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Organizers plan Friday protest of Baltimore County coronavirus lockdown order

Citing the “constitutional overreach of local governments” and concern over languishing county businesses, a newly-formed group is planning a Towson rally on Friday afternoon to push for the reopening of Baltimore County.

An adjunct professor of political science at Towson University is among the founders of ReOpen Baltimore County, a Facebook group that’s garnered more than 3,800 members since it was launched May 15, the day Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s “Safer at Home” advisory went into effect.

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The advisory allows manufacturing, retail, haircuts and worship services to resume with limitations, with restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people and nonessential business closures still in place.

Hogan’s decision to give jurisdictional leaders discretion over how they will reopen individual counties and cities has drawn criticism from the likes of Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Tony Campbell, the Towson professor helping to organize the rally.

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“Local jurisdictions have never had this kind of authority before,” Campbell said. “This is totally unprecedented, uncharted and very dangerous territory.”

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr., working in tandem with Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young, issued an executive order late last week extending the prohibition on gatherings of 10 or more people, but reopening manufacturing operations and allowing retailers that had been closed to open up for curbside pickup and delivery only.

Baltimore City has extended its stay-at-home order, while Baltimore County has not, although Olszewski has encouraged residents to stay at home when they can.

Olszewski’s spokesman Sean Naron has said that acquiring more personal protective equipment, expanding the ability to perform contact trace investigations and having more testing capacity are key factors in considerations to continue reopening Baltimore County.

Acknowledging the health risks posed by the novel coronavirus outbreak, Campbell said “there’s a practical side and a constitutional side to this.”

While states of emergency have been declared during disastrous weather conditions or during civil unrest, Campbell said “those declarations never shut down businesses, they never told citizens to stay home or wear a mask. That kind of authority is left up to sovereign levels of government.”

On the practical side, organizer Kevin Leary of Perry Hall said local businesses are suffering amid county shutdown edicts.

More than 556,000 Marylanders have filed claims for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic began hitting Maryland mid-March.

“I just want to help these people who are struggling get back to work and feed their families,” Leary said. “Allow people to open their businesses and earn a living and go to church and live.”

Leary said the county should reopen businesses and services “in a safe manner.” Business owners should make the decision to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

The Baltimore County Council plans to vote Thursday on two opposing bills — one, proposed by County Councilman Todd Crandell, would immediately end Olszewski’s extension of the countywide state of emergency.

The other, proposed by County Council Chair Cathy Bevins, would extend the state of emergency until July 8, or until Olszewski orders it lifted.

Campbell said while he hopes the council backs Crandell’s bill, “they don’t have the constitution right to make that decision in the first place. ... Counties have never had the ability to extend or supersede state law."

The rally will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday at the corner of Chesapeake and Washington avenues. Participants are encouraged to wear masks.

Baltimore County had 5,025 confirmed coronavirus cases and 261 deaths as of Wednesday, May 20, according to state data.

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