E-Alerts & Press Releases

Legislative session starts

February 3, 2016: The 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly kicked off in January, and the Public Justice Center is back in Annapolis. Priorities this year include: the Healthy Working Families Act, Paystub Transparency Act, Civil Right to Counsel Pilot Project, and Attorney Fees in Maryland Constitution Claims.

Healthy Working Families Act
More than 700,000 people in Maryland cannot earn a single paid sick day to use when they or an immediate family member are ill. This means thousands of our neighbors must make impossible choices between their livelihood, their health, and the well being of their families. The Healthy Working Families Act would allow employees to earn 1 hour of leave for every 30 hours they work, or up to 56 hours (seven days for full time workers) of earned sick time a year to care for themselves or a family member when they are ill, or to seek out services related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Paystub Transparency Act
Some unscrupulous employers in Maryland cheat their employees out of their full measure of earned wages and then mask their illegal conduct on paystubs. This is not only unfair to hard-working employees, but also creates an illegal competitive advantage for law-abiding businesses . The Paystub Transparency Act levels the playing field for businesses and aids employees by requiring employers to include certain critical information on the paystubs they distribute to employees. The statement will include the pay rate, allowances, deductions, hours worked, and basic identifying information for the employer. Since employers are already required to maintain such information under state and federal laws, the bill simply requires them to share it with their employees on their paystubs. Paystub transparency requires a small change in practice that will deter wage theft, facilitate the informal resolution of wage disputes, and help ensure that no business outcompetes another by illegally underpaying employees.

Civil Right to Counsel Pilot Project
The bill is a follow-up from the Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland, which was legislatively created by Maryland SB 262 in 2013. In the Task Force’s final report, it recommended enactment of a right to counsel in domestic violence cases and a pilot for custody cases, while the 2016 bill would implement a pilot project for both domestic violence and custody cases.  It would also create a workgroup to monitor the pilot projects.

Attorneys' Fees in Maryland Constitution Claims
The bill will enable Maryland courts to award reasonable attorneys’ fees when Marylanders win cases vindicating a Maryland constitutional right, thus bringing access to justice and making the playing field even for plaintiffs facing the resources of the government. Under current law, Marylanders suing in state court who have a valid claim that a constitutional right was violated cannot seek reimbursement of their reasonable attorneys’ fees. Although such fees can be sought in federal court, those cases have to be based on the U.S. Constitution. As the “Free State,” we are proud of the many ways that the Maryland Constitution and Declaration of Rights offer greater protections than federal law. It is also unfair to require Marylanders on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland to travel to Baltimore or Greenbelt to sue in federal court, rather than stand up for their rights in their home counties. This bill will allow Maryland constitutional claims to be decided in Maryland courts. Most people cannot afford to pay attorneys’ fees themselves, and without the possibility of an attorney fee award, it is difficult to find an attorney willing to bring meritorious cases.

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