Showing Up for Racial Justice: Legislative Day, 1/20/2018
Cathedral of the Incarnation, 4 E. Charles St., Baltimore
Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) convened allied organizations to share their perspective on 2018 legislation in areas of interest. MAJR sent two reporters to listen and hear their concerns.
Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS): Dayvon Love, Director of Public Policy lbsbaltimore.com
Mr. Love believes that all issues that affect African-American issues of oppression should be led by African-Americans. He thanked SURJ for being helpful to LBS efforts the last few years.
In 2018, LBS will work with legislators to:
- Protect the Court of Appeals Rule Change for Maryland’s Pre-Trial system in 2017, which prioritizes non-financial conditions for pre-trial release, e.g., pre-trial services.
Between 2011 and 2016, the bail industry got $75,000,000 from three zip codes in Baltimore (Park Heights, Sandtown and Bel Air) from people who were not convicted of anything. Two Maryland legislators were 2 of the top 3 recipients of bail industry dollars. In that period, 17,000 people were in jail 5 days or more because they didn’t have $500 or less to pay their bail. Judges were giving million dollar bonds.
In 2017, said Mr. Love, we successfully fought against rolling back the Court of Appeal rule change. Now we must protect it. We can see the effectiveness:
- There has been an increase in people released on recognizance.
- The amount of cash bail has decreased. Scott Shellenberger, States Attorney in Baltimore County and President of MD States Attorney Association, was an opponent of the rule change; he now says he is pleasantly surprised by the impact.
- There was an increase in the number of people held without bond. However, judges were not giving the exorbitant million dollar bails but were holding those people to whom they would have given them without bond.
- LBS will oppose legislation that addresses crime and violence with incarceration and tougher penalties. There has been an increase in gun deaths in Baltimore City; this may lead to legislation to be ‘tough on crime.’ LBS wants to work against the violence itself instead of for punishment after violence occurs, and it will support legislation that does that.
- LBS will support legislation that invests in community-based anti-violence programs. Organizations that are proximate to the violence and work against it are likeliest to be successful (e.g., Safe Streets).
- LBS will support marijuana legalization that requires tax revenues from sales to be invested in providing resources to the communities that have been hardest hit by the War on Drugs.
Possession with intent to distribute has produced the largest number of arrestees and largest number of people incarcerated.
In response to questions:
- To get on the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle email list, go to their
- LBS does not support the decision to bring the anti-violence program, ‘Roca’, from Boston to Baltimore as suggested by Baltimore Police Dept. Locally-based programs would be better.
- Is it easier to work with City Council or the Legislature? The current City Council is as progressive as he’s seen. Since the date of Council elections was changed to Federal election years, Council members are elected in an unpredictable atmosphere with more voters. Working with the legislature is more challenging because of size.
- How do we lower barriers to the marijuana market? The potential marijuana bill contains a really big barrier, which is that large amounts of capital are required. Wide-scale legalization may give opportunities to lower the barriers.
- Investment in infrastructure is critical. There is no space in Baltimore that is Black-owned that can seat 1000 people. LBS is intentional about building relationships with organizations that are Black-led and are concerned with elevating and supporting Black people.
Out for Justice: Nicole Hanson-Mundell out4justice.org
Out for Justice (Ofj) was a leader in the successful expungement legislation effort. OfJ is an organization of returning citizens, people who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system. It began with organizing to ban the box. Each piece of OfJ work is connected to a policy that disproportionately impacts returning citizens.
They worked to override the governor’s veto of the MD Fair Access to Education Act at the beginning of the 2018 legislative session – successfully. This Act bans the box on college applications.
In 2017, they focused on legislation to end discrimination by food stamp and Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) against returning citizens who had been convicted of drug felonies. If you had a felony drug conviction, you were prohibited from food stamps or TCA. Every member of the family you were applying for was also prohibited from TCA benefits, including your children or elderly members of your household. The impact of this on women was profound. To alleviate this, OfJ has worked with newly released women and others affected to begin to grow food, raise chickens, and can food.
OfJ was and is the only organization involved in bail reform issues that is made up of returned citizens.
OfJ’s concerns for the 2018 legislative session are:
- Pretrial Justice: uphold the Appeals Court ruling. OfJ asks that you make sure your lawmakers know you want this upheld.
- Streamline the expungement process. OfJ has always worked for a good policy on expungement of records. The returned citizen’s record is the essential problem for re-entry into society; returned citizens are ready to engage in a career, but are hampered by the stereotypes. The expungement process that is now law needs to be streamlined. One problem is that non-violent misdemeanors and non-violent felonies are not classified as such. OFJ wants those folks to be eligible for expungement, and they want automatic expungement for non-convictions. Property managers discriminate against people with records, making it difficult for people to get housing. People need a fair chance to make their own impression. The “Unit Rule” is another problem, which allows over-charging by the arresting officer for things he may know you didn’t do. The unit rule stipulates that if one of the charges is not eligible for expungement then none of them are. Most employers don’t look up what you were actually convicted of, but just look up what is on the lists easily available on the web. Women are disproportionately impacted by current weaknesses in the expungement process because of their responsibility for caregiving in their families.
- Reopen the women’s work release/pre-release unit. People who have been incarcerated need to be able to see the world and see how it has changed while they were incarcerated. There is NO pre-release unit for women in Maryland. The only work-release opportunities are for work in Jessup, because of transportation limitations, and then they return to maximum security conditions. The last pre-release unit closed in 2010.
- Provide access to Maryland medical assistance behind the walls. Medicaid is suspended upon incarceration; thus, it is critical that inmates are able to be signed up for medical assistance while still in prison so that when they are released, it’s in place.
- Other bills OfJ supports:
- Take the politics out of parole. We pay parole commissioners $100,000/year, but the governor ignores their recommendations. This legislation would require the governor to sign every recommendation for parole made by the Parole Commission.
- Primary caretaker act
- Solitary confinement.
In response to questions:
- OfJ meets on the last Wednesday of every month at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.
- What is the biggest obstacle to streamlining the expungement process? Getting the bills through the Senate’s judiciary committee and onto the floor of the Senate. We need to put pressure on the chair of the committee. But stay on top of your own representatives, too. Be sure they know your views.
- What is OfJ’s biggest need? Dedicated volunteers in Annapolis and elsewhere: online, on the streets, organize events where people call their legislators, go to the legislature’s committee meetings to listen and report on the bills. Just let us know you’re available.
CASA: Lydia Walther-Rodriguez (community organizer) and Mari Cruz Wearecasa.org
CASA, which began in 1985 as CASA de Maryland, is now the largest immigrant rights organization in the Mid-Atlantic States. They are now starting up in Pennsylvania.
CASA’s legislative concerns this year are:
- Federal Dream Act updates
The ending of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was announced on 9/5/2017. DACA is a work permit or student ‘permit’, a promise the Dreamer (young person eligible for DACA) will not be deported while doing the job or the study that the permit is for. The cancellation of DACA means limbo for the young people who were brought into the United States illegally by their families when they were children. Congress has until March to find a solution. Two weeks ago, a California judge gave us a legal victory, saying you can re-apply for DACA if you are already covered by it. However, if you are ‘aging in’ to DACA at 15, you can’t have it – you are not covered. DACA provided a path to citizenship; children now approaching 15 years of age do not have such a path. The update should also cover Dreamers who were out of the country when they should have applied. CASA lobbied for “No” to the Continuing Resolution if we have no DACA. (Sandy Robson from SURJ was with CASA on the Hill yesterday; she found it very powerful and very successful.)
- Amendments to the Maryland Dream Act
The Maryland Dream Act permits Dreamer eligibility for in-state tuition at a state university or community college if they were a Maryland high school student for at least 3 yrs. It requires that they go to a community college before going to 4-year university. The community college must be in the county where you graduated from high school; if you did not graduate from high school in that county, you will be charged the international tuition rate. 122 Maryland Dreamers lose their DACA status every day. The Maryland Dream Act lets you go to college only in certain places; DACA doesn’t have that limitation. If you lose your DACA status, you will have to abide by the rules of the MD Dream Act. We will fight these two limitations this year.
On Noche, Feb 26, CASA will lobby for these changes; you are invited to join them. There will be a training and a conference call before Noche, and another one en route, on the bus.
CASA has contact with organizations that give funding to help people re-apply. You need legal counsel. Dreamers should call the CASA hotline. We are not optimistic about winning on DACA, so a big push is needed for amendments to the MD Dream Act.
In response to questions:
- Bobby Zirkin is a probable obstacle, so we must work to change his mind or to overcome his methods.
- We must work to be sure we keep our allies.
- We believe that a federal government shutdown will help a DACA update happen quicker.
Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition Samuel Jordan moretransitequity.com
Gov. Hogan canceled the Red Line without notice and without analysis. It was 13 years in the planning. Light rail systems like the Red Line in other cities return $3 for every $1 invested. $2.9 billion was there for the Red Line when Mr. Hogan took office. Mr. Hogan took three actions affecting Baltimore and the region in the early months of his tenure:
1) He removed $11,000,000 from Baltimore City Schools’ budget passed by the previous legislature and signed by the Governor.
2) He canceled the Red Line.
3) He re-assigned ‘savings’ from the Red Line to highway projects in outlying counties. The Coalition thinks that this is an issue of White supremacy; it does more damage and violence than what happened in Charlottesville. We need a constituency that will demand and pursue the Red Line. Legislators who put that money in the budget are still in the legislature.
The new Link bus system (initiated by Hogan in place of the Red Line) has not reduced commute time at all. On average, employment districts require 90 minutes of transit time each way for city residents using the buses. Link should have been designed to get people to work efficiently. Employers are likely to dismiss workers who are late 3 times because they can replace them with any of the 11 people who are waiting for the job. But it’s a loss of productivity to the entire region. MTA enables race-based transportation. As a comparison, the ridership of DC Metro has income that is 4% lower than the area’s surrounding the system. The income of the ridership of Baltimore’s MTA is 35% lower than the Baltimore area’s average. The Red Line would get people to job centers in the suburbs.
Every candidate for Maryland office should support completion of the Red Line. Both current Democratic candidates for governor say they support it; we need to be clear on what they mean by that.
In 2018, Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition will work to
- See the completion of the Baltimore Red Line. The Red Line must be completed.
- We want every candidate to support completion of the Red Line.
Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition will meet at 6pm Thursday, January 25 at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill. It is a meeting with BRIDGE, but all are welcome to participate.
Skill Building Breakouts
Presentations were followed by breakout groups to build lobbying skills. They included:
- Basic introduction to the legislative process
- Organizing in your district
- Lobby visit role play
- Find a connection with the legislator you’re visiting; when you visit, connect him/her with you. Find out something they’re passionate about. Spin the issue you’re lobbying for to connect to that passion.
- Be sure to have the right people in the room with you: folks directly impacted, folks from his/her district.
- Go in groups of 3-4 people, and check with each other after the visit about what you heard.
- Know your compromise position; where is your bottom line? If you are not in the organization’s decision-making room, ask; find out.
Organizing people present to get the vote out in each district and how to share your views in the district.
Thanks to Rosalie Dance and Adrian Bishop for being there and preparing this report.