Wednesday, October 2, 2013

JUICE: MoCo Schools Chief Seeks Later School Start, MoCo Minimum Wage Hike, Pot Fail, New Laws & MD #1 for Women

Below Maryland Juice writers Dan Furmansky & David Moon present a round-up of recent political news:

JUICE #1: MONTGOMERY COUNTY SCHOOLS CHIEF RECOMMENDS STARTING SCHOOL ALMOST AN HOUR LATER - DAVID MOON: Today Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Josh Starr announced a recommendation to change the start of the school day in MoCo from 7:20 to 8:15 am. Below you can see some background on the issue, along with press releases from MCPS and the Maryland-based advocacy group Start School Later.

BACKGROUND: This time last year, Maryland Juice reported on a viral movement in MoCo to push back the start of the school day by about an hour. I first heard about this effort through my neighborhood listserv in Takoma Park and was encouraged to see that 4,000 people signed a petition to Josh Starr urging a start time of 8:15 am or later. Public schools in MoCo currently start at 7:20 am, and a body of research suggests that this early start hampers the readiness to learn for young minds. Numerous petition signers noted various negative effects and pointed to studies backing up their concerns. I myself came up through MoCo public schools, so I can attest to the straining impacts of our early start times. In any case, in the year that has now passed, the number of petition signers has grown to over 11,000, and the movement is advancing in Howard and Anne Arundel counties. In response, MCPS launched a committee to study school start times, and I must admit I feared that the study effort might end up being a black hole. Josh Starr's press release today proves me wrong (excerpt below):

Superintendent Recommends Later High School Start Times,
Longer Elementary School Day

Broad Public Input Will Be Sought on Recommendation

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is recommending that the district consider pushing back high school start times by 50 minutes and extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes. The recommendation is based on the report by the 2013 Bell Times Work Group, which has been studying the issue of school starting and ending times in MCPS for the past 10 months.... There will be extensive outreach to gather input from students, staff, parents, and community members about Dr. Starr’s recommendation. Staff will also determine the cost and operational impact of making changes to the school schedule. The earliest any changes would occur is the 2015-2016 school year....

“I am making this recommendation because I believe it is in the best interests of our students. There is extensive research that demonstrates that adolescents are simply not getting enough sleep. This is a public health and safety issue,” Dr. Starr said....
Dr. Starr is recommending the following changes be studied:
  • Move high school start times 50 minutes later, from 7:25 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. (school ending at 3 p.m.)
  • Move middle school start times 10 minutes earlier, from 7:55 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. (school ending at 2:30 p.m.)
  • Keep elementary school start times as they currently are (8:50 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.), but extend the school day by 30 minutes (school ending at 3:35 p.m. and 4 p.m.)
The Start School Later advocates responded to the positive news with the following press release (excerpt below):

Montgomery County Public School System Recommends Later Bell Times
School Board should move quickly to approve the changes

I applaud Dr. Starr for his bold stance and I urge the board to support him.

This announcement would not have been possible without the enormous outpouring of support from the community. In December 2012, advocates presented the board with a petition of more than 10,000 signatures calling for later start times. An analysis of the survey found that signers were overwhelmingly local, came from every part of the county, and represented everyone involved in this issue, including parents, teachers, students, sleep experts, and health care providers. Local activists continued to make their voices heard over the past year, and the petition is still collecting signatures to this day....

The MCPS Board should move quickly to approve Dr. Starr's recommendations. Every day parents struggle to drag their sleep-deprived teens out of bed and off to early buses. The sooner these changes are made, the sooner everyone will benefit.

# # #
In tandem with the effort in Montgomery County, Delegate Aruna Miller introduced legislation to set up a statewide task force to research the issue. The Capital Gazette reported on Miller's effort last March (excerpt below):
CAPITAL GAZETTE: The House Ways and Means Committee’s Education Subcommittee moved House Bill 1462 forward last week, said Del. Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery, its sponsor.... The bill would establish a task force including politicians, education leaders, and health and sleep experts to look at the ramifications of starting school later in the morning....

“While we’re talking about school start times, what we’re really talking about is the health and safety of our children,” said Merry Eisner, policy chairwoman of the Montgomery County chapter of the grass-roots organization Start School Later.

Sleep loss causes problems with complex thought, motor responses, memory and attention, control of emotions, and performance in school or on the job, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH also reports the amount of sleep that an individual will need each day changes considerably over the course of a lifetime, with school-aged children needing at least 10 hours a day and teenagers needing at least nine hours a day....
Indeed, the Start School Later movement has been building support among public officials in recent months, and I noted the following Tweet in response to today's news:

JUICE #2: COUNCILMEMBER MARC ELRICH INTRODUCES BILL TO RAISE MOCO MINIMUM WAGE, IN TANDEM WITH PRINCE GEORGE'S & DC - DAVID MOON: Bethesda Now reported today that Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich introduced a bill to raise the county's minimum wage from $7.25 to $11.50 an hour. The effort is part of a regional initiative involving Prince George's County and the District of Columbia (excerpt below):
BETHESDA NOW: County Councilmember Marc Elrich on Tuesday introduced a bill that would increase the county’s minimum wage to $11.50 per hour in a unique regional effort that would join Montgomery County with Prince George’s and D.C.

In August, Elrich announced he would propose a $12 an hour minimum wage for the county. On Tuesday, Elrich said after consulting with Prince George’s County Council Chair Andrea Harrison and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, he moved his number down to $11.50 per hour to match proposals in those jurisdictions and establish a regional minimum wage....

Councilmembers Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) and Nancy Navarro (D-East County, Mid-County) joined Elrich to co-sponsor the bill.... Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) on Tuesday said he will not co-sponsor the measure, saying the state minimum wage measure will make the biggest impact.... Councilmember Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) also went on the record as against the bill, saying the county can help poorer families by phasing out certain taxes. Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large), chair of the Health and Human Services Committee that will work on the measure, said he will not support the bill now....

JUICE #3: ADVOCATES SAY MARYLAND IS NOT A MEDICAL MARIJUANA STATE - DAN FURMANSKY: 18 states have legalized medical marijuana, but many advocates don’t consider Maryland to count as number 19. That’s because Maryland passed by far the weakest law in the country. Patients in need of medical marijuana have no way of obtaining it — and it’s entirely unclear when that might change. Gov. O’Malley established an 11-member commission to help set up a system to help design and implement a program, but so far, no one has stated a program might even be up and running until 2016.  Here’s more from a press release issued when the law was passed by the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (aka ASA) (excerpt below):
AMERICANS FOR SAFE ACCESS: The Maryland Senate voted 42-4 today to pass what legislators are calling a new statewide medical marijuana bill, but patient advocates say that HB1101 is more symbolic than practical and will fail to make much "real-world" difference in the lives of patients. Specifically, HB1101, which has already been passed by the House of Delegates, would extend the current affirmative defense for patients who are arrested and prosecuted under state law, but would provide no way for patients to obtain their medication. Agreeing with the sentiment of advocates, the nonpartisan Maryland Department of Legislative Services issued a fiscal note last month that questioned the bill's effectiveness, casting doubt on whether it will ever meet legislators' expectations....
Complaints about the program focus on the fact that—thanks to Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Joshua Sharfstein—medical marijuana may only be obtained from a licensed "Academic Medical Center" (AMC).  The new law, according to ASA, fails to establish a well-regulated system for qualified patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana, a right that has been the cornerstone of most state laws since the passage of California's Compassionate Use Act in 1996.

Maryland has a long way to go with regard to compassionate care, not to mention drug policy overall. You might recall that I called out our state for falling behind Mississippi and Nebraska on marijuana reform. Those two red states are among fifteen states have already decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana (not including Colorado and Washington).

It would help if we had real leadership from Gov. Martin O’Malley on the issue. Unfortunately, as late as 2012, he was threatening to veto medical marijuana legislation, so it’s little surprise that we now have a medical marijuana law in name only for the foreseeable future. The Governor also failed to take a position on a decriminalization bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate this year and as a result, it died in the House. 2014 will be a crucial year for Gov. O’Malley to exhibit real leadership in the area of marijuana policy reform.

JUICE #4: NEW LAWS ON CELL PHONES, SEAT BELTS, AND PREGNANT WORKERS TO TAKE EFFECT - DAN FURMANSKY: Besides our toothless medical marijuana program and our new laws regarding firearms, there are a host of other new laws going into effect this week that are noteworthy. Here’s a quick summary from The Washington Times, free of any conservative commentary from our ideological counterparts (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON TIMES: Hand held phone calls: Driving in Maryland is going to also change next week. Starting on October 1, holding a cell phone in your hand to talk will become a primary offense....
Seatbelt and child seats: In an attempt to make driving in Maryland safer, the start of the new fiscal year will bring two additional car safety laws. Seatbelts will need to be worn by everyone in the car, including adults in the backseat and all children under the age of eight, regardless of weight, who are less than 4ft 9 in. will need to be secured into a child safety seat....
Pregnancy on the job: Lawmakers in Maryland have declared pregnancy a disability. According to HB0804, Maryland employers who employ 15 workers or more must make reasonable accommodations to a woman who experiences limitations due to her pregnancy....

JUICE #5: PROGRESSIVE MOTHER SHIP CALLS MARYLAND #1 IN NATION FOR WOMEN - DAN FURMANSKY: Politicians continue to crow about how Virginia is stealing all of our business because of its lower corporate tax rate. Whatever. Here is another great example of why the “creative class” of young workers will find Maryland a far more attractive place to live than Virginia, which already has a reputation for being about 800% less gay-friendly than us. In turns out that Virginia is also significantly less women-friendly. (Perhaps that’s why female voters are defecting in droves from the establishment gubernatorial candidate Ken “I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!” Cuccinnelli.)

According to a new report by the Center for American Progress (of which I am clearly a fan, since I titled them the progressive Mother Ship), Maryland ranks No. 1 in the United States for the state of its women. Here’s a report from The Baltimore Sun (excerpt below):
BALTIMORE SUN: Maryland received a new No. 1 title for Gov. Martin O'Malley to crow about Wednesday as the Center for American Progress ranked its the best of the 50 states for women. And crow the governor did, releasing a statement saying he and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown were "thrilled" by the distinction. “Working together, we have made great strides in making Maryland a great place for women to live, lead, and learn," O'Malley said.
The ranking is unlikely to impress conservatives because the Center for American Progress is a liberal group that counted such things as unimpeded access to abortion services and contraception among its criteria for a positive rating. But the title could give Maryland bragging rights among the blue states and could be a plus for O'Malley as a possible presidential candidate making a pitch to women who vote in Democratic primaries. The center ranked Maryland No. 1 in terms of women's economic standing and leadership opportunities. It was rated 17th in terms of women's health.

Among the 36 factors taken into account were women's income levels, poverty rates and representation in the state legislature and Congress. Also considered were levels of infant and maternal mortality, as well as the availability of paid sick leave and family and access to early childhood education. States were downgraded for such things as requiring ultrasounds before a woman can have an abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.
And here’s some healthy Virginia-bashing, c/o WAMU’s analysis of the report (excerpt below):
WAMU: On economic factors, Maryland likely benefits from its proximity to the boom economy of D.C., but that doesn't tell the whole story. Maryland is tied with Nevada for the lowest wage gap for women in the country at 85 cents to the dollar, and it has the third-lowest poverty rate for women in the nation at 11.4 percent.
Virginia did not fare as well as Maryland, with a C+ overall grade and a No. 23 ranking. Like Maryland, Virginia offers women relatively robust economic opportunities, with low levels of women in poverty (12.7 percent).

It was Virginia's D+ grade in health, however, that really sank the commonwealth to the middle of the pack, largely driven by legislation on women's reproductive health.

Anna Chu, one of the authors of the study, suggests that the lack of women in positions of leadership in the Commonwealth may in part be responsible for the nature of the laws passed affecting women's health. "Would women be better served if there were more women in leadership positions? It deserves a deeper look and analysis," says Chu. "This is especially true right now in Virginia, when the state is trying to find out what they want their leadership to look like."

There are no women currently representing the Commonwealth of Virginia in Congress or in statewide elected executive seats. Of elected state legislators, just 17.9 percent are women. Last year, controversial legislation was passed requiring women seeking abortions to first have an ultrasound exam. The Virginia Board of Health also signed off on new regulations that effectively put most of the state's abortion clinics out of business.
Take that, Virginia!

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