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2020 Maryland General Assembly Session Underway

The 441st legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly officially began in Annapolis at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, with legislators, advocates and members of the public converging on the state capital to mark the start of 90 days of state policymaking.

Maryland's annual legislative session runs each year from early January to early April, and during that time, the state will consider many important issues. Sine Die, the last day of session, will be Monday, April 6, 2020. 

As of the opening bell, more than 50 House bills and 120 Senate bills were pre-filed. Legislators are expected to introduce as many as 3,000 bills during the 90-day session.

Among the top priorities for the Catholic Church during the next 90 days will be:

  • Education funding. The Conference will support increasing funding for the BOOST Scholarship Program and for expanding access to pre-Kindergarten to all Maryland 4-year-olds.
  • Protecting Life. The Conference will oppose any efforts to enshrine abortion in Maryland's constitution and to legalize the practice of physician-assisted suicide.
  • Support for our most vulnerable. The Conference will support efforts to protect immigrants, provide for our poor, curb human trafficking, protect the environment, provide services to individuals with disabilities, and violence protection programs.

To stay up-to-date on the work of the Conference throughout the next 90 days, be sure to visit the Legislation page on our website. This is the hub for all Conference activity during the next 90 days. We share every piece of testimony we submit and keep a tracker of all the bills we are weighing in on throughout the session on our website, so be sure to bookmark this page and check back often. 


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A Session of Prayer

With the start of the new legislative session, the Conference began a new initiative to hold our state in prayer for the next 90 days. Starting on the first day of the session and continuing each Monday through Sine Die — the last day of session — the Conference will welcome a different Catholic leader from across the state to lead us in a prayer for our elected leaders.

"We believe in the power of prayer and it is has never been more needed in Maryland than it is now," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Conference. "We encourage every person of faith in Maryland to join us in lifting up our state leaders in prayer each week by downloading the prayer or praying along with us on social media."

Please pray with us! 

  • Download the prayer in English or Spanish at
  • Join us on social media every Monday to pray with us
  • Use the hashtag #WeAreCatholic 
  • Share the prayer! Invite others to pray along this session 
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Archdiocese of Baltimore breaks ground on new downtown Baltimore school

State Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-40), right, presents a senate citation to Archbishop William E. Lori, left, at the groundbreaking of the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in West Baltimore on Oct. 23, 2019.

The downtown Baltimore community that was promised a school decades ago will soon have that promise fulfilled by the Catholic Church.

After years of planning and engaging the community, the Archdiocese of Baltimore broke ground Oct. 23, 2019 on a new school in downtown Baltimore, just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. 

The Mother Mary Lange Catholic School will be the first Catholic elementary school built in Baltimore in more than six decades, and is the product of years of collaboration between the Archdiocese, the community, donors, and partners to turn the grassy field on West Lexington Street into a state-of-the-art Pre-K-to-grade-8 school.

"Like Mother Lange, we at the Archdiocese strive to create equity, equity and educational opportunity so that young people can realize the fullness of their God-given talents and potential," said Archbishop William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "And so it is in her spirit that we are putting our determined efforts and our determined resources in service to the young people of our community by today breaking ground on the first Catholic elementary school in the City of Baltimore in some six decades."

The school's name-sake, Mother Mary Lange, was an African-Caribbean immigrant who founded in 1829 the first religious order in the United States for women of African descent: The Oblate Sisters of Providence. The Oblate Sisters of Providence remain active today and founded, and still operate today, the St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.

Archbishop William E. Lori (center) is joined by elected officials, partners and community leaders to break ground on the Mother Mary Lange Catholic School.

Baltimore became known nationally for the unrest that erupted there following the death of Freddie Gray when the deep racial inequalities of the community were thrust into the national spotlight.

Lori, who at the ceremony spoke of how he walked the streets of Baltimore four years ago following the worst days of unrest, said the burnt-out car became a symbol of a community that had enough of the status quo, enough of being marginalized, enough of being cast aside and being expected to settle for a certain life.

Experts cite educational opportunity as an important tool for breaking the cycle of poverty and violence that plagues communities like those in downtown Baltimore.

Quoting the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-7), who represented Baltimore City, both State Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-40) and City Council President Brandon M. Scott (D) highlighted the role the new school will play in fostering equity in Baltimore and removing barriers for future generations of Baltimore children: "Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see."

Hayes and Tisha Edwards — who is Director of the Office of Children and Family Success in the City of Baltimore, and who spoke on behalf of Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" C. Young (D) — each presented Lori with a formal recognition of the event. 

Students from Holy Angels Catholic School, Saints James and John Catholic School, and the surrounding community will attend the Mother Mary Lange school when it opens in the fall of 2021. 

Of the 500 students expected to attend the school when it opens, an estimated 80 to 90 percent will receive tuition assistance. 

Many of those students currently qualify for and receive BOOST Scholarship assistance through the State of Maryland. BOOST, an educational options program for low-income Maryland students enacted in 2016, is expected to play a large role in assisting students who will attend Mother Mary Lange School, in addition to the tuition assistance provided through the Archdiocese.

Read more about the school project HERE.  




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

Maryland's 441st 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.


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.  


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.   

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Maryland Catholic Conference Appoints New Executive Director


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Jennifer Kraska has been appointed as the new executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, effective October 21. Kraska has served as executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference for the past 12 years, and brings extensive experience representing the public policy positions of the Catholic Church on a broad range of issues. She holds a law degree, as well as a Master of Arts in Catholic Studies, from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, her native state. She has served as past president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors, as well as on numerous committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore and chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, noted that the bishops of Maryland’s three (arch)dioceses were impressed with Kraska’s grasp of issues and ability to engage diverse communities.

“We are delighted to have a person of Jenny’s caliber and expertise leading the work of the Conference and are confident she will quickly earn the respect of her new colleagues in Annapolis,” Lori said.

Kraska’s collaborative approach distinguished her career in Denver politics, where she is known for her ability to work “across the aisle” on numerous issues. She was instrumental, along with leaders from other faith traditions, in creating a series of “Faithful Tuesdays,” which brought together legislators and faith leaders across a broad spectrum of perspectives to discuss and advocate for issues of common interest. 

“I believe the great success of Faithful Tuesdays is in providing a witness, amidst a divisive political environment, of collaboration, and the ability to see past some very serious differences to focus on the good that can be accomplished when we speak with a united voice on issues where there is agreement,” Kraska commented in an article in Colorado Politics.

Read Jenny's bio HERE.

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Maryland Catholic Conference legislative priorities signed into law

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The deadline to apply for a BOOST scholarship program is next Wednesday, April 17, and every eligible family who is in need of tuition assistance is encouraged to apply! 

The State Department of Education began accepting applications for the 2019-2020 school year on March 12. All applications for the 2019-2020 school year must be submitted by April 17 at midnight. 

Those who plan to apply need to have completed their 2018 taxes, have submitted an application to the school of their choice and meet other requirements, as set by the state. For full details of the requirements CLICK HERE.

"Every eligible family who is in need of tuition assistance to attend Catholic school should apply for BOOST," said Garrett O'Day, Deputy Director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

To apply visit:

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Maryland legislative session ended Monday on somber note

Marylands 439th Session of the General Assembly ended Monday, April 8, on a uniquely somber note following the passing of long-time House Speaker Michael E. Busch. Busch passed on Sunday, April 7, the 89th day of session. 

Busch was a Democrat and Catholic who represented District 30A. He served for 16 years at the helm of the House of Delegates. While his absence permeated Annapolis on the last day of session this year, perhaps its greatest impact will be felt in the sessions to come, as the House rearranges leadership to name a new Speaker.  

The usual celebration of Sine Die (from Latin meaning "without day" or "without adjourning to a specific time or date”) was tempered by Busch's absence, but it did not stop the General Assembly from engaging in its typical last-day marathon sessions to act on lingering legislation. 

Laura and Reid's Law

Among the bills that passed on Sine Die was Laura and Reid's Law, named for the late Laura Wallen who along with her unborn son Reid, were killed in 2017 by her then-finance. Laura's family were leading advocates for changing Maryland's law after prosecutors were unable to add an additional charge to her killer for the death of Reid. Maryland Catholic Conference strongly supported the bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Justin Ready (R-District 5) and Del. Trent Kittleman (R-District 9A). 

Earlier in the session, members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee reworked Laura and Reid's Law, taking it from an expansion of the state's fetal homicide law, to an enhanced penalty, a change that would both make pregnant women a protected class in Maryland, and eventually garner the bill nearly unanimous support. 

Despite an effort by the House to amend failed legislation into the bill, a conference committee returned Laura & Reid's Law to its initially amended version, made a few tweaks, and the bill passed in the final hour of the session with unanimous support in the House.

In its final version, the bill allows a judge to add an additional 10 years to the sentence of someone who commits an act of violence against a woman they know or believe to be pregnant. Laura and Reid's Law now awaits Governor Hogan's signature. 

"Even though there is nothing at this point that can bring justice for the loss of Laura and her son Reid, this law is an important step in protecting Maryland's pregnant women and their unborn children going forward," said Therese Hessler, associate director with the Conference. "Far too many Maryland women are like Laura: victims of intimate partner violence. Our prayer is that this law, passed in their honor, will deter others from committing similar acts of violence."

Human Trafficking

After years of work, Maryland's human trafficking law will look quite different going forward. Several key trafficking bills passed in the session, among them a bill that criminalizes labor trafficking. Until now, Maryland law only recognized sex trafficking as a human trafficking crime, and there was no way to penalize labor trafficking — which is the act of making someone perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion. But a bill passed during the session now classifies labor trafficking as a felony, in the same way it does sex trafficking. Additional legislation that passed this session categorizes human trafficking as a crime of violence and changes how the State refers to trafficking throughout the statute, including reclassifying it as a crime against the person, as opposed to a crime of obscenity. 

In the final hours of Sine Die, legislators also established an important grant program that allows for creating regional navigators tasked to provide the services that are unique to child victims of sex trafficking. Services for child victims are not available in all areas of Maryland, so the bill would ensure specialized service providers coordinate with the state agencies to serve victims. Regional Navigators would also facilitate coordination between stakeholders — including agencies and non-profit programs — to ensure that child victims can access the appropriate services.

"This session we saw some major wins in the effort to combat human trafficking in Maryland," said Anne Zmuda Wallerstedt, associate director with the Conference. "Legislators saw the urgent need to take action on these very important bills and enable those on the front line of this crisis to have more tools available to both go after traffickers and care for victims." 


The coming fiscal year will see a record $21 million in state aid to Catholic and other nonpublic schools and their families through a number of programs. 

The BOOST Scholarship Program, which provides students with state scholarships to attend Catholic schools, was passed in the state budget with approximately $7.5 million slated for next school year. Despite some legislative and special-interest group opposition, supporting legislators were steadfast in their commitment to continue to provide scholarships for deserving students, the majority of which are minorities and all of whom are low-income. 

Two other priority programs were also funded in the budget process: $6 million will go to the Nonpublic Student Textbook and Technology Program, and $4 million to the Senator James E. “Ed” DeGrange Nonpublic Aging Schools program. Additionally, our nonpublic schools will be blessed to receive an additional $3.5 million for school safety initiatives through Nonpublic School Safety Grants. These programs are imperative to so many Catholic schools, especially those with older buildings and lower-income students. 

"Just a few short years ago, our state was giving only a few million dollars to aid our nonpublic schools," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Conference. "The assistance provided to our students by the legislature both enables low-income families to choose the educational options best suited for their children and enables our schools to continue to provide quality education in a safe and sound environment. Our parents and teachers are grateful for that."

The legislature also took the first major step in a large, substantive educational-framework overhaul for our state’s public schools, which could impact our Catholic and other nonpublic schools. 

Within that framework, per recommendations from the state “Kirwan Commission,” the Conference was pleased that the legislature mandated the expansion of prekindergarten access though what is known as a “mixed delivery system,” a system which will likely utilize community-based providers such as our Catholic schools.


A priority environmental bill is also headed to Gov. Hogan for his signature: The Clean Energy Jobs Act. Supported by the Conference as well as environmental groups, various faith-based coalitions and concerned citizens, the Clean Energy Jobs Act passed on Sine Die. The bill requires the state to acquire 50% of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind or solar, by 2030. It was voted out of the Senate on largely party lines in March, and languished in the House until a last minute revival, where it eventually passed in the final few hours of the legislative session. 


Undocumented immigrant victims of violence will now have a greater chance of stability in their communities and with their families under a bill that passed this session clarifying and streamlining the state's role in the application process for a Nonimmigrant U-Visa — a temporary visa that can lead to lawful permanent status. The bill requires an official to certify or deny, in a timely manner, that the applicant was helpful in the detection, investigation or prosecution of the crime of which they were a victim. The law seeks to prevent applications for U-Visas from lingering due to lack of certification of helpfulness, and to expand paths to citizenship for undocumented persons in Maryland. The bill now heads to the Gov. Hogan’s desk for his signature.

Eligible DREAMers in Maryland will now have great access to higher education, thanks to an expansion of the DREAM Act that passed this session. The Maryland General Assembly sent a bill to the Governor that would expand the DREAM Act by allowing eligible undocumented Maryland students to pay in-state tuition rates at a majority of public Maryland colleges and universities. The original DREAM Act was passed by a ballot measure and approved by voters in 2012, and this expansion would more accurately reflect how students receive higher education in the state. Among the changes was the removal of a requirement that the students go to a community college for two years first before seeking a four-year Bachelor's degree.

Physician-Assisted Suicide

There were several bills the Conference successfully worked to prevent from passing in Maryland this year, including a bill that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

For the fourth time in five years, proponents of assisted suicide introduced legislation to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Maryland, modeled after Oregon's assisted suicide law. 

The Conference worked as part of Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide, a coalition whose members and supporters worked together in defeat of this dangerous legislation. 

For the first time since the push to legalize physician-assisted suicide came to Maryland, the bill reached both the House and Senate floors as well as came up for a vote in both chambers. While the House narrowly passed the bill, the bill was defeated in the Senate by a tie 23-23 vote. 

"The failure of physician-assisted suicide legislation this session was thanks to the many people who spoke out time and again to the General Assembly to ask them to not pass this dangerous legislation," said Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Conference. "This bill got further than ever before this session, and while we know the proponents are more organized than ever, MAPAS and its supporters remain a powerful opposition. We are beyond grateful for those who took time to write and call their lawmakers and be the voice against this bill. We don't have this in our law today because of you." 

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee spent many hours amending the bill with the hopes of addressing many concerns before they held a committee vote. The amendments angered proponents and led them to withdraw their support from the Senate version, a move that only helped seal its defeat once it passed out of committee for a full floor vote. 

Despite the failure of the bill this session, the Conference fully expects physician-assisted suicide to be reintroduced again in 2020. 

Abortion Amendment

Making good on a promise to work to enshrine abortion rights in Maryland's constitution, legislators introduced a bill, which if passed, would have put on the 2020 ballot a question for voters to decide whether the right to an abortion should be amended into Maryland's constitution. 

Despite the strong support among many legislators and the backing of House leadership, as well as pro-abortion groups, the bill led to a groundswell of opposition from all corners of the state who made their voices known.

The bill was withdrawn after Senate President Mike Miller said his chamber would not take up a ballot question bill in a non-election year. 

The bill was championed by the late House Speaker Busch, so it is unclear if any efforts to reintroduce similar legislation will emerge during next year's general assembly, as it will also be a Presidential election year.

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Maryland Catholic Conference statement on the passing of House Speaker Michael Busch

On behalf of more than 1 million Catholics in the State of Maryland, Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, issued the following statement on the passing of Speaker of the House of Delegates, Michael Busch, who passed today after falling critically ill. 


“On behalf of my brother bishops, I invite the Catholic faithful and all people of good will to join me in praying for the repose of the soul of Michael Busch. 

“I also extend the prayers and condolences of the Catholic Church in Maryland to his wife, Cindy, his daughters, Erin and Megan, to his staff, and the entire Maryland General Assembly.

“May together we pray: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”



To read the full story on Mr. Busch's passing CLICK HERE

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BOOST Scholarship Program and Other School Funding Passes Legislature

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