2014 Policy Report, Continued

 

EDUCATION REFORM

Adequacy in Funding for Public Schools  
 While public education was funded according to the required "Thornton" formula, funding remained mostly flat this year (.5 percent added for inflation). This will cause school districts to make difficult budget decisions in an effort to keep pace with rising costs.  The ACLU successfully supported $800,000 allocated for the long-awaited "adequacy" study, which will be a comprehensive reexamination of the state's education funding formula over the next two years.  ACLU's Education Reform Project also supported a bill to fund a small expansion of Pre-Kindergarten programs across the state.  SB332 allows private providers and local school systems to request funding from the Maryland Department of Education to add half-day seats for families up to 300 percent of the poverty line, to expand current half-day programs to full-day, or to create new Judy Centers which offer wrap-around services to Pre-K families. 


Private and Religious School Funding
The ACLU successfully opposed the Maryland Education Credit Act, HB 1262/SB 633, which would have siphoned money from public schools that desperately need it, while funneling money to private schools that do not have to abide by the same prohibitions on discrimination that public schools do.  Read our testimony on SB 633.  Funding to upgrade private school buildings -- $3.5 million -- stayed in the budget, however, despite hundreds of emails from ACLU members objecting to the allocation  See ACLU's Fact Sheet on Private Schools, Discrimination, and the Law. 

 

Improving Decrepit School Facility Conditions

The legislature heard a report about the progress of the $1 billion school construction program for Baltimore City, one year after the ACLU led the Transform Baltimore campaign (www.transformbaltimore.org) with the Baltimore Education Coalition to win the funding in the 2013 General Assembly session.  The program is on track with over 20 schools currently in the design phase.

 

FIRST AMENDMENT

Revenge Pornography

Three pieces of legislation were introduced to curb the recent, and troubling, trend known as "revenge pornography"-the online posting of an ex-partner's intimate photos in an act of revenge against the ex-partner.  The ACLU recognizes the harmful consequences this can bear for the subjects of these images, and especially women.  However, care must be taken to ensure that these bills are narrowly tailored so as not to run afoul of the First Amendment and have unintended consequences for free speech online.  We gave written and oral testimony on all three bills. One bill eventually passed, HB 43, which was narrowed in important ways. But we remain concerned that criminal liability for the sharing of images may extend to persons beyond the intimate relationship.

 

Read our testimony on HB 43.

 

FOURTH AMENDMENT

Texting while Driving 

As introduced, HB 1212/ SB 348 would have required persons involved in traffic accidents to turn over their phone number, phone carrier, and any email accounts associated with the device.  We voiced our concerns about the requirement that persons turn over this personal information, pointing to existing mechanisms available for law enforcement to obtain this information-such as court orders, warrants, and subpoenas.  We also worked closely with the bill's House sponsor, who agreed that law enforcement and prosecutors already have the means to obtain this data and he removed that language from the bill before it was ultimately passed.

 

IMMIGRATION

Local Police Enforcement of Civil Detainers

The ACLU played a lead role in introducing and advocating for SB554/HB 29, the Maryland Law Enforcement Trust Act, which would have clarified the parameters of state and local participation in federal immigration enforcement efforts. By drawing a bright line between state or local law enforcement officials and federal immigration enforcement agents, the bill would have improved community trust in the police, promoted public safety, and eliminated the wasteful practice of spending unreimbursed state and local resources to advance federal immigration enforcement efforts. While the bill did not make it out of committee, it raised awareness about this important problem and helped set the stage for a renewed effort next year.

 

OPEN GOVERNMENT/ ACCOUNTABILITY

Body Cams

This session three bills addressed law enforcement wearing body cameras.  Although the ACLU generally takes a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against abuse of power by law enforcement.  Cameras have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police officers against false accusations of abuse.  All three bills failed, but the chairs of both the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention asking them to bring together the relevant parties to discuss the issue and make recommendations.

 

Open Government

We testified on several bills this session that dealt with open government issues.  Four of them addressed the Open Meetings Act:  two would have added subcommittees to the definition of a public body, and two others would have added an agenda to part of the notice required for meetings.  Neither of those bills passed.  Thankfully another bill, which did pass, will create a study about how to improve the process for resolving appeals under the Maryland Public Information Act.

 

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Freedom from State-Sponsored Religion

This session SJ 5 was introduced to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the addition of "Under God" to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.  When it was originally composed in 1892, it contained no such reference. The ACLU offered testimony opposing the bill, drawing attention to Maryland's religious diversity and the right of Marylanders to be free from state-sponsored religion.  Fortunately, the bill died in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

 

VOTING/ ELECTIONS

Public Campaign Financing 

This legislative session, three bills were introduced to move Maryland in the direction of public campaign financing. The ACLU is well aware of the toxic influence money can have on the electoral process.  Public financing presents an opportunity to hold candidates and officials accountable to the electorate, freeing them from the stronghold of big financial donors.  Public financing also allows elected officials to focus their time and energies on responding to constituent needs, instead of raising money.  The first, HB 418/ SB 691, would have established a system of public campaign financing for certain candidates running for the General Assembly. Unfortunately, the legislation was not voted out of the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee this year.  Read our testimony on HB 418/ SB 691.

 

We also supported HB 1269, Maryland Small Donor Incentive Act, which also failed in committee.   Read our testimony on HB 1269

 

The third public financing bill the ACLU supported was introduced in the Montgomery County Council, which would establish a system of public financing for candidates for County Executive and County Council of Montgomery County.  It is still pending. Read our testimony on Bill Number 16-14.

 

Voter Protection in Municipal Elections - VICTORY!

The ACLU joined Common Cause Maryland in supporting SB 269, which extends to municipal elections the offenses and penalties that currently exist under state law for voting fraud.  Without SB 269, there is no protection under municipal law against attempts to influence a voter's decision through fraudulent activity.  This bill was successfully passed.

 

Read our joint testimony with Common Cause Maryland on SB 269.

 

Voter ID

Once again, a group of Maryland legislators introduced a bill to require voters to show ID at the polls. Once again we opposed it and once again the bill failed.  Voter ID requirements are a solution in search of a problem and would have had a negative impact on the right to vote of minorities, the elderly, and the impoverished. 

 

Read our testimony on HB 1094.

 

Voter Rights Protection Act

We offered testimony in support of HB 224, the Voter's Rights Protection Act of 2014, which would have allowed for timely access to recourse in the Circuit Court during an election for allegations of violations of Maryland's law governing campaign materials.  Unfortunately, the bill was not voted out of the House Ways and Means Committee.    

 

Read our testimony in support of HB 224.

 

WOMEN'S RIGHTS/ REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM

Shackling of Pregnant Inmates and Detainees - VICTORY!

After years of advocacy to outlaw the shackling of pregnant inmates and detainees, we are proud to report a victory.  The ACLU worked closely with Delegate Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Senator Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsors of HB 27/ SB 656, the Healthy Births for Incarcerated Women Act.  Although SB 656 got held up in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, HB 27 was successfully passed.  Under the bill, physical restraints may not be used during labor and delivery, unless ordered by the treating medical professional.  During pregnancy and postpartum recovery, restraints may only be used if there is an individualized determination of safety or flight risk.  In these instances, the use of restraints must be recorded, restraints must be the least restrictive, and restraints may not include leg or waist restraints.  Additionally, the bill requires the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and local facilities to develop a policy to require that restraints used on pregnant inmates be the least restrictive.  DPSCS and local facilities must also develop a method for reporting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates, referencing the circumstances that necessitated the use of restraints.  This bill is a long overdue step away from the dangerous and inhumane practice of shackling pregnant women.

 

Read our testimony on HB 27.

 

20-Week Abortion Ban - VICTORY!

Thankfully, a 20-week abortion ban was soundly defeated.  The most powerful testimony came from a woman who found out after 20 weeks about a fatal deformity.  She and her husband decided to terminate her pregnancy, but would not have had that option if Maryland enacted a 20-week abortion ban, which are being increasingly considered across the country.

 

Read our testimony on HB 283/SB 34.

 

Mandatory Ultrasounds - VICTORY!

As in 2013, the 2014 legislative session saw the introduction of a bill to require that doctors show women who were seeking an abortion an ultrasound of their pregnancy.  Again, the Committee hearing the bill wisely decided to leave medical decisions related to pregnancies to women and their medical professionals.

 

Read our testimony on SB 85.

 

WORKERS' RIGHTS

Earned Sick Leave

The ACLU supported two bills that would have created an avenue for Maryland's workers to earn paid sick leave, HB 527 and HB 968/ SB 753.  More than 700,000 people in our state cannot earn paid sick days to use when they or a loved one is ill.  What is worse, the lack of paid sick leave carries a disproportionate burden for the working poor, who are disproportionately persons of color, and women.  The working poor are least able to absorb a job loss or cut in income due to illness.  Women are negatively impacted because they tend to shoulder the burden of caring for children and aging parents.  Although these bills were unsuccessful this year, we will continue to support measures to protect the job security and economic stability of workers, and especially those who have been historically marginalized.

 

Read our testimony on HB 968/SB 753.

 

Unpaid Parental leave - VICTORY!

When Delegate Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery) called on the ACLU to offer support for HB 1026/SB 737, we did so enthusiastically. The legislation will create a reasonable unpaid leave policy for the birth or adoption of an employee's child.  The ACLU believes that no employee should be forced to sacrifice job stability to care for a new child.  This is a time in a family's life when expenses are high and financial stability is crucial.  We are pleased that the legislature recognized the importance of such protections and passed the bill.

 

Read our testimony on HB 1026/SB 737.

 

Employee Anti-Discrimination

HB 1350/ SB 688, the Fair Employment Preservation Act of 2014, was introduced in response to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Vance v. Ball State University.  That decision eroded important protections for employees against discrimination by holding that an employer is only responsible for the harassment perpetrated by an employee if the employee had the power to make tangible decisions concerning the victim's employment, such as hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, or transferring.  This bill would have made clear that persons who direct, supervise, or evaluate the work activities of another employee may be acting discriminatorily and the employer should be liable for that discrimination.  Unfortunately, the bill failed to receive a vote from the House Health and Government Operations Committee. 

 

Read our testimony on the Fair Employment Preservation Act of 2014.

 

YOUTH RIGHTS

Student Privacy

We supported HB 607, which would have required educational institutions that use a cloud computing service to include a clause in their contract that would limit commercial use of student data by providers.  While this bill passed the House, it died in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

 

Read our testimony on HB 607.

 

Youth charged as Adults - VICTORY!

The ACLU supported HB 1295/ SB 515, under which more youth will be eligible to have their cases transferred from adult court to juvenile court.  The collateral consequences of an adult criminal record can be severely damaging and may obstruct a young person's ability to succeed.  Moreover, young people of color are disproportionately adjudicated in adult courts.  This bill is an important step toward investing in our youth and we are glad the legislature saw the wisdom in passing it.

 

Read our testimony on HB 1295/ SB 515.