Assisted Suicide, Abortion, BOOST among issues expected to return in 2020 session

Maryland's 441th General Assembly will get back to work in a few short months, and many hard-won issues from this year are expected to be back on the table in 2020. 

Maryland's General Assembly Session starts Jan. 8, 2020 and runs through April 6, 2020 at midnight. 

Maryland Catholic Conference worked with allies during the 2019 session to successfully defeat an attempt to legalize physician-assisted suicide, oppose a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion, secure level-funding for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) scholarship program, prevent further expansion of the civil statute of limitations, criminalize human trafficking, and protect immigrants who help law enforcement.

Yet, many of these issues appear to be far from over. 

Physician-assisted suicide

"Proponents of legalizing physician-assisted suicide in Maryland have begun to organize again ahead of the 2020 session, and we expect that, for the fifth time in six years, these groups will try again to push their agenda through Maryland," said Garrett J. O'Day, deputy director of the Conference. 

Physician-assisted suicide was narrowly defeated in the 2019 session, dying on the Senate floor by way of a tie vote. The final, defeating vote came after the Judicial Proceedings Committee passed the bill out of its committee for the first time, but with extensive amendments.

Abortion amendment

The Conference anticipates an effort in 2020 to bring back the late House Speaker Michael Busch's proposed constitutional amendment on abortion.

Busch, who died just days before the end of the 2019 session, worked to pass through the General Assembly a legislatively-referred amendment to Maryland's constitution that would have established abortion as a so-called "right" in the state.

If passed, the bill would put on the next election ballot a question asking voters to ratify or reject the change.

Busch withdrew his bill a few weeks after it was introduced, but others have vowed to bring it back. 

"Should the abortion amendment be reintroduced in 2020, the Conference will oppose it strongly," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Conference.

BOOST

The Conference also expects challenges to the BOOST Scholarship Program.

During the 2019 session, the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee tried to slash funding to the critical education program, which has allowed thousands of students from low-income families to attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools thanks to the state aid. 

Lawmakers eventually restored funding in the state budget, keeping it level with the previous school year's funding, but some legislators continue to push to cut or defund the program all together. 

"Now serving low-income families for a fourth year, demand for BOOST has outgrown its funding. This school year, we expect a waiting list of students who qualified based on income because there is just not enough money to award each one a scholarship," said O'Day. "Particularly in Maryland's largest jurisdictions like Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties, parents seek to take advantage of the educational options BOOST provides. On their behalf, we will continue to fight to ensure that our state legislators continue to support BOOST."

Maryland has awarded well more than 10,000 scholarships to students from low-income families since the BOOST scholarship was enacted in 2016. A second round of awards for the 2019-20 school year should take place in the near future. Annually, more than half of all BOOST scholarships go to parents whose children attend Catholic school.  

Immigration

The Conference anticipates legislative efforts focused on protecting immigrant communities, with the hope of facilitating productive and helpful relationships between these communities and local law enforcement. It is a priority of the Conference that all persons, regardless of their citizenship status, be able to participate fully in their lives without fear, including going to school and work, running errands, and attending religious services. 

"Advocates and legislators have been working to really dig into these issues and find solutions that actually would build the trust between our immigrant communities and law enforcement officials," said Anne Zmuda Wallerstedt, associate director of social and economic justice for the Conference. "Our immigrant families continue to live in fear of being torn apart. Passing the U-Visa bill last session was an important step at building that trust, but more needs to be done." 

The U-Visa bill required law enforcement to certify, in a more timely manner, victim helpfulness for U Nonimmigrant Status visa applications. U-Visas are open to non-citizens who are victims of crimes and work with law enforcement in the detection, apprehension or prosecution of the perpetuators, but require the local authorities to certify that the applicant was helpful before the federal government can consider awarding the visa.