ACLU of Maryland 2014 General Assembly Report 

The ACLU of Maryland is a non-partisan organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. We advance civil liberties and civil rights through litigation, lobbying and education. In the legislature we lobby on free speech, privacy and technology, reproductive freedom, lgbt, religious freedom, drug policies, police practices, voting rights, women's rights, racial justice, equal protection, prisoner rights, death penalty, criminal justice, immigrant rights and national security issues.    

Here is our report on the ACLU priorities for the 2014 General Assembly session:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Marijuana Policy Reform - VICTORY!

Decriminalization

This past summer the ACLU of Maryland helped to convene the Marijuana Policy Coalition of Maryland, a coalition of organizations including the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, the League of Women Voters, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and others, to work on reforming Maryland's laws on marijuana. In addition, the ACLU issued a report in the fall showing that in every county in Maryland, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at rates disproportionate to Whites, despite comparable rates of use.  That coalition and that report were instrumental in supporting SB 364, a bill to decriminalize possession of 10g or less of marijuana.

Last year, SB 297, a bill to make possession of a minor amount of marijuana a civil offense rather than an arrestable offense, passed the Senate but stalled in the House.  This year, legislators and advocates pulled off an amazing 11th-hour victory to pass SB 364, despite the opposition by House Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario (D-Prince George's).  In so doing, Maryland joins the other 17 states and the District of Columbia, which have decriminalized possession of minor amounts of marijuana.

Read our testimony on SB 364.

Read the report, "The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White"

See the coalition website here: www.marijuanapolicyinmd.org

Taxation and Regulation

The ACLU of Maryland and the coalition also supported HB 880/ SB 658 - the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act of 2014, which stalled in committee.  These bills would have moved Maryland to regulate marijuana like alcohol, similar to what Colorado and Washington State have done.

Read our testimony on SB 658

Medical Marijuana

The ACLU of Maryland also supported revisions to the medical marijuana law that passed the General Assembly in 2013.  Medical marijuana has shown to be effective in treating the effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and loss of appetite; forms of epilepsy and seizures; and extreme pain, among other conditions.

Criminal Record Shielding and Expungement

This legislative session we worked within a broad-based coalition to give persons with a criminal record a second chance at employment, education, and other opportunities for economic stability and re-entry into society.  The Maryland Second Chance Act of 2014 (HB 1166/ SB 1056) would have shielded certain non-violent misdemeanor convictions three to five years after the defendant had completed mandatory supervision.  This bill would have opened up a world of opportunities for convicted persons, disproportionately persons of color, seeking to re-enter society, find gainful employment, stable housing, and contribute meaningfully to our economy.  Unfortunately, the bill did not pass this year, but we remain hopeful that the groundwork was laid for the passage of similar legislation in 2015.

The ACLU also supported five similar bills introduced with the goal of reducing the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction through shielding or expungement.

Read our testimony on the Maryland Second Chance Act of 2014

Pretrial Reform

In 2012 and 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that defendants were entitled to an attorney at the initial appearance before a court commissioner.  The ACLU participated in a Task Force that gave recommendations to the General Assembly regarding reforms to our pretrial justice system that would not only put the state in compliance with the Court's decision, but would also strengthen the system.  Despite a number of bills, including one that was supported by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the Office of the Public Defender, States Attorneys, the ACLU and law enforcement, the General Assembly adjourned without passing a bill.

Christopher's Law

Christopher's Law-named for the teenage boy who was choked to death at the hands of an off-duty Baltimore County police officer and whose mother led the charge for passage of this important reform-provides that all police officers should receive training regarding the use of force, recognizing disabilities, cultural and gender diversity, and key lifesaving techniques.  The ACLU joined the broad coalition seeking passage of this law because we routinely hear from individuals and families who have suffered real harms in their interactions with police, from in-custody deaths to racial slurs, to the tasering of individuals with disabilities. We are pleased to report that this bill was successfully passed.  The new law will help ensure that law enforcement officers are equipped with the tools they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.

Read our testimony on HB 294/ SB 542.

Parole Reform

The ACLU has long supported reform to our parole system, which is one of only three in the United States where the Governor has to approve the recommendations of the Parole Commission before an individual may be paroled.  This injects politics into the parole system, and has resulted in a lack of paroles during the last eight years.  This year, we supported HB 388/ SB 953, which would eliminate the need for the Governor's approval of parole for two categories of persons serving parole-eligible life sentences-persons who were minors at the time of their sentence and persons who were not the principal actors in the commission of the offense.  Unfortunately, this bill died in committee.

Graduated Sanctions Pilot Program

Supporters may recall that the ACLU helped to pass the Graduated Sanctions Pilot Program in 2011.  Approximately one-third of people admitted to prison are there for technical parole and probation violations, including missed appointments with parole officers or failed drug tests.  Many of these individuals are not a danger to our community and yet they are taking up already-scarce space in our overcrowded and overstrained prisons and costing us a large amount of money to incarcerate.  The program gives parole officers options when addressing violations - they can judge if a violation is extreme enough to warrant revocation, or choose another option to allow the parolee to continue on parole.  The review of the pilot program by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services concluded that it was effective in preventing individuals from violating the terms of their parole. SB 608, which passed, expands the program beyond the Glen Burnie, Annapolis and Easton Community Supervision Offices, into Baltimore City.

Local DNA Databanks

In 2009, the General Assembly passed a bill that expanded DNA collection to include people arrested for certain crimes.  The Legislative Black Caucus, the Office of the Public Defender and the ACLU were able to insert several protections into the bill.  Subsequently, it came to light that local jurisdictions have their own databanks of DNA, including the DNA of victims, and that these jurisdictions are not following the State law.  The ACLU supported HB 680, which would have required local jurisdictions to follow the State law on what DNA could be collected, and how it would be used, stored and expunged. Unfortunately, HB 680 did not receive a vote from the House Judiciary Committee. 

Isolated Confinement

This session, we supported HB 787/ SB 861, which would have created a study to look at the use of isolated confinement in Maryland.  Isolated or solitary confinement is an extreme and inhumane form of punishment that is not evidence-based, wastes taxpayers' money and jeopardizes public safety.  Maryland uses isolated confinement at a much higher rate than other states, and thus it is an area that is ripe for reform.  Unfortunately, this bill died in committee.

PRIVACY

Read our Privacy and Technology report. 

Location Tracking - VICTORY!

For four years, the ACLU has advocated for a bill to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to tracking people using their cell phone or other electronic device.  When turned on, a cell phone sends off a signal several times a minute.  That signal reaches the closest cell towers, which then bounce the signal back, giving the phone the strongest signal from which to operate.  Cell phone companies keep this information anywhere from 6 months to several years.  When considered in the aggregate, this information can give a detailed picture of where a person is or has been over a period of time. 

Currently, law enforcement in Maryland are able to obtain that location information if it is ‘relevant to a criminal investigation.'  This session we were able to pass SB 698/ HB 1161, which will require law enforcement to obtain a warrant, based upon probable cause that the target of the information either is committing or has committed a crime, or that the location information itself is evidence of or will lead to evidence of the crime being investigated, prior to conducting real-time tracking of an individual.  While the bill that passed relates only to real-time tracking, we anticipate seeking an inclusion of "historical" tracking at a later date, as where you have been is no less private than where you are right now.

Read our testimony on SB 698.

Communications Content Privacy - VICTORY!

When our privacy and technology law was originally passed in the 1980s, mobile phones and email did not exist. Now, law enforcement only has to obtain a search warrant to read peoples' emails that are less than 6 months old. Any email, tweets, texts or Facebook posts older than 6 months, as well as other online content, may be read by law enforcement if it is "relevant" to an ongoing criminal investigation.  This session, we brought our law up to 21st century technology and passed SB 924/ HB 912, requiring law enforcement to obtain a search warrant based on probable cause any time they want to read the content of someone's electronic communications.

Read our testimony on SB 924.

Automatic License Plate Reader Systems (ALPRs) - Partial Victory

ALPRs are high-speed cameras that capture photographs of every passing car, date and stamp that photograph, and automatically check that plate against a number of state, local and federal databases of "hot lists" of plates.  Maryland has 411 of these readers across the state:  307 are mounted on police cars and 104 are fixed cameras.  This information is held for varying amounts of time, and is used by law enforcement for other purposes as well, including investigating cases.  As a result of the massive amount of information generated by ALPRs, Maryland has a database of millions of Marylanders' location and travel habits.  In a five-month period in 2012, Maryland's plate reader system had over 29 million license plate scans.  Of those, only 0.2 percent were associated with any wrongdoing, and 97 percent of those were for suspended or revoked registration or an emissions violation.

In its original form, SB 699/ HB 289 would have placed limits on the length of time that law enforcement could keep the ALPR data.  Such limits would have minimized the invasion of privacy that comes with ALPRs and the government's ability to keep a database on our movements just in case we do something wrong.  However, due to objection by law enforcement, the bill was amended: now, ALPRs will be used only for a "legitimate law enforcement purpose" and any agency using an ALPR must create procedures for who can access the data and an audit process to ensure the system is only being used for legitimate law enforcement purposes. The law also will require law enforcement to report to the legislature how many readers they use, the number of requests they get for that information, and any data breaches.

Read our testimony on SB 699.

Drones

The ACLU of Maryland supported a bill that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to using a drone to gather evidence.  Though the bill did not make it out of committee, it successfully raised awareness in the legislature of the proliferation of drones and the privacy concerns posed by their unregulated use.

Read our testimony on SB 926.

Patient Privacy - VICTORY!

The ACLU of Maryland supported SB 790, which would have required the Maryland Insurance Administration to create a form allowing individuals to keep certain medical information private under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  The bill passed!

Read our testimony on SB 790.

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION

Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 - VICTORY!

We are thrilled to be a part of the coalition that helped propel the Fairness for All Marylanders Act to passage.  This important and long-fought for bill places gender identity in our anti-discrimination laws, ensuring that transgender individuals are not discriminated against in public accommodations, housing or unemployment.

Read our testimony on SB 212.

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. 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. 

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.

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