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House impeaches Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald Trump just days before his term is slated to end.

House Democrats reached the necessary votes on Wednesday to impeach Trump. They want Trump removed from office, accusing him of “inciting an insurrection” when some of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 while Congress was certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s 2020 win.

Trump had held a large rally in front of the White House disputing Biden’s win earlier in the day.

The chaos resulted in Congress being locked down, and five people died during the protests and riots. They included a Trump supporter shot by police inside the Capitol, a Capitol Police officer who died after suffering injuries during the anarchy and three persons who died from health incidents.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, opposed the new Trump impeachment while Maryland Democrats want Trump out of office.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.-8th, is leading the new impeachment push for House Democrats. “Let’s come together and impeach this President for this high crime against the Republic. We don’t have a minute to spare. He is a clear and present danger to the people,” Raskin said.

Biden’s inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 20.

The House impeached Trump in 2019 but failed to remove him from office via a conviction in the Senate.

The new push could also try to bar Trump from running for the White House again in 2024. Trump has denied that his push against Biden’s win and earlier rally incited the riot on Capitol Hill.

Trump said on Wednesday he condemned the storming of Congress and that thousands of troops were being brought into Washington to secure the city.

“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in,” Trump said.

Delmarva Democrats were quick to back the impeachment and want Trump out of office.

“Donald Trump should have resigned last week when he failed to take any action to quell the violent mob that he urged to head to the Capitol. He should have resigned after the death of the Capitol Police officer who was attacked by the domestic terrorists as they invaded our seat of government searching out lawmakers and staff,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in a statement.

Those sentiments were echoed by U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.

“We cannot heal a divided nation without holding accountable those who willfully sow divisions with lies and mistrust in our institutions and elections,” Carper said.

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Andy Harris skips Trump impeachment vote, spends day in ‘operating room’

EASTON — U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, skipped Wednesday’s vote in the House of Representatives to impeach President Donald Trump.

Harris — who is a medical doctor and anesthesiologist — said he spent the day working in the “operating room” on the Eastern Shore.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the new impeachment articles on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Ten Republicans voted for impeachment.

Harris, who supports Trump, previously said he opposed the new impeachment push which comes just days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. The Eastern Shore conservative skipped the impeachment vote in D.C.

“Today, I spent my time caring for patients in our district during this pandemic. The Speaker’s divisive, hastily called, and politically motivated snap impeachment is a waste of time when we will swear in President-elect Biden in fewer than seven days’ time,” Harris said in a statement.

“In light of his calls for unity and healing, I call on the President-elect to disavow this action. Engaging in a political impeachment that will be moot in one week was another waste of time brought to you by the Democrat majority. While I certainly would have voted against impeachment, and the Congressional Record will reflect that, my constituents were better served by my work in the operating room today than by taking part in this pointless exercise,” Harris said.

Harris objected to Biden’s 2020 victory during Congress’ certification of Electoral College results on Jan. 6.

The certification was disrupted after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Democrats have called on Harris to resign over the Capitol chaos. Harris, who represents the Eastern Shore and areas north of Baltimore, has said he won’t resign.

The Trump impeachment now moves to the U.S. Senate.

St. Michaels Rotary Club presents donation check to Talbot Hospice

ST. MICHAELS — The Rotary Club of St. Michaels presented a check for $2,210 to Talbot Hospice on Jan. 12, giving the foundation some relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

President of the Rotary Club Tom Roesel and member Bob Holden presented the check to Talbot Hospice on a sunny afternoon, with about nine people in attendance.

Talbot Hospice Executive Director Chris Chekouras expressed deep appreciation for the donation.

“We’re extremely grateful for the Rotary and what they have done,” said Chekouras. “The most grateful are patients and family members.”

Talbot Hospice supports elderly patients throughout the county but gets its funding from private donations and fundraisers. In 2020, they raised about $25,000 through a walk-a-thon.

But smaller donations from the Rotary Club and other individuals and organizations are crucial to the life of the organization, too.

“What we offer, the services we provide the community,” said Chekouras,”there is a great need for it. And to be able to have the support of groups in our community — we would not be able to do what we do without their support.”

Talbot Hospice will use the money to purchase cleaning and house supplies for the elderly residents they handle throughout the county. It will especially help residents who stay at the Eleanor A. Koones house off Cynwood Drive.

“Visiting is a big deal — families want to be able to see their” parents or grandparents, said Hope, and they need cleaning supplies to allow for that.”Patients will definitely benefit from this. We try to do everything (possible) to make it a homey atmosphere.”

The St. Michaels Rotary Club donates to the hospice every year, but usually through other methods.

“Normally what we do is give six-months worth of supplies,” said Roesel. “We weren’t able to do that because of COVID for safety reasons so we are giving a check instead.”

Approximately 38 Rotary Club members dipped into their own wallets to donate to Talbot Hospice this year.

While the presented check shows a $2,010 donation, there was a last-minute contribution adding about $200 to the count, increasing the final dollar amount to $2,210.

“They need this money,” said Roesel, “whether there is a pandemic or not.”

Environmental group wants to ban releasing balloons, curtail condiment packages

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club is coming out swinging in 2021, with the environmental organization highlighting 12 bills they plan to push through the General Assembly this year — including bans on the intentional release of balloons and single-use plastic shopping bags, and the replacement of defunct public buses with electric or hybrid ones.

In a Jan. 11 public meeting, the Sierra Club raised a call to action for what it called crucial legislative priorities that would come to the floor for a vote this year in the General Assembly, or the state congress.

While Sierra Club is continuing its push to ban coal-power plants in the state again this year, they highlighted several other bills as a priority ahead of the 2021 General Assembly session, which began Jan. 13. The bills, if passed, would be enforced statewide.

Many of the bills have appeared in previous legislative sessions before and did not pass the state senate, while others are new. This session, most have just been introduced.

A big push for the Sierra Club is to slap restrictions on packages of condiments and hotel toiletries, making them only available upon request. Martha Ainsworth, the chair of zero waste reduction, said those items are “there whether you ask for them or not,” and Marylanders should reduce plastic waste.

Ainsworth also announced a surprising must bill: banning people from releasing balloons intentionally into the air.

“They travel long distances, sometimes a 1,000 miles,” she said, “and end up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland or in the ocean.”

She said they become litter on rural areas of the Shore, or in the ocean, where they can harm aquatic wildlife. Ainsworth shared a picture of a woman on a boat, who fished up a mess of tangled balloons.

Cities and counties across the country have banned the intentional release of balloons, with Queen Anne’s County becoming the first on the Eastern Shore to do so in 2019. Ocean City and Wicomico County have also enacted bans.

The Sierra Club also pushed for the Plastic Bag Reduction Act, or Senate Bill (SB) 0223 and House Bill (HB) 0314, at the meeting.

That bill would prohibit, after July 1, 2022, “a certain retail establishment from distributing plastic carryout bags to a customer at the point of sale.”

Ainsworth said that was a priority for Maryland because eight other states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont — have already passed bans on plastic bags, arguing they become litter or pollution in waterways.

But other organizations and lawmakers have mentioned that many plastic shopping bags have a second life and are used multiple times. Some cities have actually reversed bans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, saying they are cleaner than reusable bags.

Maryland has also been looking to ban plastic straws for years, and it became the first state to ban styrofoam containers in 2019.

Other bills championed by Ainsworth will ban the chemical recycling of plastics, delete incineration of plastic and other materials as a definition for recycling, and establish a program to collect and recycle latex and oil-based paints.

The Sierra Club is also examining transportation issues statewide.

Brian Ditzler, the transportation lead for Sierra Club, said his chapter is pushing about 19 bills through the General Assembly this year related to transportation reform.

Two bills are a priority for him, with both aiming to reduce pollution from the Maryland Transit Administration, which operates around 775 buses, the Baltimore Light Railink and public transportation in the state.

”Transportation contributes to pollution the most,” Ditzler said. “That is the reason we are focusing on these two bills in particular.”

The first bill, HB0114 and SB0199, would pour funding into the MTA in an effort to modernize the administration so it can reduce pollution. It would increase MTA funding from about $300 million to $500 million annually for six years.

”Why give money to them? MTA has $5.7 billion in needs and a $1.5 billion backlog in deferred maintenance,” said Ditzler. “MTA has the worst breakdown rate in the country. It’s one thing to say we are bad, but to have the worst breakdown rate in the country?”

Ditzler also wants to replace MTA buses that go defunct, a bill that came up in the 2020 session. That’s inline with Gov. Larry Hogan’s commitment to make 50% of the MTA bus fleet zero-emission by 2030.

Ditzler said most buses are still diesel-fuel, and swapping ones that go bust with electric vehicles or hybrid ones would be environmentally-friendly and cost-effective in the long run.

According to Capital News Service, Howard County has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars on buses when converting to all-electric ones.

“I don’t need to tell you that when (an MTA bus) puts out its exhaust, with all the pollution, it’s terrible,” Ditzler said. “Electric buses are three times as expensive, but over the life of the vehicle they are less expensive. There’s less maintenance, which makes sense financially. There’s greater upfront costs, but over the long term it’s less expensive for the state.”

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'Penalty boxes' and 'heightened anxiety': Maryland lawmakers start 2021 session

ANNAPOLIS — Wednesday marked the start of an unusual legislative session for Maryland’s General Assembly in Annapolis, with state senators isolated in transparent booths and capacity limited in the chambers to thwart the coronavirus.

What normally would be a bell-ringing, packed-house celebration of the General Assembly’s opening day at the State House was a more subdued affair this year.

The lawmakers were taking in the changes. The day would typically see a great deal of congregating, handshaking, chatter and television interviews being conducted in packed rooms and hallways. There was little to none of that at the State House on Wednesday.

The Senate set up plastic shields for individual members in lieu of distancing its members. The House of Delegates kept members six feet apart and only invited 80 delegates into the chamber to sit in on the business of opening day.

Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, said the invited members were selected in a lottery and he was not one of them. Mautz and about half of the 141 state delegates are expected to convene in a chamber annex this session for full-floor meetings.

While the circumstances were odd, even for a society that has been coping with changes related to the pandemic for nearly an entire year, the lawmakers got adjusted quickly and were able to take care of some procedural business.

From their “penalty box-style pods,” as Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, called them, the group of about 50 Senators voted to reelect Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-46-Baltimore City, as Senate president.

The House side voted to reelect Del. Adrienne Jones, D-10-Baltimore County, as House speaker, and Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, D-37A-Dorchester, as House speaker pro tempore. This year marks each of the three members’ second year serving in leadership.

Before Jones approached the podium to address the members on Wednesday, the clerk announced that there would be a pause for the podium to be sanitized. Jones did not give a speech but said, plainly, “We’ve got the people’s business to do, so let’s get started.”

Of the increased cleaning measures and 360-degree plastic partitions around each senator, Hershey said it was “very confining, almost uncomfortable.”

“I found it difficult to communicate with my colleagues sitting right next to me or behind me,” Hershey said. Though he said he understands it’s best “under the extraordinary conditions.”

Despite sanitation and distancing having noticeably intensified since the assembly adjourned early in 2020 when the pandemic hit Maryland, one thing looked relatively the same: the police presence inside and outside of the State House.

In light of President Donald Trump’s supporters’ recent storming of the U.S. Capitol and subsequent warnings of similar unrest at state capitals, there was an expectation that security might be heightened on opening day in Annapolis.

Only a few police vehicles idled outside of the building. Inside and at the doors, there was what seemed like a regular security presence compared to past years.

Del. Steve Arentz, who represents Queen Anne’s County and heads the Eastern Shore Delegation, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon he didn’t see anything that alarmed him in terms of police attendance either at the State House or across the street at members’ office buildings.

“I did see there were some police cars, but it wasn’t that much more (than usual),” Arentz said.

With compounding crises occurring across the country and in Maryland’s neighboring Washington, D.C., Mautz said he feels “a heightened level of anxiety among everyone.”

He said he doesn’t expect the chaos from the Capitol to percolate into Annapolis, but he predicts there will be increased interest in state-level lawmaking this session.

The Eastern Shore Delegation has its first delegation meeting on Friday, Jan. 15 at 9 a.m. Arentz, who will be leading the meetings via Zoom video call, said it’s “gonna be fun.”

“I’m not a brilliant guy with Zoom, but I’ve done a few,” he said.

Arentz said he’s ready for session to be underway and urged people to keep an eye on policing reform, budget, energy, and coronavirus aid and relief bills that will be up for debate.