Maryland’s 2023 legislative session is over!
We made it to Sine Die! At midnight on Monday, April 10, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned “Sine Die,” which is Latin for adjourning without a [future] day. At midnight, all statewide legislative work concluded.
What did we accomplish? Thanks to your advocacy, JUFJ and our coalition partners had some historic wins in the General Assembly this year (including a miracle just before midnight)! The legislation we helped pass will help advance renters’ rights, promote labor justice and transform public safety in our region. To learn more about each bill, please read below.
What’s next? As we celebrate what we won and reflect on our setbacks, we do so in the spirit of this wisdom from Pirkei Avot 2:21: “It is not on you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Each win brings us closer to justice in our region, and work still lies ahead until we all achieve liberation.
During the 2022 legislative session, we and our Time to Care Coalition partners helped pass the Time to Care Act, establishing the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Program to allow 2.5 million Maryland workers to take paid time off when needed. All Marylanders need, and most cannot afford, time to care for relatives or themselves, especially new parents, people with chronic conditions, families of military personnel, low-income and part-time workers, small business employees, and self-employed people. Black and Latinx community members are disproportionately unable to take time off to care for themselves or family members.
This session, we and our partners helped pass strengthening legislation sponsored by by Senator Antonio Hayes and Delegate Lily Qi to ensure fair and equitable coverage, especially for employees earning less than $15 per hour. Now, the FAMLI Program will be implemented in the strongest form possible, with fair contribution rates for workers (50/50 between employers and employees) and other crucial provisions!
Update: Governor Wes Moore signed the bill into law on May 3.
In the 2022 legislative session, we and our partners in Renters United Maryland (RUM) helped pass a bill to prevent illegally operating landlords from using a legal loophole to evict tenants and violate local licensing laws meant to protect public health and safety. However, the bill was subsequently vetoed by then-Governor Larry Hogan.
This session, we returned to the General Assembly to pass the bill (sponsored by Senator Shelly Hettleman and Delegate Mary Lehman) again — and we did just that, preventing unlicensed landlords from using the expedited eviction process and ensuring safe and habitable housing for renters!
Update: Governor Wes Moore signed the bill into law on May 8.
Court & Prison Reform:
- Fund Women’s Prerelease Facility
Prerelease programs help people nearing the end of their prison sentences secure employment, education, housing, drug treatment, mental health services, and family support. While there are multiple such facilities for men in Maryland, the only one for women closed in 2010.
Thankfully, in 2020, the General Assembly passed the Gender Responsive Prerelease Act, sponsored by Senator Mary Washington and Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield. In 2021, we continued our advocacy efforts with our Women’s Prerelease Equity Coalition partners, and the General Assembly overrode Governor Hogan’s veto, making it law. And in 2022, we successfully advocated to pre-authorize $2 million for the Women’s Prerelease Center in the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ (DPSCS) capital budget.
However, these funds were subsequently removed from the proposed FY24 budget, which the legislature was considering this session, threatening to delay the resolution of a long-standing inequity for incarcerated women. Luckily, we were able to secure $10 million for the first phase of establishing a women’s prerelease facility ($5 million in the FY24 budget and a pre-authorization of $2.5 million for both FY25 and FY26)! This investment is long-overdue and is indispensable to getting this important facility built, and up and running.
Transforming Public Safety:
- Reduce Unnecessary Police Interactions: Ban Cannabis Odor Searches (HB1071)
For years, police have used the alleged odor of cannabis to perform warrantless stops and searches that disproportionately target and criminalize Black people in our state and across the country. In Maryland, probable cause (including the alleged odor of cannabis) was used to justify 67% of searches in incidents involving Black drivers, compared to 46% for their white counterparts. Searches on the basis of the odor of cannabis perpetuate the war on drugs that legalizing the substance in Maryland was supposed to help end.
In an unexpected turn of events (which wouldn’t have happened without the rapid response emails and phone calls you and others made), just eight minutes before the legislative session ended, the General Assembly passed a bill to ban this racist and unconstitutional practice! We and our partners in the Maryland Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability (MCJPA) were able to help pass this important racial justice legislation, sponsored by Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield, in its strongest form, with an amendment to protect Marylanders’ constitutional rights and disincentivize officers from conducting illegal searches. Incredible!
Update: The bill became law on May 19, without Governor Moore’s signature, and will go into effect on July 1 once recreational cannabis becomes partially legal.
- Fund Emergency Rental Assistance
Rents are skyrocketing across Maryland, and evictions are approaching, or in some jurisdictions eclipsing, pre-pandemic levels. More than 108,000 households across our state are behind on rent; 80% are people of color, and 98% of those very likely to be evicted are families with children. Keeping Marlylanders housed is critical to promoting racial equity and strengthening our communities. This important safety net program has prevented 100,000 households from being evicted since the beginning of the pandemic with an influx of federal dollars, yet no funding for emergency rental assistance appeared in the FY24 budget.
Fortunately, we and our partners in Renters United Maryland (RUM) and the Maryland Emergency Rental Assistance (MERA) Coalition were successful in securing $2 million for this critical eviction prevention tool (again, with lots of powerful Rapid Response advocacy efforts at the eleventh hour). This allocation is a far cry from the $175 million we were originally demanding, but slightly exceeds pre-pandemic levels of funding and sets the stage for continued advocacy on this issue — we and our partners set a testimony record for the subcommittees dealing with this portion of the budget! Onwards!
Transforming Public Safety:
From 1860 through 2022, Baltimore City was a state agency and was the only locality in Maryland, and one of two in the entire country, that didn’t control its own police department. For more than a decade, advocates, including JUFJ and our Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs (CJSJ) partners, have been advocating to restore local control of the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD), as it is structurally racist to deny our own elected representatives the opportunity every other jurisdiction in the state has to reform its police department’s policies and procedures.
In 2021, the General Assembly passed legislation to restore local control, provided that Baltimore residents ratify an amendment to the City Charter, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November 2022, making the BPD a City agency as of January 1, 2023. Despite this monumental victory, a remaining provision in the City Charter may prohibit the City Council from legislating much-needed reforms to the BPD. To clear this bureaucratic hurdle, Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Stephanie Smith introduced statewide legislation, which was supported by the City Council and was passed by the House of Delegates.
Yet Mayor Brandon Scott, Senate President Bill Ferguson, and Senators Antonio Hayes and Cory McCray supported a harmful amendment that would have left the City Council unable to legislate anything of significance related to the BPD. In order to avoid passing a bill with that amendment, we and our partners successfully worked to prevent the bill from moving this session.
Despite this attempt to disenfranchise the repeatedly disenfranchised, majority-Black City of Baltimore, we and our CJSJ partners will work with the City Council to legislate reforms to the BPD, testing a legal opinion from Attorney General Anthony Brown’s office, which indicated that the City Council is entitled to do so, despite the limiting language in the City Charter.
A few of our full scope of work bills did not pass this session.
Court & Prison Reform:
- Youth Equity & Safety (YES) Act – End the racist practice of automatically charging youth as adults (SB93/HB96)
Current law requires kids as young as 14 to be automatically prosecuted and held in adult courts, jails, and prisons for 33 different offenses, disproportionately targeting Black youth. Disappointingly, legislation to end this practice, sponsored by Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield, did not move this session. We will continue working with our Maryland Youth Justice Coalition partners to introduce the YES Act for the 14th time next session and get this critical racial justice legislation passed to reduce recidivism, make our communities safer, and provide kids with research-backed services and care — not cages.
Transforming Public Safety:
- Increase local jurisdictions’ ability to provide community oversight of police (SB285)
Two years ago, the General Assembly passed historic police reforms, including mandating a Police Accountability Board (PAB) for each jurisdiction. PABs are a step in the right direction, yet rely on internal investigations into police misconduct. Unfortunately, legislation sponsored by Senator Jill Carter to give jurisdictions the authority to grant their PABs independent investigatory and subpoena powers did not pass this session. We will regroup on this issue with our partners in the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability (MCJPA), because police cannot police themselves.
- Access to Care (ACA) Act – Expand Affordable Care Act eligibility to all Marylanders regardless of immigration status (SB365/HB588)
Since its establishment in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has granted 28 million people across the country access to affordable health insurance. However, more than 275,000 undocumented immigrants in Maryland are uninsured and ineligible for plans through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE). Opening up the MHBE to everyone, regardless of their immigration status, would make our state a safer, healthier place for all by reducing health inequities and preventing the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19. While the ACA Act, sponsored by Senator Clarence Lam and Delegate Bonnie Cullison, passed in the House, Senate President Bill Ferguson and Finance Chair Melony Griffith refused to move the bill forward, even after our partners at CASA were arrested while advocating for this issue in Annapolis.
It is a shanda (shame) that healthcare is not treated as a human right in our state. We will continue to work with our partners at CASA and in the Health Care For All Coalition to change this because no one should get sick or die because of their immigration status.
In addition to the legislative and funding campaigns where JUFJ engages in a full scope of work each session, we also take additional positions in consultation with our partners and the Maryland Core Team (JUFJ’s Maryland volunteer leadership team). These are issues we have historically been involved in or reflect our values, and are important to our allies. To match our organizational capacity and maximize our effectiveness, we impact additional campaigns in a more limited way by submitting official JUFJ testimony and/or signing JUFJ’s name to a list of supporters.
- Fair Wage Act of 2023 (SB555), which moves up the implementation timeline of the increase of the state minimum wage rate, was passed out of the General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Moore.
- Maryland Healthy Working Families Act – Seasonal Temporary Workers (SB902/HB1015) would have made it harder for employees to use sick and safe leave, but did not pass thanks to diligent advocacy!
- Access to Counsel in Evictions – Funding (HB1050/SB756) requires $14M be allocated to the Access to Counsel in Evictions Special Fund – a program we and our partners in Renters United Maryland (RUM) passed legislation to establish two years ago, that provides free legal counsel to low-income renters facing eviction. This bill passed out of the General Assembly and awaits Governor Moore’s signature.
Court & Prison Reform:
- Probation Before Judgment – Probation Agreements (SB211/HB193) ensures that a probation before judgment will not be improperly categorized as a conviction. The bill passed out of the General Assembly and awaits the Governor’s signature.
Transforming Public Safety:
- Baltimore City – Civilian Review Board and Office of Equity and Civil Rights (SB763/HB864) would have weakened community oversight of police by sunsetting Baltimore’s Civilian Review Board (CRB) and transferring its independent investigatory powers to the Office of Equity and Civil Rights (which reports to the Mayor), instead of the Police Accountability Board (PAB). It did not move in either chamber.
- Public Information Act – Inspection of Records From Body-Worn Digital Recording Devices (SB40), which would have weakened past police accountability reforms, passed out of the Senate, but luckily did not move in the House.
- Public Information Act – Personnel Records – Police Officers (SB747), which would have restricted the public’s access to information about police misconduct, did not pass.
- Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and Maryland Department of Health – Health Care and Dental Care Coverage for Undocumented Immigrants – Report (SB806/HB363), to require research into options for providing affordable healthcare to undocumented immigrants, passed and awaits the Governor’s signature.
- Family Prosperity Act (SB552/HB547), to permanently extend and expand the state’s earned income tax credit for low-income residents and broaden eligibility for the state’s Child Tax Credit to help lower-income families, passed out of the General Assembly and awaits Governor Moore’s signature.
- Hospitals – Financial Assistance – Medical Bill Reimbursement Process (SB404/HB33) establishes the process for Maryland hospitals to refund patients who should have received free care, but were charged and pursued for medical debt. The bill was passed by the General Assembly and awaits the Governor’s signature.
- Labor and Employment – Payment of Minimum Wage – Tipped Employees (SB803/HB1256) did not move in either chamber.
- Just Cause Eviction (SB504/HB684), which would have enabled local jurisdictions to pass legislation requiring landlords to state “just cause” for the non-renewal of a residential lease, did not move in either chamber.
- Tenant Safety Act (HB691/SB807), which would have enabled renters with the same landlord, facing the same serious habitability issues, to file an escrow case together, passed out of the House, but did not move in the Senate.
Court & Prison Reform:
- Maryland Mandela Act (SB45), which would have placed further restrictions on the use of solitary confinement in Maryland, was withdrawn by the bill sponsor.
- Baltimore City Lifeline Low-Cost Automobile Insurance Program (HB355), would have established an affordable car insurance program for low-income City residents. It did not move in either chamber.
- Corporate Income Tax – Combined Reporting (SB576/HB46) would have required affiliated companies to report profits and pay taxes as one entity, but it did not move in either chamber.
- Corporate Income Tax Returns of Publicly Traded Corporations – Reporting Requirement (HB39), as passed by the House, would have required the Comptroller to submit an annual report to the Governor highlighting the corporations in Maryland that paid no income tax. It did not move in the Senate.
Each year that we work together to advocate for justice during the General Assembly session, we deepen our collective power, our legislative relationships, and our community engagement in Annapolis. And this year was no different: the power of our community is growing! Here are some snapshots:
- JUFJ leaders engaged in state session: 731
- Advocacy emails JUFJers sent to legislators: 6,848
- Testimony JUFJers wrote and submitted for bill hearings: 137
- JUFJers who participated in legislator meetings before session: 171
- Calls made to General Assembly leadership and key legislators: 115+*
*We encouraged leaders to call legislators via our Rapid Response emails and text banks. This number accounts for the call-in times people signed up for (only requested in some instances)and those who let us know they made calls, but we can assume many more calls were made that we were unable to track.
We worked to increase the impact of our coalitions by hosting action alerts for the Campaign for Justice Safety & Jobs (CJSJ), Renters United Maryland (RUM), and the Women’s Prerelease Equity Coalition.
We can’t wait to see our community and collective impact grow even more in the next legislative session and beyond!
Your feedback is critical to us continuing to learn, grow, and become more effective in our advocacy and outreach. Regardless of your level of engagement with JUFJ this session, we truly value your thoughts and reflections and ask that you fill out our feedback survey. It should take no more than 5-10 minutes to complete and will help inform what our programs/trainings, advocacy, and communications look like in the coming year.
And, join us on Zoom on Wednesday, May 3 at 8 PM for our Maryland Community Meeting & Debrief!
While the General Assembly session is over for this year, we still have lots of local work to do. We work primarily in Baltimore City (and a bit in the County, too) and Montgomery County, but have coalition partners and leaders across every district in Maryland.
Join us in our local Baltimore work: https://jufj.org/where-we-work/baltimore-md/
Join us in our local Montgomery County work: https://jufj.org/where-we-work/montgomery-county-md/
If you live anywhere in Maryland and want to have a 1:1 with a JUFJ organizer, let us know: https://jufj.org/get-involved/one-on-one/