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2024 legislative spotlight: Housing, workplace justice, and education

January 19, 2024

The 2024 session of the Maryland General Assembly is in full swing! In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight a few of the bills we’re working on to promote economic justice and race equity. This month, we invite you to check out legislative priorities from our Human Right to Housing Project, Workplace Justice Project, and Education Stability Project. Stay tuned for ways to take action!

Housing Justice

Everyone should have the opportunity to live in stable, safe, fair, and affordable homes. In 2024, the Governor and General Assembly should strengthen laws that hold landlords accountable for hazardous living conditions, require landlords to provide a just reason for any eviction, allow tenants to reclaim their belongings after eviction, and invest in proven programs that prevent evictions. Together with fellow members of Renters United Maryland, we will be advocating for the following bills.

Stability

Local Enabling Legislation for Just Cause Eviction (2023: HB 684 / SB 504). Landlords often refuse to renew leases when tenants organize for their rights, demand that repairs be made, or complain about violations of the law. “Just Cause” laws protect tenants from this kind of retaliation and promote housing stability for tenants and neighborhoods. This bill would allow counties to adopt “Just Cause” laws that meet local needs.

Safety

The Tenant Safety Act (2023: HB 691 / SB 807) will make the “rent escrow” process more accessible to renters and groups of renters who want to hold their landlord accountable for severe conditions of disrepair that threaten life, health, or safety. Landlords who fail to make repairs will face significant financial penalties. This bill passed the House in 2023 and has been revised to address concerns raised in the Senate.

Eviction Prevention Funds

Eviction Prevention Funds (EPF) provide a rapid response when families face a short-term crisis, ensuring a missed month’s rent doesn’t become a catalyst for homelessness. The lack of EPF is a gaping hole in Maryland’s housing strategy. One in four Black children in rental households face the threat of eviction every year. A recent Maryland study shows that a $15 million investment in EPF this year can prevent the eviction of 5,620 families and more than pay for itself because housing affects education, foster care, shelter, health care and other state costs: https://www.mdeconomy.org/eviction-prevention-funds/.

FACT SHEET: SB 370 / HB 428: Rental Assistance for Community School Families Act

Fairness

Tenant Possessions Recovery Act (HB1023 in 2023) would align Maryland with 46 states and provide renting families a limited opportunity to collect their belongings after eviction. Right now, when a tenant is evicted they not only lose their home, but also their birth certificates, medications, and family photos. Families need notice of an eviction date and a ten-day reclaim period.

Workplace Justice

Marylanders deserve just and equitable workplaces, where people are paid fully and fairly and have predictable schedules. In 2024, we plan to continue advocacy for two bills to improve job quality for Maryland’s home care workers, especially the more than 20,000 Maryland home care workers paid with Medicaid funds, as well as work to advance workers’ rights more broadly.

Homecare Worker Rights Act of 2024

This bill (HB 39 / SB 197) would require that Medicaid-funded home care agencies properly classify their home care workers as employees—not misclassify them as independent contractors—as a condition of receiving Medicaid funds. Correcting this misclassification will improve wages; bring workers into the social safety net’s protections, including workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, sick and safe leave, and full pay for all hours worked; reduce workers’ tax burdens; and ensure that state funds are not used to strip workers of full pay and workplace protections.

Homecare Workers Employment Act of 2024

Home care workers deserve to be fairly compensated for the care they provide to older adults and people with disabilities. But they receive low wages for this critical work, in part due to the Medicaid reimbursement rate that flows to programs operated by the Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Long Term Services and Supports. We will be advocating for a bill (HB 189 / SB 371) that would require that Medicaid-funded home care agencies report to the state data on workers’ pay rates. The bill would also require the Maryland Department of Health to conduct studies every two years to determine an appropriate Medicaid reimbursement rate to be paid to home care agencies that takes into account workers’ need for adequate wages and benefits. Part of the studies would include examining the cost of raising workers’ wages to at least 50% more than the state minimum wage.

Paystub Transparency

Perpetrators of wage theft often hide their underpayment of their employees by failing to provide adequate information on paystubs. Right now, Maryland law only requires that paystubs include (1) gross earnings and (2) deductions. That does not give workers enough information to determine if they’ve been paid correctly. Moreover, the law does not provide any remedy if the employer fails to provide even that very basic information. We are introducing paystub transparency legislation (HB 385 / SB 38) that would discourage this practice by requiring all employers to put on paystubs what most employers already provide—dates of work covered by the pay period, hours worked, pay rates, and the amount and purpose of all deductions—and providing a legal remedy if an employer fails to provide that basic information.

Predictable Scheduling

Unpredictable work schedules—common in low-wage service jobs—make it harder for workers to ensure their wages meet their expenses, arrange childcare, plan transportation, address healthcare needs, hold down an additional job, and take classes to advance their career opportunities. We are championing legislation to require predictable scheduling practices for employees of large employers in the retail, food service, and hospitality industries. The bill would require two weeks’ notice of workers’ shifts, partial pay when shifts are cancelled, and a right to rest between shifts. With these protections, workers will be able to plan their lives and gain the stability they and their families need to get ahead.

Education Stability

Every child should have access to an education. But some school district disciplinary practices and state laws can keep kids from succeeding in school. In this year’s legislative session, we plan to advocate for legislation to decriminalize disruption in school, limit the use of disciplinary records in college admissions, and increase transparency in reporting on school discipline data. We will also push back against legislation that would harm transgender students and expand punitive truancy court programs.

Decriminalizing Disruption

In this year’s Maryland General Assembly, we’re joining the Maryland Office of the Public Defender and Disability Rights Maryland in renewing the call for legislators to pass a bill that would ensure that children cannot 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. 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 2022-23 school year, 858 children were charged with disrupting school activities, making this one of the most common and racially disparate juvenile charges. Because what constitutes “disruption” is undefined and subject to the influences of implicit bias, Black children are charged with disruption at four times the rate of white children even though there are fewer Black children than white children in Maryland. Under the proposed legislation (HB 615 / SB 512), the criminal penalties for school disruption would no longer apply to students, so that students will no longer face arrest and other law enforcement consequences for relatively minor childhood or adolescent behaviors.

FACT SHEET for HB 615 / SB 512

Restricting use of disciplinary records in college admissions

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. We will be supporting a bill that would limit higher education institutions’ use of applicants’ student disciplinary records in making admissions decisions, paving the way for a more racially equitable admissions process.

Data transparency in reporting on exclusionary school discipline

School districts frequently overuse exclusionary school discipline practices like expulsion and suspension that do not address the underlying causes of behavior. But the data that school districts report to the state does not capture the full extent of the problem. Currently, alternative programs and separate public day schools for students with special education needs do not report exclusionary discipline data. The Maryland State Department of Education does not currently report on disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline. We plan to advocate for legislation that would require the State to report on disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline as well as require districts to collect discipline data from alternative programs and separate public day schools to give advocates and policymakers a full picture of how exclusionary discipline is used across the state.

Defeating bills that harm students

In addition to advocating for the bills above, we anticipate fighting against legislation that marginalizes transgender students as well as bills that expand punitive truancy court programs that do nothing to address the causes of kids’ absences from school.