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2019 Legislative Highlights

May 14, 2019

Thank you! Maryland’s 2019 legislative session came to a close on April 8. Your support allowed us to advocate for the right to healthcare, restorative approaches to discipline to keep kids in school, sick and safe leave for hard-working Marylanders, and greater protections for tenants. With your help, we accomplished legislative victories big and small. Here are a few of the bills that the Public Justice Center and allies worked on this year:

Protecting and Expanding Healthcare Rights

This session, the PJC supported two successful bills to improve the collection, analysis, and reporting of data on racial disparities in maternal mortality. We worked with allies to pass HB 583/SB 356, requiring the Secretary of Health’s reporting on maternal mortality to include data on racial disparities. Required reporting includes a comparison of the maternal mortality rates of non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic white women and data on changes in the maternal mortality rate by race and ethnicity.

The PJC also supported HB 796/SB 602 to allow counties to establish local maternal mortality review team. In addition to studying the state-level data on maternal mortality, understanding community-level factors and gaps in access to maternal healthcare is critical to combatting maternal mortality. County-level reviews of data will enable counties to not only analyze racial disparities and trends in local maternal deaths, but also develop prevention strategies that meet the needs of their specific communities. These bills are a victory in the fight to combat racial disparities in healthcare, a central goal of the PJC’s health rights work.

In addition to the maternal mortality bills, the PJC supported HB 768/SB 759, a bill to establish the Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) to monitor the prices of prescription drugs in Maryland and regulate costs. The bill passed the General Assembly, and barring a veto by the governor, it will make Maryland the first state to create a PDAB. This bill takes an important step toward ensuring that prohibitive costs don’t stand between Marylanders and the medications they need.

Fighting for Restorative Approaches to School Discipline

As a leader of the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline, the PJC had a successful first year fighting for a package of bills that would implement restorative approaches in schools, such as peer mediation, community conferencing, positive behavioral interventions and supports. Based on the expert advice of the Maryland Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline, these bills seek to prevent students from being pushed out of school by ineffective, exclusionary discipline practices like suspension and expulsion and to improve school climate and student behavior.

The PJC and the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline prevailed with the passage of two significant restorative approaches bills. The General Assembly passed an amended version of HB 725/SB 766, which takes incremental but positive steps to implement restorative approaches. The enrolled bill legislates a definition of restorative approaches; requires that discipline be rehabilitative and educational, not punitive; requires that the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) provide technical assistance and training if requested by local education agencies; and requires that MSDE report annually to the General Assembly on restorative approaches and discipline. In addition, the General Assembly passed HB 704, which will allow the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center to analyze data on the long-term impact of using exclusionary discipline practices and involving the juvenile justice system. These initial successes represent important steps towards dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline in Maryland, and we look forward to building on them next year and beyond.

Resisting Attacks on Paid Sick and Safe Leave – the Fight Goes On!

Last year, during the 2018 legislative session, the PJC and its partners in the Working Matters Coalition worked to secure a successful veto override for the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (HWFA). The HWFA took effect in February 2018, allowing an estimated 488,000 Marylanders to earn paid leave and at least another 205,000 to earn unpaid leave. The Act allows employees in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work, up to a maximum of five paid sick days. Employees in smaller businesses earn unpaid leave.

Still, the struggle for sick and safe leave continued through the 2019 legislative session with the introduction of bills seeking to limit the effectiveness of the HWFA. The PJC and allies in the Working Matters Coalition successfully resisted four bills that would have weakened the HWFA, but the fight isn’t over yet. These bills are likely to be introduced in future legislative sessions, and the PJC will be there, ready to defend workers’ rights from these attacks.

Defending Tenants Rights at the City and State Level

This spring, the PJC and allies successfully advocated for a Baltimore City Council bill that prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on source of income. CB 18-0308 was signed into law on April 12 and expands on Baltimore’s 2007 Inclusionary Housing law to provide protections to a greater number of renters across the city. Under this new law, landlords cannot deny housing based on source of income, which includes any lawful source of income from employment, government or private assistance, alimony, child support, inheritance, or gifts. However, the bill does still allow a landlord to discriminate against a voucher holder in an apartment complex where 20% of the units in the complex are already rented to voucher holders. This 20% rule will lapse after four years if the City Council does not act to extend it.

At the state level, the PJC continued efforts to reform the eviction process while also fighting off proposals that would expand grounds for eviction. HB 558/SB 366, the so-called Rent Transparency Act, would have allowed landlords to classify anything as “additional rent” in a written lease, and thus utilize Rent Court’s expedited eviction process despite complicated legal claims and overly broad interpretations of what constitutes rent. The bill would have overturned decades of Court decisions limiting the scope of rent, allowing charges such as excessive or incorrect utilities fees or maintenance and repair costs (even if the tenant played no part in the damage) to be billed as rent. The PJC successfully opposed the bill by educating lawmakers about rampant due process deficiencies in “Rent Court.” HB 558/SB 366 was withdrawn and committed to an interim study.