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Report on the 2023 session of the Maryland General Assembly

May 30, 2023

Thank you to the many coalition partners, legislators, and community members who advocated alongside us for economic justice and racial equity in the 2023 General Assembly! Together we achieved several victories and set the stage for future advocacy. Among this year’s accomplishments are laws that will:

Read on to learn about these victories, successful efforts to defeat harmful bills, as well as legislation we’ll be bringing back in future years.

Human Right to Housing
Health and Benefits Equity
Workplace Justice
Education Stability
Police Accountability, Prisoners’ Rights, and Race Equity
Government Access and Accountability

Human Right to Housing

The PJC’s Human Right to Housing Project stands with tenants to protect and expand their rights to safe, habitable, affordable, and non-discriminatory housing and their rights to fair treatment by Maryland’s landlord-tenant laws, courts, and agencies. As a leader of the Renters United Maryland coalition, we successfully advocated for bills in the 2023 General Assembly that will block unlicensed landlords from using eviction court, fund access to counsel in evictions, and notify tenants of rent increases. We also worked on bills that would have allowed tenants to file a group rent escrow action to force landlords to address threats to health and safety, enabled counties to pass “just cause eviction” laws, and provided emergency rental assistance.

Blocking illegally operating landlords from eviction court (HB 36 / SB 100)

Landlord licensing protects public health and safety by requiring rental properties to pass a periodic health and safety inspection. Yet, in many cases, unlicensed landlords can easily use the courts’ streamlined eviction procedures to continue their illegal operations. The passage of HB 36 / SB 100 is intended to stop this practice. While the bill contains some exceptions, HB 36 / SB 100 prohibits unlicensed landlords from filing eviction cases in Maryland in any locality that requires landlords to be licensed. Thanks to sponsors Sen. Shelly Hettleman and Del. Mary Lehman as well as Committee Chairs Sen. Will Smith and Del. Luke Clippinger for their support of the bill. Governor Wes Moore has signed the bill into law.

Funding Access to Counsel in Evictions (SB 756 / HB 1050)

The passage of SB 756 (cross file HB 1050) provides a steady baseline of funding for FY25 through FY27 to implement Maryland’s Access to Counsel in Evictions law. Upon full implementation, Maryland’s groundbreaking law will ensure that all tenants with limited incomes who are facing eviction have access to legal representation. Many thanks to our sponsors Sen. Guy Guzzone, Del. Kym Taylor, and Del. Sandy Rosenberg, and Committee Chair Del. Ben Barnes. Governor Moore has signed the bill into law.

Notifying tenants of rent increases (HB 151)

The passage of HB 151 requires that landlords provide a 60-90 day notice to renters of any rent increase. Landlords may not require that tenants accept this notice by electronic means only. Localities may still pass laws that provide more protection to tenants from rent increases. Many thanks to sponsor Del. Melissa Wells. The bill has been signed into law.

Tenant Safety Act (HB 691 / SB 807)

The Tenant Safety Act would have allowed tenants to file a group rent escrow action to force landlords to address severe conditions of disrepair that threaten health and safety of residents throughout their apartment building.  While the bill passed the House (96-38), it did not receive a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.  Many thanks to sponsors Del. Vaughn Stewart and Sen. Alonzon Washington, Committee Chair Del. Kumar Barve, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones. This is critical legislation to protect public health and safety, and we look forward to partnering with advocates next year to get the bill over the finish line in the Senate.

Enabling counties to pass “just cause eviction” laws (HB 684 / SB 504)

This bill would have allowed Maryland counties and Baltimore City to pass bills requiring landlords to have “just cause” to evict. Right now, landlords can non-renew leases for any reason and often do so to retaliate against tenants who speak up about severe conditions of disrepair or violations of the law. At this time, state law prohibits counties from passing “just cause” laws to stop this practice. Many thanks to sponsors Del. Jheanelle Wilkins and Sen. Anthony Muse for championing this important housing stability legislation.  This is the first time that the bill had a hearing in the Senate, and we look forward to partnering with our supporters on this bill in the future.

Emergency rental assistance to prevent evictions

The Public Justice Center and Renters United Maryland partnered with eight counties and over 50 other organizations to demand that the State allocate $175 million to emergency rental assistance to prevent evictions. Federal funds have run out, and there are no plans for a replacement. Anyone can experience a serious financial setback, such as lost hours at work due to illness or an unplanned funeral expense. Emergency rental assistance plays a critical role in helping families ensure that a financial setback does not become a catastrophic eviction. While the Moore administration did not include any funding for emergency rental assistance in the initial budget, the General Assembly added $2 million in the final budget. We will continue to work with our allies and champions to lift up the need for this critical, underfunded component of the housing safety net going forward.

The PJC’s Human Right to Housing Team advocating for these bills included attorneys Matt Hill, Albert Turner, Samantha Gowing, and Ronnie Reno, and paralegals Carolina Paul, Gabriela Dickson La Rotta, Angelea Aldana Dwyer, and Nina Masin-Moyer.

Health and Benefits Equity

The PJC’s Health and Benefits Equity Project advocates to protect and expand access to healthcare and safety net services for Marylanders struggling to make ends meet. We support policies and practices that are designed to eliminate economic and racial inequities and enable every Marylander to attain their highest level of health. During this year’s legislative session, we successfully advocated to pass bills that will reimburse Marylanders for food and cash benefits that were stolen through EBT card skimming, expand the medically necessary gender-affirming treatment that Maryland Medicaid covers, reimburse Marylanders who qualified for free hospital care but were wrongfully charged, provide funding for suicide prevention services, reestablish the Prescription Drug Affordability Board’s authority to set upper payment limits on prescription drug products paid for by state and local governments, and require a report on options for offering affordable health and dental care coverage for undocumented immigrants. We also advocated for bills that would have removed immigration status as a barrier to purchasing insurance through the Affordable Care Act and developed structures to ensure state government entities provide access to programs for people with limited English proficiency.

Prevent Electronic Benefits Theft Act of 2023 (SB 2 / HB 502)

More than 3,800 households in Maryland receiving food and cash assistance benefits have had over $2.5 million in benefits stolen due to Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card skimming theft. This nationwide crisis has left the victims, including families with young children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities, unable to afford food, rent, and utilities. The passage of the Prevent Electronic Benefits Theft Act requires the Department of Human Services (DHS) to reimburse households that have had their food and cash assistance benefits stolen. The bill allows DHS to issue retroactive reimbursements for households that had their benefits stolen back to January 2021. It does not require households to file a police report as proof of the theft and does not place limits on the number of months a household can receive reimbursement of benefits lost due to theft. Finally, the bill requires DHS to invest in security protections for EBT cards. Governor Moore signed SB 2 / HB 502 into law, and it is now in effect. Learn more about the bill in this video from our Justice for Breakfast discussion series.

Thank you to Sen. Katie Fry Hester, Sen. Benjamin Kramer, Del. Robbyn Lewis, Del. Courtney Watson, Del. Tiffany Alston, and Committee Chair Joseline Peña-Melnyk for supporting the bill. This victory also would not have been possible without the tremendous advocacy and collaboration from our allies at the Maryland Department of Human Services, Homeless Persons Representation Project, Maryland Hunger Solutions,  Catholic Charities of Baltimore, Maryland Center on Economic Policy, CASH Campaign of Maryland, Maryland Legal Aid, Marylanders Against Poverty, Anne Arundel County Food Bank, Baltimore Jewish Council, Civil Advocacy Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Cornerstone Community Housing: Earl’s Place/Prospect Place, Disability Rights Maryland, Economic Action Maryland, Healthcare for the Homeless, Montgomery County Food Council, Prince George’s County Food Equity Council, and Welfare Advocates. And finally, we thank every directly impacted community member who bravely shared their personal stories about EBT skimming theft with the Maryland General Assembly and general public.

Medical Bill Reimbursement Act of 2023 (HB 333 / SB 404)

The passage of the Medical Bill Reimbursement Act of 2023 builds on the patient refund law that the PJC and our medical debt allies advocated to pass during the 2022 state legislative session. In 2021, the Health Service Cost Review Commission (HSCRC) released a study reporting that hospitals pursued for debt collection 60% of people who should have received free care and 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. The 2022 law requires HSCRC in coordination with the Department of Human Services (DHS), the State designated exchange, the Office of the Comptroller, and the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA), to develop a process for identifying patients who paid for hospital services but may have qualified for free care and for reimbursing them. This year’s bill, HB 333 / SB 404, is the product of a summer workgroup convened by HSCRC with stakeholders, including hospitals, certain state agencies, patients’ rights advocates, and domestic violence survivors advocates to fine tune the refund process. The legislation allows data sharing between state agencies and hospitals to identify and refund patients in compliance with patient privacy laws and ensures that refund notifications will be sent to designated safe addresses maintained by the hospital for patients experiencing domestic violence.

Governor Moore recently signed HB 333/ SB 404 into law. Thank you to Del. Lorig Charkoudian, Sen. Antonio Hayes, Sen. Stephen Hershey, and End Medical Debt Maryland for championing this effort to make low-income patients whole. 

Trans Health Equity Act of 2023 (HB 283 / SB 460)

The passage of the Trans Health Equity Act will require the Maryland Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Program to cover medically necessary and life-saving gender-affirming treatment beginning on January 1, 2024. The new law will provide care to the approximately 6,000 transgender Marylanders enrolled in Medicaid and allow Maryland to join more than ten other states that provide comprehensive gender-affirming care. Thank you to Del. Anne Kaiser, Sen. Mary Washington, and the Maryland Trans Rights Advocacy Coalition for championing this important legislation. We would also like to thank directly impacted Marylanders who shared their personal experience with legislators in support of the bill. Governor Moore has signed the bill into law.

Restoring the Prescription Drug Affordability Board’s authority to set upper payment limits on prescriptions (SB 202 / HB 279)

The passage of SB 202 / HB 279 will reestablish the Prescription Drug Affordability Board’s authority to set upper payment limits on prescription drug products that are purchased or paid for by or through certain State or local government entities, plans or programs. It also requires the Board to, under certain circumstances, draft a plan of action for implementing a process to set upper payment limits for certain prescription drug products. The bill will help eliminate high prescription drug costs as a barrier to good health for low-income Marylanders. Thank you to Sen. Brian Feldman and Del. Bonnie Cullison for championing the bill and Maryland Citizens Health Initiative for leading advocates on this important issue. The bill has been signed by the Governor.

Preventing suicide through funding for the 9-8-8 Trust Fund (SB 3 / HB 271)

The passage of SB 3 / HB 271 requires the Governor to include in annual budget for FY 2025 an appropriation of $12 million to Maryland’s 9-8-8 Trust Fund. 9-8-8 is the designated official phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a resource for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis to connect to local crisis services. The new law will create a steady funding source for much needed services, including crisis call centers, mobile crisis team services and crisis stabilization centers. Thank you to Senators Malcolm Augustine, Ariana Kelly, Jack Bailey, Joanne Benson, Paul Corderman, Sarah Elfreth, Guy Guzzone, Shelly Hettleman, Michael Jackson, J.B. Jennings, Nancy King, Cory McCray, Jim Rosapepe, Johnny Ray Salling, and Craig Zucker; and Del. Heather Bagnall for supporting the bill. We also thank Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore, the Mental Health Association of Maryland, and the Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition for their leadership and coordination of advocates in support of this important bill. The Governor has signed the bill into law.

Requiring the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and Maryland Department of Health to report on options for offering affordable health and dental care coverage for undocumented immigrants (SB 806)

The passage of SB 806 requires the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and the Maryland Department of Health to develop a report comparing options for offering affordable health care coverage to state residents who are ineligible for Medicaid, the Maryland Children’s Health Program, qualified health plans, or stand-alone dental plans due to immigration status. Research supports that the lack of health insurance coverage is associated with delays in care, lower rates of preventative care and increased rates of hospitalization for preventable illnesses as well as mortality. SB 806 will help Maryland better understand and meet the health needs of uninsured residents, thus enabling our state to improve health outcomes for immigrant and uninsured communities. Thank you to Senators Ariana Kelly and Shelly Hettleman for championing the bill as well as CASA and its members for their tremendous advocacy on behalf of Maryland’s immigrant communities. Governor Moore has signed the bill.

Access to Care Act (HB 588 / SB 365)

We firmly believe that access to health care is a human right and should not hinge on one’s immigration status. We were disappointed that the Access to Care Act did not pass this year despite tremendous support from advocates and directly impacted communities. The bill would have removed immigration status as a barrier to purchasing insurance through the Affordable Care Act. It would have also created a subsidy program to cover new enrollees. The Access to Care Act would have carved a pathway toward comprehensive and affordable health care as well as improved health outcomes for more than 275,000 undocumented Marylanders. We would like to thank Del. Bonnie Cullison and Sen. Clarence Lam as well as the 38 co-sponsors for their leadership on the bill. We would also like to thank CASA and its members for their tireless advocacy and organizing community members and advocates in support of the legislation. We are hopeful that the Access to Care Act will pass in a future year. 

Ensuring equal access to state government public services for individuals with limited English proficiency (HB 1144)

We are also disappointed to report that HB 1144 did not pass this year. The bill would have required state departments, agencies, and programs to designate a language access compliance coordinator, establish a language access policy and plan, and take other actions to ensure reasonable access to the entity’s programs and activities for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). It also would have designated the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights as the oversight, monitoring, investigation, and enforcement authority for compliance with Maryland’s language access law. While language should not be a barrier to receiving public services, many of our clients and allies who assist individuals with LEP in navigating public services, including safety net services, frequently encounter language access violations in state-run agencies and programs. We are thankful for Del. Gabriel Acevero and all co-sponsors for championing this bill. We would also like to thank The Arc of Prince George’s County, Jubilee Association of Maryland, Maryland Legal Aid, Homeless Persons Representation Project, Centro SOL, Maryland Hunger Solutions, and many other advocates who supported the bill and shared the experiences of their client communities with LEP who experience discrimination in accessing public services.

Workplace Justice

The PJC’s Workplace Justice Project promotes justice and equity in the workplace. In this year’s legislative session, we successfully advocated for bills that will protect unemployed Marylanders who are overpaid benefits through no fault of their own and ban exploitative non-compete agreements for low-wage jobs. We also supported passage of a bill that strengthens Maryland’s new family and medical leave insurance program. In addition, we made progress in advocating for legislation to increase pay for personal care aides, and legislation to require that home care agencies properly classify their personal care aides as employees in order to receive Medicaid reimbursement.

Limiting recovery of the overpayment of unemployment benefits due to agency mistakes or other reasons unrelated to fraud (HB 140 / SB 136)

Because of its own errors or a claimant’s honest mistake, the Maryland Department of Labor often pays unemployed Marylanders more unemployment benefits than they are eligible for. These Marylanders did not engage in any fraud, and many relied on the benefits to cover the essentials of life: rent, food, gas, and other basics. Maryland law has allowed the state to recover overpaid benefits by keeping 100% of any unemployment benefits for which a claimant may be eligible in the future, regardless of whether the overpayment resulted from fraud or the agency’s mistake. The result is that many people who need benefits due to continued unemployment (or unemployment on some later date) don’t get any benefits at all. The passage of HB 140 / SB 136 will help people who were overpaid benefits through no fault of their own by limiting unemployment benefit overpayment offsets to 50% of ongoing benefits, allowing unemployed Marylanders and their families some amount of money to survive. Thank you to sponsors Del. Julie Palakovich Carr, Del. Lorig Charkoudian, and Sen. Kathy Klausmeier for supporting HB 140 / SB 136. Thank you also to Maryland Legal Aid, the CASH Campaign of Maryland, the National Employment Law Project, the Maryland Catholic Conference, and Economic Action Maryland for supporting the bill. 

Making non-compete agreements unenforceable for low-wage jobs (SB 591)

Employers sometimes require their employees to sign exploitative “non-compete agreements” – contract provisions prohibiting an employee from working for other employers in the same field or from starting their own business. Non-compete agreements keep people trapped in jobs, suppress wages, hinder entrepreneurship, and are also bad for consumers and the economy generally. Such agreements are especially harmful for low-wage workers, who need to maximize their earning power to support themselves and their families. The passage of SB 591 broadens Maryland’s limitation on non-compete agreements, which previously barred them for workers earning up to $15 per hour. The new law bars enforcement of non-compete agreements against anyone earning within 150% of minimum wage. That means when minimum wage hits $15 per hour on January 1, 2024, the law will bar non-competes for workers earning $22.50/hour or less, extending this important protection to many tens of thousands of Maryland workers. Thank you to Sen. Will Smith for championing this legislation, and to Geoffrey Simpson of Webster & Fredrickson, PLLC, Lynne Bernabei of Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC, and the Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO for their support of the bill.  

Raising the Medicaid reimbursement rate for residential service agencies and increasing pay for personal care aides (HB 318)

Personal care aides deserve to be fairly compensated for the care they provide to older adults and people with disabilities. But one factor that limits their wages is the Medicaid reimbursement rate that flows to programs operated by the Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Long Term Services and Supports. The hourly rate that residential service agencies (i.e., home care agencies) receive for an hour of care that workers provide under these programs is currently $23. Not only is this reimbursement rate too low, but aside from the minimum wage, the state sets no minimum rate that workers must receive. As a result, thousands of workers whose labor is funded by Medicaid earn very low wages that trap them and their families in poverty. 

This bill would have increased to $25 the hourly Medicaid reimbursement rate for certain home care programs, while simultaneously requiring that workers be paid at least $16 an hour. The bill would have made this pay ratio requirement permanent by mandating that as reimbursement rates increase, workers must be paid at least 64% of the hourly Medicaid reimbursement rate. The bill would also have created a system to monitor and enforce these requirements. In an amended form that would have laid the groundwork for this important change, HB 318 passed the House of Delegates unanimously, but it did not get a vote in the Senate. Thank you to sponsors Del. Heather Bagnall and Sen. Joanne Benson and everyone who supported the bill, including 1199SEIU, Caring Across Maryland, AARP Maryland, Alzheimer’s Association, Job Opportunities Task Force, Maryland Commission on Caregiving, Maryland Centers for Independent Living, Marylanders for Patient Rights, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO, Maryland Center on Economic Policy, Women’s Law Center of Maryland, Disability Rights Maryland, and especially the home care workers who took time off work to come to Annapolis and testify.

Requiring residential service agencies to classify personal care aides as employees in order to receive Medicaid reimbursement (SB 180 / HB 489)

Most home care provided in Maryland is funded by Medicaid and carried out under programs operated by the Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Long Term Services and Supports. Unfortunately, many of the home care agencies (called “residential service agencies” or RSAs by Maryland’s Health Code) that employ personal care aides to provide care under these programs wrongly call the workers independent contractors. This misclassification hurts workers by worsening job quality, cutting them out of the social safety net, and imposing on them a higher “self-employment” tax burden when they should be getting a tax refund. It hurts consumers by shrinking the size of the workforce they rely on for their independence and by increasing worker turnover, which – given the intimate nature of the work – can be traumatizing. Misclassification hurts law-abiding RSAs that face unfair competition from RSAs that save money by shirking their obligations as employers. And it hurts the State of Maryland by depriving the unemployment insurance trust fund (among other things) of critical revenue that Maryland and its workers depend on.

SB 180 / HB 489 would have fixed the problem by providing that the Maryland Department of Health only reimburse RSAs for in-home personal care provided under certain Medicaid waiver programs if the aides who do the work are classified as employees. With support from businesses (including the Maryland National Capital Homecare Association, a trade association of home care agencies), workers, consumers, and others, it passed the House but did not get a Senate vote. We are grateful to sponsors Del. Robbyn Lewis and Sen. Pam Beidle and Committee Chair Joseline Peña-Melnyk for their hard work and support of the bill. Thanks also to our advocacy partners 1199SEIU, Caring Across Maryland, AARP Maryland, Job Opportunities Task Force, National Employment Law Project, Women’s Law Center of Maryland, National Women’s Law Center, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO, Maryland Office of the Attorney General, Maryland Center on Economic Policy, and others who testified, called or emailed legislators, and helped push this bill forward, including numerous home care agencies such as HomeCentris and Complete Home Care. The progress we made this year has helped lay the groundwork for the bill to pass next year.

Clarifying and strengthening the Time to Care Act, the law establishing Maryland’s new family and medical leave insurance program (SB 828 / HB 988)

In 2022, the Time to Care Act created Maryland’s new paid family and medical leave program. But that law did not set the split between the contributions that workers and employers each pay into the insurance program, and it left certain other details to be clarified later. This year, Maryland passed a bill to set the contribution split at a fair 50/50 between workers and employers. The law also helps implement paid family and medical leave in Maryland in various other ways, including by giving the Maryland Department of Labor more time to issue necessary regulations and set up the technology needed to operationalize the program, providing workers the ability to appeal the amount or duration of benefits, and giving workers the opportunity to file claims before taking leave when the need for leave is foreseeable. Thank you to sponsors Sen. Antonio Hayes and Del. Lily Qi, as well as the dozens of advocates and workers who contributed to this effort.

Defeating an attempt to weaken Maryland’s sick and safe leave law, the Healthy Working Families Act (HB 1015 / SB 902)

Over several years, the PJC helped lead the effort to pass the Healthy Working Families Act, Maryland’s earned sick and safe leave law, which went into effect in 2018. This year, there was an attempt to weaken the law by, among other things, increasing the number of days an employee must work before having the right to take leave from 106 days to 120 days. The bill would have undone compromises that formed part of the basis of the law’s passage and weakened Marylanders’ sick leave rights just when the pandemic has proven once again the critical importance of workers’ ability to stay home when sick. It would have made Maryland an outlier among states with sick leave protections, as most states with such laws allow workers to take leave after just 90 days. We helped organize opposition to the bill, providing oral and written testimony that led it to die in committee. We are thankful to the Job Opportunities Task Force, SEIU Maryland and DC State Council, and the Maryland Center for Economic Policy for joining us in providing oral and written testimony in opposition to this bill, and to the Maryland State and DC AFL-CIO, 1199SEIU, the Baltimore DC Metro Building Trades Council, LiUNA – Baltimore Washington Laborers’ District Council, Jews United for Justice, IBEW Local 24, and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland for providing written testimony opposed to the bill.

The PJC’s Workplace Justice team advocating for these bills included attorneys David Rodwin, Monisha Cherayil, Diana Jarek, and Lucy Zhou and paralegal Emily Woo Kee.

Education Stability

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 for legislation to decriminalize disruption in school, provide loan forgiveness to school mental health professionals, and limit the use of disciplinary records in college admissions. While 2023 was a challenging year to pass legislation to reduce school pushout, we defeated several harmful bills and set the stage to move our advocacy priorities forward next year. Thank you to our partners in the Maryland Suspension Representation Project and Coalition to Reform School Discipline for collaborating with us on the following bills.

Decriminalizing disruption (HB 1114)

HB 1114 would have ensured that children could not be arrested for so-called disruptive behaviors in school. Currently, anyone, including students, may face up to six months in jail for “willfully disturb[ing] or otherwise willfully prevent[ing] the orderly conduct of the activities, administration, or classes” of a school, according to Md. Code Educ. Sec. 26-101(a). Because virtually any student misbehavior can be characterized as disrupting or disturbing school, police can and do use this statute to arrest students for run-of-the-mill horseplay, talking back, or roaming the hallways. During the 2018-19 school year, 260 students were arrested for disruption, making this one of the most common bases for student arrest. Additionally, because what constitutes “disruption” is undefined and subject to the influences of implicit bias, Black students are arrested for disruption at twice the rate of white students even though there are fewer Black students than white students in Maryland and research has shown that race-based discrepancies in discipline rates are not a product of measurable differences in behavior among students of different races.

Under HB 1114, the criminal penalties for school disruption would have no longer applied to students, so that students would no longer face arrest and other law enforcement consequences for relatively minor childhood or adolescent behaviors. Unfortunately, the bill died after being referred to committee. We will continue to advocate to decriminalize disruption next year. Thank you to lead sponsor Del. Sheila Ruth and the rest of the bill’s sponsors for championing HB 1114.

Defeating a bill that penalized parents while failing to help students receive mental health services (HB 69)

HB 69 would have required parents to seek out and participate in counseling with their child if the child engages in “violent and disruptive behavior” at school and face criminal conviction if they failed to do so. While we recognize the benefits of counseling, HB 69 would not have been an effective mechanism in helping students with behavioral or mental health needs. Instead, it would have unnecessarily penalized parents without providing the infrastructure necessary to obtain the required mental health services. We testified in opposition to the bill, and it died in committee.

Supporting loan assistance for mental health professionals in public schools (HB 488 / SB 482)

We advocated in support of HB 488 / SB 482, which sought to strengthen the pipeline of mental health professionals who provide invaluable support to students in Maryland schools. Through the Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program, the bill added mental health professionals to the current student debt forgiveness program alongside educators, helping to address a major barrier to minority participation in school mental health professions. The bill was incorporated into Gov. Wes Moore’s budget bill (HB 200 / SB 181) and the Maryland Educator Shortage Reduction Act of 2023 (HB 1219 / SB 893). The expansion of this loan assistance program will make school mental health jobs attractive to a more diverse array of professionals, including highly valuable multilingual candidates. Thank you to lead sponsors Sen. Karen Lewis Young and Del. Joe Vogel and the 34 co-sponsors who supported HB 488 / SB 482.

Defeating expansion of the truancy court program (SB 220 / HB 1190)

We successfully opposed SB 220 / HB 1190, which would have paved the way to expand the truancy court program to all counties and circuits within Maryland. The truancy court program is fundamentally punitive and there is no evidence that it is effective. Instead of providing funding for resources to address the underlying causes of truancy, it empowers judges to drag children into court and order them to comply. Research continues to show that status offenses like truancy may be signs of abusive home or foster environments and may be a child responding to traumatic environments, among other things. We reminded legislators that a judge is not a social worker and that issuing a child a court order is an inappropriate avenue for connecting students and families to support services. While the bill passed the House of Delegates, advocates’ opposition helped kill the bill in the Senate.

Limiting the use of disciplinary records in college admissions (SB 812)

SB 812 would have limited higher education institutions’ use of applicants’ student disciplinary records in making admissions decisions. In our testimony, we described how schools have disproportionately and unfairly subjected Black students to disciplinary removal. In turn, research has shown that discipline questions on admissions applications repress college enrollment among students with disciplinary history and exacerbate racial inequities in access to higher education. SB 812 would have prohibited colleges and universities from developing admissions applications that inquire about disciplinary history, paving the way for a more racially equitable admissions process and expanding access to college for Black and Latine students. Unfortunately, the bill died after being referred to committee. Thank you to Sen. Alonzo Washington for sponsoring SB 812.

Defeating an attempt to expand the number of agencies informed of reportable offenses (HB 203)

Under state law, law enforcement is required to tell school districts if a 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. School districts have frequently responded by removing students for long periods of time for offenses that had no connection to or impact on the school community, disrupting students’ education. HB 203 would have increased that harm by expanding the agencies required to be informed of a reportable offense to include the Maryland Center for School Safety, the State Board of Education, and the State’s Attorney. We joined fellow members of the Coalition to Reform School Discipline in opposing the bill, and it died after being referred to committee.

Education Stability Project attorneys Monisha Cherayil and Levi Bradford and paralegal Kelsey Carlson led the PJC’s advocacy on these bills.

Police Accountability, Prisoners’ Rights, and Race Equity

The PJC joined the 100+ members of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA) to advocate for policies addressing racial disparities in policing and defeat attempts to roll back critical police accountability measures. Among the coalition’s accomplishments is the passage of a bill that will prohibit police from using the smell of marijuana as a basis for stops and searches. We also advocated for bills that would have prohibited housing providers, employers, and public accommodations from discriminating against people with criminal records and would have prohibited discrimination against transgender, nonbinary and intersex people in Maryland prisons and jails.

Eliminating police use of marijuana odor as a basis for stops and searches (HB 1071 / SB 51)

The passage of HB 1071 / SB 51 will prohibit police from using the smell of marijuana as the sole reason for stopping and searching individuals. It also includes a rule to exclude from court cases evidence that police obtain through illegal stops and searches based on the odor so that they are deterred from conducting them. This strong bill will help address a practice that has fueled racial disparities in policing, especially in Black communities, and violated individuals’ right to privacy. Thank you to Sen. Jill Carter, Del. Charlotte Crutchfield, and all the 43 other House sponsors; Yanet Amanuel, Public Policy Director, ACLU of Maryland; Michele Hall, Office of the Public Defender; Dayvon Love, Director of Public Policy, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle; and all the other members of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability. PJC Executive Director Jeniece Jones and attorney Albert Turner contributed testimony on behalf of the PJC’s Race Equity Team.

Stopping a bill that would have prohibited disclosure of police body-worn camera records (SB 40)

MCJPA successfully defeated a bill that would have prohibited disclosure of a wide array of police body-worn camera records by severely narrowing recent amendments to the Public Information Act. SB 40 would have been a giant step backwards for police accountability and transparency. The bill passed the Senate but succumbed to MCJPA opposition in the House committee. Thank you to Yanet Amanuel, Public Policy Director, ACLU of Maryland; Joanne Antoine, Executive Director, Common Cause Maryland; Rebecca Snyder, Executive Director, Maryland Delaware DC Press Association; and all the members of MCJPA.

Defeating an attempt to roll back Anton’s Law (SB 747)

MCJPA was successful in defeating SB 747, which would have rolled back most of our coalition’s recently hard-won law allowing public disclosure of records of police misconduct investigations.

Prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations against people with criminal records (HB 1163 / SB 964)

This bill would have prohibited housing providers and employers, as well as public accommodations, from discriminating against people with criminal records. In written testimony, PJC paralegal Gabriela Dickson La Rotta described how law enforcement, prosecutors, and the judiciary disproporionately incarcerate Black and Latine people. This, in turn, impedes formerly incarcerated people from access housing and employment when housing providers and employers discriminate against them. Marylanders with criminal records deserve an opportunity to build a life for themselves after prison and contribute to society. HB 1163 / SB 964 would have afforded much-needed opportunities to this population and strengthened protections for Black and Latine people. Unfortunately, the bill did not receive a vote in either the House or Senate committees.

Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act (HB 426 / SB 761)

This bill would have prohibited discrimination against transgender, nonbinary and intersex people in Maryland prisons and jails in interactions with guards and other staff, housing assignments, medical and mental health care, and more. Unfortunately, despite strong hearings on both sides, and little opposition, the bill did not get out of either committee for the second year in a row. The Trans Rights Advocacy Coalition plans to bring the bill back next year. Thank you to lead sponsors Sen. Jill Carter and Del. Lesley Lopez, all of the House sponsors, the Trans Rights Advocacy Coalition, and all of the coalition’s individual and organizational members. PJC Legal Director Debra Gardner testified on this bill.

Members of the PJC race equity legislative committee advocated on the bills above, including Executive Director Jeniece Jones, Legal Director Debra Gardner, attorneys Albert Turner and Ashley Black, paralegal Gabriela Dickson La Rotta, and Office Manager Sabrina Harris.

Government Access and Accountability

Expanding appeals of decisions of the State Public Information Act Compliance Board (HB 1051)

The passage of HB 1051 is a victory for government accountability and transparency. The bill allows decisions of the Public Information Act Compliance Board to be appealed to the Maryland Appellate Court, rather than stopping the appeals process at the circuit court level. PJC Legal Director Debra Gardner testified on this bill.