Maryland Legislative Report – April 15, 2021 (End of Session)
The 2021 General Assembly ended on Monday. Here are some of the most significant bills that passed. While there was a lot of good legislation passed there were also a lot of bills that never made it to the finish line. Some of the important bills that failed covered important issues in the areas of climate change, tax reform, and housing assistance. (I may supplement this final report in the next few days with bills I missed or may have not summarized correctly.)
Maryland Police Accountability Act of 20211
New disciplinary process – An overhaul of the process that handles civilian complaints and allegations of misconduct or rules infractions by officers. New all-civilian committees — rather than trial boards of fellow officers — will consider evidence and decide whether officers should be disciplined. Chiefs or sheriffs can still levy punishment but will be required to follow a matrix of minimum punishments for different types of violations or misconduct. Officers unhappy with the sanctions can appeal their cases to a trial board made up of a civilian, a fellow officer and an active or retired judge.
Body Cameras – All county-level law enforcement agencies in Maryland will have to adopt body cameras by July 2025. The four of the biggest departments in the state that have not yet — the Maryland State Police, county police in Anne Arundel and Howard counties and the Harford County Sheriff’s Office — must do so by 2023.A task force would recommend ways to extend the requirement to use body cameras to smaller police departments, as well.
Use of force – The act will set a new statewide standard for when officers can use force — and new criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for serious violations.
Investigations of police killings – A newly created unit within the Maryland attorney general’s office would investigate all police killings of civilians. Most agencies, including the Baltimore Police Department, currently investigate such cases themselves. Local state’s attorneys would still decide whether to clear officers or bring criminal charges.
Surplus military gear: The package puts new limits on what kinds of surplus gear Maryland law enforcement agencies in Maryland can obtain from the U.S. Department of Defense. Among the equipment that would now be off-limits: Grenade launchers, explosives, silencers, and aircraft, drones or vehicles outfitted with offensive weapons.
Public access to records (Anton’s Law) – The public will be allowed to request disciplinary records and internal affairs complaints lodged against officers. Departments will still be able to withhold records that are part of active investigations, redact personal details and keep witness information secret.
No-knock warrants: Police can only obtain a “no-knock” search warrant — which allows officers to burst into a home unannounced — if they can demonstrate that knocking would endanger lives. And no-knock warrants would largely be limited to daytime hours: The package would require police to carry them out between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., except in emergencies.
Scholarships for future officers A scholarship fund will cover 50% of college tuition and fees for Maryland residents who agree to spend at least five years after graduation working as an officer in the state. Current officers will also qualify if they continue working in law enforcement after completing their degrees.
Higher payouts in lawsuits – The bill doubles the amount of money plaintiffs can win in lawsuits over police misconduct filed in Maryland state courts, raising the cap from $400,000 to $890,000. It does not affect lawsuits against police in federal court, where there are no limits on potential judgments.
Removing the governor from the parole process for people serving life sentences. The Parole Board will make the final decision. Governors often have political pressures which in recent years has meant that they have not followed the recommendations of the Parole Board and less people have been paroled.
Parole for juvenile offenders – This bill bans sentences of life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders. The governor vetoed the bill, but the Assembly overrode the veto.
Compensation for wrongly imprisoned – This bill will set rules for how much money to pay people who have been exonerated after being wrongly convicted and incarcerated.
Baltimore Police Department – Baltimore voters will get to decide whether the police department should be returned to full local control under legislation approved by the Assembly. City officials can schedule the referendum for 2022 or 2024.
Monitoring Fees – This Bill will bar courts from charging monitoring fees to poor Marylanders placed on home detention while awaiting trial on criminal charges.
Medical Debtors Protection Act – Expands consumer protections for individuals sued for medical debt and to create an income-based repayment plan before a lawsuit can be filed.
Utility Bills – In the future all utility bills from deregulated electricity and natural gas prices offered to families on energy assistance will have to meet, or beat, regulated utility rates.
Tree Solutions Act of 2021 – State will plant 5 million trees in the next few years.
Access to Counsel – Will provide renters who are earning 50% or below area median income with access to a lawyer when facing eviction. Unfortunately, the program is not funded. The Bill will also require landlords, before they file a “Failure to Pay Rent” eviction action, to send a notice to tenants at least 10 days prior to filing their court complaint.
Testing and Remediation of Contaminated Well Water on Rental Properties
Dignity Not Detention Act – Prohibits Maryland jurisdictions from contracting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain undocumented people in their local jails. The Bill will also prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating or sharing information with immigration agents beyond what is required by federal law
Sports betting – Legislation that will create a framework for a legal industry of gambling on sports It would include licenses to be granted for in-person gambling, as well as for mobile and online gambling.
Local taxes – Local governments will have more flexibility in setting rates for local income taxes, including allowing for graduated rates for different income levels.
Voting and Democracy
Vote by Mail – Voters will be allowed to opt into a permanent vote-by-mail list, instead of needing to request a mail ballot in each election. Counties would be required to add more early voting centers and place them in areas close to historically disenfranchised communities and near public transit.
Worker Rights Issues
Expansion of the state’s prevailing wage law – This bill would require government-funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages on contracts over $250,000 or when at least 25% of a project’s construction costs are from state funds; current law sets those thresholds at $500,000 and 50%.
Collective Bargaining for Workers at Community Colleges
Improving unemployment – A package of bills would require a study of how to improve the unemployment benefits system, allow recipients to earn more money before their benefits are reduced, connect recipients with low-cost health insurance, require payment plans for businesses for their unemployment taxes, and expand a work-share program that helps companies avoid full layoffs.
New court names – Voters will decide in 2022 whether to re-christen the top courts in Maryland, the Court of Special Appeals, and the Court of Appeals. The new names, regarded as less confusing, would be the Appellate Court of Maryland and the Supreme Court of Maryland.
Repeal of the State Song – Maryland lawmakers voted to abolish “Maryland, My Maryland” from the laws of the state, taking the position that having no state song is better than having one that’s offensive and advocated for spurning “the Northern scum” and joining the proslavery Confederacy
Utility Regulation – Consideration of Climate and Labor by the Public Service Commission in setting of Utility Rates
Allowing Restaurants to Sell or Deliver Alcohol for Off Premise Consumption
College Athlete Endorsements – College athletes will be able to earn money from endorsements. The Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act, named for the former University of Maryland offensive lineman who died in 2018 after suffering heat stroke at a team workout, will require athletic departments to implement guidelines to prevent and treat serious sports-related conditions.
If you would like more information on any of these bills, please send me an email. If you would like to stop receiving these emails, please send me a note.
You can read all my past newsletters at my Peoples Lobbying Group website: www.plg.solutions .
1 Thanks to Bryan Stole from the Baltimore Sun for this summary.