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All-girls Catholic high school working to combat human trafficking in Maryland and beyond

Human trafficking: It’s not a common subject taught in high school, but at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, a group of students are making sure their peers know not just what trafficking is, but what they can do to help stop it.

Each year, the all-girls Catholic high school holds a day-long seminar on trafficking — also known as modern-day slavery — and invites a neighboring school, as well as area advocates, to join them in learning more about the issue from experts in the field. Throughout the year, the group of students works to engage their peers in action and education about the issue.

“For me, it all started freshman year when I got into Scholars here at Seton,” said Lauren Gomes, a junior.

The origin of the school’s involvement in the anti-trafficking movement is School President, Sr. Ellen Marie Hager. Sr. Ellen Marie, a Daughter of Charity, said her order made addressing human trafficking a priority in the mid-2000s. When she came to Elizabeth Seton High in 2009, she said she presented the subject to a group of top students known as “Scholars” and helped them to get involved in the anti-trafficking movement. Those Scholars, she said, took the issue and ran with it.

From hosting the day-long seminar each year, to doing special presentations to the student body, and individual advocacy both online and in the community, the students at Seton High have become some of the area’s most outspoken voices against trafficking.

For 17-year-old junior Sophia Cooney, the subject touched her so much she decided to focus her Girl Scout Gold Award on combating human trafficking.

After showing videos and putting together a presentation for underclassmen to educate her peers on the issue, Sophia said she started a petition in 2018 to gather signatures asking the Maryland General Assembly to take meaningful action against trafficking. Trafficking, while mostly universally condemned, is something that Maryland law only partially criminalizes.

Sophia made it her mission to demonstrate to Maryland lawmakers the amount of community support there is for criminalizing all trafficking.

“Right now, labor trafficking is a misdemeanor in Maryland and the state is trying to make it a felony,” she said. A bill to criminalize labor trafficking failed to pass in 2018, so Sophia said sponsors are trying again to pass it in 2019. She hopes her petition can help move it over the finish line. Sophia presented her petition to her Senator, Douglas J.J. Peters (D-23) in February.

In addition to the petition, Sophia also organized a collection drive at the school to make care packages for individuals rescued from trafficking. She collected enough supplies to make 80 packages. To make sure those packages reached victims, the school partnered with The Samaritan Women Institute for Shelter Care, an organization that works to build a stronger, more stable landscape of providers serving survivors of human trafficking.

When victims are able to escape their traffickers, often they have nothing, said Lauren. The drive aimed to provide victims with some basic necessities like toiletries and clothing to help get them through that time of transition.

 


Lauren Gomes (left), Sophia Cooney (center) and Macy Granzow (right) are part of a group of students at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg that are working to combat human trafficking.


 

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World Down Syndrome Day spreads awareness of Down syndrome in Maryland

(photo courtesy the Governor’s Office)

Maryland’s General Assembly and the Hogan Administration declared March 21, 2019 as World Down Syndrome Day in Maryland, recognizing the importance of persons with Down syndrome and their contributions to our state. This is the second year that the Maryland Catholic Conference partnered with The Arc Maryland and Maryland Department of Disabilities to celebrate people with Down syndrome and those that support them. 

The partnership of the Maryland Catholic Conference, The Arc Maryland, and the Maryland Department of Disabilities is dedicated to ensuring that people with differing abilities are empowered to live, work, and succeed in our communities, including persons with Down syndrome.

“We were thrilled to have almost 100 people join us for the World Down Syndrome Day celebration in Annapolis. Today was a great success and we hope this annual event continues to grow and promote the inclusion of people with Down syndrome in society,” said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. 

First Lady Yumi Hogan stopped by the event to meet the individuals with Down syndrome who came to Annapolis to celebrate the day, as well as their families and advocates. Maryland Department of Disabilities Secretary Carol Beatty presented a proclamation from Gov. Larry Hogan declaring March 21, 2019 as World Down Syndrome Day, and both Senator Douglas J.J. Peters and Del. Nicholaus Kipke presented resolutions in their chambers in recognition of the day.

The Conference thanks Governor Hogan, the First Lady, Secretary Beatty, Maryland Department of Disabilities Deputy Secretary Christian Miele, Senator Peters, and Delegate Kipke, for their efforts making March 21, 2019 a great day for all involved.

Globally, World Down Syndrome Day has been celebrated since 2012.

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First Lady to present proclamation for World Down Syndrome Day

First Lady Yumi Hogan will join persons with Down syndrome, their families and advocates on Thursday, Feb. 21 to recognize World Down Syndrome Day in Maryland.

More than 50 persons with Down syndrome, family members and advocates will come to Annapolis to commemorate the day.

Last year was the first year that Maryland recognized this important day, which seeks to bring awareness to the importance of persons with Down syndrome, their contributions and role in our society.

In addition to First Lady Hogan, Senator Doug "J.J." Peters (D-23) and Del. Nicholas Kipke (R-31B) will present resolutions in their respective chambers recognizing March 21, 2019 as World Down Syndrome Day in Maryland.

World Down Syndrome Day has been officially recognized by the United Nations since 2012 on March 21 each year.

Wondering what you can do to recognize this important day and raise awareness of Down syndrome? Join with people across the globe by wearing funky socks on Thursday, March 21. The socks help open the conversation about Down syndrome, the day and the movement for inclusion of persons with Down syndrome. 

Be sure to take picture of your socks and post them on social media with the hashtags #LotsOfSocks, #WorldDownSyndromeDay and #WDSD19 to share your support of World Down Syndrome Day.

To learn more about the Lots of Socks movement that is part of World Down syndrome Day, CLICK HERE!

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Senate committee delays vote on PAS bill

Maryland's Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was expected to vote this week on HB 399/SB 311 — the bill that would legalize the dangerous practice of physician-assisted suicide in Maryland — but the committee delayed consideration until next week.

Proponents of the bill, the heavily-funded Oregon-based group Compassion and Choices, issued a press release on Thursday, March 14, calling on the committee to not make any "excessive amendments" to the bill, amendments which it specifically said included protections for those with mental illness. The committee was likely going to meet to discuss amendments that same day but postponed.

The delayed vote pushes the issue into the final three weeks of the 2019 legislative session. However, the House version of the bill has already crossed over from the House to the Senate ahead of the Monday crossover deadline, an important hurdle each session. 

"Thank you to each and every person who has taken the time to speak up against this dangerous bill," said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "We know that each message sent has an impact and this committee has heard loud and clear that many of us in this state don't support physician-assisted suicide."

To stay up to date with the latest calls to action against assisted suicide, join the Catholic Advocacy Network by visiting: www.mdcatholic.org/joincan

 

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Laura and Reid's Law advances in Senate

Sen. Justin Ready (right), sponsor of SB 561, speaks at a press conference in February for the introduction of Laura & Reid's Law. He is joined by Mark Wallen (center right, father of Laura and grandfather of Reid) as well as cosponsor Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (center left) and House sponsor Del. Trent Kittleman (left)

An amended version of Laura & Reid's Law (SB 561) was passed Friday, March 15 by the Maryland Senate. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates for consideration.

"Today's vote was a critical step in protecting pregnant women from domestic violence," said Therese Hessler, associate director at the Maryland Catholic Conference. "Pregnant women in Maryland are at increased risk of domestic violence because we don't have laws on our books that allow our prosecutors and our courts the ability to take additional action when pregnant women are violently attacked and their unborn children killed. While we would have liked to have seen the original bill pass, we are pleased that something significant is being done to protect Maryland women and their children."

As introduced, the bill would have expanded the state's existing fetal homicide law to allow for prosecution when a fetus younger than 24 weeks is killed through a violent attack on a pregnant woman.

However, the bill was amended to instead create an enhanced penalty of up to 10 years in prison that courts can apply when a pregnant woman is a victim of violence, regardless if her unborn child is or is not harmed, at the hands of someone who knew she was pregnant. Maryland's existing fetal homicide law, which allows prosecutors to seek an additional murder charge when a pregnant woman, who is 24 weeks or more, is attacked and her unborn child is killed, remains unchanged. 

Sine Die, the last day of session, is less than 4 weeks away. The bill must pass both chambers before midnight on April 8 to go to the Governor for a signature. 

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More than 1000 nonpublic school students flood Annapolis to Advocate for Nonpublic Schools

A crowd of more than 1,000 students and teachers came to Annapolis on March 12 to advocate for Maryland's nonpublic schools 

More than 1,000 students and teachers from nonpublic schools across Maryland gathered in Annapolis on March 12 for Nonpublic Schools Advocacy Day to ask lawmakers to continue funding programs like the BOOST Scholarship program.

Started in 2016, BOOST provides scholarships to students from low-income families to attend the nonpublic school best fit for their educational needs. More than 3,000 students attend nonpublic school through the BOOST program, many who attend Catholic school.

"This was a great year for nonpublic school advocacy day because of the number of appointments our students had with legislators.  It's really important to them to interact directly with senators, delegates and staff, particularly since this is the first year of a new four-year term and there are around 60 new legislators," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference and vice president of the Maryland chapter of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). "It goes a long way toward legislators' understanding of how great our schools are, who the students are that they serve, and why they should invest in those students and our schools."

Governor Larry Hogan has proposed increasing the budget for BOOST to $10 million from the current $7.6 million. The Legislature has until April 1 to finalize the budget so exact funding for the 2019-2020 school year is unclear. But the state is now accepting applications for BOOST for the 2019-2020 school year.

Hogan met with students at the rally and said that he is calling on the legislature to not take scholarships away from Maryland kids, but to ensure funding for both public and nonpublic schools.  

In addition to the BOOST scholarship program, students asked legislators to continue their support by way of funding for school safety, aging schools and textbooks. 

Every year CAPE hosts Nonpublic Schools Advocacy Day and generally more than 1,000 students each year make the trip to Annapolis. 

To view more images from the day, check out Gov. Hogan's Flickr

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PAS expected to be discussed by Senate THURSDAY

Just days after the Maryland House of Delegates narrowly voted 74 to 66 to advance legislation legalizing physician-assisted suicide, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is expected to meet as early as Thursday, March 14, to consider advancing its version of the bill, SB 311, to the Senate floor for a vote.

If passed, the bill would allow terminally ill patients to be prescribed a lethal dose of a controlled dangerous substance, which they would then pick-up at their local pharmacy and ingest without medical supervision to end their life. This bill, in addition to having no regard for the worth and dignity of every human life, establishes suicide as a societal norm, places large quantities of Schedule II prescription drugs into our communities with no measures in place for take-back or disposal, and leaves those suffering from mental illness, persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and our elderly at risk of coercion and undue influence by family members or caregivers.

Both chambers must agree on and pass the same version of the bill in order for it to be sent the Governor for a signature or veto, so there is still time to stop this dangerous bill from passing in Maryland!

Join the growing number of people speaking out against this bill by reaching out to your Senator and asking them to stand with those who oppose the so-called "End of Life Option Act."

SPEAK UP! TELL MARYLAND SENATORS TO REJECT PAS AND OPPOSE SB 311.

 

 

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MCC to partner with The Arc Maryland, Hogan Administration, General Assembly to recognize World Down Syndrome Day 2019

The Maryland Catholic Conference will join with The Arc Maryland, and the Maryland Department of Disabilities to recognize World Down Syndrome Day 2019 on March 21. 

World Down Syndrome Day is a global awareness day which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012. Maryland first recognized the day in 2018. 

"On March 21, we will be celebrating the day with recognition by the Senate, House of Delegates, and the Hogan Administration in honor of persons with Down syndrome, their families, and the organizations that support them," said Greg Snyder, associate director with the Conference. "We are welcoming advocates, persons with Down syndrome, and their families to join us in Annapolis as our state joins with communities across the world to honor this day and to stand up for the inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome."

The date for WDSD being the 21st day of the 3rd month, was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.

To learn more about World Down Syndrome Day, visit: www.worlddownsyndromeday2.org.

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State now accepting BOOST scholarship applications

Maryland is now accepting applications for the BOOST scholarship program for the 2019-2020 school year.  

"BOOST has enabled thousands of students to choose the educational option best suited for them and we encourage families that are looking for assistance for their child to attend nonpublic school to apply as soon as possible," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

The state will accept applications from now through midnight of April 17, 2019.

The Maryland General Assembly created BOOST in 2016 to provide students with scholarships toward attending a nonpublic school in order to choose the best educational option for them.

If you have a student, or know of another family, who attends Catholic school currently, or is interested in transferring from a public school to a Catholic school, please pass this along and encourage them to apply for a BOOST scholarship. 

For more information on qualifications and instructions CLICK HERE.

To apply visit: www.educationmaryland.org/BOOST.

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PAS Bill Passes House, Heads to Senate

In a narrow 74 to 66 vote, the Maryland House of Delegates passed on March 7 the bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide. 

"Today's vote by the House of Delegates confirms what we already knew — that physician-assisted suicide is not a partisan issue and those who are concerned about the health disparity and economic discrimination issues raised by the bill stand in strong opposition to its passage," said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "Among those in opposition was a majority of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus and many members of Democratic House leadership, and we applaud their courage to stand up to the out-of-state interests pushing this predatory agenda. We call on the members of the Maryland Senate and Governor Hogan to act swiftly to decry the action of their colleagues in the House and stop this dangerously flawed bill from advancing."

The vote sends HB 399 to the Senate for consideration. Both chambers must agree on and pass the same version of the bill in order for it to be sent the Governor for a signature, so there is still time to stop this dangerous bill from passing in Maryland!

No amendments were offered to the House bill, which has been introduced with nearly identical language in the state of Maryland in four of the last five years. 

The Conference is asking that all attention now be turned on the Senate and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which is expected to vote next week on the Senate version of the bill, SB 311. It is likely that the Senate Committee will consider amendments to its version of the bill. 

To take action by emailing and calling your Senator asking them to stand with the 66 bipartisan Delegates who opposed HB 399, click the button below! 

 

 

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