2016 End of Session Wrap Up: Public Safety and Corrections

This post summarizes the status of Public Safety and Corrections bills that MACo took a position on during the 2016 Regular Session.

Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Administrative Hearing – Reimbursement of Costs and Fees: HB 154 would require that an officer found not guilty by an administrative hearing board conducted under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights be awarded reasonable costs and attorney’s fees incurred as a result of the investigation.

MACo opposed this legislation, as it reduces officer accountability, hinders discipline for misconduct, and redirects funding from essential law enforcement goals.could compel law enforcement management to consider how much they stand to lose if there is a finding of not guilty, rather than concentrating on ensuring that cases of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and discipline is properly imposed. Higher litigation and personnel costs mean fewer funds available for on-street personnel, proper training and equipment, and technology. Further, the awarding of fees would frequently be redundant – as legal representation are often covered in whole or in part by union membership.

MACo testimony on HB 154

Final Status: This bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee but withdrawn by the sponsor.

Vehicle Laws – Law Enforcement Transport Vehicles – Recording Equipment: HB 482 creates an unfunded mandate by requiring police transport vehicles to be equipped with audio and video recording equipment in passenger areas.

MACO opposed this legislation. While cameras can serve as a tool for transparency and accountability, their implementation can be costly and technologically difficult for county governments. It is within the purview of local law enforcement agencies to determine what technology would be of best use and feasibility for their agency. The requirement for transport cameras should not be universally forced upon agencies of varying size, needs, priorities and resources.

MACo testimony on HB 482

Final Status: This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee but received an unfavorable report and was withdrawn by the sponsor.

Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – Hearing Board – Final Order: HB 674 would reduce the authority of the chief of a law enforcement agency and increase the authority of hearings boards during a law enforcement disciplinary proceeding under the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR). The bill would shift the final decision-making authority from the chief of the law enforcement agency to the hearing board. The hearing board would be authorized to set penalties and its decision would be binding.

MACo opposed this legislation. As the top official in the chain of command, the chief is charged with the oversight of the department and its officers. It is important that the chief retain the ability to issue final orders in the discipline of officers who have been found guilty of misconduct. The current process provides balance between a hearing amongst professional peers and management’s authority over its employees. It also provides an additional stage of review before a binding decision.

MACo testimony on HB 674

Final Status: This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee but received an unfavorable report and was withdrawn by the sponsor.

Civil Immunity – Emergency Care for Drug Overdose – Protocols: HB 838 undermined valuable protections that were put in place just last year to ensure that first responders and officers administering medical care for a drug overdose were afforded certain immunities under law. Section 5-603 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article confers immunity to those who are often the first to arrive on the scene of a drug overdose and must take immediate action to save a life. HB 838 imposes limits on current immunity protections for law enforcement and first responders and exposes them to increased litigation. Under the current law, a first responder acting dutifully, responsibly, and in good faith to administer care would not be open to litigious action for the emergency care provided. The responder is protected so long as they have been properly trained and the care provided is not grossly negligent.

MACo opposed this legislation because it forces even trained first responders to argue for their civil immunity. If protocol is not followed to the letter – which emergency situations sometimes make impossible – the provider would lose immunity. This includes situations where the provider, in good faith and with the full advantages of training, administers naloxone unnecessarily. Even though he or she had every intent to save a life, under HB 838 the responder would now be open to the sort of negligence claims the current law seeks to protect against.

MACo testimony for HB 838

Final Status: This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee but received an unfavorable report and was withdrawn by the sponsor.

Correctional Services – Special Requirements for Elderly, Chronically Ill, and Terminally Ill Inmates: HB 906 / SB 433 sets standards for the Maryland Parole Commission to grant compassionate release to inmates that are over 64 years old and have served at least 15 years of their sentence. It also requires the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to designate separate housing facilities for elderly, chronically ill, and terminally ill inmates. These provisions only apply to state prisons as local jails generally only hold individuals sentenced to 18 months or less.

MACo opposed this legislation because it requires that local correctional facilities accommodate the special needs of elderly, chronically ill, and terminally ill inmates in accordance with standards, guidelines, and recommendations issued or endorsed by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC). However, NIC does not have official standards, guidelines, or recommendations that dictate accommodation standards for these special populations within correctional facilities.  Therefore, the requirements of this bill are unattainable for local correctional facilities.

MACo testimony on HB 906

Final Status: This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee but received an unfavorable report and was withdrawn by the sponsor.

Criminal Procedure – Initial Appearance Before a District Court Commissioner – Costs for Appointed Legal Representation:  SB 1134 explicitly authorized the Judiciary to charge local governments for any cost overruns in the Appointed Attorneys Program. This program provides indigent citizens with representation at initial appearances before district court commissioners as required by a recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling.

MACo opposed this legislation, as it shifts unmanageable costs to counties, rather than resolving the underlying justice issues triggering those costs. This bill would have counties paying for cost overruns that are not within their control and that cannot be budgeted for in advance. Counties do not hire, manage, oversee, or schedule the appointed attorneys. All these functions are under the state Judiciary. This looming cost-shift creates much uncertainty for local governments as they prepare and manage their own budgets.

MACo testimony on SB 1134

Final Status: This bill was heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee but no further action was taken.

Criminal Procedure – Charges Against Correctional Officer – Review by State’s Attorney: HB 359 would require that before charges can be filed against a correctional officer for offenses alleged to have been committed during the course of duty, they must first be reviewed and determined reasonable and appropriate by a state’s attorney. Such protection is currently afforded to law enforcement officers, emergency services personnel, and educators. The bill adds correctional officers to the protected class whose duties make them targets for harassment and frivolous lawsuits.

MACo supported this legislation as it would protect correctional officers from charges brought in retaliation or made in an attempt to harass an officer. It ensures that charges are only pursued in cases where the alleged offense are well-founded. This protects correctional officers from the time and expense of frivolous litigation, while safeguarding accountability when charges are truly warranted.

MACo testimony on HB 359

Final Status: This bill passed the House but did not make it out of the Senate.

Vehicle Laws – Law Enforcement Transport Vehicles – Seat Belts: HB 479 requires that emergency vehicles operated by law enforcement agencies to transport persons be equipped with a seat belt or safety restraining device approved by the local authority. The seat belts are required for each position in the vehicle a passenger can lawfully occupy.

MACo supported this bill with amendments to ensure that transport vehicles are properly equipped with restraints in accordance with approved agency policies for use.

MACo testimony for HB 479

Final Status: This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee but received an unfavorable report.

Public Safety and Policing Workgroup – Recommendations: HB 1016 / SB 1026 introduces reforms recommended by the Public Safety and Policing Workgroup. The ominibus legislation was the result of the efforts of the Public Safety and Policing Workgroup which studied and produced recommendations intended to improve the State’s framework for law enforcement. Changes to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights included extending the complaint deadline, reducing the time period for retaining an attorney, altering the membership of administrative hearing boards to include civilians and making them public. Additional changes included expanding whistle blower protections and the establishment of an independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission.

MACo supported this bill with amendments. Counties sought to ensure that among the broad reforms, the disciplinary process remained effective; statewide standards were flexible and feasible; and that whistleblower protections were not overbroad.

MACo testimony for HB 1016

Final Status: HB 1016 and SB 1026 passed out of their respective chambers in very different postures and were sent to a conference committee. HB 1026 was amended and passed the General Assembly and awaits the Governors signature.

Justice Reinvestment Act: HB 1312 / SB 1005 introduces reforms recommended by the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC). The JRCC was charged with reviewing the State’s criminal justice structure and making recommendations to reduce Maryland’s prison population, reduce needless correctional spending, reinvest savings into more efficient programs that help improve criminal justice outcomes. The bills makes broad changes to the state’s criminal justice system including focusing state prison beds on serious and non-violent offenders, strengthening probation and parole supervision, improving and streamlining release and reentry practices, diverting certain offenders into substance abuse treatment, and ensuring oversight and accountability. As introduced the bills were estimated to result in a 14% decrease in the state prison population and savings of $247 million over 10 years. The exact figures for the bill as passed are not yet known.

MACo supported these bills with amendments. MACo endorsed the Justice Reinvestment initiative, but raised concerns to ensure that it was implemented in a manner that allowed the state to reach its goals effectively without unintended costs and consequences that may undermine the benefits or shift burdens to local jails. Primarily MACo sought dedicated and reliable funds for local jails and community programs to meet the responsibilities of the Act that would be required after the bill takes effect but before any savings could be generated and reinvested locally — a narrow but critical window for local governments. MACo also sought resources for the drug treatments and assessments, per diem for state inmates receiving local jail programming, and additional local representation on the Oversight Board. With the exception of the dedicated funding, all the amendments MACo sought were adopted into the final bill.

MACo testimony on SB 1005.

Final Status: HB 1312 and SB 1005 passed out of their respective chambers in very different postures and were sent to a conference committee. MACo was pleased to see the conference committee retained the MACo amendments that were adopted into the House. SB 1005 was amended and passed the General Assembly and awaits the Governors signature.

Seat Belts – Operation of Motor Vehicle While Inmate or Person in Custody Unrestrained – Prohibition: SB 44 would require that local law enforcement and correctional officers ensure that any person in custody is restrained by a seat belt before the officer is able to transport the individual in the motor vehicle. The bill also imposes a $10,000 civil penalty if an officer’s failure to comply results in serious physical harm or death of the individual being transported.

MACo supported the bill with amendments to address alternative restraints, medical concerns, safety concerns, and penalties. Many local law enforcement agencies and correctional departments have vehicles that are equipped with seat belts or safety restraining devices and have policies for their use. However, not all vehicles are equipped with or designed for seat belts, and there may be situations where the use of seat belts is not feasible for the safety of the officer or passenger. MACo sought amendments to balance the safety of individuals in transport with the practical realities of an officer who would be required to impose the restraint.

MACo testimony on SB 44

Final Status: This bill was heard by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee but received an unfavorable report.

Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board: SB 768 creates a Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board charged in part with considering any legislation, regulations, rules, budgetary changes, or other actions taken to implement the recommendations of the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council and the Local Government Justice Reinvestment Commission.

MACo supported this legislation with amendments. MACo sought additional local correctional facility representation on the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board to represent the broad scope of local interest. MACo also sought dedicated and reliable funds for local jails and community programs to meet the responsibilities that will be required when the recommendations take effect but before any savings can be generated and reinvested into local jails.

MACo testimony on SB 768

Final Status: This bill was heard by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee but no further action was taken.

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