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A Better Prepared Maryland

Last week, I made a second call on our Maryland FiRST statewide radio communications system to mark the successful implementation of the system’s expansion to the Eastern Shore. The State’s first-ever statewide radio communications system puts first responders on the entire Eastern Shore and parts of Central Maryland on the same radio channel so they can communicate more effectively and better coordinate resources in the event of an emergency. These emergency personnel are responsible for 55 percent of our population and key critical infrastructure sites, including the northern I-95 corridor, Port of Baltimore, and BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport. By 2017, the Maryland FiRST system will serve all of our state’s citizens, from Ocean City to Oakland.

Keeping Marylanders safe and secure is the most sacred responsibility of our government, and the Maryland FiRST system is helping to ensure that we carry out that responsibility efficiently and effectively.

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We’ve also invested in ESSENCE (Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-Based Epidemics), a web-based system designed for early detection of disease outbreaks. Every hospital in the state uses this system to protect Marylanders from infectious disease outbreaks and public health emergencies.

And we’ve increased traffic management video feeds available to our first responders from 266 feeds in 2009 to 1,657 video feeds now available, an expansion of over 520 percent.

These innovative investments are essential in helping us meet Maryland’s homeland security goals as part of the O’Malley-Brown Administration’s 16 strategic goals.

When Marylanders unite to achieve our goals, we are unstoppable. Together, we can continue to build on our homeland security successes as we work to create a more secure One Maryland.

Click here to view a video of Governor O’Malley’s second call on the Maryland FiRST system.


RedOwl Analytics: Doing the Things that Work

This week I visited RedOwl Analytics, a homegrown Baltimore company with 25 employees that turns big data into smart solutions for other businesses and organizations. Last year, judges selected RedOwl as the best business in the IT category at Maryland’s 2013 InvestMaryland Challenge, awarding the company $100,000 to help them grow. Here in Maryland we know that early investments spur innovation and create jobs, and with the help of InvestMaryland, RedOwl hopes to double their workforce over the next few years.

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Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. And the economy grows from the middle up and the middle out, not from the top down. That’s why, in the wake of the Great Recession, the O’Malley-Brown administration has focused on helping small businesses like RedOwl in the fight to recover all the jobs lost during the downturn. We set a goal to recover those jobs by the end of FY2014, and in April this year, we surpassed it.

The progress we’ve made, we’ve made by choosing to do the things that work; investing in education and infrastructure, and building innovative, common platforms for business success like InvestMaryland. Since May 2013, Maryland has created 22,100 jobs, with 83% (18,300) of those jobs in the private sector. And our unemployment rate is nearly 10% lower than the national average.

RedOwl Analytics is just the tip of the iceberg. The company is just one of the growing businesses in Maryland that has led the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to name Maryland #1 in the nation for entrepreneurship and innovation for three consecutive years and #1 in the nation for STEM jobs.

And even though we’ve surpassed our goal to restore jobs lost, we must continue to invest in the things that work as we look to the future. Together, we will build a stronger One Maryland.

Click here to view a video of Governor O’Malley’s visit to RedOwl Analytics.


Our Shared Belief in Dignity

June is LGBT Pride month, an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to celebrating and protecting the dignity of every individual in Maryland.

As Marylanders, we believe that love is an unalienable right. We believe that the way forward is always to be found through greater respect for the equal rights of all of our friends, families, and neighbors. The common thread running through all our efforts together in Maryland is the thread of human dignity, our shared belief in the dignity of work, the dignity of faith, the dignity of family, the dignity of every single person.

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In 2012, I signed the Civil Marriage Protection Act into law. The Act protects the dignity of every individual in Maryland by allowing same-sex couples to get a government-issued marriage license, while including important provisions to ensure fair protection for religious institutions.

When the act was brought before voters, we became the first state in the nation to uphold same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Clergy and faith-based leaders, community leaders, civic organizations, civil rights groups, and citizens of all backgrounds from across our State came together as one, ensuring that Maryland protected individual civil marriage rights and religious freedom equally.

We are One Maryland, and all of us, at the end of the day, want the same thing for our children: to live in a loving, stable, committed home recognized and protected equally under the law.

Soon after taking office, we expanded the definition of protected classes to include “gender identity and expression” under the state’s Code of Fair Employment practices. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of signing another victory for inclusion and openness in our State. The Fairness for All Marylanders Act ensures that everyone, regardless of gender identity, is protected from discrimination under the law. Because of the Act, we are one step closer today to creating the open, respectful, inclusive world that we want for all of our children.

Marylanders stand on the side of fairness and progress, and we will keep moving forward together. Join in on the celebration and learn more about Maryland’s LGBT community at Baltimore Pride 2014, a wonderful weekend of exhibitions, vendors, and performances taking place June 13 through 15.


Celebrating our Shared Heritage

This June, we celebrate the first Immigrant Heritage Month, an opportunity to reflect on the rich immigrant tradition that has long fueled our nation’s enterprising spirit. It’s that spirit that continues to bring millions from around the world to our shores today.

With the help of partners and advocates, we passed the DREAM Act to educate more of our children and help keep some of the world’s best and brightest minds living, working and innovating in our state. The DREAM Act gives students access to in-state tuition rates, regardless of their parents’ immigration status, provided they pay state taxes, graduate from a Maryland high school, and commit to legalizing their status as soon as they are eligible.

Despite a challenge to the law in the 2012 general elections, Marylanders of all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds came together  to defend the DREAM Act at the ballot box, reaffirming our state’s guiding belief in the dignity of every individual. Expanding opportunity to a greater number of people, regardless of where their parents or grandparents happen to have been born, will only create more jobs and continue to drive our Innovation Economy forward.

Casa De Maryland Justice Awards Night Reception

Last year, I also signed the Maryland Highway Safety Act into law to make Maryland roads safer. The Act allows undocumented immigrants in Maryland to obtain a driver’s license through the MVA, provided that they have paid taxes in Maryland for at least the two previous years.

Undocumented immigrants previously driving illegally now have the chance to learn the rules of the road, pass Maryland’s driving test and become licensed, insured drivers. And Maryland residents have responded, applying for more than 48,000 new or renewed driver’s licenses, ID cards or learner’s permits and obtaining them since the program went into effect in January.

As a result, I ordered scaled back compliance with Secure Communities program at Central Booking in Baltimore City because it was no longer clear to me that the program was still primarily focused on protecting public safety. Instead, it only broke family ties unnecessarily and eroded our community’s trust in law enforcement.

Here in Maryland, we also understand that our economy does better when we’re all doing better. That’s why in 2008, we established the Maryland Council on New Americans to tackle challenges to citizenship and better equip highly qualified workers to enter the workforce, and start new businesses. Today, we’ve not only increased awards in state contracts to Hispanic businesses by 133%, we also have the lowest unemployment rate for Latino workers in the nation.

This is what we’re fighting to create here in Maryland, a stronger economy with a human purpose. Join us all in celebrating and creating opportunities for our One Maryland’s greatest strength: the skills, talent, and creativity of our diverse people. I encourage you to become a part of the celebration online at Welcome.us.


Manufacturing a Stronger, More Sustainable Future

This week, I had the opportunity to address a group of over 200 Maryland manufacturers on the topic of energy efficiency– and the great strides we’re making together as a State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost renewable energy, and drive down energy consumption. This group of innovators is at the forefront of an era of breathtaking change; they’re leading the way, helping us to accelerate the innovation curve so we can strengthen and grow our green economy.

It’s all about how we live, and fuel ourselves, on a planet with finite resources — and our collective moral imperative to take action, embrace market trends, and mold a better, more sustainable future for the next generation.

Energy Forum

Climate change is transforming our planet in ways that continue to evolve. This past Monday, we took a critical step toward combating this growing threat when President Obama announced new regulations that go after a principal driver of climate change — carbon emissions. Hailed as one of the boldest policy initiatives on climate change in decades, the President’s proposal empowers states to fight carbon dioxide pollution in a way that best suits their regions. I commend the President for his resolute leadership.

This follows a model that we’ve used here in Maryland. More than seven years ago we joined 9 other states (currently 8 states after New Jersey exited) in the Northeast to form the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Since that time, we’ve come to realize that this would serve as the blueprint for addressing the monumental effects of climate change.

All of this speaks to our commitment to govern in a fundamentally different way: setting goals, measuring performance, hitting deadlines, and getting results. Many of our 16 strategic goals in Maryland focus on sustainability. Among them are our goals (1) to reduce electricity consumption 15 percent by 2015, (2) to increase Maryland’s in-State renewable generation to 20 percent by 2022, and (3) to reduce Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020.

By making the better choice to take real action, we now rank in the top ten states for energy efficiency, up from our 47th place showing seven years ago. Baltimore is ranked by Ford Motor Company as one of the top 25 most electric vehicle ready cities America. With this work, we’re changing our energy grid for the better and we now have the 6th highest concentration of green, family-sustaining jobs along with the fastest rate of green job growth in the nation. These are tangible outcomes that demonstrate the important progress we’ve made to protect the land we love.

Here in Maryland, we believe in setting goals, measuring progress and delivering results. The time for action is here; the good news is that we finally have the tools we need to really make a difference.


Celebrating Maryland Green Schools

This has been a productive year for our state’s teachers and students in environmental education and today we honor our progress while looking to the future. Earlier today, I joined students and educators at the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education’s Green School Youth Summit, held in Sandy Point State Park.

This event gave us the opportunity to congratulate 58 new Maryland Green Schools, 73 schools that have been recertified to maintain their green status, and the 3 schools that have achieved the Sustained Green School Award. Since 1999, 468 Maryland schools have received the Maryland Green Flag, making our State a leader in sustainability by incorporating green practices into the classroom and tackling environmental projects in their communities and neighborhoods.

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The green culture that educators, parents, staff, and community partners are establishing in our schools provides students with a pathway to college and future career success, while working to fulfill Maryland’s Environmental Literacy graduation requirement. Our graduation requirement is the first of its kind in the nation and an important step in ensuring that our students become savvy, healthy and productive members of our evolving green economy.

One example of this work in action: In 2013, we launched Explore and Restore your SchoolShed, through which teachers use local streams and creeks as outdoor classrooms, and connect hands-on learning to disciplines beyond science, such as language arts or social studies. Students learn about water quality and the importance of healthy streams, as well as the ways their own actions can improve their local environment. More than 100 schools are now participating across the State, and more schools are encouraged to join.

The O’Malley-Brown Administration is further inspiring young Marylanders to join efforts to protect our state’s abundant natural resources through the Stream Restoration Challenge. This program gives thousands of students the opportunity to plant trees all across the state, helping improve water quality. Additionally, over the past five years, the Governor’s Conservation Job Corps has graduated 1,800 at-risk youth from a summer employment program at Maryland State Parks, teaching invaluable green job skills and instilling a life-long appreciation of nature.

While we have accomplished much, there is still much to be done. We must continue to push for a healthier Chesapeake Bay, restoring Maryland’s most important natural resource by curbing harmful run-off and upgrading wastewater treatment plants. We must also work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote in-state renewable energy sources, creating jobs and strengthening our economy while protecting Maryland’s environment for future generations.

By taking advantage of these resources now, we can continue to enrich programs and help our young citizens grow their knowledge and stewardship ethic. Together, we are ensuring that the leaders of tomorrow are attaining the knowledge they need today — both in the classroom and in the community — to address the challenges of our ever-changing world.

Congratulations to today’s honorees and thank you to all of the Maryland Green Schools for working to make our One Maryland a greener, healthier, more sustainable state.


Lowering Hospital Bills by Reducing Uncompensated Care

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) ushered in a number of important reforms: insurance companies can no longer deny care to someone because of a preexisting condition; they can’t drop someone if he or she gets sick; and children can now stay on their parents’ plan until age 26. The Affordable Care Act was also designed to expand access to affordable and quality health coverage, and to reduce the significant cost-shifting that drove up health care costs pre-ACA.

Before the ACA, people who didn’t have insurance—and who couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket—would show up to hospitals for care. Hospitals would then shift the huge costs they incurred from providing uncompensated care onto the rest of us via higher bills. As more people are insured because of the ACA, fewer people without insurance will show up to the hospital in need of care. Reducing uncompensated care will mean fewer costs that have to be passed on to everyone else, and that will mean lower hospital bills.

We know that more than 330,000 Marylanders have enrolled in coverage since January 1 (exceeding our goal of 260,000). We received some early data in March to show that uncompensated care already was on the decline in Maryland. And yesterday, we received even more data: for the first quarter of 2014, hospitals saw 62% fewer charity cases and 24% fewer self-pay cases, compared to the first quarter of 2013.

Maryland’s unique system of setting hospital rates means that less uncompensated care translates directly into lower hospital bills. Officials on the rate setting commission said they plan to take 1% off of their planned rate adjustment in July because of a reduction in uncompensated care. There is now optimism that rates could be driven down even farther.

Tom Mullen, the widely respected CEO of Mercy Medical Center, summed the news up this way to the Baltimore Sun: “It’s very positive. Having more people covered is good. In Maryland, everyone benefits.”

Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, Secretary
Department of Health & Mental Hygiene


Join us for Bike to Work Day

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day, an annual event organized by the League of American Bicyclists to promote biking as a real alternative for commuting to work.  Bike to Work Day is the primary event of National Bike Month, established in 1956 by the League to draw attention to the many benefits of cycling.

On this Bike to Work Day, Maryland is leading by example with participation from multiple agencies across State government.  There will be pit stop locations with refreshments for riders at state agency buildings in Baltimore (State Center, State Highway Administration).  I, along with Secretary Richard Hall and Deputy Secretary Amanda Conn of the Department of Planning, will be leading an early-morning convoy of state employees from northern Baltimore City to State Center.

Governor O'Malley's blog

Earlier this month, Maryland Department of Planning hosted a bike-commuting workshop at State Center organized by Bike Maryland, a statewide advocacy organization.  State employees have banded together to build on what is sure to be a successful Bike to Work Day by encouraging year-round bike commuting on the 2nd Tuesday of each month.  More information about ‘Two Wheel Tuesdays’ will be forthcoming, but you can follow all the action on Twitter at #2WTuesday.

By reducing the number of cars on the road, bicycle commuting improves the air we all breathe.  This is part of Maryland’s multi-faceted approach in to achieve the Governor’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.  In addition to promoting biking, the O’Malley-Brown Administration has taken action to implement greenhouse-gas reduction strategies, providing robust support for zero-emission vehicles, committing to reduce per capita electricity consumption through EmPOWER Maryland, and investing in renewable technology to help the State meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard.

Since 2011, when we launched the Cycle Maryland initiative, we’ve funded over 80 local bicycle projects, including support for bikeshare in six jurisdictions.  Making these investments will ease traffic congestion, enhance safety, save families money and promote healthy lifestyles.  These efforts also will help us bridge the gap in the first or last segment of a commute – allowing us to expand the reach of transit.  We have even received national recognition for our leadership — on May 1 the League of American Bicylists announced that Maryland was ranked 7th in the nation in terms of top Bicycle Friendly States, up from 11th in 2012 and 2nd in the region.

As Governor O’Malley says, progress is a choice, and Maryland has chosen to build on its past support of cycling in the years ahead.  Thanks to the passage of the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, Maryland will dedicate nearly $210 million over the next six years (FY 2014 – FY 2019) to fund programs that support alternative transportation projects, including bicycle lanes and rails.  Partnerships with advocacy organizations that support bike infrastructure improvements, such as the Washington Area Bicycle Association and Bikemore, are integral to help ensure that Maryland continues its forward momentum towards remaining one of the safest and most bicycle-friendly states in the Union. 

In observance of Bike Month, take some time to go out and enjoy our growing networks of biking routes and trails, and consider participating in National Bike Month events or Two Wheel Tuesdays in the months to come.

Leonard J. Howie III, Secretary
Department of Labor, Licensing, & Regulation

Note: Tomorrow’s Bike to Work Day is the rain date for the event that was originally scheduled for May 16, 2014.


Small Businesses Make a Big Impact on Maryland’s Economy

This week in Maryland and across our nation, we celebrate small businesses.

We know that in Maryland small businesses account for more than 97 percent of all employers. They employ more than half of the private sector workforce and produce an annual payroll of approximately $47.1 billion.

Because we believe that the most important job is the next one, Maryland’s small business owners represent some of the State’s most important economic players.

That’s why we have repeatedly increased the State’s support for programs and resources that clear the path for the next generation of entrepreneurs and ease the burden for existing small companies.

We created the Governor’s Commission on Small Business, a panel of small business owners and other experts, to advise us on small business issues. And, working with President Obama, we helped create the $1.5 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative, part of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. This national program expanded the capacity of small business loan guarantee programs in 34 states and U.S. territories. Here in Maryland, we received $23 million, which we are using to support small businesses across our state

Business Leaders Minimum Wage Discussion at Linemark

Our FY2015 budget includes $11.1 million for the Small, Minority, and Women-Owned Business Investment Account, which was created to provide loans to small businesses. The new budget also includes $10 million for Sustainable Communities tax credits, so Maryland’s Main Streets can continue to nurture the small businesses communities depend on. We’ve also renewed our commitment to tax credits for cybersecurity, biotech, research and development, job creation and other worthy endeavors.

Maryland’s early-stage small companies, which tend to be most vulnerable to market forces, have more resources than ever to strengthen their foothold in the State.

On Monday, May 19, I am pleased to join the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development to announce the winners of the second annual InvestMaryland Challenge, which will award $100,000 grand prizes to businesses in four categories, including information technology hardware and software, life sciences, cybersecurity and general industry. All challenge competitors are also eligible for more than $300,000 in grants, software, lab and incubator space and other prizes. The winners of last year’s Challenge have already hired additional employees and expanded their operations, proving the power of dedicated funding and fostering.

These small business resources did not simply materialize, but are the deliberate result of years of planning and cooperation between our administrative team, industry and community leaders and members of the legislature. Their hard work is showing real results.

Join me in supporting the hardworking men and women who operate the more than 100,000 small businesses active in State, not only during National Small Business Week, but all year long. Making yourself their next customer is the best way to thank them.


Take a Moment to Thank a Teacher

I am never more proud of our state than when I visit a school and witness the teaching that is taking place in classrooms across Maryland.  Students are learning at high levels and the energy, commitment and passion displayed by our teachers is inspiring.

During Teacher Appreciation Week, May 5-9, make time to show your appreciation for Maryland’s outstanding educators.

Our state has many great teachers including Sean McComb, Maryland’s Teacher of the Year, who last week was named the 2014 National Teacher of the Year.  An English teacher at Baltimore County’s Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, he is part of the school’s Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which helps students strengthen their work habits and skills to graduate ready for college or career.  Sean is the third Maryland teacher to receive that honor since 2005, a run of success in that program unequaled by any other State during that time.

President Barack Obama honors Sean McComb, National Teacher of the Year, and finalists in the East Room of the White House, May 1, 2014.

Sean is a shining representative of our State’s outstanding teacher workforce, but he would be the first to tell you that he’s just one of thousands of Maryland educators committed to student success.

As Sean told the Baltimore Sun after receiving his award, “I feel incredibly honored, but I take it understanding that there are so many educators who … do this every day, so tirelessly.”

That is spot on.  I have visited classrooms in every county in our State where world class teaching is taking place.  Our teachers’ instruction prepares students to graduate from high school with the skills needed by local employers and for careers in a global marketplace.  Our students have bright futures and many choices ahead of them.

None of this happens by accident.  Governor O’Malley and the State legislature continue to make historic investments in our schools.  Just this spring, Maryland expanded pre-kindergarten services to 1,600 more children across Maryland and laid the groundwork for a further statewide expansion in coming years.

This year’s budget includes a record $6.1 billion for preK-12 education overall, including $1.4 million for the Early College Innovation Fund to support creating and expanding early college access programs that provide accelerated pathways for students; $3.5 million for the Digital Learning Innovation Fund to help local schools accelerate the transition to digital learning; and $275 million for school construction.

Since taking office, the O’Malley-Brown administration has invested nearly $2.7 billion in building, maintaining and “greening” our schools – 34% higher than the Kopp Commission’s recommendation of $250 million per year.  Governor O’Malley also just issued an Executive Order for additional school construction funding at a time when many states are cutting education expenditures.

Maryland continues to build an even better public education system and teachers are front-line implementers of major new initiatives.  They are teaching to the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards, developed from the Common Core State Standards.  It was local educators who used the state framework to develop curriculum and lesson plans that meet the needs of their students.

Teachers also are preparing for a total reset in the way the state assesses student learning.  The new online state assessments – developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) – will replace the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) in grades 3-8 and the High School Assessment (HSA) in algebra/data analysis and English 10 for students entering grade 9 in the fall.

The PARCC assessments are advanced computer-based assessments that are more engaging for students and will deliver information to teachers more quickly over time, enabling teachers to more accurately assess the critical-thinking, problem-solving and communication skills of their students.  The PARCC assessments, which are aligned to Maryland’s new standards, are being field-tested this spring and will be fully operational next school year.

The work of building and maintaining the nation’s finest educational system is far from easy.  The real work is accomplished by local educators who are providing all students with the skills they need to be successful.

If you believe this – and I sincerely hope you do – join me in thanking a teacher.  Teacher Appreciation Week is only scheduled once a year, but we should be thanking our educators year round for the work they do with our children every day.

By Lillian M. Lowery, Ed.D.
State Superintendent of Schools