2021 End of Session Letter
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As I was going into the Maryland General Assembly’s (“MGA”) 441st Legislative Session, it was clear that the stakes had rarely been higher to respond to the compounding crises facing our State. However, I was buoyed by the fact that I knew I had your support as I acted to address the COVID-19 crisis, policing reform and so many other issues here in Maryland.
Responding urgently to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had to be a top priority as the public health and economic consequences have devastated every aspect of our society. Longstanding disparities in health outcomes, employment and opportunity, and educational achievement have been drastically exacerbated over the last year. Our health and economic responses were intrinsically linked and a safer State means a healthier and more sustainable economy as we move forward. During the 2020 interim, I worked on a number of issues with various groups to address evictions, unemployment, COVID-19 related health disparities that adversely impacted our community, police accountability and reform, as well as forensic genetic genealogy.
Like the rest of the nation, Maryland is in the midst of a public reckoning to restore trust, transparency, and accountability between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. Meeting this moment, I sponsored bills, one of which is now law, SB 71, and other bills such as SB 166, SB 588, SB 589, and SB 590 that were important in this discussion on policing and criminal justice.
I am extraordinarily proud of what the MGA achieved in our 90-day legislative session. We provided immediate financial support to our most vulnerable residents, improved Maryland’s vaccine rollout, passed a generational police reform package, provided funding to reverse COVID-19 learning loss, and passed a budget that will create good jobs and get Marylanders back to work.
This end of session letter reviews the progress we made during the 2021 session in which I sponsored 22 bills and co-sponsored 17 bills. I will highlight some of the bills and how each may impact you, your families, and our communities.
In 2021 Legislation I was the primary sponsor of the following legislation:
SB 1: Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Funding SB 1 creates additional appropriations for each of Maryland’s four historically Black institutions, serving as a method of resolution for the long standing federal lawsuit between students and alumni of Bowie, Coppin, and Morgan State Universities, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. SB 1 ends over 15 years of litigation over the unconstitutional duplication of HBCU programs by the state of Maryland. It requires the Maryland Higher Education Commission to establish a new unit to evaluate new program proposals and substantial modifications of existing programs to ensure no duplication of HBCU programs. It also requires the
Governor to include approximately $577 million dollars, administered over 10 years, in his budget for distribution among the four HBCUs. Status: It passed the Senate 47-0 and the House of Delegates 122-17 and it and its crossfile, Speaker Adrienne Jones’ HB 1, were signed by the Governor as Chapter 42 and Chapter 41, respectively.
SB 55: Legislative Department - Eligibility to Serve as Senators and Delegates - Place of Abode In its 1998 Blount v. Boston, 351 Md. 360, 718 A.2d 1111 decision, the Court of Appeals held that State Senator Clarence Blount had not abandoned his long established domicile in the 41st Legislative District simply because he also maintained a residence in another jurisdiction, where he often slept. I reintroduced this constitutional amendment because I believe someone running for the office of senator or delegate should actually live in the district he or she is attempting to represent. The bill alters eligibility requirements for the office of senator or delegate to require a person to have maintained a place of abode in the district he or she has been chosen to represent for at least six months preceding his or her election or, if applicable, as long as the district has been established. Status: It passed the MGA unanimously and awaits the Governor’s signature!
SB 71: Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Body-Worn Cameras, Employee Programs, and Use of Force SB 71 ensures police accountability and transparency in three key areas: in video records, in programs to intercept and correct officers who use excessive force, and in clarifying the law around police officers’ unlawful use of force. SB 71 mandates the implementation of body-worn cameras for police in every jurisdiction in Maryland by 2025. Each law enforcement agency will be required to have a system for identifying and diverting officers with a propensity to use excessive force. Officers involved in incidents causing serious injuries or fatalities will be given mental health consultations. To prevent use of force incidents in the first place, SB 71 makes clear that officers shall take preventative measures to make use of force unnecessary, and that officers shall intervene to stop fellow officers who cross the line. SB 71 changed the statewide use of force provision so that an officer would not be able to use force unless it is “necessary and proportional” to “prevent an imminent threat of physical injury to a person” or “effectuate a legitimate law enforcement objective.” SB 71 also requires law enforcement agencies provide an employee assistance program to address their mental health needs. Status: It passed the Senate 47-0 and the House of Delegates 92-38 amended and the amended bill passed the Senate 31-16. The Governor vetoed the bill. The Governor’s veto was overridden in the Senate 31-16 and the House 94-43 and enrolled as Chapter 60.
SB105: Peace Orders - Workplace Violence Peace orders can help protect victims of abuse beyond the scope of domestic relations. Under current law, a person seeking protection must be the one to file the order. SB0105 would allow an individual’s employer to file for a peace order on behalf of an employee. This would be especially helpful for nurses and other healthcare workers - a recent OSHA report noted that 75% of workplace assaults are against healthcare workers. While a worker herself may not feel comfortable filing a peace order, SB0105 would allow her employer to file for her. Status: It passed the MGA unanimously and remained in the conference committee dying on sine die; however its crossfile, sponsored by Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, HB 289, does await the Governor’s signature.
SB 150: Baltimore County - Board of Education - Membership and Election of Officers It is common sense that a majority of voting members should be able to elect an officer. SB0150 addressed an issue that arose in the December 2019 School Board election, in which the chair and vice chair retained their seats in spite of winning fewer than a majority of votes. They retained their seats because the law stated that new officers could only be elected by a majority of available votes. SB0150 clarified that leadership could be elected by the majority of votes by members present. It also sought to add one more member to the Board, to be appointed by the County Executive, so that the Board would have an uneven number of members (13 instead of 12). Status: It passed the Senate 42-0 and made it to third reader dying in the House of Delegates on Sine Die along with its crossfile sponsored by Delegate Eric Ebersole HB 181.
SB 187: Criminal Procedure – Forensic Genetic Genealogical DNA Analysis, Searching, Regulation, and Oversight SB 187 is the first bill of its kind in this nation which creates a legal framework that balances privacy with the need to identify those who commit the most violent felonious crimes. It establishes requirements and procedures for forensic genetic genealogical DNA analysis and related searches of publicly accessible databases using genetic profiles. SB 187 also includes provisions regarding regulation and oversight of testing connected to this analysis and direct-to-consumer genetic genealogy services. SB 187’s framework was built upon a foundation created by the U.S. Department of Justice 2019 interim policy. It also includes guidance to when this technique may be used, judicial oversight in some key areas, and protections for those third parties who are not suspected of crimes as well as a licensing regime for those involved in this technique. Status: It passed the Senate 45-0 and the House of Delegates 137-1 and it and its crossfile, Delegate Emily Shetty’s HB 240, await the Governor’s signature!
SB 335: Courts - Nongovernmental Corporate Parties - Disclosure Statements SB 335 requires corporations to identify their owners when they participate in lawsuits. This ensures that any conflicts of interest are avoided and that parties to a lawsuit are completely informed as to whose interests are at stake in a lawsuit. SB 335 would bring Maryland law up to par with federal civil procedure. Status: It passed the MGA unanimously and awaits the Governor’s signature!
SB 455: Employment Discrimination – Time for Filing Complaints Currently, Marylanders have only 180 days in which to file an employment discrimination complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. SB 455 modifies the time for filing employment discrimination cases from 180 days to 300 days, allowing employees facing discrimination more time in which to recover from the discriminatory event and to obtain assistance in taking action against the discrimination. This modification aligns the state’s time to file with the federal government. Status: It passed the Senate 47-0 and the House of Delegates 136-2 and it and its crossfile, Delegate Terri Hill’s HB 290, await the Governor’s signature!
SB 689: Office of Small, Minority, and Women Business Affairs – Duties of the Special Secretary – Minority Business Enterprises SB 689 institutionalizes key mentorship and recognition programs to help develop MBEs. The mentorship program will provide increased networking and educational opportunities, recognition of participating mentors, a certificate of participation (awarded by the Office of Small, Minority, and Women Business Affairs (the “Office”)), and the opportunity to present highlights of mentor
protégé relationships at an annual appreciation event. SB 689 will also have the Office conduct a feasibility study for a one-on-one technical assistance program for minority businesses submitting contracts. It will also provide training and education to non-minority prime contractors who have state contracts with respect to qualified minority businesses. Status: It passed the MGA unanimously and awaits the Governor’s signature!
SB 587: Task Force on Facial Recognition Privacy Protection By the time you read this sentence, 20,000 images will be uploaded to social media. There is an ocean of pictures out there and facial recognition technology enables users to find face template matches rapidly. While facial recognition can and will help enforce justice, we need to balance safety concerns against the very real threat that law enforcement will cast a net whenever they need a catch. SB 587 would have provided the guardrails, however I had to amend the bill to a task force bill, which bill passed the Senate 47-0 but did not receive a vote in the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee; so I plan convene a workgroup during the interim to study this topic reintroduce something next session.
SB690 Public Information Act - Inspection of Records From Body-Worn Digital Recording Devices This bill sets forth when a custodian of records, in accordance with Maryland’s Public Information Act, would be required to deny or allow inspection of recordings from a body-worn digital recording device worn by a law enforcement officer. The bill’s provisions (1) did not apply to a public record that has been entered into evidence in a court proceeding and (2) could not be construed to affect the discovery or evidentiary rights of a party to a civil suit or criminal prosecution. Status: SB690 passed the Senate 45-0 but did not receive a vote in the House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee.
SB 456 Office of the State's Attorney - Collection and Publication of Prosecutorial Information This bill, based on work I observed in Connecticut, would have required each State’s Attorney to collect and disclose to the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services certain information related to each prosecuted case. The bill also would have required a State’s Attorney to collect and publish on its own website specified information about office policies and office personnel. Status: I withdrew this bill after receiving feedback from several State’s Attorneys and plan convene a workgroup during the interim to draft another bill on this topic.
Additionally, here is an overview of some of the most important issues the MGA addressed in the 2021 Legislative Session:
Additional Veto Overrides from 2020 Session Legislation: The abrupt end to the 2020 Legislative Session and inability for the MGA to reconvene for a Special Session due to health conditions meant we had an abnormal number of veto overrides to consider when entering the 2021 Session. In addition to those mentioned in other sections of this letter, the MGA overrode vetoes on the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future to pass generational reforms and investments to our public education system (HB1300), close the long gun background check loophole (SB 208), lower the cost of prescription drugs in Maryland (SB669), ensure that massive tech companies who profit from our private data pay taxes in Maryland, just like our small businesses (HB 732), and SB 314, which I sponsored, making juvenile police and court records confidential until it was determined that they should be excluded from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.
Immediate and Sustainable Financial RELIEF & Recovery: The first bill passed this Session was the RELIEF Act (SB496), including the MGA’s Recovery Now package, to provide over $1 billion economic stimulus to vulnerable Maryland residents, small businesses, and nonprofits hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The State has since established the Recovery Now Fund and programs, like $83 million to erase household utility debt and $279 million for small business support, which have already started distributing vital financial support. Because of the Maryland Senate’s efforts, nearly 40,000 Marylanders who were stuck in Unemployment Insurance purgatory have already received an immediate $1,000 direct payment to help them survive this crisis as their cases are adjudicated.
Also included in the RELIEF Act was an historic expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the best anti-poverty tools our State has, for the next three years. We expanded eligibility of both the EITC and Child Tax Credit (SB 218) to all taxpaying Marylanders to ensure all who contribute to our State can access these vital credits. When taken together, this stimulus package will allow Maryland to build back stronger when COVID-19 is behind us.
Vaccine Access, Efficiency, and Transparency Improved: As Maryland’s vaccine rollout began in December, it became evident that the State was not reaching its potential. Although the Governor and Maryland Department of Health (“MDH”) are tasked with vaccine distribution, the Senate took up its oversight role immediately after Session began by creating the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup.
Through weekly meetings with MDH Secretary Schrader, the Senate was able to push the State towards a more accessible, efficient, transparent, and centralized model. Those achievements include the launch of mass vaccination sites; creation of statewide phone number for vaccine appointment signups; establishment of statewide sign up system for mass vaccination sites; disclosure of county by county and site specific data; release of the Vaccine Equity Task Force Operations plan; and community-based priority appointments for mass vaccination sites. Further, the MGA passed SB 781 - COVID-19 Testing, Contact Tracing, and Vaccination Act of 2021 to ensure Maryland’s vaccine program meets its fullest potential through the duration of this pandemic.
Generational Reforms to Policing in Maryland: One of, if not the most complex issues facing the MGA this year was reforming policing in Maryland to restore trust, transparency, and accountability. The process of shaping the legislative package began last summer to assure we passed a package that would increase public safety for all Marylanders, police included. After overriding the vetoes of three of the five bills in the final days of Session, all five bills in the package will become law. That package of five bills will:
- Increase body worn cameras, establish a use of force policy, and provide mental health supports for officers (SB 71), which you read about above;
- Create transparency in the disciplinary process and curtail no knock warrants (SB 178); ● Demilitarize the police and independently investigate police-involved deaths (SB 600); ● Ensure local control of the Baltimore City Police Department (SB 786); and
- Repeal and replace the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, and create a Law Enforcement Scholarship Program (HB 670) which included portions of SB 589, which I also sponsored.
Fixing a Broken Unemployment Insurance System: Over the last year, every legislative office has been inundated by Marylanders unable to access rightful Unemployment Insurance (“UI”) benefits. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-100-year crisis, government must be a mechanism to support people facing hardship. In addition to providing $1,000 checks to thousands of Marylanders unfairly caught in UI purgatory (SB 496), we also passed a comprehensive set of reforms (SB 771, SB 816, SB 817, SB 818, SB 819, and SB 893) to fix our broken system. These bills will allow Marylanders to more easily access the money they deserve, improve their customer service experience from start to finish, and ensure the Department of Labor is prepared for the next emergency. We also passed legislation to help businesses defray the costs of small businesses paying into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to provide additional aid as they recover from COVID-19 (SB 811).
Reversing COVID-19 Learning Loss: Despite herculean efforts by teachers across Maryland to reach students through distance learning, prolonged disruptions to our public education system have resulted in immeasurable learning loss. Fortunately, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future passed by the MGA last year sets forth a framework for getting our students back on track. The MGA passed a “Blueprint 2.0” (HB 1372) this Session to fund intensive tutoring and summer school to improve educational outcomes, add money to the State’s base education formula for educational technology, support students’ socio-emotional health, and ensure the responsible use of federal funds.
Expanding Access to Telehealth: The pandemic has caused many day-to-day services to shift to a virtual format, including telehealth and telemedicine services. For many of Maryland’s patients and healthcare providers, telehealth has improved access to care and increased convenience, all while operating in a safe and distanced way. To preserve and extend the efficiency, safety, and ease of access to telehealth services that have been so vital since the beginning of the pandemic, we passed the Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021 (SB3). Those services are also vital for our most vulnerable students, which is why we expanded equitable telehealth access for those students who have been unable to receive in-school healthcare services (SB278).
Urgently Addressing Climate Change: Climate change is one of the largest threats to humanity and we must act urgently to address it. That is why the Senate passed Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021 (SB414), to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared by 60% by 2030, plant 5 million trees, provide funding for electric buses and vehicles, and require new school buildings to meet net-zero energy requirements. Ultimately, the Senate and House could not reach consensus after the House amendments stripped much of the bill, but it will be back next year for further consideration.
Still, the MGA passed a number of critical bills to protect the environment. This Session, we removed black liquor from Maryland’s subsidized Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS) and invested in solar and hydropower (SB65), added geothermal heating and cooling systems to our RPS (HB1007), and advanced stand-alone legislation to move our public transit fleet to zero-emission vehicles (SB137).
Investing in Public Transit: Maryland’s public transit infrastructure is struggling to keep pace with necessary repairs and faced severe disruptions at a time when our essential workers have been reliant on consistent service. The Maryland Transit Authority identified substantial budget gaps necessary to maintain operations due to underfunding and deferred maintenance. The Transit Safety and Investment Act (SB199) puts Maryland back on a path to sustainable transit operations at a level our essential workers deserve.
Balanced Budget for Fiscal Year 2022 that Invests in Maryland Values: The uncertainty about Maryland’s budget over the last year created a concerning dynamic as we entered Session in January. In July, the Board of Public Works cut $413 million from the State budget as Maryland faced potential layoffs and cuts to vital services. The most recent revenue and budget projections are more optimistic than we could have expected, though financial impacts have been disparately felt. Ultimately, the MGA passed a $52.4 billion budget that invests heavily in Maryland values, including:
- $572 million to expand testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations;
- $13.5 billion in Medicaid funding to provide health care coverage to 1.5 million residents; ● $1.6 billion to ensure solvency of the Transportation and Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds; ● $600 million to reopen schools safely, including $80 million for HVAC and ventilation improvements;
- $371.5million for Maryland's community colleges, representing a 9% increase over FY21; ● $85 million for local parks and playgrounds throughout the State; and
- $2.1 billion in cash reserves that erases projected budget shortfalls in FY23 and FY24, including $1.4 billion in the Rainy Day Fund and $696 million in the General Fund.
Getting Marylanders Back to Work: The MGA worked with the Governor to invest nearly $4.5 billion in capital funds this year to get Marylanders back to work (HB 590). The FY22 capital budget is projected to create nearly 30,000 jobs at a time when unemployment rates are still unacceptably high as we rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic. That funding will provide a critical lifeline to our local institutions and invest state dollars in our community. Funding for projects in the 44th Legislative District include:
Bethel Outreach Center’s Community Empowerment and Wellness Center $700,000 A Step Forward’s Frederick P. Blue Workforce Development Center $125,000 Islamic Society of Baltimore’s Community Learning Center $200,000 Upton Planning Committee’s Parren Mitchell House $300,000 MSBC Five Star Program’s Morning Star Family Life Center $200,000 Upton Planning Committee’s Upton Planning Committee Project $200,000 Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District $500,000 Woodlawn Senior Center $3,000,000
Gwynns Falls Trail $1,500,000 Baltimore County Parks and Playgrounds $2,000,000 Friends of the Patapsco Valley State Park – Simkins Site $540,000 Benjamin Banneker Parkway Signage $50,000
Given the number of complaints received about parking, we requested the Department of Natural Resources to develop a plan for Patapsco Valley State Park access improvements in the Daniels Area and Orange Grove Area and provide a report detailing that plan, including an evaluation of existing parking options, the need for additional parking options on existing park land, and the need for additional park land to be purchased on which parking may be developed for safe parking and easy access. The report must be submitted by September 1, 2021.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Senator. If I can be of further service, please feel free to contact me or my Chief of Staff, Gene Clark.