Session Round Up
It was a wild end of session as both the Senate and House of Delegates convened on-site in Annapolis, working through the weekend and until midnight this past Monday to negotiate and vote. Their presence in town was notable after three months of Zoom hearings.
The legislators tackled major issues, from an override of the Kirwan Commission veto, which means a significant expansion of funds for Maryland schools (including funding for non-public pre-kindergarten); scholarships for low-income families; police reform; juvenile justice; immigration; and new support for at-risk pregnant and parenting women.
Out of 2,771 bills introduced during the 90-day session, a minority of which were passed into law. Our staff has spent this week reviewing the final text of some of the bills as amendments came fast and furious in the final days.
“We were uncertain how the session would turn out given the realities of COVID-19. That changed how everyone engaged with issues and each other. I’m really proud of the team at the Conference for adapting to the remote session and to parishioners who contacted legislators and responded when we sought people to testify. A lot of wonderful things came out of this session,” said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
While we can’t go through all of the nearly 200 bills the Conference weighed in on, we wanted to thank everyone who participated in Advocacy Day and responded to our action alerts, and to share some of the highlights with you.
BOOST scholarships: After intense debate, the BOOST Scholarship Program was fully funded in the state budget at $10 million for the 2021-22 school year (Operating Budget SB 492/HB 588). This is a 40 percent increase over last year and the highest funding since the program’s introduction in 2016. Families with low incomes in 2020 are encouraged to apply as soon as possible! The deadline is May 17 (2020 tax returns must be completed) so time is short.
Support for non-public schools: Two programs, the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program and the Nonpublic Safety Improvements Program (Capital Budget SB 492/HB 590) were funded at $3.5 million each. Another $6 million was allocated for the Nonpublic Textbook and Technology Programs (Operating Budget SB 491/HB 588) for the upcoming year.
Repeal of life without parole for juveniles: Individuals charged while under 18 years old and sentenced to life in prison will now be eligible to go before a parole board after 20 years to seek a shorter sentence (SB 494 / HB 409).
RELIEF Act: In response to the devastation the pandemic has had on low-income Marylanders, the RELIEF Act expands the Earned Income Tax Credit, repeals taxes on unemployment benefits, and provides a state stimulus payment, among other provisions.
Environment: The passage of SB 674/HB 1207 means meaningful reforms to the Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, while SB 121/HB 51 requires an environmental justice analysis for certain zoning requests, and a mandate for the Commission to recommend strategies for oversight of local zoning decisions that have environmental justice concerns.
Homeless services: The Mobile Laundry for the Homeless Pilot Program (HB 189) will provide funding for non-profit organizations to develop free mobile laundry services for individuals and families who are homeless, which addresses their human dignity.
Housing: The Right to Counsel bill, to ensure that low-income tenants have legal representation in eviction proceedings (HB 16), passed. Unfortunately, the companion funding bill did not so this is an unfunded mandate, but a good step in the right direction.
Immigration: The legislature approved and funded a new Governor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs (SB 85/HB 15), to develop neighborhood-based centers for immigrant services, assist in combatting crimes against immigrants and supporting civic and economic participation among immigrant communities. SB 478/HB 16, the Dignity Not Detention Act, passed, prohibiting the State or any local jurisdiction from entering into agreements facilitating immigration-related detention by private entities.
Legal services funding: Funding for the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (SB 413/HB 514) was expanded from $2 million to $8 million. The funds come from unclaimed money from judgments of restitution. The Legal Services organization works with non-profits to support legal aid programs statewide.
Police reform: An important part of the discussion on police reform was SB 74/HB 88, which requires law enforcement agencies to provide officers access to confidential mental health services, such as counseling, peer support, crisis counseling and stress management.
Diaper donation tax credit: Marylanders may receive a tax credit of up to $1,000 for donations of diapers or feminine hygiene products (or funds for these products) made to pregnancy centers, diaper banks and shelters that distribute these items to families in need (SB 622/HB711). Over 50,000 of the state’s infants and toddlers live in low-income families.
Pre-natal care grant expansion: The state’s Prenatal and Infant Care Grant Program is being expanded to $1.1 million in 2023 and up to $3.1 million in 2025 (SB 777/HB 1349). Hospitals and qualified health centers, including Catholic providers, are now eligible for grants to be used solely for prenatal care to help ensure a healthy pregnancy for mom and baby. This program will be especially important for low-income mothers who are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care.
Perinatal hospice information: Unfortunately, SB 891/HB 1112, legislation to require easy access to information on perinatal hospice services for parents facing a terminal diagnosis for their unborn child did not pass this session, the first year it was introduced. However, the bill, drafted by Maryland Catholic Conference staff, had a very strong showing for a first year and received widespread interest and bipartisan support so we are looking forward to continue to advocate for families in this difficult situation.
Pray with Mother Mary Lange
The staff of the Maryland Catholic Conference placed its work under the intercession of Mother Mary Lange throughout the session. In fact, throughout the year, we start our staff meetings praying for her beatification. As we wrap up the session’s work, we invite you to join us in praying to this holy woman whose deep Catholic faith transformed her adopted city of Baltimore and, in many ways, our Church nationally. Mother Mary Lange, pray for us.
Prayer for the Beatification of Mother Mary Lange
O Almighty and Eternal God,
You granted Mother Mary Lange extraordinary trust in Your providence.
You endowed her with humility, courage, holiness and an extraordinary sense of service to the poor and sick.
You enabled her to found the Oblate Sisters of Providence and provide educational, social and spiritual ministry especially to the African American community.
Mother Lange’s love for all enabled her to see Christ in each person, and the pain of prejudice and racial hatred never blurred that vision.
Deign to raise her to the highest honors of the altar in order that, through her intercession, more souls may come to a deeper understand and a more fervent love of You.
Heavenly Father, glorify Your heart by granting also this favor (mention your request) which we ask through the intercession of Your faithful servant, Mother Mary Lange. Amen.
The Pro-Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a today opposing the FDA’s decision to expand access to chemical abortion pills by not enforcing the “in-person dispensing” requirement in place since the presidency of Bill Clinton.
Novena for Moms in Need starts April 19: Join Catholics across the U.S. for a Novena for Moms in Need. The St. Gianna Novena starts on Monday, April 19. Get the details, resources and more here on the USCCB website.
Earth Day: April 22 is Earth Day and a great opportunity to reflect upon Laudato Si: Caring for Our Common Home, the landmark encyclical from Pope Francis. Starting in May, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development will launch the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, engaging the Church in a journey to sustainability. Read the encyclical and use the resources here.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month: The (arch)dioceses serving Maryland have had child protection policies in place for decades. These include mandated prevention education, reporting and background checks, as well as pastoral care. Learn more here about statewide efforts, join Cardinal Wilton Gregory for a Mass on April 21, 12 noon (live-streamed here), and learn the signs of abuse and tips for prevention from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
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