The 2021 legislative session has ended. With the closure of session, I am submitting this legislative report. I believe the issues discussed below are important to the state of Maryland and to the people of eastern Baltimore County. I hope you find this informative.
Legislative Session Dominated by Criminal Justice Related Policy
The 2021 legislative session was dominated by discussions and debate related to policing and criminal justice. The House of Delegates and the Senate spent an overwhelming amount of time in committee and on the floor debating, amending and arguing over these policies. This caused a massive bottleneck in the legislature and caused the failure of much unrelated legislation. Here are a few criminal justice related bills that passed.
SB 71 – Body-Worn Cameras, Employee Programs, and Use of Force
Senate Bill 71 changes the “objective reasonableness” standard of the use of force by law enforcement that is set in case law with a “necessary and proportional” standard written into law by this bill. In setting the objective standard, the Supreme Court cautioned, “The ‘reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” The Supreme Court then outlined a list of factors for determining when an officer’s use of force is objectively reasonable. In setting a “necessary and proportional” standard into law with this bill, we risk the Monday-morning quarterbacking of law enforcement and looking at every action of police through a lens of hindsight 20/20 vision as the Supreme Court warned against. I voted “NO” on this bill.
SB 178 – Search Warrants and Inspection of Records Relating to Police Misconduct
Senate Bill 178 makes the personnel files of law enforcement available for public inspection, including anonymous complaints, regardless if they are sustained or unsubstantiated. The bill also allows for the publicizing of unsubstantiated – unsworn – accusations against police officers. This is an unwarranted attack on the privacy of law enforcement and is not done in the case of any other public official, including state legislators. I voted “NO” on this bill.
HB 670 – Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights – Repeal
The planned execution of law enforcement and the retrospective judgement of law enforcement officers are inherently political. To protect the fifth and fourteenth amendment rights of law enforcement officers in matters of discipline and prosecution, the Law Enforcement Officers Bill or Rights (LEOBOR) was adopted in Maryland an other states. This system of due process has been used for decades. House Bill 670 repeals the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights and replaces it with a system with less due process protections for law enforcement officers and politically appointed boards which undermines protection of police officers from retaliatory activism. I voted “NO” on this bill.
Bad policing is a function of bad political leadership. The use of police resources is politicized and police are frequently blamed for leadership failures. Local jurisdictions have struggled to hire and retain law enforcement officers for years and I believe that these changes will only make recruitment matters worse. A person is less inclined to take a career in law enforcement if they observe a completely politicized police force. We continually heard from Baltimore County Police about falling morale as this legislation advanced. Baltimore County Police lost five members in one day as this legislation advanced.
The Democrats were foolhardy in sponsoring and passing this legislation. These bills are an attack on law enforcement that will negatively impact public safety.
Legislation from Our Office
This year, I worked on several bills that were the result of projects and communication with individuals and organizations in our district. Here is an update on some of the legislation we worked on this year.
HB 253 – Baltimore County – Nuisance Actions – Community Associations
House Bill 253 empowers community associations by giving them increased legal standing for purposes of seeking relief for nuisance abatement. Parts of our district suffer from issues of community blight such as vacant properties, derelict commercial spaces and proliferation of rats. I sponsored this legislation to create more tools for holding property owners accountable and creating positive change in our communities. This bill passed the full House of Delegates but failed in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee where it did not receive a vote. I believe the Senate is interested in passing this bill. However, The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee was consumed with criminal justice legislation and this bill did not get the attention it deserved.
HB 166 – Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Retirement Income
House Bill 166 eliminates the taxation of retirement income. One of the most common concerns I hear from residents in our district is that our state is too expensive to live and retire in. States such as Pennsylvania and Florida do not tax retirement income. This policy contributes to the exodus of retirees to states that are more affordable for retirees. I sponsored this legislation to eliminate the tax burden on retirees so that Maryland’s retirees can retiree near their friends and family. This bill did not receive a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee. However, I did have constructive conversations as to how we can adjust the fiscal note on this bill to advance it in further years.
HB 267 – Sewage Treatment Plants – Effluent Discharges – Impacts on Midge Populations
HB 267 requires the Department of the Environment to monitor discharges from sewage treatment plants, evaluate impacts on the growth of phytoplankton, which is the main food source for midge populations in the surrounding area, and report their findings to the General Assembly. Midges are tiny flies that feed aquatically. With a life span of two days, their sole purpose is to reproduce. To do this, they gather in huge swarms of millions of flies that are a terror to any developed area. In impacted areas, you won’t be able to step outside. Your property, from your grass to your roof, will be coated in dead bugs. I sponsored this legislation to help address the issues with midges that we experience in the communities that are proximate to the Back River Sewage Treatment Plant. This bill passed the full House of Delegates but did not receive a vote in the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee.
HB 268 – Criminal Trials – Spousal Privilege – Exception
House Bill 268 closes a loophole in criminal law. A recent case in the Maryland Court of Appeals revealed a tactic that violent criminals are using to avoid prosecution. Defendants are pressuring women into sham marriages for the purpose of disqualifying them from testifying in court. As crazy as this story sounds, this is a known tactic of criminal networks. I sponsored this legislation to eliminate this witness intimidation tactic. This bill passed the House of Delegates but failed on the Senate floor where it waited for a vote on the last day of session.
HB 326 – Case Management System – Information on Judge or Magistrate
House Bill 326 requires the disclosure of the names of judges who presided over a hearing or who took action in as part of a case. The public facing case management system includes important information for public consumption. However, the name of the judge who handled or acted on a case is frequently missing. I sponsored this legislation to provide full and accurate information to the public about judge interaction with cases. This bill failed in the House Judiciary Committee where it did not receive a vote.
Good Bills that Passed
SB 17 – Life–Threatening Injury Involving a Motor Vehicle or Vessel – Criminal Negligence
Senate Bill 17 increases the penalty for negligent driving resulting in serious injuries. Currently, there is no criminal penalty for negligent driving. There have been cases around the state where negligent driving has resulting in the maiming, paralysis or life threatening injury of an innocent person and the only penalty suffered by the at fault party was a citation. SB 17 increases the penalty to $5,000, and up to 18 months in prison or both. This bill passed and will go into law on October 1, 2021. I voted “YES” on this bill.
Good Bills that Failed
SB 852 – Crimes – Penalties and Procedures (Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2021)
Senate Bill 852 makes use of a firearm while distributing drugs a crime of violence, puts in place criminal penalties for selling a firearm knowing that it will be used for the commission of a crime, increases criminal penalties for repeat uses of a firearm in the commission of a crime and makes the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime a felony. Baltimore City has experienced record rates of murder for several years and we are experiencing elevated levels of violent crime throughout our state. This bill would close loopholes in criminal law which prevent prosecution of violent offenders and increase penalties for repeat offenders. The bill passed the full Senate but failed in the House Judiciary Committee where it failed to receive a vote. I did not have the opportunity to vote on this bill.
Bad Bills that Passed
SB 494 – Juveniles Convicted as Adults – Sentencing – Limitations and Reduction
Senate Bill 494 reduces sentences for juveniles convicted as an adult. This bill reduces the criminal sentences for the most heinous crimes committed by juveniles, massively reducing sentences. As passed, the bill will eliminate the lifetime sentences of convicted murders, such as Dawnta Harris, who killed Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio and the “D.C. Sniper,” Lee Boyd Malvo. The last thing we should do as we see an escalation of violent crime in our state is reduce criminal penalties for heinous crimes. This bill is an affront to public safety. I voted “NO” on this bill.
Again, I hope you find this informative. As always, please reach out to my office if there is ever any way I can help you or your family!
Delegate Robin Grammer