During the session, the Conference partnered with the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force to advocate for several bills designed to improve how Maryland addresses human trafficking in our state. On April 18 and May 13, 2019, Hogan signed into law a bill that defines labor trafficking as a criminal offense (SB 689/HB 734), as well as legislation that reorganizes the human trafficking statute and makes felony human trafficking a crime of violence (SB 690/HB 871), and creates a network of service providers to address the unique needs of child victims of sex trafficking (SB 688/HB 827).
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and we need to ensure that those who are trafficked can access and receive the rehabilitative and legal services required to transition them from being a victim to becoming a survivor,” said Anne Zmuda Wallerstedt, associate director at the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Wallerstedt also conveyed the MCC is “grateful to all those who made addressing trafficking a priority in 2019 and will continue to work toward putting a stop to this violent crime within our state.”
Laura and Reid’s Law
Also on May 14, 2019, Governor Hogan signed Laura and Reid’s Law (SB 561/HB 757) into law. Starting this year, pregnant women will be further protected against violent attacks from their partners, who will face additional penalties.
The leading cause of pregnancy-associated death in Maryland is homicide. Additionally an average of 7.2% of mothers in our state are physically abused during their pregnancy by a current or former partner.
The legislation was named for Laura Wallen and her unborn son, Reid, who were alleged to have been murdered by Laura’s fiancé in Montgomery County in 2017. The Maryland Catholic Conference worked with the Wallen family and sponsoring legislators to pass the legislation, in order to address the issue of domestic violence against pregnant women and their unborn children. The new law will afford judicial discretion to add enhanced felony penalties to the sentence of someone found guilty of committing a crime of violence against a pregnant woman.
“We are thankful to each and every person that helped get Laura and Reid's Law signed into law this year and provide important protections for pregnant women and their children in our state,” said Therese Hessler, associate director at the Maryland Catholic Conference. “There's still a lot to be done to fully address Maryland’s domestic violence issues, but this was one great step forward in saving lives.”
This session, the Conference also helped to streamline of the state’s role in the federal U-Visa process (SB 144/HB 214), which will help to solve violent crimes and build trust between law enforcement agencies and immigrant communities. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Hogan on May 13, 2019.
“Protecting immigrant communities is a priority of the Social and Economic Justice Department in light of fluctuating policies nationally, specifically those aimed at separating families and other unjust means of limiting a person’s right to migrate to better themselves and their families,” said Anne Zmuda Wallerstedt, associate director at the Maryland Catholic Conference. “We are working to ensure that Maryland continues to be a place welcoming to those who may be strangers, as encouraged by the Old and New Testaments.”