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News roundup: Charges dropped against CASA demonstrators, a pitch to save Metro, and an HBCU in-state tuition offer

Police arrested seven protestors on April 7, 2023, after they blocked access to the State House during a brief and peaceful protest in favor of expanding health care to undocumented immigrants. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Charges were dropped this week against seven protesters from the immigrants’ rights group CASA, who were arrested in Annapolis in April during a demonstration for health care access.

The charges, for failure to leave a public building and failure to obey a police order, were dropped in Anne Arundel County District Court on Tuesday.

Ama Frimpong-Houser, CASA’s legal director, said the seven were prepared for trial to fight the charges, however the state’s attorney’s office dismissed the charges.

The demonstrators unfurled a banner that said “Health Care is a Human Right” across the top of the staircase leading to the main entrance of the State House on April 7, days before the end of the 2023 General Assembly session.

They were part of a larger group of CASA activists and supporters who were advocating for a bill that would have expanded health care access for undocumented immigrants. The bill passed resoundingly in the House of Delegates in March, but stalled in the Senate Finance Committee.

“The action in April exemplified the first amendment right to peacefully assemble and protest, and that was affirmed … when the charges were dismissed,” Frimpong-Houser said in a statement. “Members of our community are dying and suffering because they do not have access to healthcare, and legislators have the power to change this. We have every right to raise awareness of and amplify this issue in an impactful way that is seen and heard by all who have the power to pass the bill. This is what we were doing in front of the State House. CASA will do all it can to ensure healthcare is a human right that is honored in this state.”

One of the protesters who was arrested, Emely DeLeon, 22, a CASA organizer from Baltimore, said she participated in the protest to honor the memory of her father, who died from COVID-19 in January 2022 after being ill for several weeks. He had no health insurance.

Another of the seven people arrested was Trent Leon-Lierman, CASA’s Maryland organizing director — and the brother of state Comptroller Brooke Lierman (D).

On Thursday, Frimpong-Houser said the organization would push for legislation again in the 2024 General Assembly session, set to begin January 10.

A pitch to save Metro

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is urging leaders from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to invest in D.C.-area transit as Metro faces a possible $750 million operating budget shortfall by July 1, which is the beginning of the agency’s next fiscal year.

The coalition conducted a fiscal analysis with estimated contributions from both states and the nation’s capital:

D.C. – $268 million, or 35.8% at $2.02 per rider.

Maryland – $284 million, or 37.9% at $2.14 per rider.

Virginia – $197 million, or 26.3% at $1.48 per rider.

The $750 million shortfall is based on a forecast annual ridership of 133 million.

With the Washington Commanders’ new ownership and the teams’ lease at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County expiring in 2027, the coalition anticipates “louder calls from some sectors to publicly subsidize a new stadium for the Commanders.”

“Our analysis shows that there should be as much and certainly more enthusiasm in Richmond, Annapolis and D.C. for maintaining and enhancing our critical Metro system as there is for subsidizing an already lucrative professional sports franchise,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the coalition, in a statement. “Sports fans, tourists, workers, families, businesses and our regional and state economy all depend on frequent and reliable Metro service.”

Last year, when Daniel Snyder owned the team, the Virginia General Assembly offered the Commanders financial incentives of $300 million to $1 billion to move the team to Virginia. With new ownership led by Josh Harris, Virginia lawmakers are reconsidering legislation to entice the team to relocate in Northern Virginia. The team’s headquarters and practice facility are located in Ashburn, Virginia.

The Maryland Stadium Authority will oversee $400 million in investments to renovate Metro’s Blue Line corridor that includes land near FedEx Field. However, that money doesn’t include any financing for the stadium.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration announced a request for proposals this month for a “sports study” to retain and attract teams to the city.

Metro (formally, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) announced in June that a budget shortfall is looming, due, in part, to federal COVID-19 pandemic funding running out. In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported last month that federal agency buildings are at 25% capacity or less as federal workers continue to work remotely, stalling a rebound in commuting by Metro.

If a budget can’t be balanced next year, Metro claims transit service would stop by 9:30 p.m. and “all but 37 of 135 bus lines would no longer operate, customers would wait 20-30 minutes for trains on all lines, and MetroAccess would serve a much smaller area with less hours.”

In-state tuition for out-of-state students

In a move to help boost student enrollment, Coppin State University will offer in-state tuition for out-of-state students when the fall semester begins Monday.

But the special offer will be for new, full-time undergraduate students, defined as those registered to take at least 12 credit hours, or about four classes. The in-state tuition offer doesn’t apply to returning students and those pursuing a graduate degree.

A university spokesperson said in an email Thursday morning that the number of students who will be enrolled this semester hasn’t been finalized.

Coppin State, located in West Baltimore, is Maryland’s smallest historically Black university with 2,006 students last year. Of those students, 1,702 students were from Maryland.

In comparison, the student enrollment in fall 2021 was 2,101.

“At a time where more individuals and families are questioning the value and cost of higher education, our goal is to reduce barriers and increase access to the quality education Coppin State University provides, at an affordable price,” Coppin State President Anthony L. Jenkins said in a statement. “Although our students graduate with student loan debt below the national average, with this initiative, we are demonstrating the return on investment for degree-seekers, by further reducing the financial cost, and allowing students to enjoy the holistic experience of their college years.”

The cost for undergraduate in-state tuition and fees this fiscal year, approved in April by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, is $7,001. It represents an increase of $97 from the previous fiscal year. Out-of-state tuition and fees this fiscal year is nearly $14,000, an increase of $230.

One of the objectives is to attract students who reside in a state, or a particular region in another state, without an HBCU.

To be eligible to pay in-state tuition, undergraduate students must come from the following 30 states and U.S. territories: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The vast majority of those jurisdictions do not have an HBCU.

Another Maryland HBCU, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, received similar approval in April by the Board of Regents to allow out-of-state students who are registered in the school’s physician assistant program (which leads to a Master of Medical Science degree) to pay in-state tuition. According to UMES, in-state tuition and fees for this academic year cost nearly $8,900 and out-of-state tuition and fees at $19,728.


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News roundup: Charges dropped against CASA demonstrators, a pitch to save Metro, and an HBCU in-state tuition offer