2014 GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The ACLU of Maryland is a non-partisan organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. We advance civil liberties and civil rights through litigation, lobbying and education. In the legislature we lobby on free speech, privacy and technology, reproductive freedom, LGBT, religious freedom, drug policies, police practices, voting rights, women's rights, racial justice, equal protection, prisoner rights, death penalty, criminal justice, immigrant rights and national security issues.
Here is our report on the ACLU priorities for the 2014 General Assembly session:
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Marijuana Policy Reform - VICTORY!
This past summer the ACLU of Maryland helped to convene the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, a coalition of organizations including the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, the League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and others, to work on reforming Maryland's laws on marijuana. In addition, the ACLU issued a report in the fall showing that in every county in Maryland, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at rates disproportionate to Whites, despite comparable rates of use. That coalition and that report were instrumental in supporting SB 364, a bill to decriminalize possession of 10g or less of marijuana.
Last year, SB 297, a bill to make possession of a minor amount of marijuana a civil offense rather than an arrestable offense, passed the Senate but stalled in the House. This year, legislators and advocates pulled off an amazing 11th-hour victory to pass SB 364, despite the opposition by House Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Prince George's). In so doing, Maryland joins the other 17 states and the District of Columbia, which have decriminalized possession of minor amounts of marijuana.
Read our testimony on SB 364.
Read the report, "The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White"
See the coalition website here: www.marijuanapolicyinmd.org
Taxation and Regulation
The ACLU of Maryland and the coalition also supported HB 880/ SB 658 - the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act of 2014, which stalled in committee. These bills would have moved Maryland to regulate marijuana like alcohol, similar to what Colorado and Washington State have done.
Read our testimony on SB 658.
The ACLU of Maryland also supported revisions to the medical marijuana law that passed the General Assembly in 2013. Medical marijuana has shown to be effective in treating the effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and loss of appetite; forms of epilepsy and seizures; and extreme pain, among other conditions.
Criminal Record Shielding and Expungement
This legislative session we worked within a broad-based coalition to give persons with a criminal record a second chance at employment, education, and other opportunities for economic stability and re-entry into society. The Maryland Second Chance Act of 2014 (HB 1166/ SB 1056) would have shielded certain non-violent misdemeanor convictions three to five years after the defendant had completed mandatory supervision. This bill would have opened up a world of opportunities for convicted persons, disproportionately persons of color, seeking to re-enter society, find gainful employment, stable housing, and contribute meaningfully to our economy. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass this year, but we remain hopeful that the groundwork was laid for the passage of similar legislation in 2015.
The ACLU also supported five similar bills introduced with the goal of reducing the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction through shielding or expungement.
Read our testimony on the Maryland Second Chance Act of 2014.
In 2012 and 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that defendants were entitled to an attorney at the initial appearance before a court commissioner. The ACLU participated in a Task Force that gave recommendations to the General Assembly regarding reforms to our pretrial justice system that would not only put the state in compliance with the Court's decision, but would also strengthen the system. Despite a number of bills, including one that was supported by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the Office of the Public Defender, States Attorneys, the ACLU and law enforcement, the General Assembly adjourned without passing a bill.
Christopher's Law-named for the teenage boy who was choked to death at the hands of an off-duty Baltimore County police officer and whose mother led the charge for passage of this important reform-provides that all police officers should receive training regarding the use of force, recognizing disabilities, cultural and gender diversity, and key lifesaving techniques. The ACLU joined the broad coalition seeking passage of this law because we routinely hear from individuals and families who have suffered real harms in their interactions with police, from in-custody deaths to racial slurs, to the tasering of individuals with disabilities. We are pleased to report that this bill was successfully passed. The new law will help ensure that law enforcement officers are equipped with the tools they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.
Read our testimony on HB 294/ SB 542.
The ACLU has long supported reform to our parole system, which is one of only three in the United States where the Governor has to approve the recommendations of the Parole Commission before an individual may be paroled. This injects politics into the parole system, and has resulted in a lack of paroles during the last eight years. This year, we supported HB 388/ SB 953, which would eliminate the need for the Governor's approval of parole for two categories of persons serving parole-eligible life sentences-persons who were minors at the time of their sentence and persons who were not the principal actors in the commission of the offense. Unfortunately, this bill died in committee.
Graduated Sanctions Pilot Program
Supporters may recall that the ACLU helped to pass the Graduated Sanctions Pilot Program in 2011. Approximately one-third of people admitted to prison are there for technical parole and probation violations, including missed appointments with parole officers or failed drug tests. Many of these individuals are not a danger to our community and yet they are taking up already-scarce space in our overcrowded and overstrained prisons and costing us a large amount of money to incarcerate. The program gives parole officers options when addressing violations - they can judge if a violation is extreme enough to warrant revocation, or choose another option to allow the parolee to continue on parole. The review of the pilot program by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services concluded that it was effective in preventing individuals from violating the terms of their parole. SB 608, which passed, expands the program beyond the Glen Burnie, Annapolis and Easton Community Supervision Offices, into Baltimore City.
Local DNA Databanks
In 2009, the General Assembly passed a bill that expanded DNA collection to include people arrested for certain crimes. The Legislative Black Caucus, the Office of the Public Defender and the ACLU were able to insert several protections into the bill. Subsequently, it came to light that local jurisdictions have their own databanks of DNA, including the DNA of victims, and that these jurisdictions are not following the State law. The ACLU supported HB 680, which would have required local jurisdictions to follow the State law on what DNA could be collected, and how it would be used, stored and expunged. Unfortunately, HB 680 did not receive a vote from the House Judiciary Committee.
This session, we supported HB 787/ SB 861, which would have created a study to look at the use of isolated confinement in Maryland. Isolated or solitary confinement is an extreme and inhumane form of punishment that is not evidence-based, wastes taxpayers' money and jeopardizes public safety. Maryland uses isolated confinement at a much higher rate than other states, and thus it is an area that is ripe for reform. Unfortunately, this bill died in committee.
Read our Privacy and Technology report.
Location Tracking - VICTORY!
For four years, the ACLU has advocated for a bill to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to tracking people using their cell phone or other electronic device. When turned on, a cell phone sends off a signal several times a minute. That signal reaches the closest cell towers, which then bounce the signal back, giving the phone the strongest signal from which to operate. Cell phone companies keep this information anywhere from 6 months to several years. When considered in the aggregate, this information can give a detailed picture of where a person is or has been over a period of time.
Currently, law enforcement in Maryland are able to obtain that location information if it is ‘relevant to a criminal investigation.' This session we were able to pass SB 698/ HB 1161, which will require law enforcement to obtain a warrant, based upon probable cause that the target of the information either is committing or has committed a crime, or that the location information itself is evidence of or will lead to evidence of the crime being investigated, prior to conducting real-time tracking of an individual. While the bill that passed relates only to real-time tracking, we anticipate seeking an inclusion of "historical" tracking at a later date, as where you have been is no less private than where you are right now.
Read our testimony on SB 698.
Communications Content Privacy - VICTORY!
When our privacy and technology law was originally passed in the 1980s, mobile phones and email did not exist. Now, law enforcement only has to obtain a search warrant to read peoples' emails that are less than 6 months old. Any email, tweets, texts or Facebook posts older than 6 months, as well as other online content, may be read by law enforcement if it is "relevant" to an ongoing criminal investigation. This session, we brought our law up to 21st century technology and passed SB 924/ HB 912, requiring law enforcement to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause any time they want to read the content of someone's electronic communications.
Read our testimony on SB 924.
Automatic License Plate Reader Systems (ALPRs) - Partial Victory
ALPRs are high-speed cameras that capture photographs of every passing car, date and stamp that photograph, and automatically check that plate against a number of state, local and federal databases of "hot lists" of plates. Maryland has 411 of these readers across the state: 307 are mounted on police cars and 104 are fixed cameras. This information is held for varying amounts of time, and is used by law enforcement for other purposes as well, including investigating cases. As a result of the massive amount of information generated by ALPRs, Maryland has a database of millions of Marylanders' location and travel habits. In a five-month period in 2012, Maryland's plate reader system had over 29 million license plate scans. Of those, only 0.2 percent were associated with any wrongdoing, and 97 percent of those were for suspended or revoked registration or an emissions violation.
In its original form, SB 699/ HB 289 would have placed limits on the length of time that law enforcement could keep the ALPR data. Such limits would have minimized the invasion of privacy that comes with ALPRs and the government's ability to keep a database on our movements just in case we do something wrong. However, due to objection by law enforcement, the bill was amended: now, ALPRs will be used only for a "legitimate law enforcement purpose" and any agency using an ALPR must create procedures for who can access the data and an audit process to ensure the system is only being used for legitimate law enforcement purposes. The law also will require law enforcement to report to the legislature how many readers they use, the number of requests they get for that information, and any data breaches.
Read our testimony on SB 699.
The ACLU of Maryland supported a bill that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to using a drone to gather evidence. Though the bill did not make it out of committee, it successfully raised awareness in the legislature of the proliferation of drones and the privacy concerns posed by their unregulated use.
Read our testimony on SB 926.
Patient Privacy - VICTORY!
The ACLU of Maryland supported SB 790, which would have required the Maryland Insurance Administration to create a form allowing individuals to keep certain medical information private under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The bill passed!
Read our testimony on SB 790.
Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 - VICTORY!
We are thrilled to be a part of the coalition that helped propel the Fairness for All Marylanders Act to passage. This important and long-fought for bill places gender identity in our anti-discrimination laws, ensuring that transgender individuals are not discriminated against in public accommodations, housing or unemployment.
Read our testimony on SB 212.
CONTINUED POLICY REPORT -- PART II