An overview of MACo’s advocacy on public safety and corrections legislation in the 2020 General Assembly.
Counties are the primary provider of public safety services in the state. Each county is required to have an elected sheriff and some also have a county police force. Additionally, each county operates a local jail which holds inmates awaiting trial and those sentenced to 18 months or less.
This year, for the first time in since the Civil War, the General Assembly closed session early on March 18, due to precautionary social distancing measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, many bills did not have hearings or did not move forward due to time constraints to meet the new deadline. For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.
Crisis Intervention Services
MACo supported legislation that establishes a Crisis Intervention Team Center of Excellence (CITCE) in the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) to serve the dual purposes of providing technical support to local governments, law enforcement, public safety agencies, behavioral health agencies, and crisis service providers as well as developing and implementing model crisis intervention programs. Public Safety – Crisis Intervention Team Center of Excellence passed both chambers with minor amendments and was sent to the Governor for his signature.
MACo supported legislation that would have provided counties with a tool to enforce public safety laws and to protect first responders and community members. The bill sought to authorize the use of “move over safety monitoring systems” to capture visual evidence of a violation of the State’s required safety protection and move over laws and and the creation of a regulatory
framework to govern use of the systems. Vehicle Laws – Move Over Safety Monitoring System – Authorization received an unfavorable report from the House Environment and Transportation Committee and was withdrawn by the sponsor.
MACo supported legislation that would have established an Interjurisdictional Policing Grant Program to provide grants to counties to defray costs associated with establishing and supporting agreements between two or more counties to collaborate on interjurisdictional law enforcement activities. The initial proposed funding was $3.5 million annually from the state budget, awarded to local governments proportionate to population and geographic size, and scope of the agreement. This program would have been a much needed support for communities that align or straddle county borders and are often affected by crime issues that cross those jurisdictional boundaries. Unfortunately, the bill did not advance out of committee following public hearings.
MACo stood for legislation that will help local governments coordinate and develop solutions to the costly issue of police body cameras. Several counties and municipalities have launched body camera programs, the costs associated with the programs—which can reach into the tens of millions of dollars for multiyear comprehensive contracts—can be prohibitive to other jurisdictions. This bill establishes the Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force that is charged with studying options for the economical storage of audio and video recordings made by bodyworn cameras (BWCs) and recommending budget conscious storage solutions. Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force passed both chambers, with an amendment to add two (instead of one) representatives from the Maryland Municipal League to the Task Force, and was sent to the Governor for his signature.
MACo supported and proposed amendments to legislation that would require counties that use pretrial scoring instruments to have those tools independently assessed every three years. Counties expressed concerns over the short time frame which would not leave sufficient time between assessments to collect and analyze the necessary data to determine whether the tool meets the intended outcomes or to decide if any changes to the tool are warranted, and the substantial financial burden of approximately $100,000 per assessment that counties would undertake to run pretrial programs. Combined these factors could discourage counties from adopting or continuing to use pretrial risk assessment tools.
Thankfully, MACo was able to address these concerns, and the bill was amended to require revalidation of pretrial scoring instruments every 5 years and ensure the revalidations are eligible for coverage under the Pretrial Grant Program. Criminal Procedure – Pretrial Release – Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments passed both chambers and was sent to the Governor for his signature.
MACo initially opposed legislation that required counties to reimburse defendants who have been found not guilty for the costs of pretrial conditions imposed upon them by the courts. Counties expressed concerns that the attempt to address defendant’s pretrial costs may have unintended consequences that could disincentivize pretrial programs and subsequently harm the very defendants it intends to help. MACo was able to work with the sponsors strike the original bill language in its entirety and add new language extending the Pretrial Grant Program, which was set to abrogate in 2023, by 5 additional years to 2028. This was an amendment requested by MACo to help counties with mounting requirements on pretrial programs. Public Safety – Pretrial Services Program Grant Fund – Extension and Program Requirements passed through the House with a favorable report but was unable to advance out of Senate committee before the close of session.
Correctional Facilities and Services
MACo supported legislation that would have established procedures to ensure that individuals released from state correctional facilities are returned home upon release. release plans are developed and used to assist inmates and identify resources, including transportation from the correctional facility, to help them upon release from a state correctional facility, but when an area of residence is not identified or committed to, individuals end up being concentrated in the communities surrounding the state facilities. To prevent released individuals from falling through the cracks, the bill would require the Division of Corrections (DOC) to transfer an inmate upon release from a state correctional facility to the jurisdiction in which they lived prior to incarceration. Correctional Services – Inmate Release (Suzanne Jones Act) did not advance out of the House committee after its public hearing.
MACo opposed legislation that would have required procurement contracts for local jail goods and services to include a clause related to the hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals and give preference to bidders based on the number of employees who are formerly incarcerated. Although well-intentioned, counties raised concerns that the bill would place onerous burdens on the procurement process resulting in a decrease in contractor bids, a less competitive and longer bidding process, and higher overall procurement costs – without bolstering the number of previously incarcerated individuals or properly preparing them for the workforce. Procurement and Correctional Facilities – Employment Opportunities for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals did not advance out of committee following public hearings.
MACo stood against legislation that attempted to limit the manner in which counties may operate their local detention facilities in regards to federal immigration detention by prohibiting the continued operation of long
held federal contracts and agreements that have been locally assessed and implemented. Counties recognized the difficult decisions the State faces regarding a range of immigration-related proposals, however, urged caution against passing legislation that could have other far-reaching consequences on the authority of local governments to manage their operations. Correctional Services – Immigration Detention – Prohibition (Dignity Not Detention Act) did not advance in committee following its public hearings.
MACo opposed legislation that would have forced a costly and unworkable program on local jails that would allow inmates in state prison can opt to spend their last 5 years of their term in the local jail of their “home” county and the receiving jail would then be responsible for providing programming and support to help the inmate reenter into the community. Counties expressed concerns that the program would result in influx of state prisoners into the local jails that are not equipped to handle the significant cost, oversight, and space requirements needed if all eligible state prisoners opted to participate. Correctional Services – Home County Correctional Facility Program did not advance out of committees following the public hearings.