Between The Lines

During the recent book ban discussions at the Worcester County Board of Education meeting as well as across the state and country, it seemed inevitable there may be some legislation introduced on the topic. A review of newly introduced legislation in the Maryland General Assembly this week shows at least one bill being weighed on the topic in favor of not restricting access to books of a perceived sensitive nature in school libraries.

Delegate Dana Jones of Anne Arundel County said this week she worked with Senate Majority Leader Nancy King and House Speaker Adrienne Jones on the legislation marketed as the “Freedom to Read Act,” officially filed as House Bill 785 and Senate Bill 738. It appears the legislation has been worked on privately for months prior to introduction, including input from teachers across the state.

The 19-page legislation essentially seeks to empower the State Library Board to appoint a State Librarian and “exercise general direction and control of library development in this State.” The legislation reads, “It is the goal of the state that each library is operated in a manner that recognizes the following standards: (1) library materials, services, and resources exist and should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all persons the library serves; (2) a library should not exclude material from its catalogue because of the origin, background, or views of a person who created the material; and (3) a library should not prohibit or remove material from its catalogue because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

The legislation had its first reading in the Ways and Means Committee on Jan. 31. Oftentimes, first-year legislative efforts are unsuccessful, such as last year’s push for the mechanism to increase the room tax rate for lower shore counties and the previous attempt to get a special event zone passed for the former H20i event, but this appears to have a good shot as it has Democratic leadership support from both the House and Senate.

For many of us, it’s a shock to know many people in Worcester County do not have access to internet in their homes. It’s not just the rural areas of the county either, but often houses within just a couple miles of municipalities that struggle daily with high-speed connections. For those folks, streaming shows or even checking emails on computers are basically impossible.

It was big news to learn this week a majority of the 6,400 homes without high-speed access in the county three years ago will soon be served with broadband, thanks to county and private partnerships. The full story in this week’s issue has more information.

The need for high-speed internet has long been a goal of county officials with several commissioners over the last 20 years, including long-time Commissioner Virgil Shockley, frequently advocating for their districts. Current Commissioners Jim Bunting, Ted Elder and Diana Purnell have broached the subject often in recent years. Purnell said this week, “Worcester County is coming into modern times.” Commission President Chip Bertino added, “I don’t want it to be lost when we started this project, this government expected we’d be spending in excess of $50 million to do this and we committed that we would do this because we felt it was so important. Because of your efforts and efforts of these contractors and our partners in this as well as our staff… we got it down to $96,000 and we’re almost done. That is absolutely fantastic.”

Grant funding has evidently enabled the county to keep its cost burden low.

The fall special events calendar in Ocean City has been overhauled in recent years.

The first Oceans Calling Festival last September resulted in some events being moved, most notably Sunfest being pushed to later in October. Though change is tough, Sunfest being an October event has been accepted. After seeing the magnitude of the inaugural Oceans Calling Festival last year, it was obvious a late October Sunfest was a practical and logistical necessity.

This week, the Ocean City Mayor and Council reviewed a term sheet for the first-ever Monsters of Metal Beach Brawl for Oct. 18-20. The event will join a solid stretch of activities for September and October. After Labor Day weekend will come Winefest on the Beach, Sept. 6-7; OC Bike Fest, Sept. 11-15; no huge events the next weekend; C3 Presents’ Oceans Calling Music Festival, Sept. 27-29; a second music fest will potentially be sponsored by C3 Presents and has been said unofficially to have a country focus, Oct. 4-6; Cruisin weekend, Oct. 10-13; smaller events, Oct. 18-19; Sunfest, Oct. 24-27; and the second RV and lifestyle show, Oct. 31-Nov. 3. It’s a busy stretch of events.

During this week’s discussion of the new monster truck event, the council voted to pursue a partnership with the promoter to fill an open weekend on October calendar. It’s predicted about 3,500 people will attend each of the three days. Though the event was discussed broadly late last year, some specifics were released this week. The event will be hosted on a portion of the Inlet parking lot with a pit area, arena and grandstands north of the Wicomico Street Pier. Participants are expected to come from professional race teams, and the promoter is responsible for racecourse layout and overall operations. The city will provide a $50,000 tourism grant for team bookings and $60,000 for event expenses in the first year in exchange for a per-ticket cost share. Gross revenues for the first-year event seem optimistic to me at $517,000 but the city seems comfortable with the estimates.