Tuesday, March 26, 2013

GOOD MD BILLS: 1) Privacy for Minor Crimes, 2) Ban Shackling While Pregnant, 3) End Pollution Subsidies, 4) End of Life Care

HELP THESE GOOD MARYLAND BILLS PASS THIS SESSION - There have been many high profile pieces of legislation debated in Annapolis this session (eg: death penalty, gun control, and the gas tax). But out of sight of the cameras and press corps are a number of common-sense proposals to solve real problems, albeit on a smaller or less sexy scale. Below Maryland Juice highlights several "good" bills that could use more attention (and your help) right now.  Details on our four highlighted bills are below, and you can find your elected officials' contact information online.

GOOD BILL #1: END MARYLAND'S SUBSIDIES FOR "BLACK LIQUOR" // DEL. CHARLEY BARKLEY OF MOCO MAY BE KEY VOTE - Delegate Johnny Olszewski & Senator Rob Garagiola have sponsored worthwhile legislation to promote the environment and end unnecessary corporate welfare in Maryland. HB 1102 & SB 684 would close a loophole in Maryland's renewable energy laws that allow old polluting facilities to qualify for renewable energy credits.

Under current state law, Marylanders pay a subsidy each month on their electric bills that actually rewards producers of greenhouse gas pollutants and other air toxins. Old paper mills -- most of them out of state -- currently exploit a loophole in state law to claim renewable energy credits for burning a substance called “black liquor.” In 2011, almost half of Maryland's renewable energy dollars (nearly $4 million) went to out of state facilities that do not need or deserve this subsidy.

HB1102/SB 684 will phase out old biomass facilities and only allow new and efficient biomass to qualify for renewable energy credits. The bill also has a provision that continues financial support for the one Maryland paper mill (Luke Mill). The bill recently passed the Senate Finance Committee by a bipartisan 9-2 vote, but lobbyists (mostly representing out-of-state paper mills) have descended on Annapolis to kill the bill in the House.

ACT NOW TO ADVANCE THE BILL IN THE HOUSE ECONOMIC MATTERS COMMITTEE: Sources indicate that a vote on "black liquor" subsidies will be held in the House Economic Matters Committee any day now and Delegate Charles Barkley from District 39 in Montgomery County is a key committee vote. Please give him a call or send him an email today to urge his support on HB 1102 at charles.barkley@house.state.md.us or (410) 841-3001. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network's action alert on the "black liquor" subsidies provides a quick summary of  HB1102:
CHESAPEAKE CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK: Maryland's most important clean energy law -- the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) -- was intended to ensure that an increasing percentage of our electricity comes from true clean energy sources, like wind and solar power. Instead, a big loophole is currently allowing nearly half of our state's renewable energy dollars to pay for dirty sources of energy -- a paper mill by-product called "black liquor" and wood waste. Spending Maryland ratepayer money on these old, polluting energy sources is a rip-off for our climate, our health and our economy. A key committee vote on a bill to close this loophole -- HB 1102 -- could come as soon as today, and one of YOUR state delegates will help decide the outcome.

GOOD BILL #2: ALLOW RESIDENTS TO SHIELD MINOR NONVIOLENT "CRIMES" FROM PUBLIC VIEW AFTER A FEW YEARS // CONTACT STATE SENATORS - A group of Maryland lawmakers is attempting to bring some sanity to our criminal "justice" system by allowing residents to shield minor crimes from public view after a few years (think minor nonviolent misdemeanor offenses and simple pot possession charges, as examples). Currently, a conviction for one of these minor crimes could stick on one's public record for years and create unnecessary obstacles to employment. Delegates Curt Anderson & Jeff Waldstreicher, alongside Senators Verna Jones-Rodwell & Brian Frosh have proposed a legislative fix in the form of HB 1006 and SB 701. Some of the crimes that can be shielded under the proposed law include:
  • possession of alcohol in an open container
  • marijuana possession
  • possession of bongs and other drug paraphernalia
  • disturbing the peace
  • theft under $100
  • public intoxication
  • littering under 100 pounds 

CONTACT YOUR STATE SENATORS TO SUPPORT THIS COMMON SENSE REFORM - This effort is a priority of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, due to the disproportionate impact a criminal record has on minorities.  On Thursday February 28th, over 400 people from around the state came to Annapolis to urge legislators to support the shielding of nonviolent misdemeanor convictions. Thanks to these efforts, the HB1006 passed the House of Delegates by a 99 to 38 vote, but the measure has been watered down and now heads to the State Senate for approval. Maryland's Job Opportunities Task Force sent out an action alert this morning to help restore some of pieces of the bill that were removed in the House (details below):
JOB OPPORTUNITIES TASK FORCE: As some of you may know, the House shielding bill (HB 1006) passed out of the House Judiciary Committee this past Friday with bi-partisan support and successfully cleared the entire House chamber yesterday.  While we are pleased the House recognizes the value of shielding, House bill 1006 contains restrictive language that significantly limits its impact including the following:
  • It would restrict shielding to only one (1) eligible stand-alone conviction, per lifetime, that is chargeable by citation (see attached list of crimes),
  • Only convictions for crimes committed while under the age of 26 are eligible for shielding,
  • Removes an offense of prostitution from the list of misdemeanors eligible for shielding and
  • Individuals could petition the courts no earlier than 5-years after satisfying any parole, probation or mandatory supervision. 
The Senate version of this bill does not have these limits.  Senate committee members need to hear from you. Please take a moment to call and/or email members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and urge them to reject harmful amendments that would impose an age limit and restrict the number of convictions eligible for shielding.... With less than 2 weeks left of session, things are moving very quickly and the Senate Committee could act in the next few days. A phone call and/or email can go a long way. 

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THIS LAW MAY HELP REDUCE RECIDIVISM - Lawmakers are increasingly grappling with the long-term social and economic consequences of our lazy and draconian criminal justice system. Indeed, HB1006/SB701 were created as a response to legislative recommendations from the Governor's Task Force on Prisoner Reentry but, surprise surprise, they are facing opposition. Maryland's Job Opportunities Task Force explained some of the reasons for adopting the proposed policy changes:
  • 1 in 4 adults has a criminal record.
  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that recidivism risks are highest in the first 3-5 years
    following incarceration, with the first year accounting for nearly two-thirds of all the recidivism of the first 3 years.
  • Studies have shown that providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and increases public safety.
  • One prominent researcher found that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by nearly 50%. The effect is even more pronounced for African American men.
  • 28 other states have policies in place to limit public access to certain prior criminal convictions in order to mitigate the collateral consequences of a criminal record.
Not surprisingly, some politicians have been scared to embrace anything that could be interpreted as "soft on crime." But the Job Opportunities Task Force also noted some of the safety measures they've left in place to preempt potential concerns from residents:
  • Shielded records would remain fully accessible to criminal justice units for legitimate criminal
    justice purposes. 
  • If a subsequent conviction occurs during the waiting period, the initial offense can no longer be shielded until the subsequent offense becomes eligible for shielding.
  • Employers and certain entities with a statutory requirement to inquire into a candidate’s criminal background history will have full access to shielded records.

GOOD BILL #3: RESPECT THE END-OF-LIFE DECISIONS OF MARYLAND RESIDENTS // CONTACT HOUSE MEMBERS - Senator Roger Manno is sponsoring SB236, a bill which is designed to help ensure the end-of-life decisions of Marylanders are respected -- even if they are incapacitated. The explanation for the bill notes:
Advance directives protect an individual’s right to choose or to refuse various forms of health care (even in the face of the development of decisional incapacity) by transferring a critical health care decision point from the time of a patient’s decisional incapacity to an earlier time when the person is fully competent.
SB236 helps provide funding to establish a registry of advance directives in Maryland. The effort passed the State Senate by a vote of 41 to 6 and is now being heard in the House of Delegates. Advocates at the organization Compassion & Choices have sent the following action alert to Maryland residents:

Compassion & Choices

Dear Juice,

Although an “unfavorable” committee report  appeared to have doomed passage of SB 790, a bill that would mandate funding of the Maryland online advance healthcare directive registry, a last-minute effort resulted in the Senate passing the bill on Friday. It is on its way to the House for a hearing and vote.

Our own Rosalind Kipping, president of Compassion & Choices’ National Capital Area chapter, put her full energies and tenacity into supporting the bill. Its sponsor, Sen. Manno, acknowledges Rosalind’s hard work was instrumental in getting the bill this far.

Rosalind now needs your help to keep the momentum going. Please contact your House Representative and let him or her know you “Support SB 790” and are counting on their (you can find your representative’s name by clicking here: http://votesmart.org/). vote. Funding to implement this online registry means thousands of Marylanders would have peace of mind in knowing their end-of-life medical care instructions would be easily accessible by their physician in an emergency situation.

roland signature
Roland Halpern
Compassion & Choices

GOOD BILL #4: PROHIBIT THE SHACKLING OF WOMEN IN PRISON DURING PREGNANCY // CONTACT STATE SENATORS - Delegate Mary Washington, joined by a handful of colleagues, has proposed common-sense legislation to ban the shackling of female inmates during labor and delivery of children. HB829 passed the House of Delegates by a whopping vote of 133 to 3 and is now being taken up by the State Senate. You can listen to Del. Washington explain her bill online on a previous appearance on Marc Steiner's radio show. The Washington Post reported on the effort earlier this month and described the experience of inmates who were shackled during their pregnancies (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: Eighteen states — including Arizona, Texas and New York — have passed anti-shackling legislation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports the proposal.... Sara Love, public policy director for the ACLU’s Maryland chapter, credited Maryland prison officials with revising their restraint policies for pregnant women in written testimony she submitted to the judiciary committee late last month. But she said that “many women” are detained in more than 20 local detention centers that are not subject to the state’s policy....

In one case, Danielle Sweigert, who was seven months pregnant at a detention center in Jessup, said her leg and hand were shackled to a bed frame during delivery. “I was kept in shackles and handcuffs throughout my actual labor,” she said in written testimony....

Rebecca Swope, also a former pregnant inmate at Jessup, said she was “strapped at my breast, midsection, upper thighs and lower legs to the stretcher” and also handcuffed at the “wrist and ankle” during her ambulance ride to the hospital. She described the experience as “10 miles of torture.”

 More on the 2013 legislative session soon!

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