Protecting the Vote 2022 Issue Paper

PROTECTING THE VOTE: 2022 Advocacy Priorities

“Protecting the vote” is no longer simply a basic principle of the League of Women Voters — these days it’s an urgent mission. Nationwide, we’re witnessing attempts both subtle and blatant to make access to the ballot more difficult, especially for certain populations. Although voters in Maryland encounter fewer barriers than in many other states, there is still room for improvement.

Compared with last year, fewer election-related bills are expected to be introduced during the upcoming session. The Maryland General Assembly will be focusing much of its attention on legislative redistricting instead, plus they are reluctant to change election procedures during an election year. A few emergency bills will propose changes to how the 2022 elections are conducted. Most bills, though, wouldn’t take effect until 2023 at the earliest.

A number of important issues were left partially or completely unresolved at the end of the last session. The League will continue to advocate for improvements in these areas:

* ALLOWING PROCESSING OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS BEFORE ELECTION DAY. LWVMD supports the increased use of mail-in ballots, which includes those returned in official drop boxes as well as those sent via the post office. No one can predict how many people will choose to vote by mail in 2022, however it’s likely to be far more than in pre-pandemic times. Thanks to legislation passed in 2021 (https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2021RS/Chapters_noln/CH_514_hb1048e.pdf), before the June 2022 Primary Election all registered voters will be sent an application for a mail-in ballot, with the option of receiving one automatically in the future (also referred to as the permanent absentee ballot list). The League strongly supported this legislation last year. You can read our testimony here: https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/cmte_testimony/2021/wam/1NjAPvBlDeBLaAvrV2NvZP72POfhcCjUf.pdf .

The canvass of mail-in ballots entails several time-consuming preliminary steps: logging the arrival time of the ballot; verifying that no other ballots have been received from that voter; and examining the envelope for a missing signature, and if so, contacting the voter to “cure” the problem by providing a signature before the statutory deadline. Once this pre-processing is completed, the accepted ballots are opened, duplicated if necessary to ensure readability, tabulated by high-speed scanners, and stored securely until it’s time to release the results. 

Under current law, local Boards of Elections cannot begin even the preliminary processing until the Thursday after Election Day. Due to the vast increase in mail-in voting in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ballot processing was permitted to start early that year under a temporary emergency order. Without this head start, it would have been very difficult for some local Boards of Elections to finish counting the votes in time. The effort required hiring more canvassers and allocating more space, but most local Boards welcomed the extra time. 

Several bills were introduced in 2021 to make starting early a permanent option for the local Boards of Elections. We favor this policy. Unfortunately, the session ended with no agreement between the two chambers as to how far in advance of Election Day local officials should be allowed to start processing ballots, so it reverted to “zero days.” Several emergency bills to remedy this problem in 2022 are already in the works. Hopefully the General Assembly can concur on a time frame.

* EXPANDING BALLOT ACCESS FOR ELIGIBLE INCARCERATED AND RETURNING CITIZENS. The League supported legislation that in 2016 restored full voting rights to non-felons who are currently incarcerated and to felons who have served their sentences and are returning to their communities. However, no system was put in place to help these people register to vote, receive and return a ballot, and obtain election-related information and instructions. Legislation passed in 2021 to set up such a system was ultimately watered down, and some important provisions removed. (See https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2021RS/bills/hb/hb0222E.pdf, and note all the strikethroughs from the original “Value My Vote Act” wording.) LWVMD will again join with other advocates urging legislators, along with state corrections and election officials, to address these deficiencies and prevent disenfranchisement of eligible citizens.

* IMPROVING ACCESSIBILITY FOR ALL VOTERS. The League works closely with policymakers, election officials, and advocacy partners who share the goal of increasing voter participation. Last year, bills were passed to ensure more accessible siting of Early Voting centers and ballot drop boxes. This year, several legislators plan to propose a variety of additional enhancements to make voting easier and polling places more welcoming for people who have disabilities, transportation difficulties, language barriers, and other obstacles. The good news is that straightforward, relatively minor upgrades can often be implemented by modifying regulations and/or training protocols instead of passing new laws. This can be preferable to locking a rule into law — experience may show that a different procedure would be more effective, and it is easier to modify a regulation.

* URGING A FAIRER SYSTEM TO FILL LEGISLATIVE VACANCIES. The League has long had a position supporting special elections to fill vacancies in the General Assembly, thereby giving constituents a stronger voice in choosing their representatives. Currently, the Governor appoints a candidate recommended by the political party that last held the vacant seat. This creates a system wherein a very small group of political insiders decides the representation of over 40,000 residents each time a vacancy occurs. Maryland is one of 22 states that allow such vacancies to be filled by appointment rather than by the democratic process of a special election.

Maryland should end the cycle in which between a quarter and a third of all voters are represented by legislators who either weren’t elected or were given the advantage of incumbency at the time of the next election thanks to their prior appointment. This practice also disenfranchises voters who aren’t registered with either major political party, or who have no affiliation with their party’s central committee. Our neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Delaware fill legislative vacancies through special elections, and even Georgia and Texas do so.

We urge the General Assembly to pass legislation to address this issue. Because it’s difficult to hold a special election when an upcoming regular election is imminent, an appropriate cut-off date should be specified. 

Unsurprisingly, it’s challenging to get buy-in for this proposal from legislators who were themselves appointed to their seats and thus had the benefit of incumbency at the next regular election. We’ll keep up our efforts, though.

Note: Special elections also offer an opportunity to use Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a system the city of Takoma Park has already implemented for its municipal elections. New York City has done likewise, and the entire state of Maine relies on RCV for its statewide and federal elections. Using RCV for special elections to fill a legislative vacancy would have the added benefit of going straight to a general election with no need to hold a primary.

* RESTRUCTURING THE SELECTION OF CIRCUIT COURT JUDGES. Maryland’s Circuit Courts are where jury trials are held, although some cases may be decided by a judge only. Two proposals are likely to be introduced concerning the selection of these judges. One would change the nomination of Circuit Court Judges from a partisan basis to nonpartisan, similar to Boards of Education. The other would eliminate contested elections and provide instead that they be appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the state Senate. After ten years they would be subject to a retention election, similar to the process for appellate court judges.

Nonpartisan Election of Judges — Maryland’s process for electing Circuit Court judges is unusual. Although it is desirable that judges be nonpartisan, they are nominated on party ballots and therefore only voters affiliated with the Republican or Democratic parties can vote for them. All candidates appear on both parties’ ballots, and the top finishers in each party’s primary are then placed on the general election ballot. However, this process excludes the increasing number of unaffiliated voters from the key step of selecting nominees for these offices. It is also confusing to voters as the top vote-getters in one party may be different from the winners in the other party, yet no party identification appears on the general election ballot. In many counties, the incumbent judges run unopposed, so voters see the same names on both the primary and general election ballots. The proposed change would mandate that candidates for Circuit Court Judge appear on the nonpartisan section of primary ballots so all voters can participate in selecting the nominees to go on the general election ballot.

Eliminating Contested Elections of Circuit Court Judges — Under current law, a Circuit Court judge appointed by the Governor must stand for election at the next general election, and any qualified attorney may run against them. LWVMD supports a system in which candidates for judge are appointed by the Governor from names recommended by a merit selection panel and are then subject to a retention election (i.e., the ballot lists the judge’s name with the question “Should this judge be retained in office?” and voters mark Yes or No). This legislation has been introduced in prior years, but opponents have argued that contested elections are needed to ensure there is diversity and that the Governor does not appoint only members of her or his own party. 

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IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE: Detailed information and updates on the League’s advocacy can be found at the LWVMD Action Blog (https://www.lwvmd.org/action_blog). Information on all bills, including sponsors, committee hearing dates, and more, is available at the Maryland General Assembly website (https://mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite/). Click on “Video Tutorials” under the heading “Quick Links” at the bottom of the MGA home page for helpful guidance in navigating the website.




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Paid Family Leave 2022 Issue Paper

Issue Paper - Paid Family Leave 

While COVID-19 has continued to be ever present in our lives it has shown the incredible inequity when it comes to Marylanders domestic life. COVID-19 has highlighted that legislation must change with the needs of the people. 

The past two years have shown us that with persistent shut-downs, school closings, remote work, and lingering illness Paid Family Leave is now a necessity. Not only have families across Maryland had to cope with increasing unexpected responsibilities at home, but the unexpected job loss that comes with extended absences and no recourse of protection. Ensuring substantial and adequate family leave would ensure that Marylanders, statistically most often women, who stay home to care for loved ones will be protected. 

LWVMD supports Paid Family Leave based not only on our own positions, but LWVUS positions. LWVMD supports meeting basic human needs so that no family or individual finds themselves in poverty whatever the circumstances might be. LWVMD has been committed to this since 2013. Beyond this LWVMD also holds strong positions on children’s services founded through a study in 1995. The first goal of this position is to support “making the needs of children a high priority of the government.” Without Paid Family Leave many Maryland families will find themselves in situations where the primary caregiver, while still typically mothers, but an ever growing number of fathers, are forced to leave newborn, or newly adopted children, mere weeks after bringing them home. If the primary caregiver has to take unpaid leave the burden of supporting the family could rest on the partner if the caregiver even has one. 

In 2017, LWVUS sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to pass comprehensive legislation ensuring Paid Family Leave. LWVUS believes this legislation will “provide essential support and create opportunity for all working people and families, to help ensure that people can take the time they need to address serious health issues, to promote a more level playing field for businesses of all sizes and to strengthen our national economy.” They also believe that this will address ever changing disparities across the different demographics in the workforce. 

LWVMD remains committed to partnering with other organizations in the Time to Care coalition. This coalition was formed to fix the egregious error that “in Maryland, even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 56 percent of working people.”  They believe that passing Paid Family leave will ensure the following:

  • Not having to choose between job and family;
  • Older adults and working people of all ages can get the support they need to receive and provide critical care;
  • People – especially women – aren’t forced to leave the labor force to care for their families or health, reducing turnover for employers and boosting the economy;
  • A stronger economy, healthier families and businesses, greater equity regardless of a person’s job and more workplace equality for women.

For the fourth year in a row the Time to Care Act (HB8) has been introduced in the House by Delegate Valderrama. While it has strong support from Speaker Jones, Senate President Fergueson has already stated that he believes the bill needs more work. 

If you wish to update your email subscription preferences so that you can focus your attention on the issues most critical to you. Simply click the link in the footer of any email from LWVMD and uncheck the issue areas you’d rather not receive updates on for now. You can always re-subscribe here: https://www.lwvmd.org/action_signup 

Even if you aren’t subscribed to receive emails in a particular issue area, you can always find updates about these issues on our new Action Blog page. The Action Blog will be a home for all of the updates and Action Alerts shared by our advocates - so you can catch up any time.

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Expanding Access to Health Care 2022 Issue Paper

Expanding Access to Affordable Health Care

As we enter the third year of the Covid pandemic, it is clearer than ever that all Marylanders need accessible, affordable, and equitable health care. The League of Women Voters of Maryland supports the position that healthcare is a basic human right and every U.S. resident should have access to a basic level of care that includes the prevention of disease, health promotion and education, primary care (including prenatal and reproductive health), acute care, long-term care, and mental health care. 

After passage of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable care Act (ACA) in 2010, the percentage of uninsured Marylanders fell. Substantial gains in health care coverage were made due to enrollment in qualified health plans through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, as well as due to the expansion of Maryland Medical Assistance (Medicaid).  

Per the Maryland Legislature’s Issue Paper for the 2022 Legislative Session on Health and Health Insurance, 6% (>360,000) of Marylanders remain uninsured. The League will support key legislative efforts in the 2022 Maryland General Assembly session to reduce that number, and increase health care access, affordability, and equity. 

Legislation will be introduced to assist small businesses to offer their employees health insurance coverage by allocating federal funds to subsidize the cost of healthcare premiums.

 As noted in the  1/3/2022 Baltimore Sun Guest Commentary by Senator Katie Fry Hester, and Delegates Robbyn Lewis and Brooke Lierman:

 Only 37% of small businesses in the state provide health coverage, compared to 95% of large employers. Workers at those small businesses must either pay for coverage themselves or go without, leaving them exposed to major health costs. This is a matter of equity. Maryland has the highest per capita rate of small businesses owned by people of color in the nation.

Legislation is being drafted that would allow certain undocumented Maryland residents, including pregnant women and children who have aged out of foster care, to apply for health coverage through the Maryland Health Exchange, CHIP, and Medicaid. A large percentage of the >360,000 Maryland residents without health insurance coverage are non-citizen immigrants. Being prohibited from health care coverage through both the Health Benefit Exchange and Medicaid, these patients must obtain medical care and medications at clinics with limited capacity and funds to assist them. Thus, these patients are also often forced to come to hospital Emergency Departments for non-emergency care: the most expensive option for them, for hospitals, and for the State of Maryland. 

Additionally, with the stress and isolation caused by the pandemic, both adults and children are more at risk for mental health problems, and thus more in need of behavioral health services. Per a 10/29/2021 Baltimore Sun article, the CDC reported that “Maryland and the United States saw record-breaking numbers of fatal overdoses [in 2020]…. Maryland suffered its worst year on record as 2,773 people died of drug and alcohol overdoses in 2020, the highest number ever recorded.” 

The League supports legislative efforts being introduced this year which seek to address these behavioral health challenges. Some of that legislation includes:  

HB56: Commission on Behavioral Health and Mental Health Treatment would establish a Commission on Student Behavioral Health and Mental Health Treatment to study, evaluate, update and revise guidelines for student behavioral health and mental health treatment and practices.

The Covid pandemic has proven that we are all in this together. We must work to ensure everyone’s physical and mental health and safety if we are to stay safe and healthy ourselves. Increasing the number of Marylanders with access to affordable, equitable healthcare keeps more of us safe, ensures the best health outcomes, decreases the burden on our overwhelmed hospital Emergency systems, and keeps down the cost of healthcare in our State by reducing the costs of uncompensated care. 

HB6/ SB150: Maryland Medical Assistance Program Dental Coverage for Adults proposes expansion of Medicaid coverage to include dental care. Lack of  adequate dental care can contribute to broader, untreated infections that further stress resources in already crowded Emergency Departments. Expanding access to dental coverage provides access to preventive services that can improve the health of Marylanders while reducing unnecessary, high cost emergency treatment. 

 

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Campaign Reform 2022 Issue Paper

Issue Paper – Campaign Reform

Every election cycle, increasingly large amounts of money are poured into political campaigns by wealthy individuals, corporations, political action committees (PACs), and sources that are difficult to trace. Representative Democracy is being distorted by big spending in elections. This can impact political equity and discourage citizen participation in the political process. The League believes that the public has the right to know who is using money to influence elections and how much they are spending. 

The LWVUS position on campaign finance supports: 

  • Public financing of elections, either voluntary or mandatory, in which candidates must abide by reasonable spending limits; 
  • enhanced enforcement of campaign finance laws that includes changes to ensure that regulatory agencies are properly funded, staffed, and structured to avoid partisan deadlock in the decision-making process; 
  • abolishing Super PACs and abolishing spending coordinated or directed by candidates (other than a candidate’s own campaign committee);
  • and restrictions on direct donations and bundling by lobbyists, which may include monetary limits as well as other regulations.

LWVMD has supported campaign reform bills in three major areas: voluntary programs that prohibit accepting large campaign contributions and encourage candidates to accept small donations from a large pool of donors in order to qualify for matching public funds; legislation that increases transparency in campaign fundraising, spending, refinements to campaign finance laws that increase compliance; and legislation that seeks to eliminate outright deception in campaign advertising.  

In 2021 we supported HB 415 which made significant changes to the gubernatorial public financing system. These changes include allowing participating tickets to ONLY accept small donations from private individuals, increasing the amount of matching funds to qualified candidates (based on a formula that allows those who participate in the program to be more competitive), and raising the number of private donations a ticket must receive in order to participate in the program. This bill also requires the Governor to include a budget appropriation that ensures the Fair Campaign Fund has sufficient revenue to be viable. Currently the fund is financed mainly by a check-off on income tax forms and penalties that are paid to the state for violations of campaign finance laws. 

This session, there is likely to be a push to expand this program to candidates for the General Assembly. This bill has been submitted for at least a decade, but it seems to be gaining momentum. 

Provisions in the federal Freedom to Vote Act will create the opportunity for states to create small dollar funding systems which will give voters more of a voice in elections. Over the break, LWVUS sent boxes of half page flyers to state League offices that cover the merits of small dollar funding. They are asking us to use these flyers over the course of the next year as we work to pass local and state legislation to support such programs. 

Senator Jackson has pre-filed SB 15 Election Law – Campaign Finance – Enforcement which says that candidates who have been found to be in violation of campaign finance laws and have not paid their penalty, will be prohibited from running for office and may be subject to additional fines.  LWVMD will support this bill. 

Other legislation that will prohibit the use of altered images of election opponents in campaign ads as well as bills to detect foreign influence in elections may be submitted again. As stated above, LWVMD is committed to support legislation that promotes fair campaigns, transparency in funding, and effective enforcement of campaign laws. 

If you wish to update your email subscription preferences so that you can focus your attention on the issues most critical to you. Simply click here. You can always re-subscribe here: https://www.lwvmd.org/action_signup 

Even if you aren’t subscribed to receive emails in a particular issue area, you can always find updates about these issues on our new Action Blog page. The Action Blog will be a home for all of the updates and Action Alerts shared by our advocates - so you can catch up any time.

For brief and more up-to-the minute details, follow @LWVMD on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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Affordable Housing 2022 Issue Paper

Issue Paper 2022 – Affordable Housing, Deborah Mitchell

For over forty years, inequitable access to an insufficient inventory of affordable housing in Maryland has been a problem. In the last two years, COVID-19 related economic challenges have exacerbated the problem with increasing housing instability—particularly in low-income minority communities. As revealed in a Community Development Network of Maryland report, approximately 79% of tenants behind on rent in Maryland are black and brown, 49% are unemployed, and 78% have an income of less than $50,000. In addition, tenants are more vulnerable to landlord’s unfair housing practices such as a low threshold “just cause” lease terminations and evictions.

The League of Women Voters of Maryland studied housing in 1982 and 1983. Research revealed a state policy on housing which was fragmented and lacking priorities. It proposed action to develop a state housing policy responsive to the need for more affordable housing and to clarify landlord/tenant relationships.

Congruent with the following LWVMD Housing position support statements:

  • Housing programs targeted to those geographic areas with proportionally the highest level of housing assistance needs.
  • The change of state landlord/tenant laws to require a clearly written lease which states the rights and responsibilities of both parties and includes a warranty of habitability.
  • Requirement of landlords to state reasons for either terminating tenancy or initiating eviction proceedings.

Maryland lawmakers proposed a ‘Housing Justice Package’ for the 2021 Legislative Session.  The package of bills included an overhaul of the state’s eviction process and new emergency restrictions on landlords. In addition, the legislation proposed to codify and expand current moratoriums on evictions through 2021 and prevent landlords from charging late fees or increasing rent during the state of emergency (Maryland Matters, Lawmakers Eye ‘Housing Justice Package’, December 28, 2020). Unfortunately, many of the “package bills” were not passed. An initiative to give tenants access to counsel in eviction cases was passed during the 2021 Session (Maryland Matters, Lawmakers Vow Renewed Push for Tenant Protections In 2022 Session, January 7, 2002).

For the 2022 Legislative Session, affordable housing proponents have pre-filed legislation to protect tenants.

HB134 Failure to Pay Rent Proceedings - Prohibition on Rent Increases and Sealing of Court Records has been pre-filed. A similar bill was introduced last session. It prohibits a landlord from increasing a tenant's rent because a judgment was entered against the tenant in a failure to pay rent action; requiring the District Court to seal all court records within 60 days after the final resolution of a failure to pay rent proceeding.

SB6 Landlord and Tenant – Residential Leases – Tenant Rights and Protections (Tenant Protection Act of 2022) has also been pre-filed and a similar bill was introduced last session.  Landlords are required to disclose to prospective tenants if a ratio utility billing system is used; makes a lease provision unenforceable if the landlord fails to make the disclosure; requires a landlord to document a bill for certain utilities; ensures that a tenant organization has the right of free assembly during reasonable hours and on reasonable notice to the landlord; expands provisions of law regarding the rights of tenants to include victims of stalking.

Preventing unnecessary foreclosures and home loss, protecting the rights of tenants, and providing equitable homeownership opportunities, housing and community development partners can prevent the COVID crisis from further devastating the fragile home ownership ecosystem.

If you wish to update your email subscription preferences so that you can focus your attention on the issues most critical to you. Simply click the link in the footer of any email from LWVMD and uncheck the issue areas you’d rather not receive updates on for now. You can always re-subscribe here: https://www.lwvmd.org/action_signup 

Even if you aren’t subscribed to receive emails in a particular issue area, you can always find updates about these issues on our new Action Blog page. The Action Blog will be a home for all of the updates and Action Alerts shared by our advocates - so you can catch up any time.

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Redistricting 2022 Issue Paper

Issue Paper January 2022

Redistricting Reform in Maryland  

Executive Summary  

Article I Sec. 2 of the U.S. Constitution requires a census every ten years to redraw electoral districts. The Maryland General Assembly (MGA) has adopted congressional maps during a December 2021 Special Session, giving little voice to voters in local communities. We expect the MGA to adopt its legislative maps during the 2022 Regular Session in a similar fashion. The League of Women Voters of Maryland advocates for Maryland to adopt a truly independent redistricting commission. We believe that including voters, especially communities of interest, in a fair and transparent redistricting process is best to advance democracy in Maryland. 

LWV Position on Redistricting

In 2004, the League of Women Voters of Maryland studied and reached a consensus position on Maryland’s redistricting process: Action to assure a state redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation in the state legislature and House of Representatives with maximum opportunity for public scrutiny. 

The LWVMD also has a  position on single versus multiple districts, affecting our district maps support. (See the fact sheet.)

The LWVUS has additional standards, including: 

The standards on which a redistricting plan is based must be enforceable in court, require substantially equal population, geographic contiguity, and effective representation of racial and linguistic minorities, provide for the promotion of partisan fairness, preservation and protection of “communities of interest,” and respect for boundaries of municipalities and counties. Compactness and competitiveness may also be considered as criteria so long as they do not conflict with the above standards. The standards must explicitly reject protection of incumbents and preferential treatment for a political party through such devices as considering party affiliation, voting history, and candidate residence.  

Legal History

The U.S. Supreme Court declared in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment requires states to create legislative districts of substantially equal populations based on the fundamental principle of democracy: one person, one vote. Additionally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 restricts states from using the redistricting process to dilute the power of minority voters.

The Maryland Constitution directs the governor to present a draft state legislative map. However, the General Assembly may consider any map proposed by its members. While the MD Constitution is silent on congressional districts, the forty-seven Maryland Senate districts must “consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population.” Each senatorial district also has three delegates, representing one-third of the population in a single-member district. Alternatively, a community may be divided into one single-member and one multi-member district. Maryland is only one of ten states to allow this, which can result, in some cases, in more representation of women and people of color. 

Following the 2010 Census, the Maryland legislative and executive branches were controlled by the Democratic Party, allowing them to draw districts to their own advantage. The Maryland Constitution does not address congressional districts, leaving only those standards established by the Supreme Court and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect voters. In Lamone v. Benisek (2019), plaintiffs argued that the congressional maps represented a partisan attempt to dilute Republican votes. Deciding the Maryland case jointly with Rucho v. Common Cause of North Carolina (2019), the Supreme Court declared that there was no constitutional basis for the federal courts to rule on a matter of partisan gerrymandering, leaving the issue to state legislatures and state courts.

The 2021-2022 Redistricting Process

While Governor Hogan created a multi-partisan  Maryland Citizen Redistricting Commission in 2021, the General Assembly established its own Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission.  Both commissions produced congressional and legislative maps.  In a December 2021 Special Session, the MGA adopted the LRAC congressional map, the Governor vetoed the bill, and the MGA overrode his veto.  We expect a similar result for the LRAC legislative maps during the 2022 General Session. 

LWVMD 2021-2022 Strategies

Strategy 1: Advocating for Legislative Maps that Protect Communities

We have testified to the MCRC and LRAC extensively during 2021, and will do so again as their maps are presented during the General Session. However, the new information we can provide may be limited to comments on single- versus multi-member districts and elevating new third-party, non-partisan assessments on the final LRAC map.   We encourage Local Leagues to assess the impact of proposed legislative maps and apprise members of areas of concern. League members can sign up to testify as individuals (not representing the League) and we encourage you to do so. Support for writing testimony can be found at: CHARGE Redistricting Hub

We continue to monitor redistricting bills in the MGA that focus on county commissioners and school boards. In 2021, LWVMD supported HB655 Local Elections - County Commissioner and County Boards of Education - District Voting, proposed by Delegate Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) affecting five rural counties and Montgomery County. HB655 would have changed the majority-selected process for electing commissioners to require each commissioner to be elected by a majority of voters in their district. Montgomery County may propose a bill to similarly change their Board of Education process, the only one affected by this.  Sadly, some local Leagues have reported that counties that would have been affected by HB655 have gerrymandered their Commission districts for the first time in 2021.

Strategy 2: Reforming the Process for 2030 and Beyond 

In previous sessions of the MGA we have supported a constitutional amendment, such as the bills proposed by Former Del. Malone  (R-Anne Arundel), to establish a truly independent redistricting commission. Sen. Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Del. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) proposed a bill in 2020, The Fair Maps Act,  to create statutory limitations on congressional districts and protections for communities of interest. These bills came before the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee but did not get out of committee.  

Maryland needs legislation or a constitutional amendment to establish a truly independent redistricting commission and to place limits on congressional districts for the future. We now have additional examples of what makes independent commissions successful (California and Colorado) and what does not (Virginia). Additional advocacy and a new study is appropriate.

Strategy 3: Judicial Action 

Maryland’s congressional map will be law, unless the plaintiffs in two lawsuits already filed in Maryland courts prevail. Without federal recourse for partisan gerrymandering, these cases will likely be decided in the Maryland courts. We will continue to participate in discussions for this scenario by Tame the Gerrymander/The People’s Maps Maryland coalition for a joint strategy, including drawing a coalition map to guide the Court.

Strategy 4: Supporting Reform at the Federal Level 

In addition to participating in the LWVUS People Powered Fair Maps campaign, we encourage members to support federal advocacy efforts. The LWVUS supports the Freedom to Vote Act that includes criteria for independent commissions and would reduce gerrymandering.  The League also supports the restoration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 through the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Learn more about protecting voting rights at LWV.org.

How to stay informed

Follow @LWVMD on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Police Reform 2022 Issue Paper

Issue Paper 2022 – Police Reform

In response to nationwide outrage over police brutality that is disproportionately inflicted on Black and Brown citizens, and after years of work by representatives in the Maryland General Assembly (MGA), victim’s families, and advocacy groups, the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 was passed last session. The Act is a large four part package of policing legislation that includes significant law enforcement reforms. Passed by veto override after months of negotiations, the Act includes: Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) reform, repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), limitations on use of force, local control of the Baltimore City Police Department, required body worn cameras, and much more. 

The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) includes over 90 organizations, including LWVMD, that advocated for five reforms in 2021. The League provided testimony on five bills. Of the bills supported by MCJPA, all were included in the Act with the exception of the removal of police from schools. The coalition was not entirely satisfied with the legislation and there remains work to do in some areas. 

The League’s support of police accountability reform legislation is based on Virginia Case’s 2020 statement in support of the federal Justice in Policing Act, which signals the support for police reform legislation. Additionally, based on the LWVUS position on Individual Liberties (below), the case can be made that the provisions of the Constitution have not been equally applied for all Americans, and have been stretched to their limit when it comes to law enforcement and people of color. 

“The League of Women Voters of the United States believes in the individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. The League is convinced that individual rights now protected by the Constitution should not be weakened or abridged,”

The LWVUS Racial Justice Resolution and a wide variety of other positions also support police accountability reforms.

Priorities for the 2022 Session include the introduction of three bills and ongoing support for two bills passed last session. While the bills to be introduced in the MGA can be supported through testimony and meetings with legislators, the Police Accountability Board (PAB) legislation and MPIA support will require coordination with local leagues and coalitions. Both of these tactics will be used in support of these police accountability reforms this session.

Counselors Not Cops 

In 2021, legislation was sponsored by Del. Jheanelle Wilkins to remove school resource officers and fund mental health resources. Every Maryland school district utilizes school police, also known as School Resource Officers (SROs) despite evidence that police presence criminalizes students for minor behaviors without addressing serious safety threats, perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline. This bill is based on the lack of reliable evidence that SROs keep students and educators safe, as well the fact that police in schools disproportionately harm Black students and students with disabilities.

Empower the Baltimore Civilian Review Board

The responsibilities and functions of the Baltimore City Civilian Review Board, as established in the 1999 statute, are largely duplicative of those required of a new police accountability board. Due to the conflicting statutes, during the 2022 legislative session, the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability – led by partners who are directly impacted by police abuse and including members of the current Baltimore City Civilian Review Board – will support a bill to ensure that the CRB structure and authority remains intact while giving it the additional powers and scope of police accountability boards. 

Updates to Body Worn Camera Legislation 

Under consideration is a bill to require body-worn cameras for plain-clothes police officers, but information about this bill is still to be determined. 

Implementation of Anton’s Law

Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT) is developing an overview of how to use the MPIA and the impact of Anton’s Law. Education, support, and monitoring is needed to ensure that unreasonable barriers, such as exorbitant fees for body camera footage, does not prevent the successful implementation of the law. 

County Police Accountability Boards

Every county and municipality in Maryland must implement a Police Accountability Board (PAB) by July 2022 (or a date defined locally in an MOU) to receive police misconduct complaints, appoint civilians to the Administrative Charging Committee, and to make policy recommendations. Local governments must draft legislation that define how the PABs are implemented, including composition, terms, funding, staffing, etc. A weakness of the Act is that it leaves room for local governments to pass legislation that does not adhere to the intent of holding police accountable to communities. Local groups will need to work together to demand transparency from county governments and advocate for legislation that enables community oversight of misconduct. 

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Transportation 2022 Issue Paper

Issue Paper 2022 – Transportation

After the many complications that Covid 19 has brought, we continue to find more emphasis being placed on transportation for essential workers, ways to get to health care, and staying safe. If we think of some key transportation elements, there’s equity, environment, and safety. They all have bearing on our democracy and LWV is concerned about all of them. We should be concerned that workers can safely and efficiently get to jobs via transit. Health care, education and voting should be accessible by everyone. Our environment should be cared for as we preserve natural resources. Our government should coordinate on multiple levels so populations can be equitably served.

Transportation issues are woven throughout the action of LWVMD. Of course, transportation is about cars and highways; how people and goods are moved by bus, truck, train, air and ship; how safe it is to bike and walk in a neighborhood; how money is raised, spent, and kept at various levels; where houses are built. Transportation issues affect everyone and LWVMD advocates analyze bills and promote those that support equity, our environment and safety through good transportation policy.

Equity in Transportation Sector– Guidelines and Analyses has been pre-filed in both the House and Senate. A similar bill was introduced last year, too late to be acted upon by both sides. It establishes a commission on transportation equity and requires bills to be examined through an equity lens before any changes can be made as well as added analyses to bills.

Maryland Transit Administration – Conversion to Zero-Emission Buses, Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act Revisions has also been pre-filed in both the House and Senate. Last year, the parent bill was passed laying out the method that the state should use in converting its buses to electric. Since transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in our state and country, many efforts to tackle the immense challenge in reducing transportation emissions focus on electrification of a vehicle fleet.. Here, as in many bills, costs of implementation are a key challenge. Some components that were omitted in the parent bill are now addressed and include workforce training and annual reports.

Safety is always a concern for transportation and another bill is anticipated to address this issue. We are expecting it to be called the SAFE Roads Act and it requires the State Highway Association to review high pedestrian and bike injury corridors and implement improvements. It also requires increased spending for pedestrian and bike safety measures in all improvement projects. 

Last year there were a number of bills addressing Public Private Partnership (P3) reforms. These all failed to pass and we expect to see one or more that include relevant reforms. These reforms are not anticipated to affect the expansion of I-495/I-270 or the American Legion Bridge because of timing. Bills are aimed to impact other future P3 agreements with elements that may include transparency, accountability, community impacts, and governments. 

MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) rail extension bill passed last year and a veto by Governor Hogan was overridden allowing some trains to potentially deviate from the normal Maryland route through D.C. and into Virginia. Also, there were  last-minute amendments in the bill calling for the MTA to look at extending Penn Line service from Perryville in Cecil County to link up with Philadelphia’s SEPTA commuter rail at Newark and connecting the Penn and Camden Lines in downtown Baltimore. By having a longer rail route, savings of time, money and impact on the environment could be affected. This year, we may see more bills that involve MARC service.

Both the House and Senate will see environmental bills that may involve transportation as well. Solutions may include investing in better transit services, encouraging smart roadway pricing, and better syncing transportation with land use. Some of the biggest challenges in transportation can be solved through better land use. Bringing essential trips closer to where people live is a vital part of transportation. Environmental justice may see more bills that help us to implement a more environmental and just transportation system. 

Covid 19 has brought many changes to all our lives. With a better transportation system we expect a faster economic recovery, more equitable access, safety, and enhancement to our environment. Monitoring bills and advocating for good transportation affects everyone. 

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Even if you aren’t subscribed to receive emails in a particular issue area, you can always find updates about these issues on our new Action Blog page. The Action Blog will be a home for all of the updates and Action Alerts shared by our advocates - so you can catch up any time.

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Cannabis 2022 Issue Paper

Issue Paper 2022 - Cannabis 

While many states across the country have kept ahead of the curve when it comes to legalization of marjiuana and the justice that it brings to the communities that face systemic punishments for its crimes, Maryland has not been able to keep up to date with ever growing public support and racial equality. 

Supporting the total decriminalization and legalization of cannabis is one action LWVMD plans on taking on under its own 2012 position and newly enacted DEI policy. 

LWVMD’s position states support for:

  1. Legalization of marijuana for any use, including medicinal use, subject to restrictions on production and distribution.
  2. No agreement was reached as to the legalization of other non-prescription illegal drugs classified as controlled substances such as heroin or cocaine for medicinal or any use.

This comes from the study of Drug and Controlled Substances Abuse, Policies and Laws in Maryland that was adopted at the 2009 LWVMD Convention and readopted at the LWVMD 2011 Convention. The study was undertaken to afford LWVMD positions that could be used to address proposed legislation on drug abuse and controlled substances, especially marijuana.

LWVMD has also joined the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition. This coalition stands behind the decriminalization, legalization, and increased economic benefits of cannabis in the state of Maryland. 

HB1 was pre-filed in the House which would allow a referendum to be added to the state constitution that would allow for “...THE USE, DISTRIBUTION, POSSESSION, REGULATION, AND TAXATION OF CANNABIS WITHIN THE STATE.”

Putting the referendum on the ballot would allow the voters to decide if they support the legalization of cannabis for a multitude of uses. However, it would not be enacted until July 2023 - eight months after the election. This would allow legislators time to enact laws governing the parameters for production and distribution which the League supports. LWVMD currently has no position of preference for referendum or straight vote through MGA. 

If you are interested in joining the LWVMD Team working on Cannabis legislation, or other DEI legislation initiatives, please reach out to Nikki Tyree at [email protected]

If you wish to update your email subscription preferences so that you can focus your attention on the issues most critical to you. Simply click the link in the footer of any email from LWVMD and uncheck the issue areas you’d rather not receive updates on for now. You can always re-subscribe here: https://www.lwvmd.org/action_signup 

Even if you aren’t subscribed to receive emails in a particular issue area, you can always find updates about these issues on our new Action Blog page. The Action Blog will be a home for all of the updates and Action Alerts shared by our advocates - so you can catch up any time.

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MARYLAND: Legislative leaders urged to ensure public access - specific recommendations from advocates for Open Government

Advocates for Open Government call on Senate and House Leadership to ensure public access during the 2022 legislative session

Suggest COVID-19 protocol improvements, and to make increased access permanent

With the legislative session scheduled to begin in less than a week, Common Cause MD, ACLU of Maryland, CASA, League of Women Voters of MD, NAACP Baltimore City Branch and MDDC Press Association are calling on both the Senate and House of Delegates to improve their COVID-19 protocols. The organizations today outlined reasonable recommendations and feedback that will help eliminate confusion and ensure the public can observe and participate remotely in both chambers during the full 90-day legislative session.

On Wednesday, the Senate and House of Delegates released COVID-19 protocols for the 2022 regular legislative session. Based on these guidelines, the House of Delegates has chosen to move forward with a hybrid process that includes in-person access to the Office Building and virtual access to committee proceedings throughout the entirety of the 90-day legislative session. The Senate has chosen to move forward with a more confusing process that includes hybrid for the first 30 days, with no ability for virtual participation for the remainder of the legislative session.

According to the organizations, the public’s ability to meaningfully and safely participate in the legislative process must be a priority as the Maryland General Assembly continues to navigate the COVID-19 public health crisis.

“The public health crisis forced the legislature to take steps to establish a more open and accessible process. But these changes should have been implemented long before the pandemic,” said Joanne Antoine, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “The newest Senate protocols will roll back this level of access after 30 days. Those who can’t come to Annapolis will be excluded from the legislative process. As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, it will be  difficult for many people who are considered high risk to participate. We must do better than this. Let’s learn from 2021 and make permanent a hybrid process that allows for meaningful participation both in-person and remotely.”

“While last year’s session also faced challenges, it brought out the positive impact that virtual engagement gives the residents of Maryland in the ability to testify,” said Nikki Tyree, Executive Director of League of Women Voters MD. “The Senate introducing these new restrictive and tone deaf rules raises the question if they are looking to keep that transparency.” 

“Marylanders need our elected officials and legislative process to be open and accountable, which is why it’s critical that the voting sessions and delegation meetings are live streamed throughout the entire legislative session,” Yanet Amanuel, ACLU of Maryland Interim Public Policy Director said. “It’s an important aspect of the legislative process that determines the outcome of a bill and should be transparent and accessible to the people.”

“The technology that we have opens access to our government,” said Reverend Kobi Little, President of NAACP Baltimore City Branch. “We must continue to utilize that technology during the entirety of this legislative session and going forward in future years.” 

“The House and Senate should do everything in their power to ensure that everyone has equal access to the legislative process – including providing real solutions to those who are non-English speaking,” said Cathryn Paul, CASA Government Relations and Public Policy Manager. “The most marginalized Marylanders, those facing the greatest hardships, need access to their representatives now more than ever.” 

Recommendations for both the House of Delegates and Senate:

  • Bill Analysis: Fiscal and policy notes must be made available on the MGA website prior to the 48-hour window for witness testimony. If bill analysis is not available before this window, the hearing should be rescheduled to a later date. 
  • Witness Sign Up: Assistance for those with disabilities and whose first language is not English continues to be an issue. The MGA should take steps to identify cases where assistance will be needed. We recommend providing the witness sign-up in other key languages including Spanish, and providing interpreters for testimony when requested. At a minimum, the witness sign-up form should be adjusted to include an option to indicate that interpretation is needed. Those needing a translator during a hearing should not be forced to testify at the end of the hearing. 
    • Additional: Organizations should also be provided the opportunity to register multiple people to testify on a bill through a single account. Many of our members don’t have emails or understand how to use MyMGA for registration. We must make the process less burdensome for those actively working to engage members of the public throughout the process. 
  • Hearings: During the 2021 regular legislative session, many advocates and members of the public expressed concerns about committees continuously going on mute and livestream cameras being shifted. We again recommend requiring that all members of a public body participating in a virtual meeting or proceeding to be clearly audible and visible at all times. 
    • Additional: The MGA should also continue to ensure adequate closed captioning for hearings and other streams.
  • Access to Testimony: OIS has designed a system to allow the public to upload written testimony. Written testimony should be made available online to the public in real-time instead of only after hearings conclude. 
  • Access to Legislators: During the 2021 regular legislative session, advocates and members of the public expressed concerns about the lack of responsiveness in legislative offices. We again urge the MGA to encourage legislators to provide public office hours with details on how to participate remotely and in-person. They should also ensure their phone and email inboxes are not full.
  • Continued use of YouTube and Social Media: We urge the MGA to continue utilizing Twitter to provide updates on the legislative process. Legislative proceedings should also continue to be streamed on YouTube.
  • Delegation Meetings: All Delegation meeting streams should be available through the MGA website, including those choosing to stream directly through platforms other than YouTube, like Facebook.
  • Streaming: The MGA website should outline a clear process for reporting access issues directly to OIS in the instance a video stream goes down.
  • Equal Treatment of Registered Lobbyists: If public access has to be limited at a later time, registered lobbyists – including those who represent State Agencies – must adhere to the same restrictions imposed on the general public. 

Senate – Recommendations for COVID-19 Protocol Adjustments

  • Committee Access: The Senate should conduct all committee proceedings virtually for the full 90-day legislative session. If the Senate decides to move forward with its plan to shift to in-person beginning on February 14th, the ability to participate remotely must be provided to the public and advocates. This includes the ability to testify both remotely and in-person during hearings, as well as make video recording available for online viewing after the fact.
  • Witness Sign-Up: If hearings are conducted in-person beginning on February 14th, advocates and the public should have the ability to sign up to testify both online and in-person. The Senate must at least maintain the current 48 hour online window. If registration on the day of the hearing is allowed in person, the window for online sign up should also be extended. The testimony sign up deadline must be the same both online and in-person. 
  • Written Testimony: If the Senate chooses to move forward with its in-person plan beginning on February 14th, it’s critical we at least maintain the 48 hours window for online submission of written testimony. If written testimony is accepted in-person on the day of the hearing, the online submission deadline must be extended. Again, the deadline for submission of written testimony must be the same both online and in-person.
  • Voting Sessions: If the Senate decides to move forward with its in-person plan beginning on February 14th, it is critical that voting sessions continue to be livestreamed for the public. 
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