E-Alerts & Press Releases

Making policy work for people in poverty: Advocacy in Annapolis 2014

 
February 24, 2014: The Maryland General Assembly is in full swing, and the Public Justice Center is back in Annapolis.  Your support is amplifying the voices of tenants, workers, and homeless youth before state legislators. Here’s a snapshot of our legislative priorities for Session 2014.
 

Housing

The HOME Act

HB 366 

The HOME Act would stop landlords from discriminating against tenants on the basis of their source of income, including any lawful income, such as Social Security checks, disability, child support, or a voucher, such as a Housing Choice Voucher. Because of this discrimination, many tenants cannot find housing. Plus, when tenants do find landlords who accept their vouchers, the properties tend to be in racially segregated or in high-poverty neighborhoods. This legislation will:
 
   Ensure fairness for seniors, working lower-income families, veterans, and persons with disabilities seeking housing; 
 
   Help Maryland create more mixed-income communities and greater affordable housing; 
 
   Deconcentrate poverty by opening up housing opportunities in different neighborhoods; and
 
   Lead to greater housing and economic opportunity for tens of thousands of Marylanders.
 
 

Stop landlord retaliation 

SB 800 / HB 1108 and SB 799 / HB 1143
 
While tenants have the right to complain about dangerous housing conditions and other legitimate concerns, all too often the landlord will retaliate because of the complaint by evicting or threatening to evict the tenant, refusing to renew the lease or decreasing promised essential services. Fearing this retaliation, many tenants remain silent. When tenants remain silent from fear of retaliation, repairs are not made, the community’s housing stock deteriorates, and the entire neighborhood loses safety and stability. 
 
Maryland currently has a law that prohibits some retaliatory acts, and the Maryland General Assembly strengthened this law in 2011. Unfortunately, the General Assembly left a number of exceptions in the current law that have made it ineffective for numerous families around Maryland. The two bills would close many of these loopholes. Find out more about the landlord retaliation bills on this fact sheet.
 

Workplace Justice

Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act

SB 753 / HB 968
 
The Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act seeks to ensure that the more than 700,000 Marylanders who currently do not have access to a single day of sick leave can take the time they need to care for themselves or their families without risking their jobs or their health. The bill would enable employees to earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of seven days per year. They could use the accrued paid leave when they or a family member falls ill. Learn more about the Earned Sick and Safe Leave on this fact sheet.
 

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Outside the view of society, unaccompanied homeless youth struggle to survive, battling increased risks of crime victimization, mental illness, and underemployment. Why are they homeless? Family conflict, a parent’s inability to provide support, and rejection due to sexual orientation are only a few of the reasons these youth are separated from their parents or guardians. The Public Justice Center is advocating for policies that help unaccompanied homeless youth get what they need to thrive.
 

Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Tuition Waiver

SB 455 / HB 482
 
Under existing law, foster youth are exempt from tuition when attending public colleges, universities, and state-approved vocational programs, and may apply scholarships and grants to living expenses. SB 455 / HB 482 would extend the same benefits to unaccompanied homeless youth, who also typically lack the financial, social, and emotional support of their families. By removing financial barriers to higher education, passage of this bill would enable these youth to get an education and develop job skills to help them escape poverty. Read more about the tuition waiver bill in this article.
 

Extension of the Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Taskforce

SB 1018/HB 577
 
During the 2013 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly established the state’s first Task Force to Study Housing and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth. The Governor’s Office for Children chaired and staffed the Task Force, and other members included state agency representatives, advocates, and young adults with personal experience of homelessness. The Task Force released an extensive report on Nov. 1, 2013, which included recommendations for improving unaccompanied homeless youths’ access to housing, education, healthcare, and other supportive services. In order to maintain the momentum created by the Task Force and its report, the proposed bill would extend the Task Force for one year so that members may continue to work toward implementation of its recommendations. 
 

Award of attorney’s fees and expenses in civil actions

SB 544 / HB 568
 
This bill would allow a Maryland court to award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs to people who win claims under the Maryland Constitution or Maryland Declaration of Rights. Assuring reasonable attorney’s fees would expand access to the courts by attracting private lawyers who could not otherwise take on poor clients or unpopular causes. The inclusion of the private bar leads to greater access to the courts for those who live in rural areas distant from federal courts.  Attorneys outside of the major metropolitan areas, where most public interest law organizations are located, are more willing take on local clients if they can litigate on home turf.  
 
The bill would also discourage state agencies from violating our citizens’ constitutional rights by providing incentive for private attorneys to represent individuals or large classes of people who have been denied equal protection or due process of law and can’t afford to pay an attorney. And if the state does violate people’s constitutional rights, awarding reasonable attorney’s fees in addition to damages would help compensate people for the violation.
 

Just Kids

Youth as young at 14 years old can be automatically prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system if charged with any of over 33 enumerated offenses. While there, these youth may be detained in adult jails, where they are supervised by corrections officers trained to handle adult prisoners, are at increased risk of harm and suicide, and receive few or no services. However, almost 70% of the youth automatically charged as adults have their cases sent back to the juvenile court, if permissible, or have their cases dismissed outright, indicating they should never have been in the adult system at all. These bills seek to treat kids as kids in the justice system by reducing the number of youth held in adult jails in Maryland pretrial and by ensuring that every youth automatically sent to the adult system has the chance to petition for the case to be sent back to the juvenile system, where there is a dual focus on rehabilitation and accountability. 
 

Juvenile Transfer Determinations 

HB 1294 / SB 757
 
Under current law, youth automatically charged as adults, if detained pretrial, will for the most part be detained in an adult jail. This happens before a judge even has a chance to look at the circumstances of the case and determine which system is appropriate for the youth and well before the youth has even had a trial. This bill would require that any youth charged as adult be held in a juvenile detention facility run by the Department of Juvenile Services pending a transfer hearing. There is a safety valve that allows judges to hold youth in an adult jail if the court finds that the youth presents a substantial danger to himself or others.  You can learn more about the Juvenile Transfer Hearings bill on this fact sheet
 

Transfer of Cases to Juvenile Court 

HB 1295 / SB 515
 
Under current law, most youth who are automatically charged as adults can petition for their cases to be transferred to the juvenile court. However, there are a few categories of youth who are not eligible for transfer. This is unfair, as a court never has a chance to determine whether that youth could be treated in the juvenile system. This bill would return discretion to a judge who should be best able to make such a determination by allowing all youth charged as adults to request that their cases be transferred to juvenile court.
 


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