Hosted and produced by Amber Taylor of the ACLU of Maryland, this monthly podcast will inform Marylanders about what's happening politically – from the courts to the streets – so you can get involved and realize a more equitable Maryland for all.
This year, the ACLU sought to expand a law which requires police to report the race and ethnicity of drivers they pull over, as well as other information, including whether a search was conducted and whether it was consensual. Although we sought several improvements to the law, perhaps the greatest flaw in the pre-existing reporting requirement was its failure to disaggregate traffic stops by jurisdiction. Moving forward, the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center will post on its website a data display that can be filtered to allow the public to view all traffic stop data by county, municipality or law enforcement agency. Additionally, a sunset provision was removed, meaning this information will be required to be reported every year. Fortunately, the bill passed and takes effect July 1, 2019.
The ACLU supported two bills which would have first, required the Commissioner of Correction to operate a prerelease unit for women within the Division of Correction and second, defined the functions of a prerelease facility. Currently, Maryland operates one prerelease unit for women at Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, but no separate brick and mortar facility which provides services to women transitioning back into their communities. Unfortunately, the costs of providing these services were used as an excuse to continue denying women these basic services, which are vital for safe re-entry. However, we are encouraged by the interest and support expressed by many legislators. Ultimately, the General Assembly passed SB 821, which requires the Commissioner of Correction to conduct a gender-based study in prerelease programming and facilities in Maryland to better parse out the logistics of providing women services equal to what is currently available to men. The bill passed and has been signed by the Governor.
Local Control of the Baltimore City Police Department
The ACLU worked closely with stakeholders to establish the Baltimore Police Department as an agency under the control of Baltimore City, rather than the State of Maryland. Had the bill passed, Baltimore’s Mayor and City Council would be authorized to amend the law relating to BPD in order to implement policy changes. The bill passed the House, but it unfortunately stalled in the Senate because some Baltimore City senators expressed concern about potential increases in financial liability. We will continue to work during the interim to address the concerns raised during the legislative session. We look forward to returning next year with the full support of all city legislators.
The ACLU fought hard against a bill which would provide Johns Hopkins University with the authority to establish its own private police force to patrol its campuses and some of the surrounding communities. Unfortunately, the bill passed and was signed into law by the Governor. We remain concerned about the precedent of allowing private entities to perform the State police power in Maryland. As the bill evolved, we were successful in securing amendments that offer some measure of protection against police misconduct as well as removing the prospect of JHU being covered by governmental immunities for its bad acts. We will monitor the implementation process for this private police force, with the goals of ensuring civil rights and liberties are protected and that any rights violation is handled in a transparent way that is accountable to the people of Baltimore.
The ACLU worked with legislators to create a new task force that will review civil and criminal violations throughout the Maryland Code. This creates a tremendous opportunity for the State to streamline and standardize the law, address racial disparities in criminal sentencing, and take a smarter approach to public safety. The task force takes effect June 1, 2019, we will be actively advocating with the members.
The ACLU was successful in passing legislation to (1) limit the use of solitary confinement (“restrictive housing”) for children; (2) require that children placed in solitary confinement maintain access to basic necessities; and (3) institute a reporting requirement for local jails and the Department of Juvenile Services to report the use of solitary confinement on an annual basis. This important reform is the first step in a very long journey toward safeguarding the dignity and rights of all persons who are incarcerated in Maryland.
The ACLU joined our youth justice partners in support of legislation that has the potential to significantly improve the lives of children who are involved with the juvenile justice system. This bill establishes the Juvenile Justice Reform Council, which is tasked with using data to develop policies and strategies to increase public safety while reducing recidivism among the children they are tasked to work with. We will continue working with our partners to advocate with the council for progressive reforms.
HB 413 would have allowed some transparency over the police disciplinary process. Sponsored by Del. Erek Barron, the bill was not successful this session, but together with our partners the ACLU pivoted our attention to another police transparency bill, HB 1382, sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger, which did gain greater traction.
HB 1382 was a much more modest reform than the ACLU would have liked to see—it only allowed for transparency over the small fraction of police misconduct that was subject to a hearing board. We advocated for the bill to be amended to address a broader spectrum of misconduct, which caused the House Judiciary Committee to expand the bill somewhat. The expanded bill was still far from meaningful transparency, but the ACLU recognized it might still be worthwhile for the families who have lost loved ones to police violence and are often desperate for basic information. So, out of respect for those families and survivors of police violence, we took a neutral position on the bill. Ultimately, however, HB 1382 was not voted on by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Another important police transparency bill was HB 1011/SB 1037 Anton’s Law, sponsored by Del. Gabriel Acevero. This bill would also have allowed transparency over the disciplinary process. Despite a robust advocacy campaign led by the family of Anton Black, who was killed by police in Caroline County, this bill also failed to move out of committee.
Del. Emily Shetty also introduced HB 983 Public Safety - Investigation of an Officer-Involved Death (the Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act)—a statewide analog to the Montgomery County LETT Act, introduced by Montgomery County Councilman Will Jawando.
Although all the various legislative efforts stalled, we are energized by the breadth of interest in this issue and were assured by the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Clippinger that he is committed to addressing the lack of transparency in policing across the state.
Several bills were introduced in 2019 to protect our immigrant communities from draconian and misguided immigration enforcement. Unfortunately, Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, fed the hate-mongering rhetoric of anti-immigrant groups, dooming the effort once again. This year, Zirkin demonized swaths of undocumented immigrants—many who have escaped persecution and abuse before coming to the U.S. — by dominating the dialogue with references to September 11, terrorist watch-lists, MS-13, and “extremely dangerous persons.”
Fortunately, two modest reforms did pass—HB 214/ SB 144 helps immigrant victims of crime qualify for a U-Visa, and HB 262/ SB 537 makes it easier for non-citizens to qualify for in-state tuition. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan failed to see the value in providing our immigrant communities with an education and he vetoed the bill.
We made progress on our 2019 education priorities, but if this year’s initial steps to pass a bill to enact Kirwan Commission recommendations are an indication of the road ahead, we’ve got a lot of work to do and we will need your help.
Equitable & Adequate Education Funding
After much anticipation and uncertainty, the Kirwan legislation—The “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” (HB1413/SB1030) — was finally introduced and outlined expected policy programs modeled after a short list of priorities released at the end of 2018. Essentially a starter package, the bill included several key recommendations, some of which are also ACLU’s priority goals. We were especially encouraged by an emphasis on addressing concentrated poverty funding and by legislators’ commitment to a roll-out that targets the students who are most impacted. Unfortunately, the House and Senate versions of the proposal differed substantially. The Senate made a large cut to special education and forced a conference committee to compromise. We will continue to pressure Commissioners and all involved to make equity considerations an intrinsic part of this process at each phase of implementation.
Modern, Healthy & Safe School Buildings
One of the biggest disappointments of the 2019 legislative session was the Senate’s failure to pass a bill that would have generated critical funds to fix Maryland’s school facilities. The House Appropriations Committee decided to consolidate the numerous school construction bills into the “Build to Learn Act of 2019”, amending HB727. Despite HB727 passing with overwhelming support in the House, the Senate was unwilling to make the financial commitment. Every county in the state would have benefited from passage of the bill. In the coming months, the state will start a detailed assessment—as mandated by HB1783 passed in 2018—to document the current condition of every school facility in Maryland. The ACLU will urge the state to use the assessment to prioritize funding to the buildings in the worst condition.
This session the ACLU supported recommendations from the December 2018 report of the Maryland Commission on School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices, on which ACLU Policy Counsel Kimberly Humphrey served. The report found a need for investment and institutional changes to transform the poorly implemented and ineffective discipline practices of our current system. Working closely with bill sponsors and allies in the Coalition to Reform School Discipline, we successfully moved a couple of bills that were part of the comprehensive package of six that aimed to make school climate reform more systematic.
We also successfully fought several problematic proposals that attempted to take our school systems backwards. The most troubling of the proposals sought to authorize school police officers in Baltimore City to carry loaded guns during the day (initially HB 31) which was withdrawn early in the session and reintroduced as HB 1373). Fortunately, the Baltimore City House Delegation voted down HB 1373 after a hearing revealed that armed officers are already available to be in the school during an emergency, and that the increased exposure to loaded guns would put students in more harm’s way.
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