WYPR Examines Status of Immigration, Health Care, Bail Reform On Cross-Over

A WYPR 88.1 FM radio discussion (2017-03-21) examined the status of several big issues and whether they met the Maryland General Assembly’s March 20 cross-over deadline.

From the discussion’s description tagline:

Monday was a busy day in Annapolis, where state lawmakers hurried to meet a legislative deadline. Any bills not passed by either the state Senate or the House of Delegates by the end of the day have to go through the Rules Committee before they can continue on. WYPR’s Rachel Baye joins Nathan Sterner to talk about what bills made the cut and what will face additional hurdles.

Baye highlighted immigration enforcement, health care, bail reform in the discussion.

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Senate Debates Bail Bill, No Action in House

Bail bills hit barrier as reform advocates and bail bondsman clash over whether court rules should stand or legislative changes should be made. The Senate is debating one of the bills (SB 983) on the floor, while the House has not taken action on either set of bills(HB 1390/SB 880  or HB 1215/SB 983).

Advocates who previously supported a bill (HB 1390/SB 880) introduced to codify the new Maryland judiciary rules on the use of money bail, have switched gears and are now advocating that no bills be passed. Inaction by the General Assembly would let the court rule, which goes into effect July 1 stand. The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus voted last Thursday to take no action on any of the bail reform bills in order to let the court rule stand.

However, bail bondsman stand by their bill (SB 983) which would make changes to the bail process and, if passed, would supersede the court rule before going into effect. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted SB 983 out of committee. It is on the Senate floor and has been subject to vigorous debate.

Prior coverage on Conduit Street:

Sun Weighs in Cautions Against Pro-Bail Legislation

Court of Appeals Unanimously Approves Changes to Bail Rule 

MACo Supports Criminal Pretrial Reform


Body Camera Legislation Defeated in Senate Committee

In a surprise move, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee defeated MACo’s initiative bill to refine what footage from police body-worn cameras could be released under the Maryland Public Information Act. MACo’s bill, described by many as a “near consensus,” had sought to limit the worst-case scenario of a broad, untargeted request for footage that could prove costly and cumbersome to prepare for distribution.

HB 767, Sponsored by Delegate Sydnor, passed the House of Delegates with a comfortable bipartisan majority, but that bill and its Senate cross-file SB 970 were debated in the Senate Committee and ultimately rejected by nearly the full Committee membership. That vote spells the end of the debate on this issue for the session, and potentially for good.

A similar fate befell MACo’s bills in the 2016 session, when the House made modest amendments and passed the bill. The Senate committee, citing an extraordinary workload from other high profile legislation, did not focus on the body camera bills and they died without a formal vote, for lack of action.


“Trust Act” Limiting Local Engagement on Immigration on the Move

HB 1362, a bill that would set explicit parameters limiting state and local agencies and officials from cooperating with federal immigration efforts, has passed out of the House with amendments. It will move on to the Senate where the Judicial Proceedings Committee has not yet taken any action on the crossfile SB 835. An article in The Baltimore Sun notes Governor Hogan as saying he would veto the bill.

MACo opposed the bill at it imposes stringent limitations on local government autonomy that have far-reaching and significant consequences.

Prior coverage on Conduit Street: MACo: Don’t Impose Limitation on Local Law Enforcement

Related coverage:

Revised immigration trust act moves forward in House (The Baltimore Sun)

As counties move to help immigration officials, Maryland lawmakers weigh policy change (The Baltimore Sun)

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Law Enforcement Training Bill Passes House

A bill that as originally introduced would have stripped funding from local law enforcement agencies if all individuals required to take specific trainings did not complete the trainings has passed out of the House with amendments.

As amended House Bill 1503 would require each local law enforcement agency to report to Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention every two years on the agencies policies and procedures on use of force de-escalation training. Provisions stripping funding for failure to complete trainings have been removed.

MACo opposed the bill as introduced out of concern that it may have the unintended consequence of stripping a law enforcement agency of nearly all its funding if even just one officer is unable to complete the training. While counties understood the need to enforce compliance with required law enforcement trainings, they did not believe that the penalty should come at the expense of public safety.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Sun Weighs In, Cautions Against Pro-Bail Legislation

The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board has weighed in on the debate between legislation introduced to codify the new Maryland judiciary rules on the use of money bail and counter legislation introduced to “modernize” the system. The Sun’s take: eliminate bail or codify the new court rules, but don’t backslide protections in the name of “modernization”.

The other approach, supported by the bail bonds industry, sounds good at first. Its proponents cast it as part of the effort to “modernize” the use of bail in Maryland and to ensure that the state meets a high burden of proof before determining a defendant is a flight risk or a public safety threat and thus must be held before trial. It codifies the principle that high bail cannot be used as punishment or to placate public opinion. Both Paul Clement, who served as the solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration, and J. Howard Henderson, president of the Greater Baltimore Urban League, testified on its behalf, with the latter asserting that it would have no negative effect on minorities.

But in key respects, it amounts to a backpedaling on the reforms the Court of Appeals adopted, which are set to go into effect this summer. It jettisons the concept that judges and court commissioners use the least onerous means to make sure defendants show up in court and pose no risk to the community. It requires judges and detention officials to review jail populations to determine whether people are being held solely because of their inability to pay, but it does not enshrine in law Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s conclusion that such detention is unconstitutional. And it perpetuates the idea that cash bail is an effective means to protect public safety rather than merely to encourage a defendant to return to court.

Ultimately, we believe the public would best be served by the elimination of cash bail altogether. It accomplishes nothing that can’t be achieved through other means, such as enhanced monitoring or, in circumstances when it’s really necessary, pre-trial detention. Such a system should be accompanied by adoption of a well tested and validated risk assessment tool to help court commissioners and judges determine whether and under what circumstances defendants should be released before trial. Other jurisdictions — notably, Washington, D.C. — have long histories of successful pre-trial management without cash bail.

Given the clout of the bail bonds industry in Annapolis, we don’t expect Maryland to move in that direction soon. But the judiciary’s new rules provide a solid foundation for reform, and they should be allowed to work. Even if legislators aren’t willing to pass new laws codifying and strengthening the courts’ new rules, we hope they will at least not gut them in the guise of “modernizing” the system.

For more information read the full editorial in The Baltimore Sun.

Related coverage on Conduit Street:

Court of Appeals Unanimously Approves Changes to Bail Rules

MACo Supports Pretrial System Reform

MACo Opposes Local Permitting & Registration Restrictions for Security Systems

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, recently testified in opposition to legislation (HB 1271 and SB 952) that would severely restrict a local government’s ability to regulate security system and monitoring companies. These restrictions weaken compliance with local codes, erode public safety protections, and overburden local resources

MACo’s testimony states,

HB 1271 requires local governments to follow a universal permitting and notification system for low-voltage security systems. It also requires that these permits be available for bulk purchase without specifying the project. Currently, companies must comply with any local low-voltage electrical permitting requirements. These permits help to ensure that for each project the work to be performed is up to local code and performed by individuals properly licensed to do so within the jurisdiction.

HB 1271 also prohibits a local government from requiring a security system contractor or a monitoring agency to register customers and sets limits on the ability to penalize companies that fail to do so. Accurate registration is an important safety and resource management tool for local governments. It is the only way for a county to know who the customers are, which companies are servicing them, and whether all parties are complying with the local laws. As the company contracts directly with the customer, they are in the best position to ensure that the customer is properly registered. Counties do not have the ability to track down who the customer is to enforce registration. Failure of a customer to be registered often only comes to light once an alarm has been set off and local police are notified.

Because of the crucial role contractors and monitoring agencies play in the registration and enforcement process, local governments would almost certainly suffer an increase in false alarm calls under this bill. False alarms are a significant drain on local law enforcement resources. Each false alarm call takes officers away from addressing true public safety needs. When customers are properly registered with the county, police are quickly able to get into contact with them so that any problems can be fixed before there are more false alarms and resources drained responding to them.

Meredith Wivell, Mid Atlantic Chapter President from the False Alarm Reduction Association and Alberto Hook, Director of the False Alarm Reduction Section in Montgomery County, joined Ms. Mehu on a panel in opposition to this bill. HB 1271 was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 6 and SB 952 was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on March 9, 2017.

Joining Ms. Mehu to testify on SB 952:

  • Meredith Wivell, Mid Atlantic Chapter President, False Alarm Reduction Association
  • Steve Thomas, Division Chief Commercial Building Construction, Montgomery County
  • Alberto Hook, Director, False Alarm Reduction Section, Montgomery County Police Department
  • Steven Heggemann, Manager, Alarm Reduction Section, Baltimore County
  • Thomas Waugh, Chief of Special Investigations Unit, Baltimore City Housing
  • Brad Shipp, False Alarm Reduction Association

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Supports Pretrial System Reform

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, testified in support of legislation (HB 1390) to establish pretrial programs to maintain a just, effective, and efficient pretrial system.

MACo’s testimony states

HB 1390 endeavors to codify rule changes adopted by the Court of Appeals to address concerns that bail was being set in a manner that could be determined to violate due process rights and constitutional prohibitions against excessive bail. Counties believe the adopted rules strike a reasonable balance between addressing those concerns and retaining a judge’s discretion to use bail when appropriate.

While HB 1390 requires local governments to establish pretrial programs, it provides a four year phase-in so counties that do not currently have a program can make the transition or form the necessary partnerships to have the services provided. Additionally, the bill mitigates concerns regarding implementation costs by providing eligibility for start-up grant funding. It is important to keep in mind that counties are best situated to determine the parameters of their pretrial programs and will do so based on the needs of their communities and the resources that are available. Pretrial programs do not work on a “one size fits all” basis.

This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee. The cross-file to the bill, SB 880, was heard by the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee on March 1, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Advocates for Programs to Improve Pretrial Systems

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, testified in support of legislation (HB 1157) to improve and support pretrial services across the state. HB 1157 would establish a Pretrial Resource Center and a Pretrial Release Pilot Program.

MACo’s testimony states

The resource center would provide counties with technical assistance, training, research, and best practices for managing a pretrial program. These services would help ensure that local pretrial programs are current on standards and are operating in the most effective manner. The pilot program provides a means of regionally evaluating pretrial programs and for testing a risk-assessment tool that would be developed by the pilot program.

HB 1157 provides support to local pretrial programs and offers a means of piloting a risk assessment tool. Counties support an efficient and effective pretrial system and efforts to improve that system.

This bill was heard by the House Judiciary Committee. The cross-file to the bill, SB 879, was heard by the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee on March 1, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo: Don’t Impose Limitations on Local Law Enforcement

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu recently submitted written testimony opposing House Bill 1362 “Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act”. MACo is concerned the bill imposes stringent limitations on local government autonomy that have far-reaching and significant consequences.

MACo’s testimony states

HB 1362 sets explicit parameters limiting state and local agencies and officials from cooperating with federal immigration efforts. Local governments and their staff are broadly prohibited from assisting federal agents, releasing information, and responding to notifications so long as these actions are taken for immigration enforcement purposes.

While the intent may be to protect vulnerable Marylanders, the bill creates logistical and public safety challenges that could instead lead to harm. The bill would preempt local law enforcement from intervening if a federal enforcement action becomes violent – even if the intervention is in the interest of maintaining public safety. Their hands would also be significantly tied from providing information or responding to notifications regarding convicted criminals.