April 17, 2021
Dear Friends –
Just like that, the 2021 legislative session has ended. Sometimes it surprises me how quickly it goes by. This session was a very productive one, and I’m proud of the work we did. I write today to summarize some of what passed the General Assembly this year, specifically focusing on the issues that constituents have shared are important to them.
Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on Marylanders
We passed several bills to bring relief to Marylanders suffering from the economic effects of COVID-19. The first was SB 496, the Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs, and Families (RELIEF) Act.
The RELIEF Act:
Raises the Earned Income Tax Credit, which puts cash in the pockets of low-income Maryland taxpayers. Specifically, the credit is raised to 45% of the federal credit amount. This will provide families with children nearly $1,700 and individuals with no children up to $530.
Exempts unemployment insurance payments from the State income tax, keeping over $225.0 million in the pockets of unemployed Marylanders.
Provides stimulus payments to Marylanders who qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2019. The payments were up to $500, putting over $175.0 million immediately in the hands of low-income individuals and families.
Allows small businesses to keep sales tax collections of up to $9,000 over three months.
Helps up to 100,000 small businesses & nonprofits defer paying unemployment insurance taxes until the first three months of 2022 to help cash flow (they employ ¼ of MD workforce).
Forgives Maryland taxes on COVID-19 loans and grants.
Helps Minority and Small Businesses by converting up to $50,000 in Equity Participation Program loans to grants.
We then expanded the RELIEF package to eligible Marylanders with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) through SB 218. Without this bill, nearly 86,000 immigrant taxpayers would be excluded from the RELIEF Act.
Additionally, as far too many of you know, the pandemic revealed that Maryland’s unemployment insurance (UI) system was unprepared for a statewide emergency. Over 4,000 Marylanders reported that they were unable to get assistance because the State’s system was outdated and broken. We passed a package of bills to create immediate and structural fixes to help streamline the process and make the UI system more efficient, including:
Improving customer service & creating more accountability. HB 1002.
Preparing for future emergencies by holding the Department of Labor accountable, requiring regular administrative reports, and increasing its departmental oversight. HB 1138/SB 818.
Requiring the Department of Labor to implement flexible payment plans for employers to pay their unemployment taxes. By allowing employers to pay their unemployment taxes incrementally over time instead of paying one lump sum, we will help more businesses stay afloat as they recover from the pandemic. HB 908/SB 816.
Raising the amount of weekly income a UI claimant can earn from $50 to $200 throughout the duration of an emergency. This will allow more people receiving UI benefits to seek part-time work and supplement their UI benefits. HB 1139/SB 819.
Adjusts the amount of time an employer can temporarily reduce an employee’s work hours under the existing work share program in order to make State law consistent with federal law. This bill will allow more Maryland employers to retain employees and help more employees get back to work following the COVID-19 pandemic. HB 1143/SB 771.
Improving our Environment and Addressing Climate Change
The General Assembly passed several bills addressing clean water. The first was HB 507/SB 119, the Clean Water Commerce Act of 2021. This bill reauthorizes the Clean Water Commerce Act and allows the use of funds from the Bay Restoration Fund to further our efforts to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. I am proud to say that we also passed my bill, HB 76/SB 334, to ensure that Maryland follows the federal Clean Water Act and allows citizens to intervene in State Clean Water Act enforcement actions.
This session we also addressed trees! Not only are they beautiful to look at, trees are one of the best tools to combat climate change because they naturally capture carbon. In addition, trees are effective at reducing stormwater runoff. HB 991, the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021, establishes a statewide goal of planting 5,000,000 trees, including at least 500,000 in underserved areas; requires a technical study of the forests in Maryland; and addresses forest mitigation banking under the Forest Conservation Act.
Speaking of stormwater runoff, the body passed another bill of mine, HB 295/SB 227. Due to climate change, storms have become more frequent and more intense, yet MDE is using rainfall data from the 1990s in our stormwater regulations. As a result, our infrastructure cannot handle the increased rainfall and we have massive flooding. My bill addresses this problem and helps us adapt to the effects of climate change by requiring the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to use updated rainfall data for stormwater regulations.
Another important sector of environmental work is addressing the waste stream. Unfortunately, both the plastic bag ban (HB 314/SB 223 ) and my recycling task force bill (HB 807) got stuck in the Senate, and my single use plastic bill (HB 69) did not make it out of committee in the House. We did, however, address composing through HB 264. This bill requires facilities that: 1) have over two tons of food residuals each week; and 2) are within 30 miles of an organics recycling facility to separate their food residuals and ensure that they are diverted from the waste system by either donating serviceable foods, composting onsite, or sending them off-site for composting.
Furthermore, we continued to encourage the use of electric vehicles through a number of bills. HB 44 extends the electric vehicle recharging rebate program. HB 110 (sponsored by D16 Delegate Marc Korman) establishes standards relating to the use and installation of electric vehicle charging stations in condominiums and homeowner associations. HB 784 requires builders of new housing units to provide owners the option of installing electric car charging units or a dedicated line for such a unit. SB137 requires the Maryland Transit Administration to purchase more zero-emission buses and to submit a report regarding transitioning its bus fleet to zero-emission vehicles.
Finally, we began to address the issue of Environmental Justice in Maryland. We passed HB 1207/SB 674 to reform and revitalize the Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities. Among other duties, the Commission will: use data sets and mapping tools to review and analyze the impact of current State and local laws, permits, actions, and policies on the issue of environmental justice and sustainable communities, including cumulative impacts effects, and exposure; and recommend options to the General Assembly to address the issues raised by the Commission’s work.
There were several other bills to address environmental justices that unfortunately did not pass, including: SB 121, addressing the cumulative impact of zoning decisions as they relate to environmental justice; and HB 1373/SB 960, my bill (crossfiled with D16 Senator Susan Lee) prohibiting the State from acquiring a right-of-way that would encroach upon historic African-American burial grounds, cemeteries, or cultural sites. This bill sought to address historical wrongs in the siting and building of highways, which often were built through historic African American neighborhoods, destroying their communities and often their burial grounds.
Enhancing Education in Maryland
We began the session by overriding the Governor’s veto of HB 1300 (2020), the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. We then built upon that by passing HB 1372, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future - Revisions. After a year of distance-learning due to COVID-19 school closures, a growing number of students are falling further behind. The Blueprint Revision bill includes needed fixes to education funding that were exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and:
Provides more support to address learning loss;
Expands behavioral and mental health resources;
Closes the digital divide with more access to broadband and devices; and
Requires better reporting and data tracking for more accountability.
Passed early and overwhelmingly, HB 1, funding for Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs), was already signed into law by the Governor. While the State has increased operating and capital funding to the HBCUs over the past decade, additional investment is needed to increase the availability of new and distinct programming to attract more students to HBCUs. HB 1 provides $577M to settle a decade-long lawsuit and level the playing field for all students – regardless of their background, race, or the college they attend.
We also increased support of special education through HB 1365 (sponsored by D16 Delegate Marc Korman), which increases funding for Nonpublic Special Education Schools – schools that provide special education for public-school-funded children who cannot receive an appropriate education in public school.
Enhancing Access to Voting
While some states are working hard to restrict access to voting, we believe that all eligible voters should be able to easily and conveniently vote. To that end, we passed three bills addressing different ways to make it easier for eligible voters to vote. HB 1048 creates a permanent absentee ballot list so voters who want to vote by mail in each election can register once rather than for each election. HB 1047 codifies the procedure of drop-boxes we used in the 2020 election, provides for the security of the boxes while they are in use, and creates a chain of custody for the ballots to ensure integrity of the process. HB 222 requires the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to facilitate voting by eligible voters who are incarcerated.
Police Reform & Accountability
Our state, like our country, needs to reimagine policing. People of color are disproportionately harassed, stopped, arrested, and/or killed by police. There is a lack of trust in police that undermines all of our safety. Having worked on the issue of police accountability at the ACLU of Maryland, I am so proud that this year we finally passed a comprehensive package of bills addressing policing reform and accountability. There are 5 different bills:
HB 670 overhauls the police disciplinary process and makes Maryland the first state in the nation to fully repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. It replaces it with a civilian-driven, public-facing approach to police discipline. The bill also requires increased training and assessments for officers; provides scholarships and loan repayment assistance for those going into law enforcement; increases the amount a victim may receive in a civil lawsuit based on an illegal act committed by an officer; and requires law enforcement officers to provide identifying information and the reason for the stop when making a traffic stop.
SB 71 requires all local and state law enforcement officers to wear body cameras by 2025. The legislation also significantly limits the use of force by law enforcement, allows it only when it is necessary and proportional, and requires officers to intervene when excessive force is used.
SB 178 provides the public with access to police disciplinary records. Additionally, the bill puts greater restrictions on how and when no-knock warrants can be served.
SB 600 requires an independent investigative unit in the Office of the Attorney General to investigate alleged or potential police-involved deaths of civilians. The bill also prohibits a law enforcement agency from receiving certain equipment from a federal program that allows for the transfer of surplus military equipment.
SB 786 returns the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) to local control (it has been under State control since 1860), contingent on the ratification of an amendment by the voters of Baltimore City.
Criminal Justice Reform
In addition to reimagining policing to be more fair and just, we also continued our work on making the criminal legal system more of a criminal justice system. We passed four bills that help move our state towards a better system:
HB 16 bans private immigration prisons in Maryland. Currently there are three private prisons in Maryland that contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). They are located in Frederick County, Worcester County, and Howard County (though the Howard County Executive just announced the termination of the contract with ICE). The stories of the inhumane treatment inside these prisons are abhorrent. In addition, many of the people in these prisons have not committed a crime and are in prison solely because of an immigration violation (which is a civil offense). While the Federal Government needs to reform our immigration laws, Maryland should not profit off of the unnecessary incarceration of immigrants or be complicit in the inhumane treatment of immigrants held in its detention centers.
Maryland is one of three states where politics play a role in parole. Right now the Governor appoints the Parole Board, which makes all parole decisions. However, he has the final say regarding parole for those who have been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole - he can even override the Board’s decision to grant parole. In fact, for years (since Gov. Glendenning!), governors have taken the position that ‘life means life’ and have allowed very few paroles. SB 202 takes the Governor out of parole decisions for those who have served at least twenty years of a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. This is another bill that I worked on extensively as the former Policy Director for the ACLU-MD and I am so glad it has finally passed.
We also addressed those who commit crimes as minors. Science – and life experience – tells us that the human brain is not fully developed until our early- to mid- twenties. In recognition of that, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to sentence a youth to life without the possibility of parole. SB 494 ends juvenile life sentences without parole; minors who were convicted as adults can now petition a court for a new sentence after serving at least 20 years in prison.
Finally, we addressed compensating those who have been wrongfully convicted and sent to prison. The Walter Lomax Act, HB 742, creates a system for the Board of Public Works to provide restitution and adequate resources so that those who have been exonerated can have a better quality of life once they re-enter society.
Fair Housing & Access to Counsel
The House considered – and passed – many bills to support stable housing in light of the challenges highlighted by the pandemic. Unfortunately, most of them did not make it out of the Senate. We did, however, send to the Governor two bills addressing historical systemic racism in housing: HB 90/SB 687 requires state & local governments to affirmatively further fair housing; and HB 1239/SB 859 addresses the gap between what it costs to renovate a house in a formerly redlined neighborhood and what it can sell for by making financial assistance available to certain developers who are looking to renovate those properties. In addition, HB 18 establishes the Right to Counsel in Evictions Program, which provides tenants access to counsel in certain eviction proceedings.
Health Care & Health Equity
This session we passed several bills addressing health care. First, there were those that addressed pandemic-related issues. Because everyone was at home and not seeing their doctors, many children are behind on their childhood vaccines. HB 1040 (sponsored by D16 Delegate Ariana Kelly) gives temporary authority to licensed and qualified pharmacists to provide those vital vaccines, and requires a report that looks at the capacity of the health care system to provide childhood vaccines. HB 123 builds on and expands the life-saving work we did last year to enable telehealth. Finally, the pandemic has highlighted the need for residents to understand and plan for long-term care of their loved ones. HB 599 (also sponsored by D16 Delegate Ariana Kelly) requires the Maryland Department of Health to prepare and publish materials to assist residents with long-term care planning.
We also passed several bills addressing health equity:
HB 28 requires health equity and bias training as part of the accreditation and licensing process for all health care providers including registered doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners.
HB 78 establishes the Maryland Commission on Health Equity to create a health equity framework that works to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequities in the State.
HB 463 creates a process to designate Health Equity Resource Communities that will provide targeted support in order to reduce health disparities, improve health outcomes, improve access to primary care, promote primary and secondary prevention services, and reduce health care costs and hospital admissions and readmissions.
HB 849 addresses the cost to gain access to certain medical records, which disproportionately affects low-income communities and the homeless, by lowering the maximum fee that can be charged for a copy of a medical record and preventing health care providers from charging a separate preparation fee.
Other Key Legislation Passed
While we passed many other great bills, I wanted to highlight just three more:
HB 667 repeals the state song, "Maryland! My Maryland!" which was written about events during the Civil War. The song refers to President Lincoln as a "despot," the Union as "Northern scum," and calls for Maryland to fight against the U.S.
HB 114 increases operating and capital spending for the Maryland Transit Administration.
HB 940 establishes and implements sports wagering in Maryland, and provides for the regulation of sports wagering and fantasy gaming competitions.
As I stated at the beginning of this letter, this session was incredibly productive and I am extremely proud of the work we accomplished. I want to thank each and every one of you who contacted my office this year about the issues that matter most to you – hearing from you allows me to best represent our community.
Thank you again for giving me the honor of serving you and District 16. If I or my office can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out either by phone or email (both are listed at the top of each page of this letter). Please stay in touch!