Archive for March, 2008

Senate Approves Dilluted Measure on School PE

Friday, March 28th, 2008

The Maryland Senate this week approved changes to a bill that would have strengthened the state’s requirements for physical education in public schools.

As originally proposed, the Bryan Moore Student Health and Fitness Act would have required Maryland public schools to provide students in kindergarten through eighth grade with 150 minutes of physical activity a week, including a minimum of 90 minutes of physical education.

The amendment alters the bill so that it simply establishes a task force, which would determine the feasibility, merit and fiscal impact of such a change.

The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, said he appreciates the need to address the state’s growing childhood obesity problem but is concerned about the burden it would place on schools.

“The superintendent from the Lower Shore called me and said, ‘This is going to be a very significant increase, and we don’t have the money to cover it,’ ” Stoltzfus said on the Senate floor. “It will require the additional hiring of faculty in many schools … and people in these areas are saying, ‘We just can’t afford it.’

“I support what this is trying to accomplish, and that’s to get our kids to exercise more, but the fiscal note seems overwhelming,” Stoltzfus added.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. David C. Harrington, D-Prince George’s, said he would accept the amendment — reluctantly.

“I know that some of you received telephone calls from back home regarding the cost [of possibly hiring] some more teachers for physical education,” he said. “But I think we also need to speak to this bill, and the reason we put in this bill, and frankly the reason why I’m passionate about this bill.”

Currently, the Maryland State Department of Education requires physical education in all schools, but specific programs are determined by the local school districts, so the amount of activity varies widely across the state. According to the bill’s policy note, some elementary schools provide 30 minutes of physical education each week, while others may provide up to 125 minutes a week.

Bryan Moore, the bill’s 14-year-old namesake, says in a YouTube video that he supports more activity in school. Moore was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the age of 12 as a result of obesity.

“I was just so big,” Moore says in the video. “I wouldn’t want any other person to go through what I’ve gone through.”

By Capital News Service’s Kate Elizabeth Queram

The Maryland Legislature provides updates on the status of the bill.

Dougherty Divided on Presidential Candidates

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Party politics aren’t exactly crystal clear these days to the Democratic nominee in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

Though Jennifer Dougherty voted for Sen. Hillary Clinton last month in Maryland’s Democratic primary, she said she’s not sure which presidential nominee would help her more at the polls in November.

She’s glad she only had to make the decision once.

“I wasn’t asked to endorse anybody, and I’m happy about that,” said the former mayor of Frederick. “I’ve already cast my vote in the primary, I’m not a superdelegate — I don’t get to make another choice.”

Speaking at her campaign’s office above her restaurant, Jennifer’s, in Old Town Frederick, Dougherty said she’s mulled the merits of running alongside either Clinton, D-N.Y., or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

She agreed she could stand to benefit from portions of the Democratic electorate both candidates are associated with. Obama has had strong support from young voters, while Clinton brings female voters.

Dougherty said she originally supported Clinton for the senator’s well-fleshed-out plans. But now, she thinks Obama’s strong speeches and apparent desire to stay above the fray will lead him to the nomination.

“I think the nod goes to the new-school guy right now,” she said. “Obama is inspirational — he makes people want to get involved in a positive way.”

In her first campaign since losing a bitterly fought primary for her mayoral seat in 2005, she said she’s learned a lesson about rough campaigns.

“Obama, which is why he’s so impressive, he stays out of that — the nasty side of politics — and I’m gonna try to stay out of that, too,” Dougherty said. “I don’t want to relive painful experiences.”

-By Capital News Service’s Ben Meyerson

College Park Is Looking for Some New Neighbors

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The city of College Park is looking for a silver lining in the real estate slump with renewed promotion of its New Neighbors program.

The program provides grants of $7,500 for the purchase of any home in the city, if you’re a full-time city employee or a full-time certified officer with one of the following agencies: the Maryland State Police, Prince George’s County Police, Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Police, Metro Transit Police or University of Maryland Police.

Others can apply for the grant if it’s for the purchase of a property in the city that’s been rented for at least two previous years.

Dorothy Friedman, a city planner, said the program is designed to stabilize and strengthen the community and to ease traffic congestion by making it easier for people to live close to where they work.

Although the program is meant to increase the number of owner-occupied houses in the city, it doesn’t prohibit homeowners from taking on renters, “if you want to have someone help you pay your mortgage,” Friedman said.

The only requirement is that buyers agree that the house will remain owner-occupied for at least five years. Otherwise, a pro-rated repayment of the grant is required.

About half of the $100,000 originally allotted for the program remains to be used, Friedman said.

Kathy Zentek and her husband Darren Zentek received the grant last year. They moved in November to a previous rental property on Clemson Road with their 10-month-old son because they wanted more space.

The grant allowed them to afford more home than they otherwise could have, said Kathy Zentek, who works for Prince George’s County schools as an English as a second language project coordinator.

“In the scheme of things,” she said, “it doesn’t sound like a lot of money. But it was the portion of the closing cost we couldn’t have afforded. It’s those closing costs that kill you sometimes.”

“It’s been amazing. Everyone’s super-friendly,” she said of her new neighbors.

Grant applications are available online or at College Park City Hall.

By Maryland Newsline’s Tamra Tomlinson

Delegate’s Environmental Efforts Recognized

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

State Delegate Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, was named the Democratic Leadership Council’s New Democrat of the Week in recognition of his aggressive stance on the environment.

“I’m very honored,” he said. The recognition is just that – an “attaboy,” said Barve. But the DLC is a national organization of moderate Democrats that was once chaired by former President Bill Clinton, so the attention carries some clout.

Barve, along with Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, is pushing for the Global Warming Solutions Act to pass the General Assembly this year. The bill calls for one of the toughest crackdowns on greenhouse gas emissions in the country — it’s comparable to California’s legislation — and Barve believes that passing it could push the rest of the nation to follow suit.

The bill was recently discussed in a joint hearing before the House Environmental Matters and Economic Matters committees, where Barve faced a barrage of questions from fellow lawmakers on the reality of global warming.

Delegates asked him to prove that global warming is a real problem instead of just part of a rotating hot and cold weather cycle, and asked if increased temperatures could be due to sunspot flare-ups.

“Some of the comments were a little surprising,” said Barve. “The whole thing with sunspots, that was debunked years ago.”

Though Barve admitted the bill will be difficult to pass, he said most legislators realize global warming is a problem.

“A very small number of people have difficulty believing it, and they’re very vocal,” he said. “The majority of legislators understand that it’s a problem.”

–By Capital News Service’s Kate Elizabeth Queram