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. 



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. 

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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.

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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

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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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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]

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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. 

Black Voters, Baltimore County NAACP, League of Women Voters Baltimore County, and Common Cause Sue to Defend Voting Rights in Redistricting

MEDIA CONTACT: Meredith Curtis Goode, [email protected], 443-310-9946

Danielle Dyer, NAACP, [email protected]

Katie Scally, [email protected], 408-205-1257

LaQuita Howard, [email protected], o 202-843-0573, c 832-477-8370

BALTIMORE COUNTY, MD – Today, a group of Baltimore County voters joined with the Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, and Common Cause - Maryland in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the racially discriminatory and unlawful redistricting plan approved by the Baltimore County Council Monday evening. Despite a massive outcry from local voters and many options to create a fair plan offered by civil rights groups, the County Council voted for a plan that violates the racial fairness commands of the Voting Rights Act, which are meant to protect against diluting the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other Voters of Color, as well as BIPOC candidates. Black voters challenging the illegal redistricting plan are Charles Sydnor, Anthony Fugett, Dana Vickers Shelley, Danita Tolson, Sharon Blake, Gerald Morrison, and Niesha McCoy.

“Yesterday evening, the Baltimore County Council adopted Bill 103-21, Revision of Councilmanic Districts. The Council's defiant action violates the 15th Amendment of the United States Constitution, and The Voting Rights Act, the Federal statute designed to enforce the 15th Amendment,” said Dr. Danita Tolson, President of the Baltimore County NAACP. “By adopting this illegal legislation, the Baltimore County Council joins the ranks of infamous state and local politicians throughout the country who are adopting redistricting legislation designed specifically to solidify their incumbency and disenfranchise African American and other minority voters. It is abundantly clear that the Baltimore County Council's adopted redistricting legislation will result in continued dilution of African American and minority voting strength. Today, the Baltimore County NAACP along with other like’minded individuals and organizations have no choice but to seek redress in Federal court to stop such action.”

Census data shows that over the last two decades, racial diversity in Baltimore County has increased substantially, with Black, Latinx, and Asian populations each growing significantly. Now, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) residents make up 47 percent of the County’s population, up from 25 percent in 2000 and 35 percent in 2010.  Despite this population growth, the redistricting plan engages in racial gerrymandering to creates six majority white districts.  While Black people constitute 30 percent of the voting-age population of Baltimore County, under the County Council’s plan they will only have a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choice in just one of seven County Council districts. Conversely, while non-Latinx white people constitute 55 percent of the voting-age population of the County, they will control six of the seven County Council districts. The 2021 redistricting plan engages in racial gerrymandering by packing excessively high numbers of Black voters into its one majority-Black district, while also dividing a politically-cohesive Black communities into other Council districts, which illegally dilutes the voting influence of all Black voters.

“Despite the growing number of People of Color in our community, the Baltimore County Council drew racially gerrymandered maps,” said Ericka McDonaldLeague of Women Voters of Baltimore County co-president. “They ignored census data and violated theVoting Rights Act. The League will push for these maps to be redrawn to protect all voices in Baltimore County – not the political interest of the council.”

Plaintiffs seek a declaration from the federal court that the redistricting plan violates the Voting Rights Act, an injunction prohibiting Baltimore County from holding elections under this unlawful system, and an order mandating a redistricting plan for the election of members of the County Council and Board of Education that comports with the Voting Rights Act, as well as with all other relevant constitutional and statutory requirements.

“Throughout this year’s redistricting process, we and residents across Baltimore County called on Council members to follow the law and put the people above politics,” said Joanne Antoine, Executive Director of Common Cause – Maryland. “Instead, they chose to ignore the law at the expense of free and fair elections. The county’s voting districts don’t belong to politicians, they belong to the people. The people, specifically Black voters, have a right to have a voice in choosing their representatives and should not have to live a decade under an illegal map.”

“I take no pleasure in having to sue my County government,” said Plaintiff Charles E. Sydnor III, a voter in Baltimore County and Maryland State Senator representing District 44. “I have no doubt that its act will have an adverse effect on this entire County for years to come. It pains me that in 2021 we still find ourselves fighting against tactics meant to dilute voices in the political arena. It pains me that today we must sue for something as fundamental and basic as our full right to equally participate in the local governance of our communities.”

“Baltimore Council members have voted for a redistricting plan that is racially discriminatory,” said Plaintiff Dana Vickers Shelley, a voter in Baltimore County and Executive Director of the ACLU of Maryland. “Despite being in clear violation of the Voting Rights Act, they remain determined to protect their own self interests — their place and positions — above the rights of thousands of Black voters in the County who deserve fair representation. However comfortable Council members might feel about passing an illegal plan, the Voting Rights Act still exists and Black voters are determined to defend it and our right to have elected officials who represent us and our communities.”

“I served as President of the Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP in 2001 when we challenged the redistricting map,” said Plaintiff Anthony Fugett, a voter in Baltimore County. “The County Council listened to our request and created what is today the 4th District. Now in 2021 the current Council decided not to listen to some of its citizens who requested a map that represented the racial makeup of the County. Instead, they made their reelection the priority for the map. It is a sad day for Baltimore County when a citizen has to take the county you live in to Federal court to do their job.”

“Once again the politicians have decided what is best for the people who voted them into office,” said Plaintiff Gerald Morrison, a voter in Baltimore County. “I don't understand this. They have got to realize that we are the ones who put them in the office to do what we like to have done. The majority of the people did not want the redistricting map that the Baltimore County Council put forth. The majority of the people also felt that there could be a way that we could have two majority black districts and everything would be fine. The NAACP along with the ACLU have proven that it could be done. However, Baltimore County Council decided to go along with the map that everybody else was against."

"As a resident of the 4th District in Baltimore County, it is disgraceful that the Baltimore County Council doesn't care about its minority residents,” said Plaintiff Niesha McCoy, a voter in Baltimore County. “By approving this redistricting map, they knowingly violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."

The civil rights groups worked with an experienced emographer to analyze census data for Baltimore County, and proposed several alternative redistricting plans that fulfill the purpose of the Voting Rights Act by expanding election opportunities for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color voters relative to their increasing share of the population.     

The County Council plan’s exclusion of BIPOC voters from electoral opportunities perpetuates a long history of race discrimination in Baltimore County.  Until 2002, only white candidates were elected from every County Councilmanic district, all of which were configured to encompass majority white populations. In 2001, civil rights activists, including the Baltimore County NAACP and ACLU of Maryland, urged the County to adopt a plan that would comply with the Voting Rights Act and that would ensure that Black residents could vote for a candidate of their choice to represent their community. The resulting plan included one district that had a majority Black population and in the 2002 election, voters in the district made history by electing the first-ever Black representative to the Baltimore County Council. Consistently since then, residents of the majority-Black district have elected Black representatives, while the remaining majority-white districts have all elected only white officials.  The groups assert that this pattern shows “the persistence of racially polarized voting and the importance of districting in addressing resulting minority vote dilution.”

Plaintiffs are represented by Andrew D. Freeman of Brown, Goldstein & Levy, John A. Freedman, Mark D. Colley, and Michael Mazullo of Arnold & Porter, and ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon.


People's Maps Maryland Rally

ANNAPOLIS, MD — Yesterday, December 8th, more than 50 people from across Maryland gathered near the steps of the State Capitol in Annapolis, MD to make their voices heard about the new Congressional maps that were proposed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission and passed by the Maryland General Assembly. The rally was organized by The League of Women Voters of Maryland, in collaboration with The People’s Maps Maryland. This non-partisan coalition strives to bring better representation to communities of interest and encourages all Marylanders to lend their voices to the democratic process.

The rally featured redistricting, social justice, and voting rights leaders who highlighted the importance of:

● Making sure that communities of interest that will have fair and equitable representation by enabling them to vote in the same election districts with others who have like interests. Whenever possible, drawing maps so any block of voters isn’t drowned out by an overwhelming majority of a single party thus assuring the votes aren’t wasted.

● One person, One vote is the goal for all and any maps drawn. Maps shouldn’t be drawn so any block of voters is drowned out by gerrymandered blocks

● Passing the federal Freedom to Vote Act that will protect our voting rights, get big money out of politics, ensure fair voting districts, and help to create a democracy that works for all.

The event began with the crowd chanting: “Fair maps for Us, Not for You!.” A call to all elected
officials to remember that they serve the people not their own interests. Deborah Mitchell, Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Maryland spoke at the event saying “I’m not an expert on redistricting, but I am an expert on the lived experience of injustice. I’m telling you the politicians drawing lines to protect their power is an injustice.” Reverend Kobe Little, President of Baltimore County NAACP, stressed the importance of hearing the voters, “We have to vote in every election. That means we have to hold our elected officials accountable to the commitments they make when they promise them. That means we can’t just send people to office; we have to go with them. We have to show up.”