45 Day Report –
2017 General Assembly
ACLU of Maryland
February 27, 2017
I. ACCESS TO JUSTICE/ OPEN GOVERNMENT
We are supporting a number of bills introduced to expand the scope and application of the Open Meetings Act. We are also working alongside our partners to pass HB903/ SB 705, which will allow courts to award attorney’s fees in state constitutional claims, thereby helping injured Marylanders, many of whom are low-wage earning and have a hard time finding an attorney to represent them in their claim. The house bill was heard on 2/22/2017 and the Senate bill is scheduled to be heard on 2/28/2017.
II. CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Take the Politics out of Parole
Maryland is one of only three states in the country that adds an additional political step to the parole process, requiring the Governor to personally approve parole for any individual serving a parole-eligible life sentence. More than 2,000 individuals are serving sentences of life with the possibility of parole, including nearly 300 whose offenses were committed at age 17 or younger. In the 1990s, Maryland Governors instituted a policy of denying lifers parole, regardless of individual merit, essentially changing their sentences to life without parole. This policy has become so entrenched that except for one individual paroled to a nursing home last year, no lifer has been paroled by a Governor in Maryland in nearly a quarter of a century—during the tenure of four different Governors.
Even worse, Maryland has the highest rate of Black lifers in the country. About 77% of Maryland lifers are Black. Only about 30% of Maryland’s population is Black. This session, we are advocating for HB723/ SB 694 to bring Maryland into line with other states by removing the Governor from the parole process. Both the House and Senate bills have been heard—we believe the hearings went well and are optimistic for final passage.
The ACLU of Maryland continues to oppose long sentences, which fail to improve public safety, waste taxpayer dollars, and may actually have poor criminogenic effects on those incarcerated. We are also supporting efforts to remove the jail penalties for offenses that pose no public safety threat—such as HB 377/ SB 940, which would decriminalize certain gambling offenses, and other bills to remove potential jail time for some traffic-related offenses. HB 377 was heard on 2/15/2017 and SB 940 is scheduled to be heard on 3/8/2017.
Two-thirds of Maryland’s jail population is being held pre-trial—they have not been convicted of any crime. Many are held simply because they could not afford bond. This session, we are working in close partnership with other social and criminal justice advocates to support HB 1390/ SB 880, which would ensure that commercial bond is only used when absolutely necessary. This bill also requires that by 2021 all jurisdictions establish pretrial services and use fair, just, and transparent processes to determine release; and that all jurisdictions collect data in order to measure the efficacy of the proposed reforms. HB 1390 has a hearing on 3/7/2017; SB 880 has a hearing on 3/1/2017. We are also supporting HB 1218, which would eliminate the use of commercial bond in all jurisdictions that are already equipped to release individuals with the proper supports they need to remain out of the criminal justice system and reappear in court. HB 1218 has a hearing on 3/7/2017.
Drug Policy Reform
Through our participation in the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition, we continue to support reforms to our state marijuana laws, including efforts to legalize the possession, production, and sales of marijuana for adults over 21. The following hearings on a pair of bills to tax and regulate adult-use marijuana are approaching—SB 928 (Legalization) on 3/2/2017; HB 1185 (Legalization) on 3/7/2017; SB 927 (Taxation) on 3/8/2017; and HB 1186 (Taxation) on 3/9/2017.
In addition, we are supporting efforts by the Legislative Black Caucus to ensure racial equity in the emerging medical cannabis industry. SB 999 and HB 1443 will help promote the participation of minority-owned businesses without delaying current implementation that is already underway.
To protect progress made under 2015’s decriminalization law, we are also supporting HB 379 and SB 949 to allow for the expungement of marijuana possession charges, and opposing HB 1043, SB 445, and SB 974, which attempt to re-criminalize various aspects of non-violent possession.
Finally, we have supported a number of harm reduction proposals to address the opioid overdose epidemic that continues to ravage our state. In particular, we testified in support of HB 488/ SB 798 to decriminalize the non-violent possession of small amounts of drugs (including heroin, cocaine, LSD, and MDMA), and HB 519 to authorize the establishment of safe consumption facilities, which have been shown to reduce the number of overdose deaths and increase public health worldwide.
III. FIRST AMENDMENT
The ACLU of Maryland continues to fight for the First Amendment rights of all Marylanders. This session, we are opposing bills that would violate the constitutional rights of our students by subjecting them to organized, coercive prayer during school events.
While the ACLU of Maryland takes no position on the underlying issues driving boycott efforts, we strongly oppose legislation introduced to penalize individuals and entities that participate in a boycott of Israel. It is well accepted that boycotts are fully protected speech under the First Amendment.
IV. IMMIGRANTS’ RIGHTS
This session, we are proud to stand with our partners in support of the Maryland Trust Act, which would limit the use of Maryland’s resources in the enforcement of misguided and harmful federal immigration laws. SB 835 was heard on 2/21/2017 and HB 1362 is scheduled to be heard on 2/28/2017. We will also continue to oppose anti-immigrant measures.
V. POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY
Transparency; Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA)
Like last year, we are supporting a bill to increase transparency around police misconduct complaints. Under current law, members of the public who have experienced police misconduct are only entitled to find out the final disposition of their complaint and the discipline the officer received, but can never know what factors were considered in the decision-making process nor how thorough the investigation was.
HB 698 and SB 362 would allow law enforcement agencies to disclose relevant details of their internal investigation, while continuing to protect personal information of the officers involved. We’ve had committee hearings in both chambers, and are proud to stand alongside our partners including the Coalition for Concerned Mothers, Common Cause Maryland, CASA, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), NAACP Maryland State Conference, MDDC Press Association, and more in support of this commonsense legislation to increase government accountability. Our focus now is to ensure support among the members of the House Judiciary Committee, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, which will be voting on the bills in upcoming weeks.
Local Control of the Baltimore City Police Department
In addition to our efforts to ensure transparence in policing, we are supporting legislation to give the Baltimore City Council full control over the Baltimore Police Department—just as the County Council of every other jurisdiction in the state fully controls its local police department. This bill is HB 1504 Baltimore City - Control of Baltimore City Police Department.
VI. PUBLIC FUNDING OF PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Last year, $5 million in taxpayer dollars were placed in the budget without a public hearing, to fund a private school voucher program. This year, Governor Hogan has proposed increasing this program from $5 million to nearly $7 million. With the recent revelation from leading experts that an additional $2.9 billion is needed to adequately fund our public schools, it is vital to redirect these public funds away from private schools and into our public school system.
Many of the private schools subsidized by the voucher program do not have to follow the same strong state anti-discrimination policies that public schools abide by. Public funding of religious institutions also inappropriately entangles our state government with religious teachings.
We entered into the 2017 session with the goal of eliminating the program. At this juncture, we feel confident that the funding allotted to the program will be reduced, if not eliminated entirely.
This session, a number of bills have been introduced to set parameters on the use of surveillance technology, including the use of cell site simulators (HB 917/ SB 878 Criminal Procedure - Cell Site Simulator Technology), facial recognition technology (HB 1148 Face Recognition Act), and cell phone location tracking (HB 998 Criminal Procedure - Providing Electronic Device Location Information - Historical Data). Several of these bills have already received hearings.
We continue to support efforts led by our partners to expand the opportunities available to Marylanders disentangling from the criminal justice system. These efforts include expungement and shielding of criminal records as well as expanding access to public benefits (HB 860/ SB 853 Maryland Equal Access to Food Act of 2017) and removing criminal record inquiries from the Common Application for Maryland colleges (HB 694/ SB 543 Maryland Fair Access to Education Act of 2017).
IX. REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM
This session, as in the past, we are working to stave off regressive legislation that would turn the dial back on reproductive freedoms, including bills limiting access to safe abortions. We are also supporting the effort to have fair school absence policies for pregnant and parenting students (HB 616/ SB 232 Education - Pregnant and Parenting Students - Attendance Policy).
X. VOTING RIGHTS/ ELECTION FAIRNESS
We are again supporting a host of bills to ensure Marylanders have access to the ballot box, chief among which is HB 345/ SB 423 Elective Franchise - Registration and Voting at Polling Place. Like in past years, we are also fighting back Voter ID bills that are unnecessary and will lead to voter suppression in communities of color.
XI. WORKPLACE FAIRNESS
This session, we continue our support for working families and are especially proud to report the progress of the Maryland Working Matters Coalition, which we are part of. HB 1/ SB 230 The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act was passed out of the House Economic Matters Committee and is on its way to the House floor.
XII. YOUTH JUSTICE
We are working with other advocates for youth justice to limit the circumstances in which youth are charged as adults; limit the number of younger children that are housed in hardware-secure facilities; and limit the shackling and strip searching of youth in custody of the Department of Juvenile Services.
XIII. PRISONERS’ RIGHTS
In January, we received the first report on the use of restrictive housing (also known as solitary confinement) in Maryland. The report showed that an astounding 68% of all inmates in state facilities were placed in restrictive housing at some point in 2016. This data, along with data from prior years, gives our legislators ample evidence that restrictive housing is overused in Maryland. We are therefore in full support of HB 1001/ SB 1015 which would limit the use of restrictive housing in Maryland.
XIV. SUPPORT FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Funding for Public Education
The Governor's proposed budget for education showed a $42 million decrease for Baltimore City Schools, contributing to the school system's $130 million structural deficit. The ACLU has testified and made presentations explaining the school funding formula and the reasons for the budget crisis- that flat state funding for schools across the state for the last nine years have impacted the poorest school districts the most. With the Baltimore Education Coalition, our 2/23/17 rally drew over 2,000 supporters to Annapolis to call on the Governor, General Assembly, and Mayor to #FixTheGap.
School Discipline Reform
High and racially disproportionate suspension rates across Maryland do nothing to help children learn appropriate behaviors and lead to their falling behind academically. The ACLU is working on a number of fronts to reform school discipline practices. Along with coalition partners, we are supporting HB425/SB651 to ban suspensions of our youngest children, Pre-K through 2nd grade, and provide appropriate interventions instead. HB425 has been heard; SB651 has a hearing March 8. The ACLU is also supporting HB1287, establishing a Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices, to be heard March 3, and HB1222, the Maryland School Discipline Reform Act, heard 2/28/17.
Funding and Expansion of Prekindergarten
The ACLU has long advocated for full-day prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-old children from low-income families. We expect major decisions related to pre-k to be made by the "Kirwan" Commission and in the 2018 legislative session. We are supporting SB346 Prekindergarten Students-Funding, heard 2/22/17, and HB516/SB581Workgroup to Study the Implementation of Universal Access to Prekindergarten, which has passed the House and heard in the Senate 3/1/17.
Addressing Poor Condition of School Facilities
The ACLU is supporting the capital budget and several other small programs that provide school construction funding. We support SB334/HB692 (which have been heard) Education-School Emergency Air-Conditioning Fund which would provide $7.5 million in grants for four years for schools to install air conditioning.