September 25 - October 1, 2014

O’Malley Administration Unveils Website to Help Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

 

By Stephen Waldron
Capital News Service 

HYATTSVILLE – In an effort to help the almost 3,000 unaccompanied immigrant children who have arrived in Maryland this year, the state this week launched Buscando, a website designed to connect them and their caretakers with volunteers and resources.

Officials from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration debuted the website during a press conference at the Hyattsville Branch Library on Wednesday. Ted Dallas, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources, said Buscando (which means to look for in Spanish) is the newest phase in the state’s response to the needs of unaccompanied children in Maryland.

Buscando is designed to serve as a database of resources for the children and their caretakers. For example, users can type in their location and search for clothing, and a map is generated which shows contact information for nearby organizations that will provide clothes.

Organizations and individual volunteers can also sign up on the website to provide materials, or services like transportation or counseling.

The website was built by volunteer programmers from Code for Progress, Hear

Me Code and the Tech

Lady Hackathon.

Aliya Rahman, of Code for Progress, said the project was a chance for programmers to use their skills to make a difference in the community.

“The best technology is built for and by people affected by the issues,” Rahman said.

Roughly 2,800 unaccompanied children have arrived in Maryland in 2014, the fifth largest number in the country. The children have come primarily from Central America, fleeing violence in countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Anne Sheridan, executive director of the Governor’s Office for Children, described the project as a “labor of love.”

The first challenge, according to Sheridan, has been determining what kinds of resources are useful to children and their caretakers.

“We have to figure out what they need,” Sheridan said. “Then, it’s all about mechanics.”

Officials also highlighted other resources for unaccompanied children, including a printed resource guide for people who do not have access to the website. The United Way of Central Maryland also operates a 24-hour 2-1-1 phone hotline, which aims to provide immediate assistance and guide callers through the Buscando website.*

The goal for Buscando is to efficiently deliver information and resources to the people who need them. Sheridan also said she wants children and their caretakers to know that the government is in it for the long haul.

“We’re a welcoming place, and we want them to know that help is available,” Sheridan said.

* An earlier version of the story mistakenly said that Maryland’s state government operates a 2-1-1 phone hotline for unaccompanied children and their caretakers. The 2-1-1 phone hotline is operated by the United Way of Central Maryland.


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Prince George’s County Deploys “Data Prince George’s”

  

By Press Officer
PG County Government Office

County leverages Socrata to encourage Open Government

Largo, MD – Prince George's County, through a partnership with Socrata, recently unveiled a new government transparency portal, branded as Data Prince George’s, which can be accessed at data.princegeorgescountymd.gov. 

By leveraging Data Prince George’s, residents and portal visitors are able to view a wide array of datasets that range from CountyClick 311 statistics to the recipients of Prince George’s County Government contracts. The system directly supports County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s focus on providing information and ensuring the transparency of government in a more accessible and efficient manner.

Prince George’s County welcomes portal visitors to visualize, explore, and interact with the County’s data in a collaborative online environment that currently includes dozens of graphs, reports and maps.

Developers can also programmatically access the datasets or download them in a multitude of formats.

One of the most immediate governmental uses for Data Prince George’s will be alignment with the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) to identify trends in distressed neighborhoods and aiding decisions about what programs and initiatives are needed in those neighborhoods.

"Data Prince George’s will make it much easier for County Government to share information with residents and to apply valuable resources more wisely,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III.

The general public is invited to come and experience Data Prince George’s first hand on October 4th 2014 at 8:00am at the inaugural Prince George’s County Hackathon hosted at Bowie State University. This event is a chance for civically minded technologists, developers, and open data enthusiasts to build applications based on the Data Prince George’s Application Programming Interface (API).

“With the new Data Prince George’s site, we invite developers to leverage the available datasets to build apps and to develop use cases that beneficially impact the everyday lives of our county citizens,” said Chief Information Officer Vennard Wright.

 

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Campaign-Finance Complaints Stack Up as Election Day Nears

  

By Lejla Sarcevic
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland State Board of Elections is carefully reviewing the two complaints Maryland gubernatorial campaigns have filed against each other in the past two weeks.

But theirs are not the only electoral grievances filed with the state.

Anyone can file a campaign finance complaint, and they do: Maryland Board of Elections’ records of a dozen complaints this year show everyone from private citizens to disgruntled campaign employees are feeling aggrieved this election season. And the state prosecutor’s office has received many more.

In the gubernatorial race, GOP nominee Larry Hogan filed a complaint against Democrat Anthony Brown Sept. 4, charging that the lieutenant governor’s campaign coordinated with a super PAC by sharing the same political consultants. Brown filed his complaint on Tuesday, alleging his challenger’s campaign was underpaying for the use of a tour bus, which Hogan owns.

The question of coordination between candidates and political-fundraising groups is part of a larger national trend that has emerged since the rise of political action committees and has left campaign staff and election lawyers grappling with the legal consequences.

“The whole existence of super PACs depends on them being independent of the campaign,” said Larry Noble, counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan advocacy group.

Noble said that this has put the focus on what constitutes coordination.

“What we see is candidates appearing at events for their super PACs. We see common vendors between the super PAC and the campaign.”

Courts and election boards across the nation are trying to resolve the legality of these overlapping interests.

Jared DeMarinis, director of the Division of Candidacy and Campaign Finance at the Maryland State Board of Elections, said that concern about coordination between PACs and candidates is a 50-state issue.

With Election Day less than eight weeks away and a new poll from the New York Times/CBS showing Brown at 51 percent to Hogan’s 37, time is running short and pressure is rising for the candidates to scrutinize each other’s finances.

Hogan’s complaint accuses the Democratic candidate of illegally coordinating with a super PAC called One State, One Future by sharing the same political consulting firm, Martin-Lauer Associates.

The Baltimore-based firm has worked with other high-profile Democrats in the state, including Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Martin-Lauer Associates did not respond to a request for comment.

Brown’s complaint accuses Hogan of campaign finance violations including deceptive reporting and underreporting the cost of Hogan’s campaign bus.

The campaign pays Hogan, who owns the bus, $683.77 per month for its use as an office – which they say is the same amount he pays to finance the vehicle – according to the expenditure filings from Hogan-Rutherford.

Although Hogan’s campaign has not revealed what he paid for the bus, the Maryland Democratic Party alleges in its complaint that “online sales information indicates that similar models retail for between $97,000 and $225,000.”

And, the Maryland Democratic Party says, according to vendors, the $683.77 reflects what it would cost to operate such a vehicle per day, not per month.

The state’s campaign finance law states that the bus must be rented at a fair market value and the Democratic Party is accusing Hogan-Rutherford of underreporting Hogan’s in-kind contributions.

“Each of these cases, they are fact-based,” Noble said. “The motive for the complaint becomes irrelevant if it is a fact-based complaint.”

But Todd Eberly, assistant professor in the political science department at St. Mary’s College, said that there are political advantages to filing campaign finance complaints.

Hogan’s campaign is restricted by his decision to accept public financing, which means there are limitations on total spending and further rules on how the $2.6 million of public money is used.

In the case of the bus, if the elections board decides that Hogan’s campaign should be paying more, it would mean re-directing more of Hogan’s limited funds there instead of toward other expenses.

DeMarinis, with the electoral board, said that complaints at the gubernatorial level are not common, and are more often filed in other races across the state.

The State Board of Elections receives campaign finance complaints for state, county and Baltimore elections. Local election complaints are received by that municipality, said Alisha Alexander, elections administrator with the Prince George’s County Board of Elections.

Complaints of violations that appear criminal in nature are forwarded to the state prosecutor’s office, because the board of elections does not have the authority to conduct criminal investigations, said Nicolle Norris, senior assistant state prosecutor.

Her office has received about 150 complaints since the beginning of the year. They range from failures to file campaign finance reports on time to more serious violations that require deeper investigations, Norris said. Norris said that legal restrictions prohibited her from disclosing any complaints sent to her office.

Here’s a sample of complaints filed thus far this year with the Maryland State Board of Elections:

• A complaint alleges one candidate’s campaign committee donated $6,000, the maximum allowed, to another candidate, and later also paid for the second candidate’s direct mail, thereby exceeding the donation limit.

• A campaign staffer for a candidate for delegate disputed reimbursements for lodging. He also charged the candidate forged the campaign treasurer’s signature, among other complaints.

• In one case, the complaint stated that a candidate was added to the ballot without a valid campaign committee.

• One candidate in a Democratic primary filed a wide-ranging 20-page complaint requesting nullification of the election due to corruption among the media, non-profits, and the state board of elections.

For information about non-municipal campaign-finance complaints, visit the Maryland State Board of Elections online, at www.elections.state.md.us.

 

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Rangel Joins Steny Hoyer and others in Launch of “VRA for Today” Coalition

  

By Press Officer
Office of Charles Rangel

Washington, DC - Congressman Rangel (D-NY) joined Congressman Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip (D-MD), Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Congressman Bobby Scott, (D-VA), Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA), and Congressman G.K. Butterfield, (D-NC) in calling for an immediate vote on an amendment to the Voting Rights Act in response to the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down key protections for voters.

Joining the Congressional Members were representatives from major civil rights groups such as Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and program at People for the American Way (PFAW), Laura Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative office of the ACLU, Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, and Hilary O. Shelton, Washington bureau director for the NAACP.

"I'm very pleased to be part of the launch of this very important effort to protect the legacy of the Voting Right Act," said Rangel. Four decades after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many Americans are once again in danger of being disenfranchised. The Supreme Court decision undermines the voting rights of minorities, immigrants, senior citizens, students, and the disabled."

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder eliminated a crucial element of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court ruled that state and local governments no longer needed federal preclearance before changing voting laws or practices. This decision has already seen states changing their voting procedures to make it more difficult for certain groups to be represented at the ballot.

"I remember marching from Selma to Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders to stand up for everyone's rights to vote and to pursue the American Dream," Rangel stated. "Later, as a lawyer and a U.S. Representative, I have fought to ensure the integrity and reliability of the democratic process that we as a country hold so dear — because shrinking the electorate has no place in America."

Currently, 500,000 Americans have signed a petition supporting the Voting Rights Act amendment. Congressional Members attempted to deliver the petition to Speaker John Boehner's office, but found the door locked during business hours. Congressional offices usually close only during threats of terrorism.

Rangel concluded by once again recalling the historic march with Dr. King. "In 1965, what started out as a march turned into a movement that ultimately cemented our fundamental right to vote, which we must continue to invoke in our present day. Voting is the basis of our own national security, and broadening - not restricting - the ability of everyone to vote is the best policy for every single American."

"I am honored to stand with this group, because the people fighting for voting rights are the real patriots in this country," Rangel added.


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Cardin Holds Briefing With Civil Rights Leaders on Racial Profiling Bill

  

By Mike Persley
Capital News Service

WASHINGTON – Members of civil rights organizations met in Washington Tuesday morning to discuss a strategy for passing the End Racial Profiling Act, a bill that lays out a national, comprehensive approach to end racial discrimination by the nation’s law enforcement.

The meeting was convened by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, who introduced the bill in May 2013, only to watch it die in a gridlocked Congress. The Democratic senator reintroduced the bill last week in the wake of the controversial death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.

“We have a racial problem with policing in the United States, and the way we have been approaching it has not been serious because we don’t have a plan. We don’t even know what the numbers are,” said Phillip A. Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity and associate professor of psychology at UCLA, who sat on a panel of guest speakers. “We can’t answer basic questions like how often does it happen? Where does it happen? How bad is the problem?”

The End Racial Profiling Act, along with it’s House counterpart of the same name, he said, is a first step.

Under the bill, it will be illegal for a police officer to profile a person on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or national origin. It also requires police forces on all levels – state, local, and federal – to receive training on racial profiling and to collect data on routine law enforcement and investigatory activities.

The data collected can then be analyzed to better understand the scope of the problem.

“How many more Michael Browns will we have that are going to lose their life? How many Trayvon Martins?” said Cardin as he began the meeting.

There are 17 states with racial profiling bans, according to Amnesty International USA.  Six other states have bans that only apply to motorists, and exclude pedestrians.

In Maryland, police have been required since 2001 to provide information on traffic stops, including the demographics of the driver, the reason for the stop, the reason for the search if one was conducted, and the type of search.

“We need to pass legislation that once and for all says racial profiling is wrong,” said Cardin.

The legislation will likely be blocked by the Republican-led House, and faces an uncertain outcome in the

Senate. Several groups are arguing that new rules against racial profiling aren’t necessary.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel for the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, said the law’s lowering of the standards required to sue will only result in a glut of litigation.

“It creates incentives to address the problem through litigation,” he said. “But litigation is expensive. It’s unpredictable. Juries are sometimes unpredictable. It’s not a great way to address a problem.”

Clegg also said the extent of racial profiling throughout the country is exaggerated, and much of the disproportionality in police efforts is because they’re focused in high-crime areas, which he said tend to be more black or Latino.

The Fraternal Order of

Police, which represents 325,000 police officers nationwide, has also come out against the legislation.

But Tony Rothert, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, who has been active in helping the Brown family obtain information from the Ferguson police, said the unrest there shows the lack of trust between people of color and their police, and highlights why legislation is needed.

“There’s nothing special about the city of Ferguson. There’s nothing special about the Ferguson police department,” he said, speaking to a crowded room. “If I were making a list of the dozens of police departments within St. Louis County where

“Ferguson” would have happened, Ferguson would not have been in my top 10. There’s likely a million other places where it’s waiting to happen.”


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