2011 Legislative Report
The ACLU of Maryland's legislative program is dedicated to protecting the rights and liberties of all Marylanders and we work with local, statewide, and federal leaders to realize the promise of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. In Annapolis, the ACLU was represented by Legislative Director Melissa Goemann, Legislative Associate Joanna Diamond, and the firm Public Policy Partners, and was guided by the ACLU of Maryland's Legislative Committee.
The following is a report on the ACLU of Maryland's state legislative work in 2011:
Accountability in Law Enforcement Use of Tasers
Victory! The ACLU led the successful effort to pass legislation (HB 507/SB 652) requiring that law enforcement report on their use of electronic control weapons or ECWs (the most common of which are tasers). This issue became a civil rights concern due to the death of Jarrell Gray in Frederick in October 2008, after being shocked with an ECW by local police, as well as other data indicating that ECWs are used more frequently on African-American populations in many localities. To enhance accountability in law enforcement use of ECWs, the Attorney General's Task Force Report on ECWs recommended legislation to collect and share data with the public on how this device was being used by law enforcement. The now-passed legislation will require collection of data on factors such as the race of those who are tased, why the ECW was used, and whether any injuries or deaths resulted. This information will be compiled by the Governor's Office on Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) and made available to the public. Governor Martin O'Malley immediately signed this bill into law. The leadership from bill sponsors Senator Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George's) and Delegate Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City) was critical to the bill's smooth passage, as well as the support of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches and our pro bono counsel Scott Hammack of O'Melveny and Myers, LLP. In addition, the Legislative Black Caucus made enactment one of its legislative priorities and we also appreciated the support of GOCCP.
Nearly 10 years ago, amid widespread concerns that Maryland law enforcement officers were engaged in racial profiling on our roads and against the backdrop of litigation brought by the ACLU of Maryland, the ACLU worked to attain passage of the original bill requiring law enforcement agencies to compile and report data from traffic stops and searches. This session, the ACLU worked together with our partners at the NAACP to ensure that race-based traffic stop data continues to be collected by law enforcement and reported to GOCCP through passage of a new bill (SB 14/HB 130) after reporting legislation sunsetted last year.
The ACLU supported efforts to expand the remedies available to victims of public accommodation discrimination by allowing for a private right of action (HB 285/SB 642). We believe a private right of action is critical to vigorous protection of victim's rights. While passed by the House, the Senate version was recommitted to the Judicial Proceedings Committee in an amended version that calls for a study.
Insurance Discrimination Protection
Property and casualty insurance companies often discriminate against victims of violent crimes, particularly women who are victims of domestic violence. From denial of abuse-related claims to using domestic violence as an underwriting criterion, the victim is often punished for the batterer's acts. The ACLU supported the successful effort to pass legislation preventing such discrimination (HB 647/SB 317).
While we were extremely disappointed that each of the following important pieces of legislation failed to fully make it through the Maryland General Assembly, we are encouraged that they made it further than they ever have before.
Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples
The ACLU of Maryland continued to work alongside Equality Maryland and LGBT-supportive legislators to promote legislation that would grant civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Civil Marriage Protection Act, SB 116, for the first time made it out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, passed the full Senate, and passed out of the House Judiciary committee. While we are extremely saddened that the full House of Delegates did not vote on the bill, we were encouraged that this bill, which has never been voted on in any capacity, did make it through the Senate and one House committee. We will not give up the fight on full marriage equality, and we will continue to fight for these crucial protections for same-sex couples.
Transgender Anti-Discrimination in Housing and Employment
The ACLU also worked alongside Equality Maryland in the struggle for protections for transgender individuals in housing and employment, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act, HB 235. Similar legislation had been introduced in the past, but had never received a vote before this year. HB 235 made it through the House Health and Government committee, the full House with bipartisan support, and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Unfortunately, the Senate did not vote on it and instead recommitted it to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. While severely disappointed that it was unable to cross this last hurdle, we are encouraged that the legislation made it this far and we will continue to persevere and fight to protect Maryland's transgendered community from discrimination.
PUBLIC EDUCATION REFORM
With broad grassroots support, the ACLU of Maryland helped to defeat a voucher bill disguised as a tax credit that could have funneled tens of millions of dollars to private and religious schools (SB 315/HB 932). These schools have refused to adopt comprehensive nondiscrimination policies to protect access to education for all Maryland school children, and could not guarantee quality education opportunities would be expanded for low-income students.
Public Education Funding
Success! The ACLU's Education Reform Project provided key leadership in a successful campaign to restore K-12 funding which had been cut in the Governor's proposed budget. The unprecedented reduction in per pupil allocations would have rolled education spending back to levels below those of FY08. This would have forced school systems to cut teacher positions and lose other important programs, such as after-school programs.
In a challenging fiscal climate, ACLU helped organize lobby nights, rallies, and calls to legislators, asking that the education budget be made whole. With the passage of the alcohol tax to assist with additional funding, most of the budget cuts were restored.
While school systems will have to make some cuts because no inflation increase was included, the budget committees and General Assembly acknowledged the constitutional principle of adequacy in restoring core funding that had been cut in the original proposed budget.
Read Education Reform Project's Baltimore Sun Op-Ed
The ACLU championed several bills to tackle mass incarceration and reduce our bloated prison system. The state's incarceration rate has tripled since 1980, which not only has disproportionately affected communities of color, but has also had a significant impact on the state's financial resources. The ACLU supported bills to reduce incarceration and that focused on more effective and fiscally sound policies.
Parole Approval for Life Imprisonment
The ACLU of Maryland supported HB 302/SB 172, which requires the Governor to make a decision on applications for parole that have been approved by the parole commission within 180 days if he does not want the individual released. Currently, the Governor has acted on few of the parole applications before him in either his first or his current term. While we advocated for a bill that would eliminate the need for a Governor's decision, relying on the expertise of the parole commissioners, we hope that the bill that passed will further the aim of depoliticizing the process so that individuals with meritorious claims approved by the parole commission can be released.
Nonviolent Drug Offenses
The ACLU supported two bills that would steer us away from locking up individuals for nonviolent offenses, a costly practice that is a significant factor in the overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal justice system. HB 353 would reform harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and offer drug treatment as an alternative. HB 606 would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense subject to a fine instead of prison time. Though not voted on in committee this year, we will continue to advocate for these reforms in the future.
Parole and Probation Reform
Conservative and liberals in Maryland came together on a number of bills aimed at spending less money on our bloated criminal justice system. The ACLU worked with Delegate Michael Hough (R- Frederick and Washington Counties) and Senators Christopher Shank (R- Washington County) and Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore City) on HB 919/SB 801. These bills aimed to provide a system of graduated sanctions as alternatives to automatic incarceration for people who commit technical parole violations to prevent sending people to prison for long periods of time for minor rule violations. The bill that passed was amended to require the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to develop this system of graduated sanctions as a pilot program in two counties.
We also worked with Delegate Susan McComas (R-Harford County) and Senator Shank on HB 964/SB 583, which aimed to reduce recidivism of those on probation and parole by using risk assessments and other evidence-based practices to identify and direct greater supervision and support to those who most need it. HB 1248, introduced by Delegate Gail Bates (R-Howard County), would have provided an incentive system to allow those low risk probationers and parolees to earn compliance credits and end their supervision earlier. Though unsuccessful this first year, we will continue to advocate for these types of reforms.
Read our testimony on HB 919/SB 801, HB 964/SB 583, and HB 1248
Lastly, the ACLU of Maryland supported our partner, the Job Opportunities Task Force, in the successful effort to pass SB 362/HB 749. This bill requires the government to notify individuals who are released on parole and probation of the possibility for exemption from the monthly supervision fee, for reasons such as unemployment, and to explain the application process to them. The legislation will help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter into society, as many of them are low-income and would qualify for the exemption.
Ending the Death Penalty
Working with Maryland CASE and other coalition allies, we advocated for repeal of the death penalty in Maryland. Sponsored by Delegate Samuel Rosenberg and Senator Lisa Gladden (both D-Baltimore City), HB 1075/SB 837, the death penalty repeal bill, was heard in House Judiciary Committee but did not receive a vote this session. We will continue to advocate for an end to capital punishment.
Girls in Juvenile Justice
The ACLU continued to draw attention to the gross injustices facing girls in Maryland's juvenile justice system, leading the effort to pass HB 511/SB 787. Sonia Kumar, a Liman Fellow and attorney with the ACLU's Juvenile Justice Project, first raised awareness about the dangerous and antiquated conditions at the Thomas J.S. Waxter Center for Girls, Maryland's main prison for girls, last year through her work with the girls there and release of the report, Caged Birds Sing. With the leadership of the bill sponsors, Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Kathleen Dumais (both D-Montgomery County), as well as the Women's Caucus and its Chairwoman Delegate Susan Lee (D-Montgomery County), legislation to require the juvenile justice system to provide all children with comparable services regardless of gender received broad bi-partisan support. Though fiscal concerns prevented the full bill from being passed, language was adopted requiring the Department of Juvenile Services to develop a detailed roadmap for using their existing resources to improve services and programs for girls and bring them up to at least the level provided to boys. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers. This report is due December 1, 2011, which is in time for ACLU to pursue additional legislation next session if necessary.
Juvenile Transfer to Adult Court
The ACLU opposed a bill that would have mandated that every juvenile charged with a violation of the gang statute be tried, convicted, and sentenced as an adult no matter how minimal their involvement. This would have swept all young people suspected of gang affiliation into the adult criminal justice system, capturing those who join because they themselves are victims of gang intimidation and violence, an all-too-common problem. This bill received an unfavorable report in the House Judiciary Committee.
Juvenile Sex Offenders
Two draconian bills were originally filed to mandate that juveniles adjudicated delinquent for certain sexual offenses be on a juvenile sex offender registry for the rest of their lives (with a possibility of removal after 25 years). With advocacy by the ACLU and the Office of the Public Defender, and support of bill sponsor Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Calvert and Prince George's County), the bills were significantly modified to remove this mandate and instead raise the age for placement on the registry from 13 to 14 years old, an amendment which we supported.
The ACLU continued to defend Maryland women's rights to reproductive choice and freedom. There was a new, more aggressive and more dangerous wave of anti-women bills this session, as ACLU affiliates have seen across the country. Yet, we successfully beat back all of the various attempts to infringe on women's reproductive freedom and limit access to abortion for all women, and we helped support long-awaited and much needed reproductive family planning protections for Maryland's low-income women.
This year saw an unprecedented attack on women's reproductive rights throughout the country, including in Maryland. The ACLU, together with our partners at Planned Parenthood of Maryland, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, and the Women's Law Center, opposed numerous bills that would have severely limited access to abortion: from travel restrictions (HB 19, HB 20), to severe restrictions on later abortions (HB 746), to bills that would have unreasonably targeted abortion providers by requiring that they report specific details of abortion care (HB 18, SB 426). We also helped to defeat a bill that would have effectively shut down nearly all the clinics in Maryland offering abortion services by requiring costly and unnecessary changes to their facilities in order to transform them into ambulatory surgery centers (HB23/SB 505). And, for yet another year, the ACLU helped to defeat the Maryland Personhood Amendment (HB 1040), a perennial proposed constitutional amendment intended to lay the groundwork for criminalizing abortion and stem cell research.
Family Planning Works Act
After unwavering efforts by pro-choice legislators and allies, the General Assembly finally passed the Family Planning Works Act, which will extend family planning services to low-income women before they have children (HB 778/SB 743). The leadership of bill sponsors Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery County) and Senator Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City) was critical to the bill's passage.
This session was another busy one for immigration-related legislation. Working together with CASA de Maryland and other coalition partners, we were successful in defeating numerous anti-immigrant bills, from an Arizona-style bill allowing officers to ask anyone for their citizenship papers (HB 744) to a bill requiring all Maryland police agencies to deputize their officials to enforce federal immigration law as part of the flawed 287(g) program (HB 276). On a bright note, the last day of session witnessed passage by both chambers of the Maryland "Dream Act," (SB 167/HB 470) which allows talented students, regardless of immigration status, to attend Maryland colleges and Universities at in-state tuition rates. Students who qualify for in-state tuition rates under this legislation must have attended and graduated from a Maryland high school, paid taxes, and must promise to file an application to become a permanent resident.