This year, as with most, was a mixed bag for civil rights and civil liberties in Maryland, with both huge victories and disappointing losses. Over the 90-day legislative session, the ACLU of Maryland gave testimony on over 200 bills and held countless meetings with legislators and partners in an effort to safeguard and advance fundamental freedoms in our state.
• Criminal Justice: We are disappointed that the General Assembly passed enhanced criminal penalties in the face of evidence demonstrating that they will not actually make Marylanders safer. Moreover, the legislative stealth used to circumvent public transparency and accountability was disheartening.
• Solitary Confinement: We renewed our advocacy this session to limit the use of solitary confinement inside Maryland’s facilities. Unfortunately the bill, which would have set time limits on the use of solitary confinement and set basic protections for vulnerable persons, was watered down. We decided with our partners to abandon the effort and return next legislative session with the hope of passing meaningful reform.
• Public Funding for Private Schools: We supported legislation to align the policies of private schools that receive taxpayer funded vouchers with the strong anti-discrimination laws governing Maryland’s public schools.
• Taking the Politics Out of Parole: We continued to advocate for legislation to remove the political taint from the parole process for persons sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass this year but we know this is a long-term fight.
• Immigrants’ Rights: We successfully opposed multiple anti-immigrant measures. For instance, HB 1308 would have required state and local correctional facilities to transfer undocumented individuals to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on request.
• LGBT Rights: In a huge victory for Maryland’s LGBT youth, HB 902/ SB 1028 passed, which bans the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy.”
• Women’s Rights: Two bills passed that advanced women’s health services in correctional facilities: SB 598/HB 797 will ensure that women in prison are afforded the basic menstrual health supplies they need, and SB 629/HB 787 will require all corrections facilities to develop written policies regarding medical care for pregnant inmates.
• Voting & Elections: The ACLU was actively involved in the passage of two huge victories for voting rights in Maryland: SB 1048 establishes an automatic voter registration system in the state, and HB 532/SB 594 is a constitutional amendment that will allow eligible individuals to register to vote at the same time and at the same place as they cast their ballot on election day. This constitutional amendment will be a question on the ballot in the November election.
• Education Reform: The education formula rewrite via the “Kirwan” Commission was delayed until 2019, but there were several other important education issues we moved forward this legislative session: Bridge to implement preliminary “Kirwan” Commission recommendations, funding for education and school buildings, and reforming school safety.
Other issues we worked this session included: open government, police accountability, prisoners’ rights, pretrial reform, privacy, and more.
Public Policy Director