After a year marked by social unrest shrouded in a global pandemic, members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland have their sights set on equity in education, criminal justice reform, public health, social justice housing and economic opportunity during the 2021 legislative session.
“This has not been easy [year] for all of us, but the work many of you have done politically and in your communities has won me over,” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore City), Member of the caucus, during a virtual press conference on Monday afternoon.
In large part, the caucus’ priorities encompass a set of bills that Jones has dubbed the “Black Agenda.”
Jones’ program aims to reduce race-based issues in economic opportunity, public health and housing. The main invoices of the package include:
- Legislation sponsored by Del. Pamela E. Queen (D-Montgomery) to prevent credit and loan applicants from being turned down if they can prove their creditworthiness in another form;
- A bill sponsored by Del. Benjamin T. Brooks Sr. (D-Baltimore County) to help first-time homebuyers pay down payments through tax-free savings accounts;
- A bill sponsored by House Ways and Means Committee Vice Chairman Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s) to increase the ability of minority-owned businesses to compete for government contract bids State through the creation of a certified business enterprise program;
- Legislation sponsored by Del. CT Wilson (D-Charles) seeking to change the state procurement process and provide more resources to minority-owned businesses;
- A bill sponsored by Del. Darryl D. Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, who would give minority business owners more opportunity by donating $10 million to the TEDCO Builder’s Fund;
- Legislation co-sponsored by Dels. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s) and Jazz M. Lewis (D-Prince George’s) to build resource communities for health equity;
- A bill sponsored by Vice President of Health and Government Operations Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk that would declare racism a public health crisis and require medical professionals to undergo bias training during their licensing process; and
- A Jones-sponsored bill that would order companies that receive $1 million or more in public funding to prove they have a racially diverse board and mission, would require companies with state contracts to show diversity on their boards by 2023 and implement an equity scorecard to measure corporate spending on minority businesses.
Funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Following Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s veto in 2020, Jones is again sponsoring a bill that seeks to settle a 2006 lawsuit that found the state continued the practice of segregation by duplicating programs offered in its historically black colleges and universities in traditionally white universities. .
Co-sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), the legislation would direct the state to provide $577 million in additional funding to Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, over 10 years.
An iteration of this legislation was passed by both houses of the General Assembly in 2020, but was vetoed by Hogan.
Sydnor said Monday that the bill passed “overwhelmingly” in both the House and the Senate last year, adding that only two lawmakers, Dels. Susan W. Krebs (R-Carroll) and Nino Mangione (R-Baltimore County), voted in opposition.
Sydnor said he looks forward to the legislature passing and Hogan signing the hard-fought legislation.
“If he decides he doesn’t want to sign him, we look forward to a quick replacement of the veto,” Sydnor said.
Comprehensive Police Reform
Following the death of George Floyd in late May, Jones convened the House task force to address police reform and accountability in Maryland and announced plans Monday to introduce legislation based on its recommendations.
Echoing the recommendations that should be in this omnibus bill, the Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the Black Legislative Caucus has identified three policy priorities for the 2021 session, including:
- A bill co-sponsored by Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles) and Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) who would set a statewide use-of-force standard;
- Legislation co-sponsored by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) and Carter to completely repeal the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights; and
- Carter and Acevero’s reintroduction of Anton’s Law, which this session is about to amend Maryland’s public information law to make certain records of officer misconduct available for public scrutiny.
“The expectation of humane policing is a human right and a constitutional right,” Davis said. “Maryland can’t have human police without transparency and accountability.”
While Jones’ black agenda covers many economic bases, the caucus’ economic development and minority affairs subcommittee has taken up other legislative measures aimed at ensuring that black people in Maryland have a legitimate chance to develop their businesses and resume their economy in the face of the COVID -19 pandemic, including bills dealing with sports betting, eviction assistance, and small business recovery.
Beyond the Jones package bill that would declare racism a public health crisis, the Legislative Black Caucus supports House Bill 28.
Sponsored by Peña-Melnyk and Del. Robbyn R. Lewis (D-Baltimore City), this legislation would require licensed healthcare professionals to complete implicit bias training when seeking license renewals.
Peña-Melnyk said racial and ethnic minorities have been shown to experience health disparities “due to the social determinants of health,” and that these disparities have been laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.
“It’s our way of life – we live in crowded places; It’s that we’re essential workers and we earn minimum wage; It’s that we take public transport; It’s the environment we live in [in]; It’s a lack of education,” she explained. “It goes back to slavery – it goes back to Jim Crow laws. It really is racism and systemic racism.
The Legislative Black Caucus supports the Maryland Housing Justice program, which aims to:
- Limit a landlord’s ability to raise rent, claim late fees, or refuse to renew leases due to overdue payments;
- Prohibit mortgage late fees until the state of emergency is lifted; and
- Establishing a tenant’s right to counsel in eviction court and increasing the cost landlords must pay to pursue legal action against their tenants.
“Home is health; It is security; It’s a lifeline for every Marylander,” Del said. Jheanelle Wilkins (D-Montgomery). “Black people in Maryland were already the most cost-burdened population before COVID-19, in terms of housing cost, relative to income and now not only are black residents facing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19, but also at risk of losing the roof over their heads.