Affordable Housing/Evictions Legislative Wrap Up

Affordable Housing / Evictions: Ruth Crystal Team Leader

Of the many bills dealing with eviction and foreclosure that have been introduced this session, a housing justice coalition focused on 5 bills.  Only one of those bills passed both houses:

HB18 Landlord and Tenant-Residential Tenants-Right to Counsel, will provide access to counsel for tenants earning up to 50% of area median income that are facing retaliatory evictions.  Status: sent to Governor. 

Many other bills were proposed in response to the COVID pandemic that has left many tenants struggling to pay rent – but differences between the House and Senate did not get resolved in time. We expect these issues will be addressed again in the 2022 session.   These include: 

HB52 Real Property- Eviction Actions- Alteration in Actions for Repossession would have required 7-day failure to pay notice by landlord filing for eviction and require the notice to  include information about rental assistance, legal help, and contact information for the landlord.

HB1312 Landlord and Tenant-Eviction Actions-Catastrophic Health Emergencies would have made an affirmative defense available for ‘failure to pay’ evictions during a declared catastrophic health emergency and for 3-6 months after if tenant could show substantial income loss related to emergency.  It would also have prohibited an increase in rent during the health emergency. 

FUNDING

The federal American Rescue Plan will provide a second round of Emergency Rental Assistance funding to Maryland.  Combined with the December COVID-19 Relief package, this will provide Maryland with $719 million in Emergency Rental Assistance funding.  Eligible households must have a reduction in income or financial hardship due to COVID-19, demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability and have a household income below 80% of area median income.  Eligible households may receive up to 12 months of assistance.  Application for assistance may be submitted by eligible household or landlord.  The assistance program is expected to launch no later than May 1, 2021. 

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Police Accountability Legislative Wrap Up

Police Accountability Nancy Soreng Team Leader

LWVMD, along with other members of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, focused our advocacy on 5 reforms to policing:

  • Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR)
  • Allow all investigations into police misconduct to be disclosed under the Maryland Public Information Act
  • Pass a law prohibiting the use of force unless it is necessary (not merely reasonable), with both criminal penalties and the power for civil enforcement
  • Give the people of Baltimore City the ability to govern the Baltimore City Police Department
  • Take armed police officers out of schools

5 bills ultimately passed which incorporated 4 of these reforms.  

HB 670: Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021- Police Discipline and Law Enforcement Programs and Procedures was originally called the Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 and contained numerous recommendations from the Police Accountability Workgroup that was appointed by Speaker Jones in the summer of 2020. The most significant reform in HB 670 was the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) and creation of a statewide discipline process for police officers. Under this provision each county will have a Police Accountability Board (PAB) that will among other duties, receive complaints of police misconduct filed by members of the public and appoint civilian members to charging committees and trial boards. Status: Vetoed by Governor, veto overridden during session.

SB 178: Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 – Search Warrants and Inspection of Records Relating to Police Misconduct (Anton’s Law) was originally called Public Information Act - Personnel Records - Investigations of Law Enforcement Officers (Anton's Law).  Passage of this bill means that a record relating to an administrative or criminal investigation of misconduct by a police officer is no longer considered a personnel record which is non-disclosable by law. This legislation finally allows for the release of information relating to investigations of both sustained and un-sustained complaints of misconduct. Custodians may redact portions of a record that reflect the medical information of the officer, information relating to the family of the officer, and personal contact information of the officer or witness. However, this bill will allow for inspection of records that include relevant medical information about injuries sustained during the event under investigation. Status: Vetoed by Governor, veto overridden during session.

SB 71Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Body-Worn Cameras, Employee Programs, and Use of Force incorporated elements of SB 626 Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Law Enforcement Officers - Use of Force, Reporting, and Whistleblower Protections that passed the Senate, but was not moved out of the House.  SB 71 raises the legal standard to say force is only authorized when it is necessary and proportional, based on the totality of the circumstances. Officers must de-escalate when time, circumstances, and safety allow; intervene to prevent excessive use of force; provide or obtain appropriate medical assistance after a use of force incident; and document all use of force incidents. The bill also includes provisions for training and requires all local and state law enforcement officers to wear body cameras by 2025 with an earlier implementation date for larger jurisdictions. Status; veto override

SB 786: Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Baltimore City - Control of the Police Department of Baltimore City will put the question of giving the City of Baltimore control of its police for the first time since the 1860’s before the voters of Baltimore City in 2022 or 2024 for implementation in 2023 or 2025. In the meantime, it establishes an Advisory Board that is tasked with studying potential issues related to the transfer of authority. Status: sent to Governor. 

None of the bills to remove, reallocate funding, or redefine policing in schools passed.  Advocacy on this issue will continue over the summer and into the next session.  Local and national initiatives are underway to continue to collect data on the impact of School Resource Officers (SROs) on students and school safety.  Efforts to educate the public and legislators about this issue will continue.

League testimony on SB 178 - Public Information Act - Personnel Records - Investigations of Law Enforcement Officers (Anton's Law), HB 496 Primary and Secondary Education – Mental Health Services – Expansion (Counselors Not Cops Act), SB 627 - Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights - Repeal and Procedures for Discipline, HB 1089 Primary and Secondary Education – Expansion of Mental Health Services and Prohibition of School Resource Officers (Police–Free Schools Act), SB 626 Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Law Enforcement Officers - Use of Force, Reporting, and Whistleblower Protections can be found on the Testimony page of the LWVMD website.

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Education / Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Legislative Wrap Up

Education / Blueprint for Maryland’s Future: Lois Hybl Team Leader  

In 2020, the General Assembly passed The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (incorporating the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission) that among other provisions, adopted a new funding formula that increased the foundation formula and the funding weights for English Learners, special education students, and compensatory education. It also created a new calculation for concentrated poverty that can be used to support Community Schools. However, Governor Hogan vetoed the legislation in May 2020. 

The education priorities for the 2021 General Assembly session were to override the governor’s veto of HB 1300 The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and to pass HB 1372 Blueprint for Maryland's Future – Revisions.  HB1372 modifies implementation timelines, updates funding allocations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, establishes guidelines for use of federal CARES funds, and strengthens the language of the Blueprint. Status: sent to Governor. 

The challenge for the coming years is to ensure that the “Blueprint” is implemented as intended

The League also supported SB 66 Digital Connectivity Act of 2021 , which establishes the Office of Digital Inclusion and creates a digital inclusion fund to support capacity building and funding for broadband access to all 24 Maryland jurisdictions. Status; approved by the Governor

The League opposed bills (HB 764, HB 939 and HB 1113) designed to transfer public money to private schools. Efforts to reduce funding for BOOST (Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today) failed. BOOST provides scholarships for eligible students to attend non-public schools. The final budget included $10 million for BOOST Scholarships. 

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Progressive and Adequate Fiscal Policy Legislative Wrap Up

Progressive and Adequate Fiscal Policy: Roy Appletree Team Leader 

There was some discussion about the dual economy this pandemic revealed.  While certainly an oversimplification, it revealed some truth to the maxim that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”    There was also a recognition that a sound revenue system must allow the State to invest in essential public goods such as education, transportation, and health care.  

When the pandemic was recognized in March 2020, the revenue projections were for a dire shortfall.  By December 2020 it was clear that Maryland was cushioned from any major shortfall.  Come 2021 and the large sums of Federal relief funding, the State found itself in a solid position.  As a result, all the tax legislation was allowed to die – combined reporting being the last to go.  

However, the pundits expect fair taxation to be a major legislative issue in the 2022 session.

The Governor proclaimed he would veto legislation that mandates an increase in spending or taxes, especially considering the pandemic.  One critical bill he vetoed was designed to continue implementing the Kirwan Commission reforms, the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.” The General Assembly overrode that veto. The legislature also passed several new taxes to pay for the Blueprint plan. These taxes included a tax on digital downloads such as Netflix and video games; a corporate tax change intended to bring in tens of millions each year; a new tax on vaping products and a doubled tax on cigarettes. They also passed a first-in-the-nation proposal to tax the targeted digital advertising on giant online platforms such as Facebook and Google.

All these tax bills were vetoed. LWVMD supported the eventual override of the digital download tax HB 932 .

We testified on these and several similar several bills:

HB0275Individual Income Taxes – Brackets and Rates which would raise rates on higher incomes.

HB0215Carried Interest which is often thought of as the loophole for private equity and hedge funds. 

HB0172Combined Reporting which prevents corporations from shifting profits to other states to be taxed at a lower rate.  This is in effect in many states and creates a more equal playing field for smaller, in-state businesses.

An Issue Paper entitled Progressive & Adequate Fiscal Policy  was produced.

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Government Transparency Legislative Wrap Up

Government Transparency: Nancy Soreng Team Leader

The League of Women Voters of Maryland testified in favor of three bills that would improve transparency in government or campaign spending, only HB183 passed both houses.  

HB 183 Public Information Act – Revisions (Equitable Access to Records Act) would add accountability to the custodians of public information by requiring them to publish an annual report that includes the number of Public Information Act (PIA) requests received, the outcome of these requests and the time frame for granting or denying requests as well as the reasons for requests that took more than 30 days to process. It also requires documentation of fees charged and fees waived. This bill improves the make-up of the PIA Board by requiring at least one member be knowledgeable about electronic records and at least two members to be attorneys. It also requires detailed reporting of the disputes handled by the Ombudsman and their outcome. Status: sent to Governor. 

HB 1352 Campaign Finance Reports - Business Contributors - Registration Status would require the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to electronically transmit a list of all businesses that are registered with the Department and all businesses that forfeited their registrations to the State Board of Elections who would transmit that information to all active campaign entities. When campaign finance reports are filed with the Board of Elections, it is not easy to know which companies who made political donations are actual businesses and which may be sham companies who are used by contributors who want to exceed donation caps by giving in the name of a sham business. This bill passed the House (97 to 39) but was never voted on by the Senate.  

The third transparency bill the League supported is SB 72/HB 344 Open Meetings Act – Requirements for State Agencies and Local Boards of Elections (Maryland Transparency Act of 2021) which called for all Executive Branch Agencies and Local Boards of Elections to have meeting materials publicly available on their website at least 48 hours before any open meeting. It further requires that these public bodies provide live video or audio streaming of their proceedings and maintain an unedited, accessible archive of these recordings. This bill did not receive a vote in either the House or Senate Committee where it was heard.

Testimony on HB1352, HB 183 and HB 344 is on the LWVMD website. 

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Redistricting Reform Legislative Wrap Up

Redistricting Reform: Beth Hufnagel Team Leader

Every ten years, the US Constitution requires that a census be taken and be used to reapportion voters into Congressional and state legislative districts.  It was the expectation that there would be a Special Session of the Maryland General Assembly in the fall of 2021 to consider the legislative and Congressional maps drawn by the Maryland Citizen Redistricting Commission (MCRC), who are an independent commission created by Governor Hogan. However, since the detailed Census data needed to draw the maps will not be issued by the Census Bureau until August 30, and then the re-allocation of the count of incarcerated persons to their residence prior to incarceration rather than the facility where they were held during the census, may take until the end of October, the approval of new maps is deferred until the 2022 General Session of the MGA. 

Legislation

Several bills were introduced this session to strengthen standards by which districts are drawn.  All died in committee.

  • HB339  Legislative District Standards
  • HB410; HB965; and HB1260 Congressional District Standards(Anti-Gerrymandering of Maryland’s Congressional Districts)

Fair Maps Maryland Campaign 

LWVMD will continue to advocate for strengthened legislative and Congressional district standards around redistricting and transparency of the drawing of maps by the Maryland General Assembly leadership and the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission. We will work to facilitate the creation of community of interest (COI) maps. We hope to produce our own maps, based on the LWV positions with consideration of these COI maps. We are now reaching out to additional partners to make the Fair Maps Maryland Campaign a reality. 

The advocacy team produced an Issue Paper entitled Redistricting Reform in Maryland.

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Protecting the Right to Vote Legislative Wrap Up

Protecting the Right to Vote: Janet Millenson, Team Leader

Through our testimony and our partnership with other advocates in the Everyone Votes Maryland and the Expand the Vote coalitions, the League spoke up for protecting the right to vote and expanding access for all eligible voters. The most important successes among the bills we supported were:

  • HB 1048 Election Law – Permanent Absentee Ballot List, Ballot Drop Boxes, and Reports. This legislation allows voters to request permanent absentee ballot status rather than having to apply repeatedly each election cycle. Other registered voters will automatically receive an absentee ballot request form before each primary election. It also establishes criteria for placing ballot drop boxes in locations that are secure, accessible, and equitably distributed both geographically and demographically. Status: sent to Governor.

 

  • HB 222 Election Law – Correctional Facilities – Voter Registration and Voting (Value My Vote Act). Although voting rights were restored in 2016 to felons who have served their sentences and to non-felons currently incarcerated, no program was ever put in place to enable them to exercise that right. HB 222 requires correctional facilities to work with the Board of Elections to provide information and materials for registering to vote and applying for a mail-in ballot. See our testimony here. Status: sent to Governor.

 

  • HB 156 Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act. This legislation improves access to voter registration, voting information, and opportunities to cast a ballot for some relatively underserved populations: college students, residents of retirement communities, and members of the military. Among other provisions, local Boards of Elections will be required to take into account such large residential institutions when establishing precinct polling places. Status: sent to Governor.


Our biggest disappointment was the legislature’s failure to pass HB 1047, the Mail-In Voting Enhancement Act. This bill would have made permanent two popular procedures implemented in 2020 on an emergency basis — ballot tracking and ballot curing (contacting voters who failed
to sign the oath). Unfortunately, the Senate and the House ultimately could not agree on a provision that would have allowed pre-processing of mail-in ballots to start before Election Day. Going forward, we want to turn our efforts toward several issues that either failed to pass this
year or were not adequately addressed in the first place:

  • Circuit Court judges: selection process; contested vs. retention elections
  • Special elections to fill legislative vacancies in a timely fashion
  • District voting rather than at-large for certain representatives
  • Mail-in voting: early canvassing; ballot curing procedures; security concerns (e.g.,signature verification); voter registration database improvements
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Cross-over Update - Police Accountability Legislation

You may have heard that it’s Cross-Over time in the Maryland General Assembly.  This is when bills that originated in one chamber, pass that chamber and now it’s the other chamber’s obligation to consider passing them.  Bills that started in the Senate retain the SB label even though they have crossed over and are now in the House.  The same is true of bills that were passed by the House -they retain the HB prefix, even though they are being discussed by a Senate Committee.

 Four of the bills that the League of Women Voters of Maryland and the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) support have passed in the Senate with amendments.  Now, it’s time for the House to hold hearings and vote on these bills. They were assigned to the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing on March 25th

The League submitted testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on SB 627  Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) - Repeal and Replace, SB 626 Use of Force and SB 178 Anton’s Law.  We support SB 627 but asked that it be amended to remove the weakening changes made to this bill as originally submitted by the Senate sponsor. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee had removed citizen oversight of police conduct. We asked that SB 627 LEOBR Repeal be amended by the House Committee to allow communities to create real independent external community oversight boards with actual investigatory, subpoena and discipline powers. We also asked the House committee to remove the weakening amendments added to SB 626 Use of Force by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and instead include the use of force language that the House Judiciary committee included in HB 670 Police Reform Accountability Act. We supported SB 178 as passed by the Senate.

The fourth bill that was sent to the House by the Senate, SB 786 Control of the Police Department of Baltimore City passed out of the Senate with a unanimous vote on the Senate Floor.  The fifth reform to policing that the League was supporting is to eliminate the $10 million annual subsidy that the state provides school districts to hire armed uniformed police officers to work in schools. The two House bills the we testified in support of were HB 1089 and HB 486. Neither bill received a vote in committee.  There was no cross-filed bill in the Senate.  Advocates plan to continue to educate legislators about this issue during the interim and come back with legislation and more data next session.

On the House side, most of the reforms we supported were incorporated in to an omnibus bill HB 670 - Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 that was submitted by Speaker of the House, Adriane Jones.  There were many good proposals in this legislation, but it fell short in some of the key areas of reform that the League and MCJPA are supporting.  We signed on to a letter asking for amendments to strengthen the reforms.  The section on Use of Force was amended to be a much better definition of what kind of force is allowable under what circumstances.  HB 670 passed on the House floor 96 yays to 40 nays. That bill will now be heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

It is likely that different versions of final bills will come out of each chamber. If this happens, the bills will be assigned to a conference committee that will propose a combined bill for passage.

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LWVMD Supports the Climate Solutions Act

Action on climate change is based on the LWVUS position to support comprehensive legislation to control climate change, and support for predominant reliance on renewable resources. The League’s positions on natural resources date back to the 1920s.

The focus of climate activists today is switching from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy sources. We need to move to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, greatly expand public transit and accelerate the conversion to electric vehicles, retrofit existing buildings, construct “zero emissions” new buildings, and sequester carbon pollution in forestry and healthy soils. We will need to do so in a way that protects workers and invests in communities that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis or have historically seen racial discrimination.

LWVMD is supporting SB 414 – Climate Solutions Act which is the first step in that work by strengthening our climate plan in 2022. This Act will align our emissions reduction targets with the world’s leading science and reposition Maryland as a climate leader. It will require fixes to our state’s flawed climate plan and take some immediate climate actions, from planting millions of new trees to increasing energy efficiency. And it will lay the groundwork for an equitable transition to a new, clean economy. Read our supportive testimony here.

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Following Up on LWVMD Legislative Day

On Tuesday, March 2nd LWVMD hosted its first virtual Legislative Day.  We were so pleased to virtually see everyone!  Following up on the days discussion we have some additional information to share with you.  Our guest speaker, Darius Stanton provided League members with a list of bills that the Maryland Black Caucus Foundation is tracking. You can find the list here

In addition, to our discussion on police accountability we have provided research about school resource officers and it can be found here

If you were unable to attend the event a video recording can be found here.     

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