It is hard to believe that spring is already upon us and that we’re heading into the last stretch of the 2016 legislative session. It has been an honor serving as your delegate in Annapolis and I want to take this opportunity to update you on some of the most exciting legislative efforts we have been working on to improve the lives of Marylanders.
Fully restoring ex-offenders’ ability to reincorporate themselves into society is crucial for the progress of all communities. For that reason, the Democratic Caucus successfully overrode Governor Hogan’s veto on ex-offenders’ right to vote. Despite all of the politicization, negativity, intimidation, and false information that the governor spread on social media before and after the vote, the General Assembly did not back down on our commitment to decrease recidivism.
Another one of Hogan’s vetoes that we successfully overturned was the decriminalization of drug paraphernalia. When the state decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the legislation did not include decriminalization of paraphernalia. Last session, we fixed this oversight, the governor vetoed it and we overturned his veto the first week of this session.
WOMEN’S ECONOMIC SECURITY AGENDA
Following the White House Women’s Economic Security Agenda (WESA), I have been proud to sponsor bills that address the economic disadvantage of women. As women are increasingly the only breadwinner of their households, it is imperative that we make changes in pay and benefits. WESA bills included Pay Equity, Earned Sick Days, Family Leave, and Fair Scheduling. I am committed to fight for the passing of all, as they go to the heart of protecting and expanding the middle class. For too long women have been undercompensated for equal work performed by male counterparts.
When I was first sworn in, I fought hard for a seat on the judiciary committee because of the opportunity to make a difference in criminal justice reform, advancing avenues to justice for victims of gender violence, and addressing every area of law which impacts the daily lives of all Marylanders.
The judiciary committee worked tirelessly this session to pass the ignition interlock bill titled “Noah’s Law”. This bill mandates ignition interlock participation for all those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol for a set period of time. Studies show that mandated ignition interlock programs significantly change behavior, reducing the number of unnecessary tragedies like the one that befell Montgomery County Officer Noah Leotta and his family.
As this is the first session of the General Assembly after the tragic death of Freddie Gray in April 2015, police reform is front-and-center for the committee. Over thirty bills pertaining to this issue have been heard in front of the judiciary committee, several of which I fully support.
Our nation has witnessed a growing movement acknowledging the need for police reform. It has taken deaths at the hands of law enforcement from Ferguson to Baltimore City for legislatures to start taking a serious look at this issue. It was an honor to work on what came from President Obama's efforts to reform police practices through his Task Force on Police Reform. The Criminal Justice subcommittee worked incredibly hard to make a series of reforms addressing civilian participation on review boards, use of force reports, serious officer-involved incidents, and whistleblower protections to encourage reporting among law enforcement officers without fear of retaliation from their own departments, among other efforts.
In Maryland, there have been 21 deaths in 2015 from police encounters across the state. Of those deaths, 81% were Black, and nearly half were unarmed. Every single unarmed person who died in 2015 was Black. In 20 of the 21 cases, no criminal charges were filed. In several cases the reviewing State's Attorney stated publicly that the killing was justified.
On the use of tasers, 11 people have died in MD since 2009 during police encounters with taser use. Four of those deaths were in Montgomery County. In at least one case, the police refused to allow family members to see videotapes of the death of their relative and law enforcement erased the cellphone video before returning the phones to their owners. It is imperative that the state take a serious look at how we discipline bad actors and reward officers who speak up, as opposed to perpetuating the culture of covering up for each other.
Here’s to a great second half of the session!! It has been an honor serving you as your delegate and I will put 100 percent of my energy fighting for the issues that are important to you for the remaining days of the session. The hours that my staff and I have put in to serving the people of District 19 certainly have not been spring break! I am so proud of what we have accomplished this session, and I am confident that this is just the beginning. If there is ever any issue you wish to discuss with me or my office, please do not hesitate to reach out to us and always feel free to come visit!
OUR BILLS - IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE OF WORKING MARYLANDERS
Thanks to the hard work of all of my staffers, I have introduced and am the primary sponsor of twelve bills this session.
One of these bills is HB 493, which closes a loophole in Maryland’s extortion laws that protects undocumented immigrants from be exploited by their employers or anyone who threatens to disclose the immigration status of an employee to get something out of them for personal gain. Due to the vulnerability of undocumented immigrants and their fear of reporting crimes committed against them to the police, they are three times more likely than the general public to be a victim of a crime, while they are only one-third as likely to be perpetrators of a crime.
I have also led the fight this session to protect renters’ rights for all Marylanders. Thirty percent of Montgomery County residents are tenants, and millennials tend to represent the majority of that population. My bills encourage transparency between tenants and landlords, by disclosing rights and responsibilities of both parties, including the right to treble damages when a landlord unjustifiably keep a security deposit. Many renters are often confused about their rights and responsibilities that are owed to them by their landlords, leading to many disputes where there is poor understanding of the law pertaining to security deposits on both sides.
I am also very proud to be a sponsor of the Fair Scheduling bill with Del. Jeff Waldstreicher. As workers increasingly lose control over their work schedules, we see the effect it has for working families who struggle with scheduling child care and being unable to participate in their kids' school functions. Studies indicate 49% of black and 46% of Hispanic workers in hourly jobs reported to get only one week or less notice in advance of their work schedule, which interferes with their ability to set doctor’s appointments, balance work and college, and raise children. This bill requires a three week notice of a month's schedule and one paid hour of predictability per shift changed.
CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT
1 of 5 women will experience sexual assault on campus. 3/4 of victims are freshmen and sophomore students; and campus surveys have revealed that the highest number incidents occur in September and October, early in a freshman's fall semester. Vice President Joe Biden and Lady Gaga addressed the issue on the stage of the Oscar's just in time before our Rally Against Campus Sexual Assault. Campus survivor advocates rallied in support of ,y Affirmative Consent bill. HB1142 creates guidelines for higher education institutions to help victims of sexual assault on college campuses when there is alcohol or drugs involved in a case of sexual misconduct. We were joined by more than 100 students and advocates, in addition to 18 legislators who recognized the importance of this legislation.
In addition to sexual assault, we continued the fight to eradicate human trafficking in the state.
Last session, I sponsored the bill that established a workgroup to study Safe Harbor Policy for youth victims of human trafficking. “Safe Harbor” is a term referring to the federal legislation enacted to protect trafficked minors, survivors of sex trafficking from being arrested, charged, or incarcerated. I am now working to pass a number of bills to put the workgroup’s policy recommendations into law, including appropriating money obtained from fines for prostitution to victims of human trafficking and increasing punishments for peddlers.
Best wishes to you and your family during this spring season!