An overview of MACo’s advocacy on public safety & corrections legislation in the 2021 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 that holds inmates awaiting trial and those sentenced to 18 months or less.
This year the Maryland General Assembly conducted a legislative session unlike any other due to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic. The unique circumstances surrounding the 442nd legislative session, including necessary health and safety measures, posed a challenge for lawmakers and advocates alike. Despite the unusual circumstances, MACo’s advocacy still led to more positive outcomes for its members.
For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 resource page.
MACo members voted to oppose legislation that would require every law enforcement agency to equip officers with body cameras by October of 2021. Counties felt that this timetable was too rushed for multiple reasons. The reasons that counties presented were that amount of labor and time that goes into “opening” documents for inspection under Maryland’s Public Information Act, and the storage and maintenance and storage of documented footage would prove challenging. Public Safety – Law Enforcement – Body-Worn Cameras did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearing. A more measured effort, giving until 2025 for camera implementation, was passed as part of the broader police reforms in HB 670.
MACo supported legislation that would have updated laws regarding traffic safety technology when applied to rental vehicles. Currently, when short-term rental vehicles run a red light the rental agency is billed the ticket rather than the vehicle driver. This bill seeks to change the law so that the driver who committed the violation is billed the ticket and held accountable rather than the local business. Unfortunately, Traffic Control Signal Monitoring Systems – Exclusion of Vehicle Rental Companies – Repeal and Notification Requirement did not advance out of committee following its public hearing.
MACo supported legislation that extends a grant program designed to promote locally-supported pretrial release programs, and also add the condition that continued receipt of state finding depends upon jurisdictions discontinuing practices of billion program participants. During prior-year legislative hearings, bill sponsors and committee members have expressed concern over local jails and their vendors, in some cases, charging pretrial defendants to help offset costs of their alternative arrangements. This bill proposes to merge these two related ideas – extended the beneficial state funding, but to condition access to it upon elimination of such fees. Public Safety – Pretrial Services – Program Grant Fund – Extension and Program Requirements passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
MACo asked for amendments to a bill that would address fees for home monitoring services. MACo had supported similar legislation that had used a balanced approach to solve this problem for the more limited realm of pretrial release, whereas this bill lacked incentives for eliminating these fees. Local corrections suffer a deluge of effects, each compounding the costs of delivering their services. County budgets being strained by a variety of priorities for their residents in addition to combating the current public health crisis, creating a scarcity of financial resources. Utilizing an incentive-based approach could help to mitigate any financial issues counties may face when eliminating pretrial service feeds. Maryland Criminal Justice Debt Elimination and Prevention Act of 2021 did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearing.
Correctional Facilities and Services
MACo members voted to oppose legislation that limits the manner in which counties may operate their local dentation facilities in regards to federal immigration detention. This bill imposes stringent limitations on local government autonomy that have significant consequences on the ability to manage local jail operations. Correctional Services – Immigration Detention – Prohibition (Dignity Not Detention Act) passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.
MACo members voted to oppose legislation that would have imposed untenable mandates on local correctional centers to expand beyond their intended capacity and functions to ensure proper care for inmates kept in restrictive housing. Local jails simply lack the proper facilities and staff expertise to deliver appropriate mental health care and screenings, whereas State facilities do but lack the space to treat all unwell inmates. This bill places these full expectations onto local facilities while they lack the resources to fulfill them. Corrections – Restrictive Housing – Serious Mental Illness did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearing.
MACo supported legislation that proposed a revised and realistic framework for State reimbursement for inmates sentenced by State courts to serve sentences in local detention facilities. MACo offered an amendment to set current funding levels, which is a $45 reimbursement rate, as a statutory floor which would remedy the potential backward effect in some local facilities. This bill sets the State reimbursement at half the actual costs of inmate acre and empowers the State and individual counties to reach a memorandum of understanding to establish an alternative to that default payment scheme. Correctional Services – Payment by State -Inmate Housing Costs did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearing.
MACo supported legislation that proposed to create a system to relocate State prisoners to their “home” jurisdiction’s detention facility during the days prior to their release. MACo offered amendments to grant the host facility’s governing body approval over such arrangements and their details. By relocating inmates to their “home ” jurisdiction that are soon to be released there is an increased likelihood that family and familiar contacts will offer a more readily available landing for them. Correctional Services – Inmate Release did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearing.
Tenants and Landlords
MACo supported legislation with amendments that sought to prevent an unprecedented wave of tenant evictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. MACo agrees with the need to support local efforts to stem the effects of eviction moratorium with the use of appropriate federal or state funds that is incorporated into this bill. However, the implementation of these responsibilities by local Sheriffs is unwise as it may lead to a significant increase in staff time and financial commitment, at the expense of local governments, to working on eviction issues. COVID-19 Eviction and Housing Relief Act of 2021 passed the House but did not pass the Senate prior to the end of the 2021 Legislative Session.
MACo supported legislation with amendments that would have prohibited a landlord from using a lease or form of lease that contains a provision that prohibits, limits, or penalizes a tenant of another individual for reasonably summoning the assistance of law enforcement or emergency services. This bill would have placed a mandate on local governments, which had the potential to be costly and burdensome to local governments who are already strained due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Real Property – Emergency Services and Nuisance Actions did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly.
For more information on public safety & corrections legislation tracked by MACo during the 2021 legislative session, click here.