doing." It would change. As she boasted during her retirement announcement, "I can't stop getting up at 4:15 am, and drive 300 mi lies a day."
The superintendent has many first; she ushered in Maryland's own test for high school seniors to get a diploma; she help settle a legal dispute between the state and the city of Baltimore; she developed leadership academies in the various counties; her work with undeserved communities predates the introduction of "no child left behind;" and for the last two years Maryland has been named the top public school system in the nation.
For all her accolades she also laid bare her disappointments. Under her administration the number of drop outs has increased. She wishes she could have gotten more money for teachers. Lastly, she worries about technology and how its created cyber-bullies and the ability to talk via texting has removed human interaction. In the end she will have a legacy and there won't be a shortage of potential suitors who could use her expertise and saleswomanship.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Death Penalty, Death Nail

(Annapolis)- For the last 18 years Kirk Bloodsworth has been testifying against the death penalty. He has a personal reason to do so. While he was sitting on "death row" his conviction was overturned despite his insistence he was innocent.

"Naw, this never gets old," according to Bloodsworth. He is passionate and humbled at the same time. He makes the argument clear and succinct, but has been able to the Maryland Legislature to change its mind.

A number of prosecutors including Scott Shellenberger of Baltimore County count on the death penalty to be a deterrent. Statistics show in Baltimore County you're more like to face a death penalty case in other jurisdiction (maybe also in Harford County)rather than Baltimore City (the city has a new states attorney, let's see if he'll change the trend).

The anger Bloodsworth seems replaced as he introduces his "life partner." My colleague Lou Davis was the second reporter to interview the former marine after he was let go, so there is an easy in what he says.

"So where you been," says Lou. "I'm living in Boise, Idaho, coaching track (discus) at Boise State University, says Bloodsworth. I chime in, "You mean the national ranked football team with blue field." "Yep, we're season ticket holders...nobody knows us there."

As we're talking a former professor who made the case for Bloodsworth shows up and joins the banter. "Don't you miss crabbing?" "Nah, I can always comeback and get a crab cake."

This is a side of the former death row inmate I think few have seen. In pass years he's been angry, frustrated, and challenged. "The Illinois thing gives me hope," he says with a slight twinkle in his eye.

All around us others are giving testimony-I mean interviews as to why the ban needs to be a repeal.

Jokingly, I ask him, "You've had a difficult time in convincing the Judiciary Chairman Vallario." "Yea, but he's gonna hear it again, 'it's time to remove the death penalty." We laugh but this is serious business. I forgot to add this, Governor Martin O'Malley was noticeably absent on this bill.

Gaming and Horses

Packed hearing on this issue in the House Ways and Means Committee. I run into Delegate Frank Turner who suggests his walk around the Capitol Building is part of his attempt to take off a few pounds as required by his doctor. Maybe, but its more likily he wasn't going to see the light of day in the hearing room.

Talked with J. Michael Hopkins,Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Racing Commission. He's a little coy about his testimony on the tracks, purses and the various competing interest. When I ask Mr. Hopkins about horse racing next year he says as a matter of fact, "we will have racing...that's if the various parties can solve their issues in court."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Three Hours of Debate Same Sex Marriage

Annapolis - There was expected to be an electric debate in the Maryland House of Delegates with both sides geared up for arguements for and against on same sex marriage. I've laid out several potential traps for the bill in earlier postings. All the them were on display today. The House took up the Senate Bill rather than take up its own bill.

Many passionate debaters. Delegate Emmett Burns, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, gave an impassioned and historical arguments against the bill."Show me your Birmingham, Al; show me the homes evaded by KKK, show me where you suffered under billy clubs and the mobs." Delegate Burns would go on to argue Dr. Martin Luther King nor Marylander Clarence Mitchell did not have same sex marriage in mind where they were arguing for civil rights.

Del. Keiffer Mitchell, says Clarence Mitchell, his grandfather, would have been in favor of the measure.

For a number of Prince George's County delegates this was a very tough vote. Delegate Jay Walker saying he loves everyone announced he would vote against the bill.

Delegate Aisha Braveboy, did try to amend the bill to make it a referendum. She was twarted as was Delegate Cheryl Glenn who also wanted to change the bill.

Nearly three hours into the debate the final speaker was Judiciary Committee Chairman, Delegate Joseph Vallario. Delegate Vallario who is not a fan of this measure in one fell swoop sent the bill back to committee.
As Bryan Sears of noted as I did on twitter, "this pretty much kills the bill this session." The bill was also called dead for this session by one of the bill sponsors.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lt. Governor Gets Pulled Into Instate Tuition Debate

Annapolis - The Senate has sent the instate tuition bill to the house. It came with some rancorous debate. A twist on the final outcome may weigh on who was and could be affected. My good friend Len Lazarick conducted a question and answer before United Seniors on Wednesday where Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown was the guest. During the session he was asked about instate tuition for undocumented workers children. "It's personal." The Lieutenant Governor explains his grandmothers move to the United State. Take a look in the Annapolitics Blog.

The Lt. Governor responded on his facebook page. I'll have this part of the story in my Maryland Public Television piece. Here's his quote.

"I appreciate taking an interest in my family’s story, but their headline doesn’t capture the point. My grandmother's journey shows that our country has a great deal to gain by embracing new Americans. Because her son, my father, received an education, he was able to give back and contribute to his adopted country and instill the same sense of service in his children. That is why the MD DREAM Act matters and why it will lead to a brighter future for all Marylanders."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fire Storm with Floor Debates

Annapolis – There were two spirited debates today. In the house the issue of same sex marriage was up for floor debate. The opposition was spirited, but despite amendments none were taken and it came through clean. I thought Delegate Kumar Barve’s observation regarding this issue being sent to the voters in a referendum in 2012 maybe on point. But those who wanted this bill got their way. Maryland looks to become the six state in the union to approve of same sex marriages. A couple of issues of note Delegate Aisha Braveboy offer an amendment which was like a poison pill. It would have sent the bill back to the Judiciary Committee which has its own version same sex marriage. Delegate got a lot of bi-partisan votes on having it go to the voters. In the end it failed but did have a lot of unusual support. Also, kind of surprise at the efforts by several large churches in Prince George's going after Delegates from this area asking them to fight the move. Several outside groups will apparently take up the petitions drive to get on the ballot. The final vote will occur on Friday.

Instate Tuition for Immigrants

The other issue today was the so call “Dream Act.” The title has changed to Higher Education - Tuition Charges - Maryland High School Students. The initial idea was to provide instate tuition for dependents of undocumented works at all state colleges and universities. It’s been watered down to take affect at community colleges initially. Listen to the debate in the Senate.

Lastly, Senator Lisa Gladden brought forth emergency legislation dealing with protesters at military funerals. This legislation came from a Supreme Court ruling in the Westboro Baptist case. The controversial church has been showing up at the funerals Iraq and Afghanistan War dead. They believe god is punishing these individuals for recognizing gays. The court ruled last week their protest are part of free speech and can go ahead. In the wake of this ruling several measures are in the works to keep them away (in Maryland you must stay 100 ft. from funerals). This new law would ban them from coming within 500 ft. Sen. Joe Getty talks about the issue.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hic-up on Same Sex Marriage

(Annapolis) A funny thing happen to gay marriage in the House of Delegates. It was suppose to pass Judiciary Committee without a problem. Del. Jill Carter and Tiffany Alston of Prince George's County were MIA on the committee vote. There weren't enough votes to get it out of committee. According to some reports Del. Carter held up the bill to get more money for Baltimore City Schools. Del. Alston says she needed more time to think about the vote. As you can imagine it wasn't taken likely by Delegate Heather Mizeur of Montgomery County.

In a change of heart Delegates Carter and Alston now say they are ready to vote for the bill. Can you say leadership arm twisting.