In Action Alerts, Affordable Housing, Baltimore, MD, Fight For $15, Immigration, Maryland State, Montgomery County, MD, Police Accountability, Renters' Rights, Water is a human right
Lobby Night photo by JUFJ member Mark Wolff
Lobby Night photo by JUFJ member Mark Wolff

General Assembly Wrap-Up

Every year JUFJers from Baltimore, Montgomery County, and across the state of Maryland join forces to fight for justice over the 90 days of the Maryland General Assembly session. This year we met with legislators in our living rooms, in Annapolis, and over Purim gift bags. JUFJ members sent over 1,500 emails and made dozens of calls to their legislators to advocate for a more fair, just, and safe Maryland.

The last day of session, Sine Die, ended on a somber note, as the General Assembly remembered longtime Speaker Michael Busch z”l, who passed away the day before the session ended.

Now it’s time to reflect on all that we’ve accomplished this year, and what work remains.

Big wins for justice in Maryland!

Fight for $15 is the law of the land!

The current statewide minimum wage is not enough to cover a person’s basic needs in Maryland, and we still face persistent gender and race-based pay and wealth gaps. JUFJ and our Fight for $15 coalition partners worked hard to pass a $15/hr minimum wage, and now more than 573,000 Marylanders are going to get a raise. Maryland became the 6th state (including DC) in the nation to raise the minimum wage to $15!

This historic victory didn’t come easy, and it isn’t perfect. The Senate and House passed different versions of the bill, both with weakening amendments. Many workers were cut out or had their raises diminished or delayed. Yet the Conference Committee chose to strengthen the bill they received, making sure workers at small businesses didn’t have to wait nearly a decade for a raise. Workers ages 18 to 20 will get a raise alongside their older peers, and subsidies were added to the bill to help medical non-profits pay their workers higher wages.

The General Assembly then overrode Governor Hogan’s veto, an amazing milestone in our struggle for decent wages for Maryland workers. By this time next year, the minimum wage will be $11 an hour, and it will keep going up until we get to $15. In the mean time, we and our partners will be back in Annapolis to keep fighting for a real living wage for ALL working Marylanders!

Criminal Justice Reforms

Our criminal justice agenda for this session included three planks: protecting reforms to the cash bail system that we won two years ago, fighting mandatory minimum sentencing legislation, and reducing the use of solitary confinement in Maryland jails and prisons.

There were no legislative attacks on cash bail reform this session, and money has been allocated to develop and improve pre-trial services! Governor Hogan’s attempt to impose mandatory minimum sentences never came up for a vote. These wins are hard to see, since they didn’t involve passing bills, but they are victories we celebrate!

This session we advocated for four bills limiting solitary confinement (called “restrictive housing” in Maryland), all of which would restore to our incarcerated community members some of the dignity and respect that all of us deserve. Two of these bills passed! Pregnant inmates and incarcerated young people will now be shielded from the most damaging effects of this treatment. We are especially glad that these bills passed even though one of them moved slowly through the General Assembly and faced procedural hurdles that made it seem unlikely to pass.

Defending Renters’ Rights

Two competing bills defining the meaning of “rent” were introduced this session. JUFJ opposed one and supported the other. These bills were both sent to a summer study committee and won’t be voted on this session. This is a win! Landlords’ lobbyists tried to expand the definition of “rent” to make it easier to evict people from their homes for utility bills or other unpredictable costs, and our competing bill forced legislators to take more time to understand the implications of this policy decision.

Setbacks and struggles

Safe Housing for Renters

This session, JUFJ advocated for two bills promoting safe housing for all renters and making sure that nobody would have to pay full rent for unlivable housing. Sadly, our bill to make landlords comply with safety standards around lead and rental licensing did not come up for a vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. A bill to make sure that the courts are accessible to renters and to provide relief for unsafe housing was sent to summer study.

It usually takes multiple years to pass legislation in Annapolis, and we are hopeful that, despite these setbacks, renters’ rights bills will move forward in a future state session.

Criminal Injustice

Two of the four solitary confinement bills we supported did not pass this session: a bill that would have limited the overall length of solitary confinement for all inmates and/or would have protected inmates with mental illness from this punishment (it changed over the course of the session), and a bill to ensure everyone in solitary confinement would have access to transitional services when their release dates approach. The latter, HB1002, is especially disappointing because it was one more Senate floor vote away from final passage, but time ran out before the end of the session. Delegate Shelly Hettleman introduced a bill to remove mandatory minimum sentences for several drug-related offenses, but the bill was withdrawn. We hope that this sensible reversal of failed, racist war-on-drugs policies comes back in future sessions.

The Trust Act: Disappointing Results

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did not vote on the Trust Act, which sought to protect immigrant Marylanders from being turned over to ICE by the state. We are deeply frustrated by this result, but we will continue to fight to make sure that nobody, regardless of immigration status, has to fear deportation or family separation when they seek help from law enforcement. We are glad that other immigration-related bills that we have supported in past sessions did pass this year, including expansion of the Maryland Dream Act which will provide equal access to education for undocumented Marylanders.

Fighting for local justice in Annapolis

In addition to the statewide legislation that JUFJ advocated for this session, we also worked on legislation in Annapolis that targeted a couple of our local jurisdictions, Baltimore City and Montgomery County. Like our statewide legislation, our local legislation was a mix of success, setback, and incremental progress.

Victory for water rights in Baltimore!

JUFJ joined our partners from the Right to Water coalition to advocate for Senator Mary Washington and Delegate Nick Mosby’s Water Taxpayer Protection Act. This important piece of legislation protects Baltimoreans from having their homes or places of worship sold out from under them because of unpaid or inaccurate water bills. Baltimore’s water bills are notoriously inaccurate and expensive; rates have doubled since 2012 and are set to rise by 9% every year for the next several years and there is no formal billing dispute resolution process. The Water Taxpayer Protection Act passed unanimously through both chambers of the General Assembly and we expect the Governor to sign the bill!

Our 2019 Social Justice Seder highlighted the centrality of water in Judaism, and the current injustice in water accessibility and affordability in Baltimore. To see our haggadah (ritual book for Passover), please click here.

JUFJ is working with the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition to help pass Acting Mayor Jack Young’s Water Accountability and Equity Act through City Council. The bill would create an income-based water affordability program for low-income City residents and a consumer advocate to help Baltimore City and County residents dispute incorrect water bills.

Are you excited about fighting for water justice in Baltimore City and expanding this work to Baltimore County? Email Rianna Lloyd at rianna@jufj.org to join the water team. The water team meets biweekly on Monday evenings.

Setbacks for Montgomery County Renters

In Maryland, landlords can force renters to leave their homes simply by giving 60 days notice that their leases will not be renewed — and they don’t have to explain themselves. JUFJ supported Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins “just cause eviction” legislation, a bill protecting Montgomery County tenants by requiring landlords to give a fair and just reason for not renewing a lease.

We made some exciting progress, but we were ultimately disappointed that such an important piece of legislation failed to pass. The bill was supported by the Montgomery County Council and Executive, and passed the Montgomery County General Assembly delegation by an overwhelming margin. Unfortunately, the bill was voted down in the House Environment and Transportation Committee, but JUFJ will be back next session to ensure fair treatment for all renters.

Progress on Local Control of the Baltimore Police Department

With our partners in the Coalition for Justice, Safety, and Jobs (CJSJ), JUFJ has been advocating for Delegate Talmadge Branch’s HB278, to transfer full control of the Baltimore Police Department to Baltimore City’s local elected officials. Known as the “Local Control of Baltimore Police” bill, HB278 gained major political momentum thanks to House Whip Branch, passing the House of Delegates unanimously.  In the final days of the session, HB278 briefly stalled when the City’s Senate delegation could not unify to urge support for it within the full Senate. We are grateful for the early, vocal support within the delegation from Senators Jill Carter and Mary Washington; JUFJ’s advocacy and constituent outreach played a key role in persuading Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam to commit to support as well.

Senators Antonio Hayes, Bill Ferguson and Cory McCray remained reluctant to support HB278, particularly as passing this bill in the Senate became less politically feasible as the session quickly drew to a close amid the ever-expanding scandal involving Mayor Pugh. However, there is good news to report from this intense process: an amended version of HB278 that creates a commission to study the effects of local control over the BPD passed the Senate! We hope that this commission will lead to a bill that can pass the City Senate Delegation in 2020.

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