June 10, 2020: While the 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we still achieved victories that will benefit tenants, workers, and women of color receiving maternal healthcare. Here are some highlights of the bills that became law in May:
After decades of advocacy, the HOME Act is now law statewide! The law prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on the source of income they use to pay the rent. Too often, landlords have told potential tenants that they do not rent to people who use Housing Choice vouchers or other public benefits to pay rent, contributing to concentrations of poverty, racially segregated housing, and homelessness. The HOME Act seeks to address this discrimination across Maryland, and follows similar local laws enacted in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Anne Arundel County.
Amendment to the Equal Pay for Equal Work law
Maryland’s Equal Pay for Equal Work law will now protect employees who ask about their own wages from their employers retaliating against them. The original law sought to do this, but as written, did not do so. As the law was initially written, an employer could not prohibit an employee from inquiring about either her wages or another employee’s wages. But the law protected that employee from retaliation only if she asked about another employee’s wages—not if she asked about her own.
HB 14 provides a technical fix to this gap in employee protection and will help employees determine whether they are receiving equal pay for equal work. While employees generally know their hourly pay rate or annual salary, they may have other questions about their own wages. Questions about “wages” include when an employee asks (1) for a raise in her wage rate so that her pay matches that of her male colleagues, (2) whether she is receiving compensation for time she works on weekends or after hours, (3) what her overtime pay rate or bonus pay is, so that she can determine whether her rate or bonus is equivalent to male colleagues, or (4) any one of a number of other questions an employee might ask to determine whether she is receiving equal pay for equal work. HB 14 takes effect on October 1, 2020.
Laws improving maternal health care for women of color
Women deserve quality, culturally competent care during pregnancy and labor and after the birth of a child. Yet too often, our healthcare systems fail Black women, who die in childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women in the United States, regardless of income and education. And the gap is growing in Maryland, with maternal mortality increasing for Black women (45.1 per 100,000 live births), even as it decreases for white women (15 per 100,000 live births). This year, the PJC successfully advocated for two bills that will help address racial disparities in maternal mortality.
HB 837 will require implicit bias training for perinatal healthcare clinicians to help ensure that they provide culturally competent care. This is important because racial bias often leads to healthcare providers ignoring Black women’s concerns and delivering a lower quality of care. Provider bias adds to the accumulated stress Black women experience from racist insults and discrimination in many areas of life, such as work, housing, and police encounters. The physical toll of this stress is known as weathering and can lead to pregnancy-related complications and maternal mortality. Implicit bias training can help clinicians become more aware of their own biases and enable them to take the steps needed to correct dangerous assumptions in providing care to women of color.
HB 286 will strengthen the Maryland Maternal Mortality Review Stakeholder Group, which is tasked with providing recommendations on reducing racial disparities to the Maryland Maternal Mortality Review (MMR) Program. Membership in the Stakeholder Group, however, has not been representative of the people it is intended to benefit. HB 286 requires the group to include families and women who have experienced near maternal death, a maternal death, or other challenges during pregnancy. To the extent reasonably practical, the group must include stakeholders who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of women most impacted by maternal deaths. Finally, HB 286 requires the Secretary of Health to contact specific community-based organizations and advocacy organizations focusing on perinatal care for input and recruitment support. We hope that this will help hold the Stakeholder Group accountable and result in meaningful recommendations.