January 28, 2020: The 2020 Maryland legislative session is in full swing, and you’re invited to join us in raising our voices for justice! Our communities are strongest when all people have opportunities to make a living, stay healthy, and keep a roof over their heads. But too often, society creates barriers that make it difficult for people to enforce their rights. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be advocating for laws that dismantle such barriers, especially those facing people of color and people with low incomes. Read about the PJC’s legislative priorities below.
With the recent enactment of a $15 minimum wage, Maryland has made progress toward ensuring fairness in the workplace. But wage protections will be meaningless if businesses are free to break their obligations with impunity and can retaliate to silence those who speak up. We need reforms that will ensure that basic rights are a reality for every worker in our state. Accordingly, we will seek to pass a bill that strengthens Maryland’s wage laws by:
Too frequently we hear that business owners are ignorant of their responsibilities as employers and/or never investigated or understood the distinction between employees and independent contractors. Maryland should be open for good business, not just any business. This bill would ensure that new businesses certify that they have read and are familiar with guidance on the proper classification of workers when they first register and would require annual certification.
Misclassification of home care workers as independent contractors is a huge problem in Maryland. It hurts workers (who earn less and have fewer protections), consumers (who face frequent turnover of their caregivers), and taxpayers (because employers who misclassify don’t pay payroll taxes). State money should fund good jobs that don’t exploit workers. This bill would require the creation of a plain-language guidance explaining the concept of independent contractor misclassification; require businesses to read and follow it; and require businesses to report their pay and classification practices to the state.
Maryland’s sick and safe leave law took effect in 2018, but efforts to weaken it persist. The PJC and Working Matters Coalition will defend the HWFA from expected amendments designed to weaken it by: a) exempting coverage for school substitutes; b) allowing employers to penalize leave through absence control policies; c) expanding the permissible waiting period before leave is taken; and d) exempting employees who work for certain businesses that offer an on-site health clinic.
In 2018, there were more than 650,000 “Rent Court” cases filed to evict Maryland renters for failure to pay rent. The process is skewed to favor landlords’ recovery of money, often without a meaningful hearing for the tenant. The Public Justice Center and the Renters United Maryland coalition will press the General Assembly to reform the Rent Court process in bills that:
The PJC and the Renters United Maryland coalition will push three additional bills focused on curtailing eviction:
The PJC will continue in a leadership role with the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act coalition to advocate for legislation that will prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income. The bill will be sponsored by Delegate Brooke Lierman and Senator Will Smith.
Doulas provide information and support for pregnant women during pregnancy, birth, and after delivery. Doulas are associated with lower cesarean rates, shorter labor, and improved health outcomes for pregnant individuals and their babies. The PJC’s Health Rights Project, in collaboration with the Reproductive Health Equity Alliance of Maryland, will be leading advocacy for a bill that would create a Doula Technical Assistance Advisory Workgroup to study issues around doula Medicaid reimbursement as well as doula certification. The bill would also require the Department of Health to develop a statewide voluntary certification program for doulas if the Advisory Group recommends it. We believe that expanding access to doula care for low-income individuals and people of color will help reduce Maryland’s Black maternal mortality rate and reduce racial disparities in maternal health outcomes.
Black women die due to pregnancy and delivery related complications at three to four times the rate of their white counterparts, a disparity that has persisted for the last seven decades. The PJC will be supporting legislative efforts to strengthen the Maryland Maternal Mortality Review Stakeholder Group and other legislation designed to address maternal mortality and racial disparities.
The PJC will be supporting legislation to raise the minimum benefit for public benefits programs like the Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP), Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We will also be supporting efforts to expand and protect Medical Assistance. These programs are critical for individuals and families living in poverty to help them secure basic needs, such as health food, stable housing, and quality healthcare.
The PJC’s Education Stability Project will be playing a lead role with respect to the bills described below. In addition, as chairs of the Coalition to Reform School Discipline legislative committee, Project staff will coordinate coalition-wide strategy around a range of bills impacting student discipline and school pushout.
Nearly all school districts in Maryland have established alternative schools or programs for children with behavior challenges and children who have been suspended or expelled. These schools and programs currently operate in the dark; there is no public reporting about the curriculum and services they offer, on the qualifications of their staff, on the demographics of students they serve, and on the academic performance of their student body. Maryland parents and taxpayers have a right to know more about these programs, particularly given national research indicating that alternative schools often do not offer the same level of staffing or programming as compared to mainstream schools, and that their students have worse academic and behavioral outcomes. This bill shines a light on alternative schools and programs in our state by requiring annual public reports on their policies, curriculum, programming, student demographics, and student academic outcomes. Over the long run, greater transparency will lead to greater accountability within the sphere of alternative education.
Recent decades have seen steady growth in the presence of police within public schools, a trend that increases the likelihood of students being arrested for minor behaviors and entering the now infamous school-to-prison pipeline. This bill seeks to keep students in school, and out of the juvenile and criminal systems, by making clear that school police and security officers should not be involved in routine discipline matters where there is no immediate threat of physical harm to members of the school community. Teachers, administrators, and staff – not police – should be responsible for responding to the vast majority of behavior challenges within schools.
In coalition with Marylanders for Open Government, the PJC will seek to strengthen 2015 improvements to the Maryland Public Information Act, including expanding the jurisdiction of the PIA Compliance Board to resolve disputes and shortening the time in which government entities must respond to requests for public records (Maryland currently has one of the longest response times and governments still routinely ignore it). The PJC and allies will also pursue greater transparency in police accountability to communities through legislation to render certain police discipline and misconduct records subject to PIA disclosure.