For Information on the fundraiser with Madeleine Albright, Click HERE
April 9, 2013, 1:30 AM
The safety of the people shall be the highest law. --Cicero
My Dear Friends:
The gavel just fell on an historic Session, as momentous as the last one, which ended discrimination in marriage against gay and lesbian Marylanders and their families. As the confetti rains down on us this Sine Die and we prepare to leave Annapolis, I want to thank all of you for your activism and engagement on behalf of the remarkable changes we have put into motion.
Consider some breakthrough achievements of the Session:
** The Firearm Safety Act of 2013, SB281, one of the strongest pieces of state legislation in America responding to the massacres across the country by deranged men wielding assault weapons and the never-ending death toll from handgun violence in the streets and homes of our cities and towns. This landmark legislation will: ban the purchase of assault style weapons, require fingerprinting and a license to purchase a handgun, limit magazines to 10 rounds of ammunition, bar persons who have been involuntarily committed from purchasing a firearm and improve coordination with the national background check database. Several of the provisions that made it into the final package mirrored the stand-alone bills I offered in the Senate, including the assault weapons ban and the requirement that people notify law enforcement within 72 hours of discovering that one of their firearms is lost or stolen. I am convinced that, because of the comprehensive licensing system, the involvement of State Police in regulating the firearm dealers, and the 72 hour lost-and-stolen provision, we will dramatically reduce the risk of illegal guns entering the criminal underworld through straw purchases, fake “losses,” and bad-apple dealers. At the same time, we have been careful to respect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens who continue to enjoy the rights of self-defense and home security with a handgun as well as use of rifles for the purposes of hunting and recreation. There is no right to own a nuclear weapon or a grenade launcher despite the fact that they are “arms,” and there is no right to carry the same kinds of assault weapons that are used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the NRA has been able to stymie meaningful change in Washington, right next door we are showing that it is possible to restore some reason to our gun laws. Thanks to my colleague Senator Brian Frosh for his inspired leadership on the floor, Vinnie De Marco, District 20’s own Tony Hausner, who became an influential lobbying force on this legislation, Gina Angiola andMarylanders Against Gun Violence, and so many other District 20 people who joined this campaign, including Jill Ortman-Fouse, Phil and Emily Ackerman, Casey Anderson and Mary Kiraly.
** Abolition of the Death Penalty SB276: After centuries of capital punishment in our state--a history that included the execution of indentured servants who conspired against their masters, the hanging of a witch on the Eastern Shore, outrageous racial disparities and arbitrary enforcement, cruel indifference to the families of murder victims left twisting in the wind for decades, no effective penal deterrence, and the placement of innocent people on Death Row—we repealed the death penalty in SB 276, replacing it with life without the possibility of parole and a commitment to assist the families of crime victims. I want to thank the resilient and brave Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Death Row inmate who spent nine years behind bars and became the first person in America to be exonerated based on DNA evidence. An ex-Marine and a Marylander whose family has been here so long there is a Bloodsworth Island on the Eastern Shore, Kirk is campaigning to abolish the death penalty across the country and has made the prospect of executing innocent people into an issue that can no longer be avoided. We could not have won this battle without him, or without Jane Henderson and the Maryland Committee Against State Executions, or without NAACP National President Benjamin Jealous andNAACP’s Maryland President Gerald Stansbury, without the Maryland ACLU, or without District 20 activists like Holly Syrakos and Peter Jones, American University Professor Rick Stack and my WCL colleague Cynthia Jones, as well as the incredible activism of the inter-faith religious community, especially pressure from the MarylandCatholic Conference and Bishop William Lorrie, Rabbis Michael Feshbach, Mark Loeb, and Gerry Serotta, and the many Quaker, Baptist, Methodist, and Unitarian Universalist activists, like Reverend Liz Lerner McClay. I will never forget, and will always treasure, the four days that I spent as floor leader in the Senate fighting off dozens of amendments and a Republican filibuster, and I thank you for the hundreds of calls, messages and visits you sent me during that time.
** The Mortgage Assistance Relief Act, SB383, legislation that I introduced to empower our Commissioner of Financial Regulation, our Attorney General, and other state law enforcement officials to crack down on the continuing scams perpetrated against Marylanders homeowners who are under water and other consumers struggling with debt. This legislation, the last bill to pass in the Senate just a few moments ago, will permit tough administrative action against scam artists who demand upfront fees to negotiate debt refinancing and who charge people in debt exorbitant service fees based on extravagant promises about debt consolidation that are never kept. This important law will provide Marylanders with the same protections against predatory practices made available federally under the regulations of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
** Stopping False Liens SB770, legislation I introduced in consultation with State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs across Maryland to outlaw the filing of knowingly false or fraudulent liens against other people’s homes and property. This outrageous practice has become a widespread trend with far-right groups like the Sovereign Citizen movement that deny the legitimacy of the American government, our legal institutions and our currency. Falsely claiming that public officials who enforce the law are in debt to them for hundreds of millions or, in one case, even billions of dollars, members of such groups have been slapping liens on innocent people’s homes and property and making their lives a legal and bureaucratic hell. My hope is that this law will stop them in their tracks.
** Protecting Medical Marijuana Caregivers, SB580, follows up on legislation I introduced two years ago by establishing that carefully defined medical “caregivers”--people who have no criminal record and are assisting very ill people to use medical marijuana--may themselves have a defense if criminally prosecuted for handling the drug. Meantime, we also passed legislation authorizing university hospitals to set up medical marijuana clinics to distribute the drug to seriously ill patients, like people with cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis, so that they do not have to buy marijuana from criminal drug dealers. We continue to see positive motion forward in reforming our drug laws.
** Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities Due to Pregnancy, SB784, requires employers to work with their employees to come up with “reasonable accommodations” of pregnancy-related disabilities. As the floor manager for this legislation, which was introduced by Senator Joanne Benson and District 20 Delegate Tom Hucker, I was thrilled to work with women’s groups, progressive businesses and unions across the state to establish fairness in the workplace to permit pregnant women to keep working.
** The Food Allergy Awareness Act, SB390, is a bill I introduced with Delegate Sheila Hixson that will require restaurants to display a poster explaining food allergies and ingredients to their employees so they can better handle questions from customers who have food allergies and establishes a task force to study how to handle food allergies in food service facilities. The idea for this bill came from a young constituent we have,Quinn Buckley, who came to Annapolis with his parents Michael and Marianne to testify about how difficult it is for his family to eat out at a restaurant given his severe peanut allergy and the lack of information and training available to waiters and waitresses. Thank you, Quinn! Keep up your great activism and your hard work at Sligo Creek Elementary School.
** Bond Bill funding for Maryland Youth Ballet, Pyramid Atlantic and the Takoma Park and Silver Spring Shared Use Community Kitchen! These bills provide state funds for the Youth Ballet to make major energy improvements to the beautiful downtown facility, construction of the Pyramid Atlantic center at the new Silver Spring library, and construction of a new community kitchen in Takoma Park that will create the opportunity for many groups and people to engage in community cooking and meals.
Near-Misses: We Live to Fight Again. . .
** We didn’t pass everything we wanted. We lost, on a heartbreaking 23-22 floor vote, the HOME Act, which would forbid discrimination against tenants based on the source of their income and rental payments. This law would protect elderly and disabled people who survive on Social Security benefits, homeless veterans receiving VASH vouchers under Section 8, other working poor people dependent on Section 8 vouchers, and women dependent on alimony or child support, We have had this law for decades in Montgomery County, Frederick City and County, Howard County and Annapolis and it has proven a big success popular among both tenants and landlords. We will definitely be back to fight for this legislation with housing advocates and a great interfaith coalition working on it.
** We failed to overcome industry opposition to the Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2013, the statewide bag bill designed to clean up our waterways and beautify the Bay. But we have a great environmental coalition building statewide and we will keep pushing to clean our streams and waterway of plastic garbage!
** The full Senate and the House Environmental Matters Committee passed the bill I introduced to require that the 30-hour drivers’ education course in the state include a 15-minute video on the mechanics and importance of organ donation. Most people don’t know that there are 18 life-saving organ transplants every single day but that 80 people die every day for lack or an organ donor. This instructional video, prepared by Donate Life Maryland, will educate young Marylanders about to get their licenses on how organ donation works. Alas, the bill went down without a vote on the House floor in the last few minutes of Sine Die.
** We again failed to pass the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which would prohibit discrimination against trans-gender people in housing, employment, and public accomodations. Many counties, like Montgomery County, Howard County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City already have these essential protections, and we need to overcome the "bathroom anxiety" associated with this bill and legislate equal rights for everyone.
** After unanimous passage in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and on the Senate floor, my legislation to deny paternity rights to rapists in the children they conceive in the course of an attack, alas, collapsed again on the House side in the face of strong opposition by a few members of the House Judiciary Committee. After three years of trying to protect women who decide to have babies in this crisis situation, we clearly need a major statewide mobilization on the issue and I will be in touch about this. The last thing women in this situation need is their sexual assailants interfering with their lives.
** We need to figure our more effective strategies for empowering small business and curbing the habits of both corporate welfare and corporate dominance in our politics. As you know, I worked with Councilman George Leventhal, peace activist Jean Athey, and so many unions and local groups who organized the successful effort to strip $1.4 million in retroactive funding for Lockheed Martin to “reimburse” them for lodging taxes paid at their conference and hotel complex and the effort, alas unsuccessful, to stop the hotel tax break of $450,000 a year that just passed the House earlier today. I led the fight on the Senate floor against this indefensible giveaway. I wrote an article a few weeks ago for the Nation magazine about this scandalous subsidy to the world’s largest defense contractor, which already draws $300 a year from every taxpaying American family in the so-called “Lockheed Martin tax.” You can read the article here. Similarly, my legislation, SB 772, to block corporations from engaging in corporate spending or contributions without proving that they have a mechanism for assessing the political views of their shareholders was never even given a committee vote. If the premise of the Citizens United era is that CEOs have unlimited “free speech” rights to spend treasury money on politics because corporations are just associations of citizen-shareholders, then the CEOs should not be able to spend without the explicit consent of the shareholders. And if most stock is owned by institutional shareholders, like employee pension funds or universities, the corporations should be forbidden to spend in politics because whose views are they representing when they speak?
There is much more to do, and miles to go before I sleep, but I am happy to report to you, my dear friends and constituents, that we are making progress every Session and every day. The Mishnah says that it is “not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.” So we continue to move forward on the values and priorities of our wonderful community. . .
With all best wishes and thanks,
Ps The Washington Post recently took note of our progressive surge in Maryland, although the newspaper gave these dramatic events a somewhat different spin than I did. To me, it’s clear that the politicians are just now catching up with the people. The heart of the word “progressive” is “progress” and this is exactly what we are making in Maryland.