2018 Legislative Highlights

Thank you! The 2018 session of the Maryland General Assembly wrapped up on April 9, and your voice was a critical part of the Public Justice Center’s advocacy in Annapolis and Baltimore. Your calls and emails reminded legislators that Marylanders want earned sick and safe leave, rent court reform, and access to the courts when their rights are violated. While some bills passed and others didn’t, you sustained our fight on the long road to justice. Here are a few of the bills that the PJC and allies worked on this year:

Healthy Working Families Act – Override Success!

Although HB 1/SB 230, the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (HWFA), passed the Maryland General Assembly with a veto-proof majority in 2017 and with a stunning 83% of voters in support, Governor Hogan vetoed it. In response, the Public Justice Center went to work with the Working Matters Coalition to ensure that hard-working Marylanders can earn sick and safe leave rather than face a choice between their paycheck and caring for themselves and a loved one. This session, the General Assembly overrode that veto, allowing the HWFA to take effect in February. And when opponents and some legislators proposed legislation to delay or limit the HWFA, the PJC again fought back. All told, the PJC helped ensure a successful veto override and helped to defeat no less than six bills that would have limited or delayed the effectiveness of the HWFA.
 
The Act allows employees in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work, up to a maximum of five paid sick days. Employees in smaller businesses will earn unpaid leave. Currently, there are more than 750,000 Maryland workers in the private sector without access to any paid sick days. It is estimated that about 488,000 Marylanders will be able to earn paid leave under the HWFA, while at least another 205,000 will earn unpaid leave, such that the bill provides a benefit to more than 90% of Maryland employees who did not have any earned sick days before.
 
Passage of the HWFA is a product of the Maryland Working Matters Coalition, a group of over 160 organizations seeking to advance better working conditions for Maryland’s workers. The PJC is a founder and Executive Committee leader of the Working Matters Coalition.

Housing Bills – Fighting for Reform and Defeating Threats to Renters

Our housing team continued the fight for much needed Rent Court reforms and once again came close to passing a bill that would provide tenants in Baltimore City at least seven days’ notice of trial. SB 520/HB 832 would have allowed a critical window for renters to prepare for trial and make arrangement such as taking time off from work, finding childcare, and securing transportation. After HB 832 made it through the House of Delegates successfully, Senate Judicial Proceedings chair Sen. Bobby Zirkin held both bills without a vote.

We also took the lead on SB 524/HB 852, which would require landlords seeking an eviction in Court to present a valid lead certificate for the tenancy. The bill would have given judges discretion to postpone a matter for up to seven days (or longer by agreement of the parties), so that the landlord would have a second shot at proving their compliance and tenants could demonstrate evidence of non-compliance. As with our eviction reform bills, HB 852 passed successfully in the House of Delegates; Sen. Zirkin then held SB 524/HB 852 in committee without a vote.

In addition to pushing for these reforms, we successfully defeated bills that would have expanded and sped up the eviction process. The so-called “Safe Neighborhoods Act,” SB 555/HB 494, aimed to strip tenants of due process rights when landlords decide that tenants pose “danger” and would have increased evictions. Another bill, SB 493/HB 472, proposed to allow landlords to collect as rent any fee labeled “additional rent” in a residential lease. This was a bold attack on the PJC’s 2016 Court of Appeals win, Lockett v. Blue Ocean Bristol, which has effectively curtailed eviction based on alleged non-payment of extra non-rent fees.

To top off Maryland’s 2018 legislative session, the PJC and our allies in the Renters United coalition brought home a victory locally in the Baltimore City Council. On April 16, the City Council passed bill no. 18-0185, requiring that all rental properties be licensed and regularly inspected to ensure that they are safe and up to code. We look forward to working with the Mayor and Council to make sure that anyone who may be displaced because of this bill is given immediate and sufficient relocation assistance.

Access to Maryland Courts Act

The PJC and over 30 allies once again unsuccessfully advocated for the Access to Maryland Courts Act, SB 1042/HB 1270. The Access to Maryland Courts Act would have given Maryland judges the discretion to award reasonable attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs who have successfully proven that the State or local government violated their rights under the Maryland Constitution or Declaration of Rights. Such rights include the right to vote, right to free speech, freedom of religion, right to a jury trial, protection from illegal search and seizure, prohibition of sex discrimination, and right to due process and equal protection. Few people can afford to hire an attorney for these cases, and non-profit legal services organizations are limited in how many cases they can take.  By awarding attorney fees to a winning plaintiff, the bill would have leveled the playing field for plaintiffs facing the vast resources of the government, made it easier for Marylanders to get an attorney when their constitutional rights are violated, and would have helped hold state and local governments accountable when they violate someone’s rights. Unfortunately, the bill died without a vote in both House and Senate committees.

At the Public Justice Center, we believe that our communities are strongest when all people have opportunities to make a living, stay healthy, and keep a roof over their heads. But too often, our society puts up barriers that make it difficult for people to meet their basic needs and enforce their rights. Thank you for advocating with us this year for laws that dismantle those barriers. If you have questions about the PJC’s legislative advocacy, you’re welcome to contact John Nethercut at (410) 625-9409 x238.