End of Session Letter

By William C. Smith, Jr.
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Dear Friend:

It is such an honor to represent you in the Maryland State Senate. I grew up in Silver Spring and take great pride in serving the community that has given so much to me over the years. My first legislative session as your State Senator was one marked with implicit change and great progress. Indeed, our entire District 20 team has much success to report. Together we were able to enact several pieces of critical legislation and we stood together in solidarity to fight the regressive policies coming out of the Trump Administration in Washington. We also held the Governor accountable and demanded he stand up for our values as Marylanders. All and all the 437th legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly was a success the likes of which I highlight in this letter. I hope you find the information in this letter useful.

Thank you for the privilege of serving you in the Senate. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if I can ever be of any assistance to you in the future.

LEGISLATIVE AGENDA

A successful legislative agenda not only consists of the legislation one proffers, but also of the broader initiatives one advances. This year I fought hard to ensure we protected our immigrant community through passage of the TRUST Act and stood up against the bail bond industry in furtherance of real bail reform in Maryland. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the TRUST Act across the finish line this year but I am confident we will get there soon. We did, however, move the ball forward with respect to bail reform and successfully defeated efforts to prevent the new rules of reform as promulgated by the Court of Appeals from moving ahead. The new rules focus on least onerous measures of judicial supervision and ensure money bail will only be used when absolutely necessary. I think the new rules will have a positive impact on the disparities we have seen over the years once they go into effect this summer.

As in years past, I put forth a legislative agenda focused on expanding economic opportunity and combating the many inequities that persist throughout our system. Specifically, I focused on refining our disciplinary policies for our youngest learners in prekindergarten through second grade; ending the practice of housing discrimination; increasing access to the ballot box; protecting our most vulnerable consumers; and reforming our criminal justice system. I have outlined below most of the bills I put forward this session, a number of which the general assembly passed and are now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Legislation I took the lead on this past session:

*Pending Governor’s signature – Senate Bill 651 – Fighting the school-to-prison pipeline for our youngest learners in prekindergarten through second grade: This past school year 2,363 of our students in Maryland between prekindergarten and second grade were suspended out-of-school or expelled. That represented a 17% increase from the previous year. Children suspended or expelled from school are ten times more likely to drop out of high school, have negative attitudes toward school, and face increased incarceration. While African Americans accounted for 34.4% of the total student population in Maryland, African American children represented 64.2% of the out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. Just as shocking, despite being just 11.9% of the total student population in Maryland, students with disabilities accounted for 25.5% of all out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. This disparate treatment is, no doubt, the result of an implicit bias that has plagued our communities for years and is a vestige of a system in need of reform. Now that my bill, Senate Bill 651, is headed to the Governor’s desk, our state will no longer suspend or expel our most vulnerable students without first ensuring they are equipped with all of the tools they need to succeed. Thank you to all of the advocates who made passage of this bill possible.

*Pending Governor’s signature – Senate Bill 943 – Ensuring Fair Access to Childcare for Children with Disabilities: Today in Maryland 72% of parents who have a child with a disability have difficulty finding and keeping adequate child care. This bill will help thousands of Marylanders gain access to quality child care by ensuring state and federal anti-discrimination requirements are enforced in child care accommodations and by requiring the State Board of Education to develop a dispute resolution process to resolve complaints of discrimination in a timely manner.

Senate Bill 728 – The Home Act: Today in Maryland you cannot refuse to rent to a person because their race, sex, color, religion, national origin, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, disability, or gender orientation. However, you can refuse to rent to someone because they receive assistance from the government, or for any other legal source of income. The refusal of landlords to accept vouchers has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and the economically vulnerable. According to data from HUD at the end of 2015, 79% of voucher holders in the Maryland were people of color. Just as shocking, 43% of voucher households were single mothers. At the end of FY’16, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) had more than 8,000 individuals on the waitlist to receive housing vouchers, with a wait time of 4 years. The Home Act would have prevented this discriminatory practice and would have given thousands of Marylanders the ability to live in safe, clean housing.

Senate Bill 726 – Protecting victims of wage theft from retaliation: Every year thousands of Marylanders fall victim to wage theft but fail to report their employers for fear of retaliation. The practice of wage theft disproportionately effects low-wage earners and immigrant communities who lack the clout and resources to combat their offenders. Senate Bill 726 prohibits the practice of demoting, disciplining, firing, or otherwise retaliating against an employee because they claimed to have not been paid. This is an important civil rights measure and I look forward to reintroducing it next session.

*Pending Governor’s Signature – Senate Bill 949 – Expanding opportunities for the expungement of nonviolent marijuana possession: Despite our recent efforts to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana over ten grams, countless Marylanders with past possession convictions still have burdensome criminal records. My bill allows those with a possession conviction to have their records for this non-violent offense expunged after 4 years, thereby enabling more people to get back onto the onramps of society.

Senate Bill 946 – Gun Free College Campus Act: Our college campuses should be sanctuaries, free from the fear of gun violence. Students and faculty alike deserve to learn and challenge each other in an environment in which they are not worried a gun may be present in a classroom or a dorm room. Studies also show college students are more likely to attempt suicide than any other population. Access to a gun increases the chance of a successful suicide attempt by 85%. Senate bill 946 would have kept our public college campuses sanctuaries and would have been an important step in keeping our campuses safe. While a compromise was reached on this legislation, it did not pass before Sine Die.

Senate Bill 727 – Notifying disqualified individuals they must surrender their firearms: Today thousands of Marylanders who are convicted of a disqualifying offense are never told they must dispossess themselves of their firearm. Senate Bill 727 sought to ensure those convicted of such crimes were notified by the court and also provided a safe and legal way for the individual to transfer their weapons to law enforcement or a federally licensed firearm dealer. I look forward to working on this next session.

Senate Bill 948 – Closing the Long-Gun Loophole: Today in Maryland, if someone wants to purchase a long-gun (a rifle or a shotgun) from a federally licensed firearm dealer they must pass a background check. However, if that same person wants to purchase a long gun from a private seller, they are able to do so without having to undergo a background check. In 2014 there were roughly 1,300 background check denials. This increased to over 1,500 denials in 2015. Of those denials over 57% were convicted felons. Senate Bill 948 would have closed this loophole by requiring private purchasers of long guns to undergo a background check. I look forward to working on this next session.

*Pending Governor’s Signature – Senate Bill 941: SWAT Team Training and Deployment Standards: Currently in Maryland there are no statewide standards for the training or the deployment of SWAT teams or other tactical police units. Senate Bill 941 requires the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC) to adopt a set of standards for the training and deployment of SWAT teams in the State based on nationwide best practices.

*Pending Governor’s Signature – Senate Bill 944 – Rape means rape: Under current law, first- and second-degree rape and offenses classified as “sexual offenses” contain substantially similar elements, with the exception that the rape statute only applies to vaginal intercourse; whereas the sexual offenses statutes apply to “sexual acts.” Senate Bill 944 reclassifies conduct currently defined as sexual offenses in both the first- and second-degree as rape in the first- and second-degree, respectively. While technical, this bill aims to help prevent instances in which a survivor of conduct we would all think of as rape is never again told they were “not raped.”

*Pending the Governor’s signature – Senate Bill 790 – Clarifying the animal cruelty statute so our prosecutors can go after those who engage in animal abuse: Senate Bill 790 is a technical fix to two sections of the Criminal Law Article. As it currently stands the statute is extremely complicated and causes unnecessary uncertainty when trying to prosecute cases of animal abuse and neglect. Simply put, Senate Bill 790 provides for greater clarity in the prosecution of animal abusers and will ultimately serve as a greater deterrent for abusive behavior.

Senate Bill 938 – Automatic Voter Registration: The 2016 Presidential Election cycle in Maryland saw the lowest voter turnout in the last 24 years. To combat falling civic participation, solutions such as automatic voter registration can drastically increase the number of voters who turn out in an election year. Nearly one-third of unregistered voters in the U.S. are people who recently moved but did not re-register in their new area. Senate bill 938 creates a system that automatically registers people to vote when they interact with certain government agencies. Under senate bill 938, updating an automobile registration at the MVA or changing a health insurance plan at the Health Benefits Exchange would automatically update someone’s voter registration. In 2015, Oregon saw 225,000 new voters due to automatic voter registration and similar progress can be made in Maryland with this legislation. I look forward to working on this next session.

MAJOR LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVES IN THE MARYLAND STATE SENATE

The Budget – Protecting our priorities: Working in a bipartisan manner, the Senate unanimously passed a $43.5 billion balanced budget that protected our State priorities without harming our citizens or raising taxes. This budget included over $6.4 billion in K-12 education, the largest commitment in state history. In addition, the Legislature found an additional $28 million for schools with declining enrollments, and continued to invest in Higher Education. Under this budget, undergraduate tuition will not increase by more than 2%. This year’s capital budget includes over $4.5 billion for road repairs, library and hospital construction, school construction, and other projects that improve our quality of life and create jobs in the state’s construction industry. This budget will support the creation and retention of over 46,000 jobs, over $2.6 billion of transportation spending, and over $345 million in school construction

Protecting Planned Parenthood – With President Trump in the White House and a Republican majority in Congress, it was only a matter of time before they attacked Planned Parenthood. In response, Legislative Democrats passed a bill to ensure that if Planned Parenthood’s funding for Medicaid and Title X (family planning) was cut at the federal level, the state would step in with the estimated $2.7 million. The legislation went into effect after the Governor refused to sign.

Ensuring employees don’t have to choose between being sick and losing pay For the fifth year Paid Sick Leave was introduced in both chambers. This year, the Senate worked to craft a compromise bill that ensured that families and employees have the benefits they deserve, while providing businesses with maximum flexibility. Under this legislation, employers with 15 or more employees will be required to provide 5 days of paid sick leave to their employees – with certain caveats concerning accrual, overall leave, seasonal employees, and other issues. The legislation (HB1) passed both the House and Senate and has been sent to the Governor, who has promised to veto the bill.

Increasing Access to the Great Equalizer of Education A criminal record should not bar a person from an education. Senate Bill 543 prohibits colleges that receive state funding from inquiring about criminal history on their application – unless it is relevant to the chosen career path, or through other exceptions. This legislation strikes the right balance between providing colleges with maximum flexibility for safety and security, while still ensuring that more people have access to education.

Banning Fracking The science on fracking is still undecided, but it appears to overwhelmingly show possible harms of fracking ranging from environmental harms to public health harms. House Bill 1325 bans the practice of fracking from Maryland, as the legislature decided that the possible jobs from fracking were not worth likely health hazards. The Governor has already signed this legislation.

Leading the Nation in fighting Price Gouging It has become far too common to see headlines or hear stories of drug companies jacking up the prices of certain pharmaceuticals for seemingly no reasons. House Bill 631 fights back by creating a first in the nation price gouging bill. Under this legislation, if the price of an off-patent or generic drug increases by at least 50% in one year, the Attorney General will be able to take legal action against that company.

Providing Increased Services for Sexual Assault Victims Increased funding for programs for sexual assault victims is essential to help these victims. Senate Bill 734 provides increased funding for criminal prosecutions, evidence collection, victims’ rights, and sexual assault response teams. The legislation also creates the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy & Funding Committee to create information for best practices and recommendations for testing and retention of sexual assault evidence kits, increasing the access and availability of these kits, and the availability of information to sexual assault victims.

Creating better Transit The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) operates a comprehensive transit system throughout the state, but due to the farebox recovery ratio, discourages the state from transit investment, and by doing so reduces revenues. Senate Bill 484 fixes this problem by repealing the requirement that 35% of MTA revenues come from fareboxes, thus incentivizing the MTA to take steps to increase ridership and revenue over time.

A Compromise on Brewing – With the news of a possible Guinness production facility in Baltimore County, certain rules had to be amended to ensure that Guinness had the tools it needed to open. Doing so required a careful balance between all parties, and House Bill 1283 has struck that balance. Under this law, brewers’ hours are more flexible depending on their location and how long they have existed in the state, and it also allows up to 25 percent of beer sold in the tap rooms to be contract brewed beer.

VETERANS CAUCUS

This session I was honored to be appointed chair of the Maryland Senate Veterans Caucus. The Veterans Caucus works to enhance the lives of those who have served in the armed forces. This year the caucus supported dozens of pieces of legislation, a number of which the legislature passed.

SESSION SUCCESSES IN BRIEF

■ Served as the lead sponsor for 18 bills that passed out of the Senate, 14 of which are headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law

■ Brought home $400,000 in bond bill money for District 20

■ Appointed Chairman of the Maryland State Senate Veterans Caucus

■ Successfully defeated efforts to thwart comprehensive bail reform in Maryland

■ Advocated for the enactment of the Trust Act

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I would also like to thank my Chief of Staff, Luke Pinton for his exemplary leadership and his steadfast commitment to the people of Maryland. I would be remiss if I did not recognize my legislative Aide, Rylie Shewbridge. A recent graduate of Salisbury University, Rylie stepped up and performed masterfully this session.

As you may also remember, we had a tremendous cadre of interns this session, all of whom did tremendously well this past session. Special thanks to Noah Karn, a Silver Spring native and sophomore at UMBC majoring in Political Science and minoring in Ancient Studies; Emma Fox Davis, a sophomore Government and Politics major at the University of Maryland; Cole Young a first generation college student from Pasadena, Maryland in his final year as a political science major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); Darius Young, a political science major at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a founding member of the UMBC Progressives; and finally Jacob Spegal: a Marine Corps intelligence community veteran and second-year law student. Jacob is interested in national security, finance, international relations, and how the three interact in state and U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Maryland State Senate. If I can ever be of any assistance to you please do not hesitate to contact my office at 301-858-3634 or email me anytime at will.smith@senate.state.md.us.

All the best,

William C. Smith, Jr.
Maryland State Senator