Progressives struggled in the 2017 Assembly session to pass laws that increased access to work and success for workers and their families. Some that we won will take effect tomorrow, Oct. 1. Of the allies in this progressive struggle, few were more effective than the Job Opportunities Task Force, which applied research and advocacy in ways that complement the work of our best legislators and overcome the prejudices and biases of the rest.
/PM BlogSpace Report/ During the 2017 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly, progressive activists including Progressive Maryland fought for laws that would help working families and access to employment by reducing or eliminating barriers. Those that progressive advocacy helped win take effect tomorrow, Oct. 1.
Of the allies in this progressive struggle, few were more effective than the Job Opportunities Task Force, which applied research and advocacy in ways that complement the work of our best legislators and overcome the prejudices and biases of the rest.
The JOTF policy team aggressively advocated on behalf of low-wage workers and job seekers across our state. On Sunday October 1st, Marylanders will have the opportunity to access many of these important policy changes that reduce barriers to employment. Progressive advocacy, which is hard work, has tangible benefits starting tomorrow. Below are some of the changes that will have a direct impact on Maryland working families, as described in detail by JOTF in a message to supporters Sept. 29.
In 2015, the bipartisan intergovernmental Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, of which JOTF served as the only appointed nonprofit representative, analyzed ten years of state corrections and sentencing data to better understand who we have been sending to prison, for how long, and why. The Council crafted solutions for Maryland that would hold offenders accountable while reducing the state's nonviolent incarcerated population. Those solutions resulted in legislation, and, during the 2016 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly successfully adopted into law the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA).
The JRA will provide the necessary changes needed to move Maryland towards a criminal justice system that runs efficiently and fairly. Some of these changes effective October 1 include:
●Requiring an immediate risk and needs assessment of inmates sentencing and a plan for rehabilitation while in custody.
●Restructuring drug possession penalties and provides guidance to the court to divert offenders with substance abuse disorders into treatment.
●Eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties.
●Authorizing expungement for certain nonviolent misdemeanor after 10-years under specified conditions.
●Reducing and/or eliminates jail time for certain offenses;
●Increasing felony theft threshold to $1500;
●Allowing drug offenders sentenced to mandatory minimum terms before the safety valve was enacted in 2015 to be eligible for resentencing; Eliminates mandatory minimums for all commercial drug offenses except volume dealers and kingpins;
●Removing “doubler” penalty (this is a statute that allows prosecutors to double the sentence for subsequent drug offenders) unless you have a crime of violence in your history;
●Making 3rd and subsequent commercial drug offenders ‘violent’ for the purposes of parole, meaning these offenders will now be eligible at 50% of their time served instead of the current law which makes them eligible at 25%;
●Establishing a form of parole for certain drug offenses and misdemeanor property crimes (excluding: (1) those with 2 prior commercial drug offenses or (2) with any history of violence or sex crime)
2. Protecting the Safety Net
The punitive collateral consequences of a criminal record can be far reaching and have a negative impact on families, especially children. Last session, JOTF worked with allies Out for Justice, Inc. and Maryland Hunger Solutions to pass the Maryland Equal Access to Food Act of 2017 that would eliminate the one-year ban and testing requirement for SNAP and TCA recipients convicted of felony drug offenses. The implementation of this legislation furthers our state’s commitment to the rehabilitation and reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals returning to our communities and supporting their efforts to become contributing, productive members of society.
3. Record Expungement
In addition to the expungement opportunities made available in the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA), Marylanders will also have the opportunity to have certain driving records eligible for automatic expungement and marijuana possession convictions eligible after a certain time. As passed, House Bill 1017 will allow more people to have their driving record expunged because, for the first time, the only suspensions that delay expungement eligibility will be those related to driver safety. Certain suspensions, such as child support noncompliance, will no longer prevent someone from accessing expungement opportunities. More than 600,000 Marylanders will benefit from this new law.
Another new law expands eligibility for expungement to include convictions for possession of marijuana under § 5-601 of the Criminal Law Article. Marijuana possession convictions will now be eligible for expungement after a five (5) year waiting period. The law also clarifies expungement eligibility for drug possession that is not marijuana.
4. Increasing Access to Postsecondary Education
Substantive elements of two JOTF priorities Workforce Development Sequence Grants and Scholarships and Career Apprenticeship Opportunity Act of 2017 were included in the comprehensive jobs legislation, More Jobs for Marylanders Act of 2017 which takes effect on October 1st. The Act incentivizes employers to provide structured, supervised, on the job training for apprenticeable careers and establishes a Workforce Development Sequence Program, with grants that are disbursed to community colleges to award scholarships to eligible students. This robust piece of legislation now ensures that more state dollars will be used to provide job readiness, training and credentialing as an alternative educational path for Marylanders as we work towards a more highly skilled workforce.
What’s still to do: veto overrides. Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that, after five years of struggle in the Assembly, would have given 700,000 Maryland workers and their families paid sick leave on the job. The bill passed with a veto-proof majority in both chambers of the assembly, but progressives must take care that that supermajority holds firm in the face of the usual attacks. If you encounter any of your state legislators before the session begins in early January, remind them that the veto override is upcoming in January and that you expect them to remain on the side of working families, not greedy bosses.