Progressive and Adequate Fiscal Policy: Roy Appletree Team Leader
There was some discussion about the dual economy this pandemic revealed. While certainly an oversimplification, it revealed some truth to the maxim that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” There was also a recognition that a sound revenue system must allow the State to invest in essential public goods such as education, transportation, and health care.
When the pandemic was recognized in March 2020, the revenue projections were for a dire shortfall. By December 2020 it was clear that Maryland was cushioned from any major shortfall. Come 2021 and the large sums of Federal relief funding, the State found itself in a solid position. As a result, all the tax legislation was allowed to die – combined reporting being the last to go.
However, the pundits expect fair taxation to be a major legislative issue in the 2022 session.
The Governor proclaimed he would veto legislation that mandates an increase in spending or taxes, especially considering the pandemic. One critical bill he vetoed was designed to continue implementing the Kirwan Commission reforms, the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.” The General Assembly overrode that veto. The legislature also passed several new taxes to pay for the Blueprint plan. These taxes included a tax on digital downloads such as Netflix and video games; a corporate tax change intended to bring in tens of millions each year; a new tax on vaping products and a doubled tax on cigarettes. They also passed a first-in-the-nation proposal to tax the targeted digital advertising on giant online platforms such as Facebook and Google.
All these tax bills were vetoed. LWVMD supported the eventual override of the digital download tax HB 932 .
We testified on these and several similar several bills:
HB0275 – Individual Income Taxes – Brackets and Rates which would raise rates on higher incomes.
HB0215 – Carried Interest which is often thought of as the loophole for private equity and hedge funds.
HB0172 – Combined Reporting which prevents corporations from shifting profits to other states to be taxed at a lower rate. This is in effect in many states and creates a more equal playing field for smaller, in-state businesses.
An Issue Paper entitled Progressive & Adequate Fiscal Policy was produced.
Government Transparency: Nancy Soreng Team Leader
The League of Women Voters of Maryland testified in favor of three bills that would improve transparency in government or campaign spending, only HB183 passed both houses.
HB 183 Public Information Act – Revisions (Equitable Access to Records Act) would add accountability to the custodians of public information by requiring them to publish an annual report that includes the number of Public Information Act (PIA) requests received, the outcome of these requests and the time frame for granting or denying requests as well as the reasons for requests that took more than 30 days to process. It also requires documentation of fees charged and fees waived. This bill improves the make-up of the PIA Board by requiring at least one member be knowledgeable about electronic records and at least two members to be attorneys. It also requires detailed reporting of the disputes handled by the Ombudsman and their outcome. Status: sent to Governor.
HB 1352 Campaign Finance Reports - Business Contributors - Registration Status would require the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to electronically transmit a list of all businesses that are registered with the Department and all businesses that forfeited their registrations to the State Board of Elections who would transmit that information to all active campaign entities. When campaign finance reports are filed with the Board of Elections, it is not easy to know which companies who made political donations are actual businesses and which may be sham companies who are used by contributors who want to exceed donation caps by giving in the name of a sham business. This bill passed the House (97 to 39) but was never voted on by the Senate.
The third transparency bill the League supported is SB 72/HB 344 Open Meetings Act – Requirements for State Agencies and Local Boards of Elections (Maryland Transparency Act of 2021) which called for all Executive Branch Agencies and Local Boards of Elections to have meeting materials publicly available on their website at least 48 hours before any open meeting. It further requires that these public bodies provide live video or audio streaming of their proceedings and maintain an unedited, accessible archive of these recordings. This bill did not receive a vote in either the House or Senate Committee where it was heard.
Redistricting Reform: Beth Hufnagel Team Leader
Every ten years, the US Constitution requires that a census be taken and be used to reapportion voters into Congressional and state legislative districts. It was the expectation that there would be a Special Session of the Maryland General Assembly in the fall of 2021 to consider the legislative and Congressional maps drawn by the Maryland Citizen Redistricting Commission (MCRC), who are an independent commission created by Governor Hogan. However, since the detailed Census data needed to draw the maps will not be issued by the Census Bureau until August 30, and then the re-allocation of the count of incarcerated persons to their residence prior to incarceration rather than the facility where they were held during the census, may take until the end of October, the approval of new maps is deferred until the 2022 General Session of the MGA.
Several bills were introduced this session to strengthen standards by which districts are drawn. All died in committee.
- HB339 Legislative District Standards
- HB410; HB965; and HB1260 Congressional District Standards(Anti-Gerrymandering of Maryland’s Congressional Districts)
Fair Maps Maryland Campaign
LWVMD will continue to advocate for strengthened legislative and Congressional district standards around redistricting and transparency of the drawing of maps by the Maryland General Assembly leadership and the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission. We will work to facilitate the creation of community of interest (COI) maps. We hope to produce our own maps, based on the LWV positions with consideration of these COI maps. We are now reaching out to additional partners to make the Fair Maps Maryland Campaign a reality.
The advocacy team produced an Issue Paper entitled Redistricting Reform in Maryland.
Protecting the Right to Vote: Janet Millenson, Team Leader
Through our testimony and our partnership with other advocates in the Everyone Votes Maryland and the Expand the Vote coalitions, the League spoke up for protecting the right to vote and expanding access for all eligible voters. The most important successes among the bills we supported were:
- HB 1048 Election Law – Permanent Absentee Ballot List, Ballot Drop Boxes, and Reports. This legislation allows voters to request permanent absentee ballot status rather than having to apply repeatedly each election cycle. Other registered voters will automatically receive an absentee ballot request form before each primary election. It also establishes criteria for placing ballot drop boxes in locations that are secure, accessible, and equitably distributed both geographically and demographically. Status: sent to Governor.
- HB 222 Election Law – Correctional Facilities – Voter Registration and Voting (Value My Vote Act). Although voting rights were restored in 2016 to felons who have served their sentences and to non-felons currently incarcerated, no program was ever put in place to enable them to exercise that right. HB 222 requires correctional facilities to work with the Board of Elections to provide information and materials for registering to vote and applying for a mail-in ballot. See our testimony here. Status: sent to Governor.
- HB 156 Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act. This legislation improves access to voter registration, voting information, and opportunities to cast a ballot for some relatively underserved populations: college students, residents of retirement communities, and members of the military. Among other provisions, local Boards of Elections will be required to take into account such large residential institutions when establishing precinct polling places. Status: sent to Governor.
Our biggest disappointment was the legislature’s failure to pass HB 1047, the Mail-In Voting Enhancement Act. This bill would have made permanent two popular procedures implemented in 2020 on an emergency basis — ballot tracking and ballot curing (contacting voters who failed
to sign the oath). Unfortunately, the Senate and the House ultimately could not agree on a provision that would have allowed pre-processing of mail-in ballots to start before Election Day. Going forward, we want to turn our efforts toward several issues that either failed to pass this
year or were not adequately addressed in the first place:
- Circuit Court judges: selection process; contested vs. retention elections
- Special elections to fill legislative vacancies in a timely fashion
- District voting rather than at-large for certain representatives
- Mail-in voting: early canvassing; ballot curing procedures; security concerns (e.g.,signature verification); voter registration database improvements
You may have heard that it’s Cross-Over time in the Maryland General Assembly. This is when bills that originated in one chamber, pass that chamber and now it’s the other chamber’s obligation to consider passing them. Bills that started in the Senate retain the SB label even though they have crossed over and are now in the House. The same is true of bills that were passed by the House -they retain the HB prefix, even though they are being discussed by a Senate Committee.
Four of the bills that the League of Women Voters of Maryland and the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) support have passed in the Senate with amendments. Now, it’s time for the House to hold hearings and vote on these bills. They were assigned to the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing on March 25th
The League submitted testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on SB 627 Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) - Repeal and Replace, SB 626 Use of Force and SB 178 Anton’s Law. We support SB 627 but asked that it be amended to remove the weakening changes made to this bill as originally submitted by the Senate sponsor. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee had removed citizen oversight of police conduct. We asked that SB 627 LEOBR Repeal be amended by the House Committee to allow communities to create real independent external community oversight boards with actual investigatory, subpoena and discipline powers. We also asked the House committee to remove the weakening amendments added to SB 626 Use of Force by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and instead include the use of force language that the House Judiciary committee included in HB 670 Police Reform Accountability Act. We supported SB 178 as passed by the Senate.
The fourth bill that was sent to the House by the Senate, SB 786 Control of the Police Department of Baltimore City passed out of the Senate with a unanimous vote on the Senate Floor. The fifth reform to policing that the League was supporting is to eliminate the $10 million annual subsidy that the state provides school districts to hire armed uniformed police officers to work in schools. The two House bills the we testified in support of were HB 1089 and HB 486. Neither bill received a vote in committee. There was no cross-filed bill in the Senate. Advocates plan to continue to educate legislators about this issue during the interim and come back with legislation and more data next session.
On the House side, most of the reforms we supported were incorporated in to an omnibus bill HB 670 - Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 that was submitted by Speaker of the House, Adriane Jones. There were many good proposals in this legislation, but it fell short in some of the key areas of reform that the League and MCJPA are supporting. We signed on to a letter asking for amendments to strengthen the reforms. The section on Use of Force was amended to be a much better definition of what kind of force is allowable under what circumstances. HB 670 passed on the House floor 96 yays to 40 nays. That bill will now be heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
It is likely that different versions of final bills will come out of each chamber. If this happens, the bills will be assigned to a conference committee that will propose a combined bill for passage.
Action on climate change is based on the LWVUS position to support comprehensive legislation to control climate change, and support for predominant reliance on renewable resources. The League’s positions on natural resources date back to the 1920s.
The focus of climate activists today is switching from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy sources. We need to move to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, greatly expand public transit and accelerate the conversion to electric vehicles, retrofit existing buildings, construct “zero emissions” new buildings, and sequester carbon pollution in forestry and healthy soils. We will need to do so in a way that protects workers and invests in communities that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis or have historically seen racial discrimination.
LWVMD is supporting SB 414 – Climate Solutions Act which is the first step in that work by strengthening our climate plan in 2022. This Act will align our emissions reduction targets with the world’s leading science and reposition Maryland as a climate leader. It will require fixes to our state’s flawed climate plan and take some immediate climate actions, from planting millions of new trees to increasing energy efficiency. And it will lay the groundwork for an equitable transition to a new, clean economy. Read our supportive testimony here.
On Tuesday, March 2nd LWVMD hosted its first virtual Legislative Day. We were so pleased to virtually see everyone! Following up on the days discussion we have some additional information to share with you. Our guest speaker, Darius Stanton provided League members with a list of bills that the Maryland Black Caucus Foundation is tracking. You can find the list here.
In addition, to our discussion on police accountability we have provided research about school resource officers and it can be found here.
If you were unable to attend the event a video recording can be found here.
LWVMD Testifies for Redistricting Standards
POSTED BY Beth Hufnagel· March 5, 2021
Hearings on Constitutional Amendments to Strengthen Redistricting Standards
Congressional Redistricting Standards
A hearing on setting standards for the Congressional redistricting process, HB410 Congressional Districts – Standards (Anti-Gerrymandering of Maryland’s Congressional Districts) was held on February 22, 2021. You can watch the presentation by the sponsor, Delegate Malone, the witness testimony and legislator discussion here, starting at about 25 minutes into the hearing. HRU Committee Session, 2/22/2021 #1 - YouTube
The standards in this bill are the same as those the Maryland constitution already applies to legislative districts, and we think that they are equally appropriate for Congressional districts. Adjoining and compact districts give the voters a much better opportunity to know their representatives and to engage in political discussions. Setting territorial standards in the redistricting process would help to restore the faith of voters in their elected officials.
Maryland Legislative Redistricting Standards
At the same time, the Committee also held a hearing on HB339- Legislative Districts – Standards. You can watch the presentation by the sponsor, Delegate Malone, the witness testimony and legislator discussion here, starting at about 25 minutes into the hearing. HRU Committee Session, 2/22/2021 #1 - YouTube
Election maps are adjusted every ten years after the Census to account for population shifts and ensure each district has substantially equally populations. However, since 1812 US politicians on both sides of the aisle have also used the redistricting process to provide their party with an advantage in elections for the coming decade. Using our current technology, politicians today can achieve this with unprecedented precision. This bill would attempt to remove that temptation by removing consideration of political affiliation of voters from the process.
Every ten years, the US Constitution requires that a census be taken and be used to reapportion voters into Congressional, state and local districts. The 2020 Census results will be available by May 2021, and the redistricting in Maryland must be completed by early 2022. The LWVMD and LWVUS have strong and long-held positions for how to draw People-Powered Fair Maps. The Maryland General Assembly will work on redistricting after their 2021 Session, probably in a Special 2021 Session. The League is active now and is watching the process closely.
To learn more and how you can help Maryland get Fair Maps for the next decade, please read the League's Issue Paper!
If you have questions or want to volunteer, contact Beth Hufnagel, Lead of the LWVMD Redistricting Advocacy Team ([email protected]).
LWVMD Redistricting Team - #FairMaps
Hearing on Disciplinary Records
A hearing on the first of the 5 Reforms that LWVMD is supporting, SB 178 - Public Information Act - Personnel Records - Investigations of Law Enforcement Officers (Anton's Law) was held on January 21st. You can watch the presentation by the sponsor, the witness testimony and legislator discussion here.
This bill would amend Maryland’s Public Information Act (MPIA) which prohibits disclosure of disciplinary files. It would change the law to state that investigation of misconduct by a law enforcement officer, including an internal investigatory record, a hearing record and records relating to a disciplinary decision would not be considered personnel records and therefore remove police discipline files from the “shall deny” section of the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) and put them in the “may deny” section of the MPIA. This would allow the possibility of investigating how a complaint of police misconduct was handled.
Future Hearing on Mental Health Services in Schools
The next hearing on one of our priority bills: HB 496 Primary and Secondary Education - Mental Health Services - Expansion (Counselors Not Cops Act) will take place on Wednesday, February 3 in the House Ways and Means Committee. You can watch the hearing live, or wait until I send you the link to the exact portion of the hearing that addresses this bill. It would divert the $10 million dollars that the state now gives to local school districts to hire armed police officers to work in schools on a regular basis and instead require that those funds be used to contract with school psychologists, social workers and counselors or to expand the availability of other mental and behavioral health services.