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    Maryland ends legislative session early

    The 2020 Maryland Legislative Session wrapped at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18, nearly 3 weeks ahead of schedule. The usual fanfare and celebration that accompanies Sine Die were absent this year, and the session closed on a somewhat somber note.

    Legislators chose to shorten the 2020 session due to the growing coronavirus crisis in the state, saying they would likely be back for a special session at the end of May. 

    Due to the abbreviated session, many bills, including some supported and some opposed by the Maryland Catholic Conference, failed to advance. Others now sit on Gov. Larry Hogan's desk awaiting a signature. Technically, any bill that did not pass during the session is considered failed. However, any bill may be reintroduced in a future session, including in May if the legislature reconvenes. 

    "The conclusion of this session was unlike any in Maryland's recent past and while we understand why the legislature chose to take this unprecedented action, we realize that it means our work for this year may not yet be over," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Conference. "Many bills failed to reach the finish line because the session was cut short, but we could to see some of those bills introduced again if the legislature does reconvene in May."

    Maryland Catholic Conference priorities: Education.

    Maryland's constitution only requires the General Assembly to pass two bills during the annual legislative session: the operating budget and the capital budget, both of which were passed. Maryland's fiscal year begins July 1. 

    With the passage of the budget, the state continued its support of the BOOST Scholarship Program — which provides scholarships to low-income families to send their children to Catholic or other nonpublic school — as well as programs that provide financial support to nonpublic schools to fix aging infrastructure, enhance safety or provide textbooks and/or technology to students. 

    In the House of Delegates, legislators renewed their efforts to phase out the BOOST program and cut its funding from $7.5 million this school year to $5.5 million next school year. In the Senate, legislators voted to increase funding for the program to $10 million for next school year. However, because both chambers must agree on the budget, legislators compromised and level-funded the BOOST program at $7.5 million again for the 2021 school year. 

    The state will also maintain funding at $3.5 million each for the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program and the Nonpublic Safety Improvement program. The Textbook and Technology Programs will receive $6 million for fiscal year 2021. 

    "Across all the initiatives we supported for our Catholic and other nonpublic school this legislative session, our schools and our families are slated to share in an estimated $40.5 million in support for the 2020-21 school year," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Conference. An effort to prevent using Maryland 529 Savings Plans for K-12 education failed to advance again this session. 

    A top priority for legislators during the 2020 session was enacting the recommendations of the Kirwin Commission. Legislators introduced and ultimately passed the "Blueprint for Maryland's Future" (HB 1300) and among many changes, expanded the state's Pre-Kindergarten program. The legislation is headed to Gov. Hogan's desk and will be implemented with a significant portion of Pre-Kindergarten expansion seats going to nonpublic providers during the next 10 years, beginning in fiscal year 2022. To read more about the bill CLICK HERE.

    "We hope to see several of our Catholic schools participate," O'Day said.

    Respect for Life.

    Failing to advance again this session was the fifth attempt to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Maryland. The bill (SB 701/HB 643) received a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but was never brought up for a vote. The House version of the bill did not receive a hearing. Dozens of people attended the Feb. 28 hearing to speak against this dangerous legislation. To read more about that hearing CLICK HERE. To learn more about the issue of physician-assisted suicide and the church's opposition to it, please CLICK HERE.

    Minutes before a hearing would have taken place on a bill (SB 664) to put a constitutional amendment for the right to privacy on the upcoming ballot, the bill was withdrawn by the sponsor. Bill sponsor Senator Susan Lee (D-16) assured the Conference that her intent regarding this legislation was to protect people in Maryland from the unauthorized collection of personal data and not to enshrine a right to abortion in our constitution.

    "We are grateful that she recognized our concerns and withdrew the bill," said Kraska. 

    Social and Economic Justice.

    After a decade of advocacy efforts and numerous local jurisdictions enacting similar protections, the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, or HOME Act, (HB 231/SB 530) finally passed at the state level, and now heads to Gov. Hogan’s desk for a signature. Once enacted, Maryland law will prohibit landlords from discriminating against potential renters based on their source of income, such as pensions, alimony, gifts, or government assistance, including rental assistance programs or housing vouchers.  

    Also passing this session was legislation the Conference strongly supported in partnership with the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force that will expand the list of crimes eligible to be vacated from the criminal record of a human trafficking victim to include misdemeanors common to victims if those crimes were committed while under the influence of their trafficker (HB 242/SB 206).

    "Practically, this bill allows survivors of human trafficking to remove convictions for low-level crimes that their trafficker forced them to commit, therefore removing barriers to opportunities that help them move on from their horrific trafficking experiences, such as education, housing, and employment," said Anne Wallerstedt, associate director of Social and Economic Justice for the Conference. "The Conference was proud and humbled to lead the legislative efforts of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force this session."

    Some juvenile justice reform measures supported by the Conference also passed during the abbreviated session. Among those that made it to the Governor’s desk include a bill limiting fines, fees and costs (HB 36), and a bill protecting confidentiality of records (SB 314). 

    Many bills, however, failed to advance.

    Ironically, while lawmakers understood the importance of providing paid time off for significant life occurrences — such as the current coronavirus crisis — the Time to Care Act (HB 839/SB 539) was unable to advance out of committee in light of the pressing concerns of COVID-19 and the significantly shortened session. The bill would have provided up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a baby, personal illness or injury, or to care for aging family members, through the creation of a state-run insurance program funded by contributions from both employers and employees.  

    Many pieces of legislation aimed at protecting undocumented individuals and immigrant communities were were unable to pass both chambers, again due to the shortened timing of session. These included bills designed to curtail immigration enforcement activities in sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals, places of worship, and courthouses (HB 403/SB 903); end contracts with the federal government related to immigration detention centers in the state (HB 677/SB 850); protect MVA records from unnecessary interference (HB 892/SB 649); and regulate interactions between local law enforcement officials and vulnerable immigrant communities (HB 1612/SB 901, HB 388). All of these bills either moved in committee or in one chamber, but none advanced to a final vote.  

    Recognizing the urgency of the State of Maryland to step up to protect the environment, numerous bills were introduced to tackle this issue, and the Conference was proud to support those efforts, especially in light of the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si' this May. However, legislation to expand the state’s commitment to using renewable energy sources (HB 98/SB 168, HB 438/SB 560) and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (HB 1425/SB 926) ultimately were unable to make it out of committee.

    In total, the Conference supported more than 100 pieces of legislation this session. Among the other legislation we worked were bills that would have reformed public safety and criminal justice, improved access to behavioral health care, and provided essential services to those experiencing poverty. To read our testimony submitted this session CLICK HERE.

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    COVID-19 update from the Maryland Catholic Conference

    UPDATE: On Thursday, March 19, 2020, Gov. Hogan imposed further restrictions on Marylanders, after announcing the first coronavirus-related death in our state. The administration continued to expand its closures, adding all indoor malls and arenas to the growing list of businesses and public places that have been closed to slow the spread of the virus. Among other measures, the administration also banned gatherings of more than 10 people in close proximity, and is actively working to increase the number of hospital beds available across the state by reopening closed facilities. For the latest on the coronavirus in Maryland CLICK HERE.

    On Wed. March 18, 2020, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned the legislative session, nearly 3 weeks ahead of schedule. The abbreviated session left many pieces of legislation unresolved but legislative leaders have said they are planning to return in the end of May for a special session. Read more about the end of session HERE.

    Our Catholic churches remain closed in light of the state's actions, but our Catholic Charities continue to work to serve our communities, particularly those who are deeply impacted by these closures and restrictions. Baltimore Archbishop Lori addressed the faithful about the pandemic on March 18. Read his statement HERE

    MARCH 13, 2020 — As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maryland continues to rise, our state's Governor and General Assembly have established new social distancing mandates, many of which impact the work of the Maryland Catholic Conference and our Catholic faithful. 

    The Conference is monitoring the situation and will work to keep our network abreast of changes as they unfold. 

    What do we know so far?

    Governor Larry Hogan announced Thursday numerous actions his administration has taken to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the coming weeks, including closing schools and senior centers, banning gatherings of more than 250 people — including religious gatherings — and limiting access to state buildings. 

    On Friday, leaders of the General Assembly extended these restrictions, banning access for the time being to the State House, the Senate and House office buildings by the public, advocates and lobbyists. This directly impacts our staff who frequently enter these buildings to meet with legislative and administrative staff, and legislators.

    Additionally, the General Assembly will now only accept testimony in writing and encouraged testimony to be submitted to a member who will ensure it is placed in the bill file, as advocates no longer may enter the buildings to submit testimony. As of Friday, only a bill's sponsor is permitted to testify in person. 

    With just 25 days remaining in the 2020 legislative session, many bills have yet to receive full consideration. We do not know yet if the General Assembly will continue through its scheduled Sine Die of April 6, or end early. 

    Both chambers announced they will work through the weekend of March 14 and 15, holding floor sessions on Sunday — something neither has done in decades.

    Both chambers also instructed their leadership to prioritize, where possible, outstanding legislation to focus on the most important bills. 

    The majority of the bills the Conference has been working on this session remain outstanding and it is unclear which, besides the budget, will be resolved before the General Assembly adjourns. Any bill that fails to pass both chambers before midnight on Sine Die is dead and must be reintroduced in a subsequent legislative session. 

    By law, the General Assembly is only mandated to pass two pieces of legislation each session: the operating budget and the capital budget. As of Friday, the Senate has passed its version of the operating budget and the House was expected to bring its to the floor during a session on Friday.

    Our state's BOOST Scholarship Program funding is part of the operating budget and the Senate version of the budget includes $10 million for BOOST for the upcoming school year. The House Appropriations Committee, however, voted to phase out the BOOST program in the version of the budget it sent to the House floor for consideration. Both chambers must agree on the final budget for it to pass onto the Governor for a signature. The budget would take effect July 1, 2020. 

    As of Friday afternoon, the crossover deadline for legislation remained in place at March 16 — this is the deadline by which any bill must pass out of its original chamber and move to the other. Those which pass out of their originating chamber after this deadline are assigned to the Rules committee, which will determine if the bill may proceed or if it dies. 

    What does this all mean?

    The Conference staff continues to work on outstanding legislation in the ways we can, including reaching members by phone and email, submitting testimony in writing, and watching or listening to committee and floor sessions online.

    We are aware that many advocates and some individuals were planning to testify on Friday in favor of numerous bills that would protect women and the unborn or attend the hearing, and were unable to do so.

    We encourage those who have not yet already done so, to consider sending a message to their lawmakers about these and other outstanding bills.

    Please visit our Action Alerts page to find the current actions available through the Maryland Catholic Conference. 

    The executive orders from Gov. Hogan have impacted Catholic parishes, schools and parishioners across Maryland. Catholic social service agencies that serve vulnerable Maryland residents are making changes in programs and volunteer services during this time. We encourage anyone who is concerned about how these changes impact them to visit the diocesan websites for more information.

    Finally, we encourage all Catholics in Maryland to pray for our state, those across the world who have been infected by this virus, the medical teams working to treat the sick and stop the virus' rapid spread, and our communities as a whole. 

    CLICK HERE to access Pope Francis' prayer to Mary to intercede in this time of crisis, and CLICK HERE for the USCCB's prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe to intercede for our country. 

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    The Maryland General Assembly will hear ten pro-life bills this week, with most of the bills scheduled for a hearing in the House Health and Government Operations committee on Friday, March 13. 

    The Maryland Catholic Conference testifies each year in support of legislation that seeks to promote life in our state, including unborn life, and will continue to be a voice for life in the 2020 session by testifying in support of the bills which uphold life and against those that seek to undermine life.

    "We continue to support legislative efforts to create a culture of life in Maryland, including those that would limit or eliminate the practice of abortion in our state," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "As Pope Francis has said: 'All life has inestimable value' and that is why we, as a Church, will always be a voice for life in Maryland."

    Among the bills scheduled for hearing this week are ones that would:

    • ban abortion in instances where the unborn child can feel pain
    • establish requirements for reporting abortion data to the Maryland Health Department 
    • regulate the disposal of aborted remains, including requiring humane disposal and preventing remains from being sold for research or other purposes
    • prohibit, in most instances, dismemberment abortions
    • require doctors and technicians to perform an ultrasound prior to obtaining informed consent from a patient for an abortion and demonstrate during that exam the presence of a heartbeat
    • prohibit doctors from inserting or implanting contraceptive devices in minors without parental consent
    • prohibit doctors who refer patients for abortions from having a financial relationship with the abortion provider
    • require abortion providers attempt to detect the presence of a heartbeat in the unborn baby before performing an abortion


    To watch Friday's hearing live CLICK HERE. The feed will be live starting Friday at 1 p.m.

    To speak up in support of these bills, be sure to join our Catholic Advocacy Network by visiting: www.mdcatholic.org/joincan and be on the lookout for an alert this week. 

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    Hundreds of students from Catholic and other nonpublic schools across Maryland gathered in Annapolis on March 4 to advocate for programs that serve the state's nonpublic schools. 

    Hosted by the Maryland chapter of the Council for American Private Education (Maryland CAPE) together with the Maryland Catholic Conference, Nonpublic Schools Advocacy allows students from Maryland's nonpublic schools to advocate for programs like the BOOST Scholarship Program and the Nonpublic Aging Schools program, which respectively, provide scholarships to low-income students and infrastructure funding to aging school buildings.

    "Seeing Annapolis filled with students from our Catholic and other nonpublic schools is a strong reminder to the legislators that it is their constituents — students in their district — who are served by programs like BOOST," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Conference, and vice-president of Maryland CAPE. "This year, education has been a central focus of the work in Annapolis, and it was great to see so many students here to show our legislature the diversity of education in our state and why those options are so important."

    Students started the day at a rally with Governor Larry Hogan and a bipartisan group of legislative champions, before meeting with individual district representatives about how Maryland can, and why it should, continue to support its nonpublic schools. 

    To view more pictures from the day, check out Gov. Hogan's Flickr.


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