Bill Would Strengthen Requirements for Children to Return to Birth Parents
A Frederick County infant’s death, which occurred after she left foster care to rejoin her birth parents, inspired state Delegates Kathryn Afzali, R-Frederick and Carroll, and Geraldine Valentino-Smith, D-Prince George’s, to sponsor a bill to better protect children.
Anayah Williams suffered a fractured skull and rib when she was 3 months old, but no one was charged for that injury, Afzali said at a House Judiciary committee meeting Thursday afternoon. Anayah was then moved into a loving, caring foster family, but under state laws — which make reunification the priority for Social Services — Anayah soon went back to her biological parents. Within two weeks, Anayah was dead and her father was charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death. She was not yet 2 years old.
“Somewhere the system failed Anayah,” said Frederick foster and adoptive parent Karen Kwasny. “The laws are supposed to protect the child, and in this case they did not.”
The law that governs waivers of reunification and keeps children from going back to their biological parents has weaknesses that allowed Anayah’s return to her biological parents, said Deborah Ramelmeier, acting executive director of Maryland’s social services administration. There was no proven chronic abuse in Anayah’s home, but the one case of life-threatening physical abuse should have stopped her reunification, she said.
Afzali and Valentino-Smith’s bill would require clear and convincing evidence the child would be unsafe, extending the law to include abandonment, severe physical or sexual abuse and life-threatening neglect to that child, a sibling or another child in the house.
The changes the bill will make are most relevant when it comes to severe, but rare, situations, Ramelmeier said.
“When we do see them, we feel we need to have the additional steps to ensure the child is safe,” Ramelmeier said.
A group of Frederick foster mothers, Anayah’s Advocates, came to testify in support of the bill, including Kwasny.
“Anayah’s life was cut too short, she did have a chance with her foster family, who adored, loved and cherished her,” said Kwasny, a foster parent since 2011. “Today is time for new legislation.”
She explained that as a foster mother, she supports reunification and has worked with birth parents, but, Kwasny said, sometimes reunification is not in the best interest of the child.
Supporters also testified for a companion bill sponsored by state Senator Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll, in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday afternoon.
Bill Would Formalize Rights of Parents, Surrogates, Children
The Maryland Collaborative Reproduction Act would formally grant rights and obligations to parents and families who use a donor or surrogate to conceive a child.
Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring the bill for the third year in a row, she said.
“Without a statute that governs what should be in a surrogacy contract … some people were abusing the surrogacy process,” Dumais said. “There’s best practices, there are a lot of standards but it’s not under statute.”
The bill mandates necessary requirements for creating gestational agreements, or the contract between intended parents and a surrogate mother, including medical exams, psychological exams, and independent attorneys. It also grants the child full parent-child relationship rights with the intended parents, like an inheritance.
Much concern over “baby-buying,” rising prices for surrogates and the challenges of a terminated or abridged contract—like in the case of abortion or the surrogate choosing to keep the baby—came from the House Judiciary Committee members on Thursday afternoon.
State Delegate Marice Morales, D-Montgomery, brought up commercials she hears on FM radio station WIHT-99.5 during her commutes about ways to become a part of a surrogacy process, which she worries are attracting a younger, in-debt audience.
Dumais asked her about the specifics of these commercials, because, she said, she hadn’t heard these commercials and she also listens to 99.5. That sent Morales, Delegate Will Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, and Delegate William Folden, R-Frederick, into a fit of laughter, all of them in disbelief that she listens to the station, commonly referred to as “HOT 99.5 .”
But Dumais stayed focused, and said that those commercials were aimed at egg and sperm donations, while her bill has strict requirements for a woman to become a surrogate — including being at least 21 years old and having already given birth to one live child.
Adoption and assistive reproduction lawyer Jennifer Fairfax said that because the option for surrogacy and collaborative reproduction is already legal in Maryland, the bill will help create standardized and regulated practices so less can go wrong.
The bill also received criticism from the Maryland Catholic Conference in years past, Dumais said, and she expects that this session, but is willing to make amendments to the legislation.
State Senator Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore, is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate, which is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday. The District of Columbia passed similar legislation.
‘Teen Tan Ban’: Providing Parents Support or Taking Away Choice?
High school teenagers might not be as tan as they desire for prom season 2014.
Sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, the “teen tan ban” would prevent minors under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning devices.
Current Maryland laws require parental consent for minors younger than 18 to use tanning services, in line with at least 17 other states. Howard County laws ban minors from tanning services, as do 11 states and the District of Columbia.
“It doesn’t matter whether people are talking about whether UVs are dangerous or tanning is dangerous. … This is a bill about banning tanning for minors,” said Dr. Lawrence Green, a dermatologist from Rockville. “Indoor tanning is much more dangerous from the doctor’s standpoint than the outside sun.”
A 10 percent tax was imposed on tanning services nationwide under the federal Affordable Care Act.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently mandated a “black-box warning” be placed on every tanning bed, advising against minors’ use of the devices.
Opponents to the bill say it will put parental consent into the hands of the state and hurt the tanning businesses that rely on younger customers.
“This bill will ban parental consent,” said Jessica Cooper, state director of the National Federation for Independent Business. “This ban will be another blow to an industry that is already struggling.”
In other measures, the Senate Finance Committee heard two more bills: concerning the ban of bisphenol A plastic in receipts, and the period within which cemeteries in Maryland must submit a report on preneed trust accounts to the Office of Cemetery Oversight. The receipt bill was ill-received, while the cemetery report extension easily passed through the committee.
Bill Would Restrict SWAT Team Deployments
State law enforcement agencies would be required to prepare written reports to justify most SWAT team deployments if a bill heard by a state senate committee Thursday passes.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, would also require more detailed reports on SWAT teams’ performance.
Supporters of Gladden’s bill noted that 59.7 percent of SWAT deployments in fiscal 2014 were for certain nonviolent crimes and 39.2 percent of deployments did not result in any arrests. They argued that often-destructive SWAT raids are being used too liberally.
Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo testified in support of the bill. In 2008, after a drug operation mailed marijuana to Calvo’s house, a SWAT team stormed the home and killed the family’s two dogs. The raid prompted a state SWAT reporting law that sunsetted last year.
“You, I think, have the obligation to set some standards and make sure that appropriate standards are in place,” Calvo told senators.
Police officials said that stricter requirements for SWAT deployment would prevent police from doing their jobs.
“The majority of our assignments are in support of the daily missions of our respective police departments,” said Lt. James Phillips, who commands Anne Arundel County’s Special Operations Section. “I would venture to say that (the bill) would probably have a paralyzing effect on our individual agencies and affect their ability and use of members of the SWAT team for daily mission accomplishment.”
Phillips said Maryland SWAT commanders have continued gathering data after the reporting law’s sunset.
SWAT teams were deployed 1,689 times in this state in fiscal 2014, according to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention. Of these, 93.1 percent of deployments were activated in connection with executing search warrants, 70.6 percent involved forcible entry and 87.1 percent involved recovery or seizure of property or contraband.