Midnight, April 7, 2014
The midnight confetti is falling, and we have completed a wonderfully productive legislative session in which we have solidified first principles and given the people of the state some badly needed second chances. This session, like the legislative term it closes out, has been filled with major policy breakthroughs and it has been an honor beyond words to represent the great people of Silver Spring and Takoma Park at this time.
First Principles: Solidarity, Fairness, Liberty, Prosperity, Privacy, Safety
Minimum Wage Increase! (HB 295): We became one of the first states in the Union to enact a minimum wage increase to $10.10, in essence giving hundreds of thousands of working Marylanders a long overdue raise. The current minimum wage of $7.25 has less than 30% of the value of the minimum wage at its peak a half-century ago and 20% of the value it had during the first year of the Reagan Administration. Although the original provisions adding a cost-of-living adjustment and improving the situation of the tipped workers were, alas, stripped, the legislation is a big boost for the working poor and all Marylanders. Thanks for all the help on this!
Fairness for all Marylanders Act! (SB 212): It was a great honor to be not only a lead sponsor but the Senate floor leader on this historic legislation conferring equal rights in employment, housing, and public accommodations on trans-gender Marylanders. Montgomery County, Howard County, Baltimore County and the City of Baltimore have had such “gender identity” protections for many years.
Crowd Funding for Small Businesses! (SB 811): After passage of the Benefit Corporations legislation in 2010, I have heard from lots of small businesses eager to find new ways to attract investment capital. Prompted by District 20 community activists Lorig Charkoudian, Franca Brilliant and a number of local green businesses, I introduced SB 811 to give Maryland’s stirring progressive small business culture a way to raise substantial capital through small investments. Under this law, which was cross-filed on the House side by Delegate Hucker, small business owners can avoid complex and costly federal securities registration and reporting requirements, but instead will have the freedom to collect investment contributions of up to $100 from local customers, neighbors, friends or any Maryland resident. This way, business owners can raise $100,000 from just 1,000 people. Remember: Google was capitalized with $100,000! The progressive entrepreneurs of our community, like Blessed Coffee, Kefa Café, the Big Bad Woof, and hundreds of other local businesses, can use this exciting new tool under the new state law. Support our ingenious but capital-starved local businesses!
Protection of Individual Privacy and Official Transparency: In authoritarian societies, the government knows everything about what the people are doing, and the people know nothing about what the government is doing. In free societies, the people know what the government is doing and maintain the basics of privacy in their own lives. This session, I introduced along with conservative Republican Senator Chris Shank several pieces of legislation which together form a major advance for privacy rights in Maryland while meeting the legitimate needs of law enforcement. SB 698 and SB 924 require state and local law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before accessing our email accounts, cell phone data and cell phone tracking information and SB 699 establishes parameters for law enforcement for how they can use automated license plate tracking data.
Getting Medical Marijuana to Suffering Patients: After several years of establishing the right of Marylanders to access medical marijuana if they are suffering from “chronic and severe” physical conditions and diseases, we have finally passed legislation to make it realistic for patients to get the drug without going to find criminal dealers. SB 923 allows physicians registered with the Medical Marijuana Commission to recommend use for sick patients, who will then be able to get an identification card from the Commission and, with such card, purchase medical marijuana directly from licensed and regulated dispensaries. These dispensaries will, in turn, purchase medical marijuana from licensed growers in the state. For many constituents I have spoken to, suffering from leukemia and other cancers, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, and nausea flowing out of chemotherapy, medical marijuana can be a lifeline. Whether you think the current War on Drugs is the greatest war since World War II or the dumbest war since Iraq or Vietnam, we can all agree to get the sick, the injured and the dying off of the battlefield.
Protecting our Kids at School (SB 460): We closed a serious loophole in the Maryland criminal law, which forbids full-time teachers and principals to have sex with students but allows part-time teachers and substitutes to do so. The bill I introduced, SB 460, closed this loophole. Two years ago a full-time teacher but part-time coach was arrested for engaging in sex with students in Montgomery County, but could not be prosecuted at his coaching school because of this gap in the law.
Ending the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners: Another big breakthrough! Along with Delegate Mary Washington on the House side, I introduced SB 656, which prohibits the shackling of pregnant prisoners unless there is a compelling security threat and no less restrictive alternative available. It also categorically bans the use of waist restraints and leg chains. The practice of shackling pregnant women threatens the health and safety of both mother and child by interfering with necessary medical care during the birthing and recovery process. The poignant testimony that inspired this bill revealed a practice that is unacceptable in a civilized country and in the great state of Maryland. This bill ensures pregnant inmates are treated with the decency, security, and comfort that all expecting mothers deserve.
A “Democracy Amendment” to the Constitution! (SJ 6): Amazingly, the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee this evening, on a powerful vote of 9-2, passed out SJ 6, my call for a constitutional amendments convention to pass a “Democracy Amendment” to the Constitution. This Amendment, which we debated until midnight, would finally establish for all Americans a constitutional right to vote and be represented and it would reverse the Supreme Court’s atrocious 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case. In Citizens United, the Court gave for-profit business corporations the political free speech rights of the people, essentially converting every corporate treasury in the country into a potential political campaign account. Although we ran out of time to move this through the floor and the House, we have set the conditions for mobilizing people next year to get this done! Thanks to Ryan Clayton, Charlie Cooper, Common Cause, Move to Amend, and Get Money Out Maryland.
Second Chances in Work, Finances and Life!
Dramatically Shortening Deficiency Debt Collection After a Home Foreclosure (SB 708): As you know, hundreds of thousands of Marylanders are still reeling in different ways from the housing crisis. An oddity in state law means that people whose houses go “under water” and then undergo foreclosure can be sued by the bank or a creditor for the “deficiency” for a twelve-year period. With various extensions, the “deficiency” judgment can haunt the victim of the housing downturn for a period of 36 years. This rule dramatically interferes with the person’s ability to save money, get back on his or her feet, and then get back into the housing market. Under SB 708, which I introduced with a dozen colleagues who represent hard-hit constituents from across the state, debt collectors now will have to file any deficiency action against the former homeowner within three years. No longer will debt collectors be able to lay in wait for five or ten years, picking the ripest time to pounce and pursue foreclosed people for enormous sums of money accumulating interest. Marylanders who have fallen victim to the subprime mortgage crisis should be helped out and propelled by the government, not buried by our laws. I am proud that we have made a big improvement with this law.
Marijuana Decriminalization! (SB 364) After an amazing and hard-fought battle, we voted earlier this evening to decriminalize marijuana, becoming the 18th state to acknowledge the destructive futility of the country’s antiquated marijuana laws. A criminal marijuana record of arrest and incarceration has created serious problems for the education and employment of tens of thousands of our people simply for doing what our last several presidents have admitted to doing. It is time to end the criminalization and stigmatization of big parts of our own population and give ourselves as a society a second chance to get past the most indefensible parts of the drug war. Under the new law, adults caught with small amounts of marijuana will be required to pay fines of $100, $250 on a second offense, and $500 on a third offense with mandatory court appearance and treatment ordered. Juveniles under 16 will be ordered upon the first offense to court and to receive mandatory counseling and treatment. This is major progress not only for our people but for our police, who will stop wasting so much time waiting around in court and can devote their time and energy to serious crimes, like auto theft, domestic violence, and home invasion.
Organ Donor Promotion! (SB 813): This one was thrilling. As you may know, someone beloved to me had a lung transplant at Johns Hopkins a few years ago and I have been eager ever since to promote organ donation in our state however I can. This legislation allows those of us who sign up at Motor Vehicles as an organ donor to revoke the designation at any time but, if we don’t revoke it, we will be automatically renewed whenever we renew our driver’s license. This will prevent the accidental drop-off of many tens of thousands of people and help save lives. Remember that organ donors save lives every day, and every day in Maryland more than a dozen people are waiting for organ transplants. Go to donatelifemaryland.org and join the 2,526,887 who have registered in Maryland.
The Maryland Second Chance Act of 2014 (SB 1056): Alas, this one was a near-miss on Sine Die, but we live to fight another day. Along with Senator Verna Jones-Rodwell, I introduced SB 1056 to give Marylanders convicted of non-violent misdemeanors a meaningful chance to get back in the job market and to reasimilate to find work and to rise in society rather than to be cast out by it. This bill will allow individuals to petition the court to shield up to 13 nonviolent misdemeanors, such as trespassing, driving without a license, and drug possession. Once shielded, employers will not be able to check a potential employee’s public record and will be penalized $1,000 for violation of this provision. Michigan passed a similar law, which resulted in a major drop in the rate of recidivism. Michigan’s re-entry rate is currently at 29 percent, while Maryland’s rate is still around 46 percent. With the ability to shield offenses, ex-convicts will have the ability to create for themselves a new path.
Peace Orders for Mental Health Professionals (SB 803): I introduced this bill, SB 803, when I learned from constituents that psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners who are being stalked and harassed by patients or former patients have no legal remedy because they are not permitted to testify in court against their tormentors. The stories we heard about this problem were gruesome, including several dealing with repeat offenders who would seek a new counselor only to harass, stalk, and threaten them to the point of despair. This legislation will permit mental health practitioners to testify in court against patients who stalk and harass them.
Fairness in Negotiations: Sunset Repeal (SB 1066): This bill, which I cross-filed with our Delegate Sheila Hixson, continues in existence the Public School Labor Relations Board, which we created in 2010 and which provides for neutral resolution of personnel disputes in the public school system. The Board has proven to be an effective and objective arbiter in dozens of workplace conflicts and has never been reversed judicially.
Forgive me for going on so long, but this has been a tremendously fruitful and productive session, the last of a remarkable four-year Term, in which we passed marriage equality, abolished the death penalty, enacted the strongest state gun safety law in America, and now increased the minimum wage and reformed our state’s marijuana laws!
I thank you for all of your incredible ideas, encouragement, visits, support and enthusiasm. And I will be back in touch in a few days to talk about some great events coming up in District 20! I hope to see everyone soon in beautiful Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
All best wishes,
p.s. I have a brand new batch of red-white-and-blue re-election signs that have come in for the June primary! Please tell me if you want one and I will personally hand-deliver it to your home with my ace teen volunteers, including Avi Brach-Neufeld and Kemari Bigbie. And let me know if you would like to help us. . .
p.p.s. On Friday, May 9, at 7:30 PM, there is going to be a spectacular and rocking Lumina Studio performance with our talented local youth called Brother Hal, an original adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V set in the 1930’s labor movement in Flint, Michigan where Prince Hal is a union leader organizing against the France Corporation. This is the second play I co-adapted with the masterful David Minton, and you have got to see this to believe it! The music and the performances are extraordinary. This special Friday, May 9 performance will include cameo performances by Rich Trumka, the president of the AFLCIO, and your humble servant. . .Check it out here