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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Maryland Catholic Conference seeks new Executive Director

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the three Catholic (arch)dioceses serving the State of Maryland, has initiated a national search for a new executive director. The Conference’s most recent director, Jennifer Briemann, recently resigned from the position to pursue new interests. 

During the transition to a new director, Mary Ellen Russell will serve as Interim Director to assist with strategy and lobbying efforts; Deputy Director Garrett O’Day will oversee administrative responsibilities for the Conference. Russell is the former executive director of the Conference and will continue in her current role as Director of Community Affairs for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. 

“On behalf of the Catholic Church in Maryland, I am most grateful to Ms. Briemann for her years of dedicated service, both in her role as associate director and then as head of the Conference,” noted Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the Conference. “She leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments that will serve to better the lives of Marylanders for years to come.” 

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Maryland Catholic Conference legislative priorities signed into law

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LAST CHANCE TO APPLY FOR A BOOST SCHOLARSHIP FOR THE COMING SCHOOL YEAR

The deadline to apply for a BOOST scholarship program is next Wednesday, April 17, and every eligible family who is in need of tuition assistance is encouraged to apply! 

The State Department of Education began accepting applications for the 2019-2020 school year on March 12. All applications for the 2019-2020 school year must be submitted by April 17 at midnight. 

Those who plan to apply need to have completed their 2018 taxes, have submitted an application to the school of their choice and meet other requirements, as set by the state. For full details of the requirements CLICK HERE.

"Every eligible family who is in need of tuition assistance to attend Catholic school should apply for BOOST," said Garrett O'Day, Deputy Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

To apply visit: educationmaryland.org/BOOST

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Maryland legislative session ended Monday on somber note

Marylands 439th Session of the General Assembly ended Monday, April 8, on a uniquely somber note following the passing of long-time House Speaker Michael E. Busch. Busch passed on Sunday, April 7, the 89th day of session. 

Busch was a Democrat and Catholic who represented District 30A. He served for 16 years at the helm of the House of Delegates. While his absence permeated Annapolis on the last day of session this year, perhaps its greatest impact will be felt in the sessions to come, as the House rearranges leadership to name a new Speaker.  

The usual celebration of Sine Die (from Latin meaning "without day" or "without adjourning to a specific time or date”) was tempered by Busch's absence, but it did not stop the General Assembly from engaging in its typical last-day marathon sessions to act on lingering legislation. 

Laura and Reid's Law

Among the bills that passed on Sine Die was Laura and Reid's Law, named for the late Laura Wallen who along with her unborn son Reid, were killed in 2017 by her then-finance. Laura's family were leading advocates for changing Maryland's law after prosecutors were unable to add an additional charge to her killer for the death of Reid. Maryland Catholic Conference strongly supported the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Justin Ready (R-District 5) and Del. Trent Kittleman (R-District 9A). 

Earlier in the session, members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee reworked Laura and Reid's Law, taking it from an expansion of the state's fetal homicide law, to an enhanced penalty, a change that would both make pregnant women a protected class in Maryland, and eventually garner the bill nearly unanimous support. 

Despite an effort by the House to amend failed legislation into the bill, a conference committee returned Laura & Reid's Law to its initially amended version, made a few tweaks, and the bill passed in the final hour of the session with unanimous support in the House.

In its final version, the bill allows a judge to add an additional 10 years to the sentence of someone who commits an act of violence against a woman they know or believe to be pregnant. Laura and Reid's Law now awaits Governor Hogan's signature. 

"Even though there is nothing at this point that can bring justice for the loss of Laura and her son Reid, this law is an important step in protecting Maryland's pregnant women and their unborn children going forward," said Therese Hessler, associate director with the Conference. "Far too many Maryland women are like Laura: victims of intimate partner violence. Our prayer is that this law, passed in their honor, will deter others from committing similar acts of violence."

Human Trafficking

After years of work, Maryland's human trafficking law will look quite different going forward. Several key trafficking bills passed in the session, among them a bill that criminalizes labor trafficking. Until now, Maryland law only recognized sex trafficking as a human trafficking crime, and there was no way to penalize labor trafficking — which is the act of making someone perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion. But a bill passed during the session now classifies labor trafficking as a felony, in the same way it does sex trafficking. Additional legislation that passed this session categorizes human trafficking as a crime of violence and changes how the State refers to trafficking throughout the statute, including reclassifying it as a crime against the person, as opposed to a crime of obscenity. 

In the final hours of Sine Die, legislators also established an important grant program that allows for creating regional navigators tasked to provide the services that are unique to child victims of sex trafficking. Services for child victims are not available in all areas of Maryland, so the bill would ensure specialized service providers coordinate with the state agencies to serve victims. Regional Navigators would also facilitate coordination between stakeholders — including agencies and non-profit programs — to ensure that child victims can access the appropriate services.

"This session we saw some major wins in the effort to combat human trafficking in Maryland," said Anne Zmuda Wallerstedt, associate director with the Conference. "Legislators saw the urgent need to take action on these very important bills and enable those on the front line of this crisis to have more tools available to both go after traffickers and care for victims." 

Education

The coming fiscal year will see a record $21 million in state aid to Catholic and other nonpublic schools and their families through a number of programs. 

The BOOST Scholarship Program, which provides students with state scholarships to attend Catholic schools, was passed in the state budget with approximately $7.5 million slated for next school year. Despite some legislative and special-interest group opposition, supporting legislators were steadfast in their commitment to continue to provide scholarships for deserving students, the majority of which are minorities and all of whom are low-income. 

Two other priority programs were also funded in the budget process: $6 million will go to the Nonpublic Student Textbook and Technology Program, and $4 million to the Senator James E. “Ed” DeGrange Nonpublic Aging Schools program. Additionally, our nonpublic schools will be blessed to receive an additional $3.5 million for school safety initiatives through Nonpublic School Safety Grants. These programs are imperative to so many Catholic schools, especially those with older buildings and lower-income students. 

"Just a few short years ago, our state was giving only a few million dollars to aid our nonpublic schools," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Conference. "The assistance provided to our students by the legislature both enables low-income families to choose the educational options best suited for their children and enables our schools to continue to provide quality education in a safe and sound environment. Our parents and teachers are grateful for that."

The legislature also took the first major step in a large, substantive educational-framework overhaul for our state’s public schools, which could impact our Catholic and other nonpublic schools. 

Within that framework, per recommendations from the state “Kirwan Commission,” the Conference was pleased that the legislature mandated the expansion of prekindergarten access though what is known as a “mixed delivery system,” a system which will likely utilize community-based providers such as our Catholic schools.

Environment

A priority environmental bill is also headed to Gov. Hogan for his signature: The Clean Energy Jobs Act. Supported by the Conference as well as environmental groups, various faith-based coalitions and concerned citizens, the Clean Energy Jobs Act passed on Sine Die. The bill requires the state to acquire 50% of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, by 2030. It was voted out of the Senate on largely party lines in March, and languished in the House until a last minute revival, where it eventually passed in the final few hours of the legislative session. 

Immigration

Undocumented immigrant victims of violence will now have a greater chance of stability in their communities and with their families under a bill that passed this session clarifying and streamlining the state's role in the application process for a Nonimmigrant U-Visa — a temporary visa that can lead to lawful permanent status. The bill requires an official to certify or deny, in a timely manner, that the applicant was helpful in the detection, investigation or prosecution of the crime of which they were a victim. The law seeks to prevent applications for U-Visas from lingering due to lack of certification of helpfulness, and to expand paths to citizenship for undocumented persons in Maryland. The bill now heads to the Gov. Hogan’s desk for his signature.

Eligible DREAMers in Maryland will now have great access to higher education, thanks to an expansion of the DREAM Act that passed this session. The Maryland General Assembly sent a bill to the Governor that would expand the DREAM Act by allowing eligible undocumented Maryland students to pay in-state tuition rates at a majority of public Maryland colleges and universities. The original DREAM Act was passed by a ballot measure and approved by voters in 2012, and this expansion would more accurately reflect how students receive higher education in the state. Among the changes was the removal of a requirement that the students go to a community college for two years first before seeking a four-year Bachelor's degree.

Physician-Assisted Suicide

There were several bills the Conference successfully worked to prevent from passing in Maryland this year, including a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

For the fourth time in five years, proponents of assisted suicide introduced legislation to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Maryland, modeled after Oregon's assisted suicide law. 

The Conference worked as part of Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, a coalition whose members and supporters worked together in defeat of this dangerous legislation. 

For the first time since the push to legalize physician-assisted suicide came to Maryland, the bill reached both the House and Senate floors as well as came up for a vote in both chambers. While the House narrowly passed the bill, the bill was defeated in the Senate by a tie 23-23 vote. 

"The failure of physician-assisted suicide legislation this session was thanks to the many people who spoke out time and again to the General Assembly to ask them to not pass this dangerous legislation," said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Conference. "This bill got further than ever before this session, and while we know the proponents are more organized than ever, MAPAS and its supporters remain a powerful opposition. We are beyond grateful for those who took time to write and call their lawmakers and be the voice against this bill. We don't have this in our law today because of you." 

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee spent many hours amending the bill with the hopes of addressing many concerns before they held a committee vote. The amendments angered proponents and led them to withdraw their support from the Senate version, a move that only helped seal its defeat once it passed out of committee for a full floor vote. 

Despite the failure of the bill this session, the Conference fully expects physician-assisted suicide to be reintroduced again in 2020. 

Abortion Amendment

Making good on a promise to work to enshrine abortion rights in Maryland's constitution, legislators introduced a bill, which if passed, would have put on the 2020 ballot a question for voters to decide whether the right to an abortion should be amended into Maryland's constitution. 

Despite the strong support among many legislators and the backing of House leadership, as well as pro-abortion groups, the bill led to a groundswell of opposition from all corners of the state who made their voices known.

The bill was withdrawn after Senate President Mike Miller said his chamber would not take up a ballot question bill in a non-election year. 

The bill was championed by the late House Speaker Busch, so it is unclear if any efforts to reintroduce similar legislation will emerge during next year's general assembly, as it will also be a Presidential election year.

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Maryland Catholic Conference statement on the passing of House Speaker Michael Busch

On behalf of more than 1 million Catholics in the State of Maryland, Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, issued the following statement on the passing of Speaker of the House of Delegates, Michael Busch, who passed today after falling critically ill. 

 

“On behalf of my brother bishops, I invite the Catholic faithful and all people of good will to join me in praying for the repose of the soul of Michael Busch. 

“I also extend the prayers and condolences of the Catholic Church in Maryland to his wife, Cindy, his daughters, Erin and Megan, to his staff, and the entire Maryland General Assembly.

“May together we pray: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

 

 

To read the full story on Mr. Busch's passing CLICK HERE

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BOOST Scholarship Program and Other School Funding Passes Legislature

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Physician-Assisted Suicide Bill Defeated in Maryland Senate

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Physician assisted suicide bill defeated in Maryland Senate

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Assisted Suicide Headed to Full Senate for a Vote

Despite strong opposition from across Maryland, the State Senate will consider the dangerous physician-assisted suicide bill next week.

After hours of deliberation and dozens of amendments adopted, the Senate Judicial Proceeding Committee voted 8-3 Friday in favor of advancing SB 311, the "End of Life Options Act," to the full Senate floor for a vote. 

The Senate committee heavily amended the bill in an effort to protect Marylanders from the poorly crafted bill, which put many people at risk, and to advance the bill through a committee where many members held strong reservations about the dangerous legislation.

Despite the changes, advocates against assisted suicide remained firm in their position that no amendments could fix the bill in a way to adequately protect those who it places at greatest risk: the disabled, veterans, the elderly, those with mental illness or a terminal prognosis.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote and it is expected to be voted on next week  

Only 18 days remain in the 2019 legislative session.

To stay up-to-date with calls to action on assisted suicide, visit: www.mdcatholic.org/actions

As the bill moves to a vote next week, be sure to look for more MCC updates on where your help is needed. Thank you to everyone who has answered the call to help in opposing this bill. Your calls and emails make a difference!

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Maryland General Assembly heads in to final days of 2019 session

Maryland's General Assembly has just 18 days remaining to wrap up its 2019 legislative session and a lot of issues remain unresolved. Sine Die, the last day of the 90-day session, is Monday, April 8. 

"We are in the home stretch and there is still a lot our legislators are working to finish before the clock strikes midnight on April 8," said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Most notably, the General Assembly has not reached a final decision on whether or not it will pass or reject legislation that would legalize the practice of physician-assisted suicide. The House passed the bill in early March, but the measure has yet to get approval from the Senate. The bill was being considered by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee this week, which debated more than 30 amendments. 

Also undecided is the final funding amount for BOOST Scholarships. Read more about the status of that funding HERE.

Other Conference priorities remained outstanding including Laura and Reid's Law — the bill that would provide additional penalties for those who violently attack a pregnant woman — and a number of bills that seek to combat human trafficking in Maryland. 

Earlier in the session, Maryland House Speaker Del. Michael Busch (D-30A) withdrew a bill that would have put a question on the 2020 ballot for voters to decide whether or not to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, a win for pro-life advocates. 

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