With more than 20 years in the General Assembly, 11th District Sen. Bobby Zirkin put online abuse legislation at the top of his priorities for the 2019 session, and characterized the passage of SB 103, known as Grace’s Law 2.0, as a “monumental accomplishment,” which succeeds in placing “Maryland at the national forefront in the battle against online abuse,” he said.
The bill broadens the definition of electronic communications and harassment prohibitions and increases the penalties for cyber bullying to up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a maximum$10,000 fine.
“The bill would criminalize multiple types of online tormenting of children when the abuser acts with malicious intent and has the effect on a child of physical injury or serious emotional distress,” Zirkin said. “And the bill has a significant criminal penalty for an individual who cyberbullies a child and attempts to entice the child to commit suicide. Without question this bill is going to save the lives of children.”
As Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Zirkin said important bills considered by the committee and signed into law included Senate Bill 561 that increases penalties for crimes of violence against a pregnant person and SB 198 that ups the penalty and repeals the statute of limitations for the prosecution of someone who solicits first- degree murder.
Public safety, protecting children and expanding hate crimes definitions to include those who threaten hate crimes were also priorities, along with creating a fund to process and test the state’s backlog of sexual assault evidence kits.
As for the election of Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-District 10) to succeed the late House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Zirkin said Jones was a “terrific selection,” with “the knowledge and experience to be an incredible Speaker of the House.”
Del. Dana Stein said his 2019 priorities included environmental, transportation and gun safety bills.
His House Bill 275, which would ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in Maryland, passed the House, but didn’t get a Senate vote, so Stein said it will be a priority next session.
HB 923 passed the House and Senate and creates the Task Force to Study Transportation Access. “There’s a lot of focus on lack of public transportation, but also there can be some improvements to private transportation services, including ride sharing,” he said.
His HB66, requiring freight trains moving in the same corridor with high-speed passenger or commuter trains to have a two-person crew for safety purposes, passed the House and Senate, but is expected to be vetoed by the governor. Stein hopes for a veto override next session.
Stein said HB 468 addressing gun safety, “would have made it more difficult for children in homes where the owner has a gun to get access to a gun.” The bill was prompted by the mass shootings where a minor had access to a gun at home, and because of the numbers of suicides done with guns in the home.
HB 690/SB 734 “ensures that all students will get screened for reading problems and those that need it will get supplemental instruction,” Stein said.
Of Jones’s succession to House Speaker, Stein said she will be a “great speaker,” with a “steady and fair” approach.
“Adrienne is a good listener and will be a unifier,” Stein added. “As Speaker Pro Tem and head of the Capital Budget Subcommittee she got to know issues affecting all parts of the state.”
Meanwhile, for Del. Jon Cardin, the passage of Graces’ Law 2.0 was a milestone. “This law will have a huge impact on children around the state and will give our counties the tools to create proper protocols for teaching and prosecuting anti-bullying,” he said.
The overarching issue of the session for him was the death of Busch that he said created a “somewhat solemn session.”
Cardin was disappointed that the “death with dignity” legislation passed the House but didn’t get a Senate floor vote. He hopes for more headway next year. He is concerned about upcoming budgets, with “questionable revenue streams and huge requirements coming up,” including for education funding.
Key priorities for Cardin during the 2019 session were safety for children and families, fair practices for Maryland workers and small business employers; protections for Maryland’s environment and “clean energy” growth; and education.
Cardin supports House Speaker Jones, saying she “has the skills, experience, and legislative temperament to bring the members of the House of Delegates together on issues that are important to District 11 constituents and the state of Maryland.”
Of the 12 bills on which she was primary sponsor, eight of Del. Shelly Hettleman’s bills passed, including legislation ensuring sexual assault evidence kits are submitted to a lab within 30 days and that kits are tested in a timely manner. Other bills included: improving gender diversity in corporate management and boardrooms; policies addressing higher-education athletic programs; creating an office of accountability overseeing state agencies and programs; and allowing residents and owners at continuing care retirement communities to have counsel during grievance mediation.
In her Sine Die end-of-session web post, Hettleman highlighted funding for 11th District projects, including $6 million for remediation at the Rosewood Center campus; $50,000 for Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Company Station for expanded quarters; $850,000 for a Pikesville High turf field; $125,000 for playground equipment, gym floor resurfacing, and school parking lot improvements at Torah Institute of Baltimore.
Hettleman called Busch a “legendary voice for all of Maryland.”
“Speaker Busch was our coach who worked hard to form a unified House of ‘One Maryland’ out of the many different characters and colleagues who represent the amazing diversity of our great state,” she said. “He was interested in everyone, incredibly kind, and dedicated to doing what was right for the people of Maryland.”
Baltimore Jewish Council Legislative Priorities
A few days after the 2019 session adjourned on April 8, the Baltimore Jewish Council recapped how its legislative priorities fared during the session.
Capital budget items passed for which the BJC lobbied included the the Hillel at University of Maryland, College Park, receiving $1 million; Sinai/LifeBridge receiving $1 million for new ambulatory outpatient care building; Myerberg Senior Center receiving $75,000 for maintenance; and nonpublic school construction and security funds, including $3.5 million for infrastructure needs of aging buildings and another $3.5 million for security infrastructure needs of aging buildings.
Operating budget items included receiving level funding from previous years for Associated Agencies and LifeBridge for health care, housing, Holocaust Survivors’ assistance, domestic abuse and other social service needs. The BOOST program, which helps families with tuition assistance for nonpublic school received $7.5 million, while $6.5 million was allocated for textbooks and technology for nonpublic schools. In addition, $3 million will go to security concerns for houses of worship at risk of hate crimes, to be used for personnel or infrastructure.
The BJC submitted more than 90 pieces of written testimony and orally testified three dozen times on issues at the core of the agencies mission, including hate crimes, aging in place, elder abuse, Holocaust education, Pimlico Redevelopment, a study concerning a public safety training center at Coppin State University, cyberbullying, end-of-life legislation, prescription drug prices, a ban on polystyrene and mandating the state increase the use of renewable energy sources.