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 course of the Maryland General Assembly session. This year we met with legislators in our living rooms, in Annapolis, and with Purim gift bags. More than 700 JUFJniks had 80 meetings with our legislators, delivered more than 140 pieces of testimony, and sent nearly 3,000 emails to advocate for a more fair, just, and safe Maryland.
The General Assembly adjourned Sine Die early this session, in an attempt to follow public health guidelines restricting large group gatherings while also trying to pass essential legislation and the state and capital budgets. This short session meant that many of the bills we were advocating for, including bills with broad support, did not make it through the process, but we will try again on many of them next year. Since session has ended, the global and local realities continue to shift rapidly, but one thing is clear: our fights for justice are all the more important as the current public health crisis exacerbates existing inequalities and injustices.
Now it’s time to reflect on what we were able to accomplish this year, and what work still remains.
Big wins for justice in Maryland!
Dream Act Veto Override!
All people have the right to thrive in our state, regardless of their immigration or documentation status. That includes access to quality public education. During the 2019 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a strengthened version of the Dream Act that would remove unnecessary obstacles for undocumented Marylanders to pursue higher education with an in-state tuition rate, but this was then vetoed by Governor Hogan.
As a result, we started off this year’s state session focused on overriding the Governor’s veto. In the beginning weeks of session, more than 350 JUFJers wrote to their legislators demanding that they override the Governor’s veto. Our legislators heard us: on January 30, just a few weeks into the session, the General Assembly overrode Governor Hogan’s veto! Now, all students in Maryland, including DREAMers have the same access to affordable public education. Thanks to the hard work and advocacy of JUFJ leaders, and the leadership of our partner, CASA, the strengthened Dream Act is a reality for thousands of hardworking people across the state.
JUFJ is guided by the Jewish value of Tzelem Elohim, that all people are created in the divine image, with inherent and equal dignity and value. All people should be treated with dignity and respect, whether they have been incarcerated or not. People who have been incarcerated face marginalization, perpetual punishment, and barriers to housing and employment, especially Black and brown people who are unjustly targeted because of their race.
For the past decade, incarcerated Maryland women have not had pre-release services to assist their transition back into the general population, even though men have. With the leadership of Out for Justice and Maryland Justice Project, we advocated for three bills that would individually: mandate that Maryland open a women’s pre-release unit; mandate that the unit be located in Baltimore, where the majority of incarcerated women live; and identify gender-responsive services that the pre-release facility would provide. The three bills were combined into the Gender-Responsive Prerelease Act, and we successfully passed it together!
Now, Maryland is required by law to operate a pre-release unit for incarcerated women in Baltimore. This is a huge victory in criminal justice reform, and for formerly incarcerated people who worked tirelessly to achieve this win. And, it is a huge victory for currently incarcerated women who need comprehensive, community-based pre-release services.
The HOME Act (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) finally passed this year. This bill makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against potential renters based on their lawful source of income. By passing this bill, there are now protections for people who receive their income from Social Security benefits, Section Eight vouchers, and more. While JUFJ did not focus on this bill this year, we have worked on the HOME Act and other renters’ rights bills for many years. We were thrilled to see the hard work of our coalition partners and legislators pay off.
Growing our Activist Community
Each year that we come together for the legislative session, we deepen our collective power, our legislative relationships, and our community engagement in Annapolis. Even in this shortened session, JUFJ members massively stepped up our activism in Annapolis. The power of our community is growing! Here are some snapshots of how we grew from last year to this year, even with more than three weeks cut off of our time together:
- JUFJ leaders engaged in state session: 451 → 714
- Advocacy emails JUFJers sent to legislators: 1,590 → 2,952
- Testimony JUFJers wrote and submitted for bill hearings: 90 → 142
- Testimony JUFJers delivered in person at bill hearings: 11 → 21
- JUFJers who met with legislators on Action Night: 92 → 141
- Number of state districts where JUFJers took action: 33 → 39 out of 47 total districts!
We can’t wait to grow our impact and our community even more next year!
Setbacks and struggles
Because the Maryland General Assembly came to an early end, many of the bills we and our partners had been advocating for, including bills with broad support in the General Assembly, did not pass.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
Nobody should have to choose between their job and caring for their family. Nearly everyone needs time away from work at some point to care for a relative, deal with a serious personal illness, or welcome a baby, but many Marylanders can’t afford to take unpaid leave. The Time To Care Act would have provided income for up to 12 weeks for people who need to care for themselves or loved ones.
Sadly, this bill did not come to a committee vote this year. We must rewrite the rules to ensure everyone can access the care that we need without fearing we’ll go bankrupt to do it. Our plan of action is to build a groundswell of support for this vital legislation through community education about the importance of paid leave, so that we can pass a strong paid family and medical leave bill in the next session.
While our coalition had success in asking the General Assembly to prioritize fair access to education for undocumented Marylanders, we fell short on our other immigrant justice priorities.
- Dignity not Detention
Immigrant detention has led to unfathomable suffering and death in our nation, as families are torn apart and lives are pointlessly and cruelly upended. This suffering will only increase during a global pandemic that spreads rapidly in the close quarters and unsanitary conditions of most detention facilities. Yet, some counties in Maryland have contracts to detain immigrants for ICE, and ICE is actively working to build a private detention center here. JUFJ worked to pass the Dignity not Detention Act to end these practices.
This bill did not pass out of committee this year, despite strong coalition and community support. We plan to build on the momentum gained both statewide and locally this year to end these inhumane and dangerous detention practices in Maryland next year.
- MVA Privacy
Several years ago, the state promised undocumented Marylanders that they could obtain a driver’s license without that information being used against them. Yet, federal immigration authorities are accessing that data to target undocumented communities. This bill would have amended our MVA law to keep ICE out of our driver data. This bill passed out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and then stalled, despite positive media attention and strong community support. Undocumented Marylanders must be able to drive without fear, especially in this pandemic where transit and other ways to travel are unsafe and severely reduced. We will push for this important public safety bill next year.
- Trust Act
Trust Act legislation, which has passed at local levels in Maryland and in other states, prevents police and correctional officers from doing the work of ICE and federal immigration enforcement. This year, JUFJ advocated for two Trust Act bills, one more limited in scope and a more comprehensive bill.
Our coalition has been working on the Trust Act for several years now, and we are profoundly disappointed that the General Assembly did not prioritize the safety of our immigrant communities. We had hoped that new leadership would choose to keep their immigrant constituents safe from the cruelty of ICE deportations and would advocate in a more effective way. We will work with our leaders and partners on strategies to make the Trust Act a statewide reality next session.
Law enforcement should serve and protect everyone, but Black and brown Marylanders are facing systemic violence and over-policing every day. This session, we worked on holding police accountable to the people and communities they hurt by making police disciplinary records accessible to the public. This basic transparency is an important way we can make sure that officers who abuse the trust of the community face consequences for their actions. However, police chiefs and commissioners pushed back on this language, to make sure that only “sustained” infractions are available to the public — and in many jurisdictions they almost never “sustain” any complaints made by the community about officers.
This bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee with amendments our partners opposed, because it gave too much leniency to police, then stalled after the committee vote and did not pass this session.
Once we determined that the transparency bill was not going to be as strong as anticipated, we also supported Anton’s Law, HB1090. This bill included our transparency priority among multiple avenues for increasing police accountability; however, it did not pass out of the Judiciary Committee.
There is clearly more work to be done to gain legislative support for a solution that increases law enforcement transparency. Had the General Assembly met for a full session, it was still unlikely that we would have ended up with a bill that would have truly held police accountable for their abuses and misconduct. More work is necessary to make this a reality, and we will keep working to win real accountability for police who target and harm Marylanders.
Real Criminal Justice
- Wrongful Conviction Compensation
The injustices that people who have been incarcerated face are wrong for everyone, but they are especially painful for people who are wrongfully convicted and wrongfully incarcerated. The pain caused by these injustices cannot be undone, but the state can provide compensation for people to make up for some of the economic harm they suffer. Right now, state law does not require that we pay people for the injustices we bring upon them. This session, we worked to right this wrong, and demand compensation for wrongfully convicted people.
This bill passed third reader (the final vote) in the House and second reader in the Senate, but failed to pass third reader before the Senate adjourned. Thus, it did not pass this session. Had we had three more weeks, we believe HB985/SB797 would have passed into law, and we expect it to fully pass next session.
- Expand the Vote
Our democratic system must be accessible to everyone who has the right to vote. This fundamental right to participate in elections is in jeopardy for many people during the pandemic, but has been inaccessible for many before this, including incarcerated and detained Marylanders. The Expand the Vote Act would have ensured voting access to everyone who is permitted to vote, no matter where they are voting from.
This bill, HB568/SB372, fully passed out of its original chamber but wasn’t voted out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Senate. Unfortunately, it never advanced further than that due to the shortened session. We anticipate the Expand the Vote Act will pass next session.
- Child Interrogation Protection Act
Children should not be interrogated by police without their guardian being notified and having had the opportunity to speak with a lawyer. Maryland law currently allows police officers who question children to decide if they understand and have waived their Miranda rights, which means they can be questioned for hours without access to a lawyer. The Child Interrogation Protection Act would have prohibited a minor from waiving their rights before first speaking with a lawyer and having their guardians be notified.
HB624/SB593 did not advance out of committee. The lead sponsor on the House side, Delegate Lierman, was considering possible amendments to limit its scope to address legislators’ concerns. It is unclear if this bill would have passed this session, and we are unclear on how it will look next year but remain hopeful and supportive of its full passage.
Additional Issues JUFJ Supported
In addition to our priority issues, JUFJers worked to support other issues that we had historically been involved in or reflect our values and are important to our allies. Here are the wins and the setbacks in our additional issues:
Defending Paid Sick Leave
We are pleased to report that none of the attacks on sick leave made it through this session. Sick leave for all working Marylanders is more important than ever, and we will continue to watch out for any future attacks that would force Marylanders to risk their jobs in order to stay safe and healthy.
Defending the $15 Minimum Wage for Farmworkers
For years, JUFJ has been active in the fight for $15/hour minimum wage, which passed in the 2019 General Assembly session. This session, the Senate voted in favor of SB403, exempting workers at agricultural stands, retail farms, and farmers’ markets from the minimum wage requirements. This legislation, which would have taken wages out of the pockets of Maryland workers, did not pass through the house, ensuring that the people who sell us our food are able to feed their own families as well.
Prescription Drug Affordability
JUFJ signed on in support of fully funding the Prescription Drug Affordability Board, to stop prescription drug prices from continuing to skyrocket. HB1095, requiring the Board to determine a funding source by the end of 2020, passed this session – an important step toward ensuring that all Marylanders have access to essential medicine at affordable prices.
No Water Privatization
JUFJ signed on to oppose the Water Quality Accountability Act, which would have set stricter requirements on inspection and maintenance of infrastructure, which would in effect force public utilities to privatize, making water prices higher and less consistent. HB1416//SB820 did not make it out of committee this session, which is a win for water rights across the state.
No Mandatory Minimums
Governor Hogan wanted to pass new mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for gun offenses, which would disproportionately target young people of color, trapping them in a criminal justice system that destroys lives and does not make our communities safer. Thankfully, HB356/SB273 did not make it out of committee, and no additional mandatory minimum sentencing requirements were passed.
Finding new funding sources and closing existing loopholes was a priority this session as legislators looked for creative ways to fully fund the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a plan to improve educational outcomes in Maryland based off of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations. Most of the revenue bills that our partners at the Fair Funding Coalition were supporting, did not make it through this session. Raising revenue, closing corporate tax loopholes and ending ineffective business tax breaks will continue to be a top priority of our partners.
JUFJ worked to support a number of different bills supporting renters in Maryland, ranging from lead risk reduction compliance to compilation and reporting of statewide eviction data.
Thanks to the passing of the HOME Act, discrimination based on source of income will be banned across Maryland. There were no other major wins for renters this session, as none of the bills we or are partners in the Renters United Maryland coalition were advocating for passed.
HB797/SB544, HB491, HB1372, bills that would have required statewide eviction data collection and reporting, landlords to prove lead compliance to use Rent Court, reform the rent escrow process, did not get voted on in committee. HB768 passed the House but did not make it through the Senate. While these weren’t major wins for renters, the setbacks weren’t major either: evictions are no faster, easier, or more damaging than they were before session, and these fights will continue in the coming year. We have already begun work on renters’ rights at the local level as different jurisdictions and municipalities deal with renters facing loss of income, eviction threats, and more during this public health crisis and state of emergency.
Reform Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement (called “restrictive housing” in Maryland) is a form of physical and psychological torture that is used as a routine punishment for incarcerated people. This disproportionately affects poor people, people of color, LGBTQI+ people, and people with mental illness. Maryland uses restrictive housing more than any other state in the nation. HB740/SB999 would have ended direct release from solitary confinement to the community, preventing people from being put in solitary within the six months prior to release. Unfortunately, this did not make it out of committee this year.
HB742/SB1002 would have prohibited solitary confinement for people diagnosed with serious mental illness. This bill also did not move out of committee this year.
Universal Representation (Right to Counsel for Undocumented Immigrants)
In the beginning of March, JUFJ signed on to a letter in support of statewide funding for universal representation in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Under a universal representation program, Maryland would fund legal representation in civil immigration court for detained Maryland residents who are in deportation proceedings and cannot otherwise afford representation. The program would have also provided critically needed wraparound support services for these individuals and their families. Sadly, it was not included in the budget.
Our work moving forward
There is likely to be a special session before the regularly scheduled 2021 General Assembly session. However, this will focus on veto overrides and emergency legislation. Look out for opportunities to advocate for our issues — we will be in touch.
All of this work continues. We will be holding meetings to analyze what worked and what didn’t work this session, to be better prepared going into next session. We may hold constituent meetings with key legislators, and will prioritize compiling all necessary vote records and data to understand the work ahead.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the importance of the work we do and we and our partners are diligently working to prevent evictions, get people unnecessarily incarcerated home with their families (including our immigrant neighbors), and advocate for housing and economic supports for all. Please keep an eye out for those opportunities.
While much of our statewide work is done for the year, our local work continues! In Baltimore, our Baltimore Action Team has been focusing on water justice, renters’ rights, police accountability and fair elections. Email email@example.com to get involved! In Montgomery County, our leaders are advocating for racial equity, police accountability, and passing a moral budget. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved!
Thank your legislators
The 2020 state legislative session is over! The usual whirlwind of legislation and hearings and action alerts was cut short by the global pandemic, but we are proud of all of the change we made possible together.
Before we take some time away from Annapolis, take a moment to personalize the message below and thank your Annapolis representatives for their service in the General Assembly. As we advocate for justice, we know that building relationships with our legislators is how we get them to hear what we have to say. Thanking them is part of building those relationships.
Dear [Senator or Delegate name],
I am writing as your constituent and a member of Jews United for Justice to thank you for your service during the 2020 state legislative session.
I was glad that despite the shortened session, the General Assembly prioritized education access for immigrants and pre-release services for incarcerated women. Dangerous bills that would have cut hardworking Marylanders out of the minimum wage law and the paid sick leave law failed to advance, as did proposals to privatize our water system and impose additional mandatory minimum sentences. These are victories for justice in Maryland.
JUFJ also advocated for many issues that we were disappointed did not advance this session. Paid family and medical leave, supported by 86% of Marylanders and crucially necessary when so many of our loved ones are sick, never even came to a committee vote. Proactive immigrant rights bills to protect the dignity, safety, and privacy of immigrant Marylanders were not prioritized. Commonsense police accountability, compensation for wrongfully convicted residents, and criminal justice reforms like the Expand the Vote Act and the Child Interrogation Protection Act were also blocked.
I know that this session was unusual, and that the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the normal work of the General Assembly. I hope that when you next meet, the health and safety of all Marylanders, including immigrant and incarcerated Marylanders, is a priority for the General Assembly as it is for me.
Everyone in Maryland deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter their immigration or incarceration status, their race, or their economic class. Thank you again for your service in the General Assembly.
Want to write a more tailored letter to your representatives? Check out how they voted on JUFJ’s priority issues: