Seven activists who were arrested after they went up the State House steps and refused to leave on the last day of the General Assembly session had their charges dropped this week.

The seven were part of a demonstration with the immigrant advocacy group CASA, rallying for better access to health care by asking the Senate to pass a bill which would remove immigration status as a barrier to obtaining insurance through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. The seven held a large banner across the steps reading, “Healthcare is a human right.”

Maryland Capitol Police charged the group with refusal to leave public grounds and misdemeanor failure to obey an order.

Charges have been dropped against seven activists who were arrested at the State House in Annapolis on April 7. (Callan Tansill-Suddath/The Baltimore Banner)

Anne Arundel County District Court Judge Danielle Mosley dismissed the charges at the request of the county’s state’s attorney, CASA announced this week.

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“The action in April exemplified the First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and protest, and that was affirmed today when the charges were dismissed,” CASA Legal Director Ama Frimpong-Houser said in a statement Tuesday.

Gov. gone north

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore is out of town again, spending time in the Hamptons for fundraising and “personal time,” according to his campaign.

His trip to Long Island’s vacation resort area favored by the wealthy and the powerful came after he spent Thursday in New York City, appearing on cable TV interviews to promote President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Several Republican candidates had debated on TV the night before.

Moore is among 50 members of the Biden-Harris campaign’s “national advisory board,” tapped with supporting the campaign and serving as surrogates to the media.

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This is the second time this month that Moore has gone north for fundraising and vacation. Earlier, he was in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, for the dual purposes of relaxing and raising funds.

And in July Moore went to the Sun Valley Conference in Idaho — dubbed “billionaire summer camp” — to raise money on behalf of the Democratic Governors Association.

Trone picks up endorsements

The early campaign season battle of endorsements continues in the race for the U.S. Senate, with U.S. Rep. David Trone announcing 27 congressional colleagues have endorsed his campaign.

Among the endorsers: U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who was the lead manager of the first impeachment attempt of then-President Donald Trump; U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly from Virginia; and U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, who graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of Maryland School of Law.

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In a statement, Trone said the endorsements are an indication that his colleagues see how hard he works to get results for his constituents.

“From the moment I got to Congress, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work on the biggest issues facing our nation,” Trone said in the statement. “I couldn’t be more honored to have the support of these progressive leaders.”

Trone is among Democratic contenders for a U.S. Senate seat from Maryland in 2024 that will be open after Sen. Ben Cardin’s announcement that he won’t run for reelection.

Fellow Democrat Angela Alsobrooks, the county executive in Prince George’s County, has racked up the most political endorsements, with nearly 100. Her endorsers include three members of Maryland’s delegation to Capitol Hill: U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume.

The other Democratic contender is Will Jawando, a member of the Montgomery County Council.

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Though some Republicans have filed to run, none is well known to voters.

The primary is May 14, 2024.

City Council approves office for senior citizens, to consider one for returning citizens

Council members took steps this week to create specialized teams in Baltimore City government tasked with directing services to two often overlooked populations: senior citizens and incarcerated people transitioning back into society.

At its meeting Monday, City Council unanimously approved legislation to create an Office of Aging, a cabinet-level team focused on connecting Baltimoreans 65 and older with services. Separately, Councilman James Torrence introduced legislation to form an Office of Returning Citizens to support incarcerated residents returning to the city — a proposal that drew the endorsement of Mayor Brandon Scott.

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The Office of Aging, which Council members Zeke Cohen and Sharon Green Middleton proposed in July 2022, will work to connect senior residents with an array of services, including public health, mental health and financial maintenance. Baltimore’s senior citizens are community assets for the leadership, wisdom and care they provide, Cohen said at Monday’s hearing. “Yet, too often, they are either seen as a problem to be solved or as just an oversight.”

Cohen and Middleton have credited former Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who spoke in favor of the proposal last month, as key to the bill’s design.

The proposal also establishes a 29-member commission to advise and support the new office, effectively replacing the Commission on Aging and Retirement, which was established in 1966 and is housed within the health department. The city set aside $500,000 in its budget this summer to get the new office off the ground and pay for a director.

Also Monday, the mayor, City Council president and other leaders joined Torrence for a press conference endorsing his proposal to form an Office of Returning Citizens.

Baltimore sees more residents transitioning out of incarceration than any other jurisdiction in Maryland, and ensuring they have adequate resources is a personal cause to Torrence. The West Baltimore councilman recounted that his mother spent years sleeping on his grandmother’s couch because a felony conviction prevented her from getting housing.

“Redemption is real,” he said. “Every person that returns back to Baltimore deserves a second chance.”

Torrence noted that the mayor’s public safety office had dedicated staffers within its office to reentry work, but he stressed the need to put the returning citizens office into statute for future administrations.

New City Council committee will host quarterly budget hearings

Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby has formed a committee that he says will help transform the council’s approximately 40-day window of budget oversight into a year-round process.

This year’s budget marked the first time in more than a century that the council had the authority to cut and reallocate money within the mayor’s proposed spending plan, after voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure granting the legislative body more financial power. Councilmembers made about $12 million in changes in a $4.4 billion budget proposal.

In a letter shared with The Baltimore Banner, the Democrat wrote that his office researched budget processes in other cities and Maryland counties and found that lawmakers in other municipal jurisdictions received budget drafts from their executives, such as county executives, about two months earlier than the City Council.

“During the budget proceedings, it became very clear that the Council needs more time to provide adequate oversight of the City’s budget and overall financial health and to carry out its new budget authority in a more thoughtful and prudent manner,” Mosby wrote.

He said the new Finance and Performance Committee will hold hearings on revenue estimation and projection, quarterly budget reports for every major agency and in-depth performance hearings for select agencies. The first item on the committee’s agenda will be a Tax Credit Reform Work Group bill, which will seek to issue an independent evaluation of Baltimore’s developer tax credits “to determine what changes the Council can make to create a more efficient and equitable use of the City’s property tax policy,” he wrote.

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