May 20, 2022
Advocacy in Annapolis is always a cross between a sprint and a marathon, and this year’s session of the Maryland General Assembly was no exception. Together with coalition partners, legislators, and people like you, we achieved several victories and set the stage for future advocacy. Among this year’s accomplishments are laws that will:
Read on for more about these successes and areas where the fight must continue. Thank you to everyone who advocates alongside us to build a just society!
Access to Health and Public Benefits
2022 was a big year for housing justice in Maryland, capping multi-year efforts on several campaigns. As a leader of the Renters United Maryland coalition, the PJC successfully advocated for a number of bills that will fund access to counsel in evictions, pause evictions while rental assistance is processed, stop unlicensed landlords from using the courts to evict, enhance tenant protections, and collect data on evictions and foreclosures.
Building on the passage of a 2021 law to provide legal representation to Maryland tenants facing eviction, the General Assembly designated funding through three sources:
SB 384: In the last half of 2021, almost 700 Maryland families per month were evicted even though many had rental assistance applications pending. Unless vetoed by the Governor, SB 384 will provide a stay (i.e., pause) of failure to pay rent (FTPR) eviction proceedings for up to 35 days if a tenant shows that they made a timely, good faith application for rental assistance. The court shall grant a stay of trial or a stay of execution of the eviction warrant. The bill is not tied to any specific rental assistance funds, but it sunsets in 2025 when the state will have spent much of its federal funds for rent relief. Unless vetoed by the Governor, SB 384 will have an immediate effective date. Update May 27: The Governor vetoed the bill.
HB 932 / SB 592: Under this bill, when a tenant exercises their right to “pay to stay”, a written or electronic check paid to the landlord by a governmental agency or on behalf of one will have the same legal effect as a cash or money order payment made by the tenant. In other words, landlords will have no grounds to reject a rental assistance check when the tenant is redeeming possession of the home.
SB 563: While many Maryland counties and cities require landlords to pass a property inspection and obtain a rental license to lawfully operate, the General Assembly had not yet prohibited landlords from using specialized eviction proceedings without proof of a valid rental license. This loophole has enabled illegally operating landlords to easily use the courts’ streamlined eviction procedures, incentivizing non-compliance with local laws, hurting renters who report the illegal activity, and undermining local agencies’ efforts to eradicate unsafe housing. SB 563 will address this problem by requiring landlords to show their valid rental license in any trial for FTPR, tenant holding over (THO), or breach of lease. However, an unlicensed landlord may proceed with a THO or breach of lease case if they show that the tenant’s acts caused the failure to obtain a license. In such cases, the landlord must provide 30 days’ notice to the tenant of that allegation. Additionally, this applies only in the six counties and more than fifteen municipalities that require rental licensing. It does not apply to breach of lease actions in which a landlord seeks to evict a tenant deemed to be “dangerous”. The opposition’s attempts to exempt multi-unit and federally subsidized properties from the bill failed. Unless vetoed by the Governor, the bill will take effect on October 1, 2022. Update May 27: The Governor vetoed the bill.
HB 174: This bill will allow courts to consider evidence demonstrating that the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) registration and lead inspection certificate information asserted in a FTPR complaint is invalid. With MDE’s new Lead Rental Certification and Accreditation database, tenants can verify lead inspection certificates rapidly, and this bill allows tenants to challenge whether the landlord has a valid lead certificate in a failure-to-pay-rent eviction trial. The bill does not go into effect until October 1, 2023.
HB 86 / SB 6: This bill accomplishes four areas of reform in landlord-tenant relations. Notably, the bill expands the ability of survivors of abuse (broadly defined, inclusive of domestic/partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking) to obtain early termination from their current lease with limited liability for future rent. Additionally, the bill establishes statewide transparency requirements for “ratio utility billing” (when landlords charge each tenant in a building a portion of the total energy and water bill), requires that landlords send tenants an estimate or invoice supporting any deductions from a security deposit, and requires landlords to make common area space available for tenant associations. The bill goes into effect on June 1, 2022, and will only apply to leases prospectively.
HB 824: Effective January 1, 2023, this bill requires the Maryland Judiciary to collect and report the following data for both evictions and foreclosures: type of case, date of eviction, and county/zip code location of eviction. Prior-month data will be reported online monthly and data sets will be made available to state and local agencies as well as academic researchers.
HB 521: Beginning October 1, 2023, tenants may petition the District Court to shield (defined essentially as sealing) all records related to a FTPR filed during the pandemic period 3/5/20-1/1/22. For actions that did not result in a judgment for the landlord, the court shall grant the petitioner’s relief. But if there was a judgment entered, there will be a hearing in which the tenant must show a COVID-19-related economic impact. The landlord may object to the petition. The court may deny the petition on specific grounds stated in its order.
HB 449: This bill expands renter households’ backward-eligibility for missed tax credits. It goes into effect June 1, 2023.
Finally, we came close but ultimately could not pass the eviction prevention/diversion bill SB 564, which would have ensured day-of-trial access to eviction prevention services. Despite well-executed hearings, our bills to authorize local just cause laws (requiring landlords to have a just cause to non-renew a lease) and to establish collective tenant actions for repairs and damages did not come up in committee voting. Additionally, a bill on mold inspection/remediation standards was withdrawn by the House sponsor.
Thank you to all of our partners in Renters United Maryland and the many legislators and government officials who helped champion these bills, including Sen. Shelly Hettleman, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, Sen. Susan Lee, Sen. Craig Zucker, Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chair Guy Guzzone, Senate President Bill Ferguson, House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones, House Judiciary Chair Luke Clippinger, Del. Nicole Williams, Del. David Moon, Del. Wanika Fisher, Del. Mary Lehman, Del. Vaughn Stewart, Del. Jen Terrassa, Del. Melissa Wells, Del. Brooke Lierman, Del. Sandy Rosenberg, House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve, Chair of the Housing and Real Property Subcommittee of the Environment and Transportation Committee Marvin Holmes, Sen. Chris West, Attorney General Brian Frosh, House Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie McIntosh, Del. Ben Barnes, and Sen. George Edwards.
PJC attorneys Zafar Shah and Matt Hill led the Human Right to Housing Project’s legislative advocacy in collaboration with attorneys Charisse Lue, Albert Turner, and Ronnie Reno and paralegals Carolina Paul, Gabriela Dickson La Rotta, and Patrick O’Toole.
The PJC’s Education Stability Project advocates for systemic strategies to reduce schools’ reliance on exclusionary discipline and promote the use of alternatives to school pushout. In this year’s session of the General Assembly, we advocated to reform the state’s “reportable offense” law and decriminalize disruption in the classroom.
School districts in Maryland previously had broad discretion to indefinitely remove a student from school, with minimal due process, if the student was arrested for or charged with any one of a wide range of criminal offenses (called a “reportable offense”) even if they were not alleged to have occurred at school. Unfortunately, school districts frequently violated the minimal requirements of the reportable offense law, capitalized on loopholes in the law to remove students for long periods of time for offenses that had no connection to or impact on the school community, and used the reportable offense process as a workaround to more protective student discipline regulations. We successfully advocated to reform the law and the General Assembly passed HB 146, which:
This is an important first step to build on in future years. A huge thank you to the bill sponsors Del. Vanessa Atterbeary and Del. David Moon, and to Sen. Mary Washington, who championed the bill in the Senate. Many thanks to our partners the Office of the Public Defender, Disability Rights Maryland, and the Choice Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who devoted substantial time to supporting the bill.
A section of the Maryland Education Code currently allows students to be charged with a misdemeanor crime if they “willfully disturb or otherwise willfully prevent the orderly conduct of the activities, administration, or classes of any institution of elementary, secondary, or higher education” or “threaten” students or staff. Law enforcement and schools have used this statute to arrest children engaging in horseplay and other minor, developmentally-anticipated behaviors. We advocated to amend the law to no longer apply to students, so that kids are not criminalized for being kids. While slightly different versions of the bill passed both the House and Senate, the General Assembly ran out of time to agree on a single version. We hope to keep up the fight to pass this bill in the next legislative session. Many thanks to the bill sponsors Del. Sheila Ruth and Sen. Mary Washington, and to our partner the Office of the Public Defender for leading the advocacy effort.
The PJC’s Education Stability team for the 2022 legislative session included attorneys Renuka Rege and Monisha Cherayil and paralegal Fredson Desravines.
The PJC’s Access to Health and Public Benefits Project supports policies and practices that promote the overall health of Marylanders struggling to make ends meet, with the explicit goal of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes. During the 2022 state legislative session, we successfully advocated alongside other health and anti-poverty advocates for legislation that will transform Maryland’s healthcare system for historically underserved communities and make public benefits programs more responsive to the needs of low-income individuals and families. We are thrilled that the Maryland General Assembly passed many of these important bills. Here are a few of the bills that our Access to Health and Public Benefits Project supported and are on Governor Hogan’s desk for signing or are already signed. Update May 27: All of these bills were either signed or will go into effect without the Governor’s signature.
HB 6 / SB 150 will finally expand Maryland Medicaid to provide adult dental coverage. Prior to the passage of this legislation, Maryland Medicaid only provided dental coverage to adults under 65 who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare, leaving many beneficiaries without any coverage. Maryland will join more than 30 other states that provide dental coverage to adult beneficiaries. Now signed into law, HB 6 / SB 150 will help eliminate dental health disparities and promote the overall wellness of Marylanders. We thank Del. Bonnie Cullison and Sen. Malcolm Augustine for championing this important legislation. We also thank the Maryland Dental Action Coalition for leading advocates in the fight for adult dental coverage and standing firm in the belief that socioeconomic status should not be a barrier to attaining good oral health.
The PJC and other health advocates supported HB 694 to address the failure of Maryland’s hospitals to meet their obligation to provide charity care to eligible patients. In 2021, the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission (HSCRC) released a study showing that hospitals collected roughly $60 million in 2017 and then again in 2018 from patients who were eligible for free care and thus, should not have been charged. HB 694 would require the HSCRC, in coordination with the Department of Human Services, the State designated exchange, the Office of the Comptroller, and the Maryland Hospital Association, to develop a process for identifying patients who paid for hospital services but may have qualified for free care and have the hospitals reimburse the patients. HB 694 covers patients who were wrongly charged between 2017-2021. The bill passed and is headed to the Governor’s desk. We thank Del. Lorig Charkoudian and Sen. Antonio Hayes for their leadership on this legislation. We also thank End Medical Debt Maryland, Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, 1199SEIU, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and others for their advocacy and commitment to ending medical debt collection in Maryland.
HB 1043 and SB 828 are also on their way to the Governor for signing. Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) is an important resource for over 22,000 low-income families in Maryland and supports basic needs, such as housing and food. Though adult recipients of TCA are required to work, more than 25% of these families are working without pay. Unpaid work does not leave participants with the necessary skills or training to secure unsubsidized employment. HB 1043 / SB 828 brings meaningful changes to Maryland’s TCA program, including providing parents needed exemptions from work and flexibilities in choosing work activities that align with their professional goals. We thank Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith, Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, Homeless Persons Representation Project and Catholic Charities of Baltimore for leading this trauma-informed legislation to address serious inequities in Maryland’s TCA program.
We thank Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, Sen. Clarence Lam, Del. Tony Bridges, and Sen. Arthur Ellis for championing HB 669 / SB 503 and SB 166 / HB 765, which require the Maryland Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Program to continue covering doula services for pregnant and postpartum beneficiaries. Doulas are non-medical birth workers who provide emotional and physical support, information, and advocacy to birthing people and families during the prenatal, birth and postpartum period. The legislation will codify the regulations for the Maryland Medicaid Doula Program, making doula care a permanent feature of Maryland’s Medicaid program. As a result of the tireless efforts of maternal health advocates over several years, including the Reproductive Health Equity Alliance of Maryland, Maryland will join the growing number of states that have recognized that doula care can improve pregnancy outcomes for low-income birthing people and birthing people of color.
We thank Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk and CASA de Maryland for leading the charge on the Healthy Babies Equity Act (HB 1080). The lack of health insurance coverage available to immigrants without a qualified immigration status in Maryland is a glaring disparity. Under current law, non-citizens who have resided in the U.S. legally for less than five years are not eligible for Medicaid or the Maryland Children’s Health Program. Non-citizens who are ineligible due to the 5-year bar are eligible for Medicaid emergency services only, including labor and delivery. These laws have the impact of forcing low-income non-citizens who cannot afford prenatal care out-of-pocket to wait until birth to identify potentially life-threatening issues to the health of the birthing parent and baby. Access to quality healthcare should not hinge on immigration status. HB 1080 requires Maryland’s Medicaid Program to provide comprehensive medical care and other health care services to noncitizen pregnant individuals who would be eligible for Medicaid but for their immigration status. It also extends coverage to their children up to the age of one. We applaud the Maryland General Assembly for removing these harmful barriers by opening a clear path towards pregnancy and postpartum care for immigrant communities.
When consumers cannot easily obtain or understand health information to make informed health decisions, they may have difficulty seeking preventative healthcare and managing chronic illnesses. For individuals with Limited English Proficiency in particular, the lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate health information can lead to poor comprehension and adherence to treatment and poor health outcomes, including undiagnosed or untreated illnesses. To address this barrier, the PJC supported HB 1082, which requires state and local agencies to use plain language in communications about health, safety, and social services benefits. The legislation also designates the University of Maryland Herschel S. Horowitz Center for Health Literacy as the State’s Consumer Health Information Hub. We thank Del. Peña-Melnyk and consumer health policy advocate Leni Preston for elevating the importance of health literacy in Maryland and championing this bill.
Attorney Ashley Black leads the PJC’s Access to Health and Public Benefits Project.
The PJC’s Workplace Justice Project promotes justice and equity in the workplace. In this year’s legislative session, we advocated for bills on the employment status and compensation of home care workers, eligibility for federally funded unemployment benefits, acceleration of increasing the minimum wage to $15, and the enforcement of state wage laws in federal courts.
Thanks to the passage of SB 600 / HB 544, policymakers will have the information they need to ensure that home care workers are not misclassified as independent contractors and robbed of the benefits they are entitled to. The bill will require home care agencies to report to the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) the number of home care workers paid with Medicaid funds that the agency has classified as employees and the number that the agency has classified as independent contractors. Reporting information on workers’ hourly wage rates – while important – was amended out of the bill so that the bill could pass. The amended bill also requires MDH to produce an annual report on Medicaid reimbursement rates, the cost of delivering home care services, and the employment classifications of home care workers.
Passage of this bill is a victory for home care workers, the older adults and people with disabilities who rely on home care to remain in their homes and communities, and home care agencies that properly classify their home care workers as employees but are forced to compete with low-road home care agencies that misclassify their workers as independent contractors. The bill will provide the state – for the very first time – with information on how state-funded businesses treat their workers with state money and whether those businesses are using that money to strip workers outside the social safety net of full pay and workplace protections by misclassifying them. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.
We are very grateful to our bill sponsors – champions for Maryland’s home care workers, Sen. Delores Kelley and Del. Lily Qi, as well as Del. Ariana Kelly who helped guide the bill through subcommittee in the House. Thank you also to the many advocates and organizations that lent their support to the bill through oral and written testimony to the committees: 1199SEIU, AARP – Maryland, Alzheimer’s Association – Greater Maryland and National Capital Area Chapters, Complete Home Care, Comprehensive Nursing Services, Disability Rights Maryland, IMAGE Center of Maryland, Maryland Center for Economic Policy, Marylanders for Patient Rights, National Association of Social Workers – Maryland Chapter, National Domestic Workers Alliance, New America, and superstar home care worker Stephanie Williams who provided powerful oral testimony in both the Senate and House.
The passage of HB 253 / SB 655 corrects a problem with the way Maryland measured its eligibility for 100% federally funded extended unemployment benefits, which are available only during prolonged periods of high unemployment. In future periods of high unemployment when the federal government fully funds extended unemployment benefits, jobless Marylanders unemployed through no fault of their own will now be able to access those funds when jobs are especially scarce. Governor Hogan signed the bill, and it is now law. We thank bill sponsors Del. Julie Palakovich-Carr and Sen. Katherine Klausmeier for their focus on this complicated but very important issue, which could improve the lives of many thousands of Marylanders and their families during future periods of high unemployment.
In recognition of increasing inflation, which makes it harder for low-wage workers to earn enough money to get by, HB 698 / SB 721 would have raised Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 per hour faster than current law requires. Unfortunately, the bill did not get a vote in committee. We thank the lead bill sponsors Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher and Del. Veronica Turner and the bill’s many cosponsors for their efforts on behalf of Maryland’s underpaid, low-wage workers who were already struggling to earn enough to provide for themselves and their families before the pandemic and recent inflation increases and are facing even greater difficulties now. These efforts build on the framework created by the Fight for Fifteen campaign to ensure that low-wage workers are paid fairly.
HB 981 / SB 863 would have required that the approximately 18,000 Maryland home care workers paid with Medicaid funds be paid at least $16 per hour, while also raising the hourly rate that the state pays Medicaid-funded home care agencies by about $3 per hour. The successful hearings provided compelling and much-needed information to committee members about the critical shortage of home care workers in Maryland and how low wages – which are especially low in Medicaid-funded work – are driving that crisis. The hearings also presented a solution to committee members that would improve wages for home care workers while also ensuring that provider agencies receive enough money to cover their expenses and make a profit. While the House and Senate committees ultimately did not vote on the bill, the hearings laid the groundwork for future advocacy. We are very grateful to our bill sponsors Del. Shaneka Henson and Sen. Cory McCray, as well as all the amazing advocates and organizations that provided oral and written testimony in support of the bill, including 1199SEIU, Alzheimer’s Association – Greater Maryland and National Capital Area Chapters, Disability Rights Maryland, Maryland Center for Economic Policy, Marylanders for Patient Rights, National Association of Social Workers – Maryland Chapter, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and New America.
This bill would have provided clarity in Maryland’s wage laws by making clear that federal courts must interpret Maryland’s Wage Payment and Collection Law in the same way that state courts do – protecting workers who are jointly employed by multiple employers, especially where the subcontractor is a fly-by-night entity that can’t pay a wage-theft judgment. Unfortunately, the bill did not get a vote in the Senate Finance Committee and got an unfavorable vote in the House Economic Matters Committee. We are very grateful to Attorney General Brian Frosh for championing this bill.
Workplace Justice Project attorneys David Rodwin and Tyra Robinson led PJC advocacy on these bills, with support from attorney Monisha Cherayil and paralegal Lena Yeakey.