By Leenika Belfield-Martin
Maryland lawmakers have headed back to the statehouse for the 2022 session, and local advocacy groups are right behind them, making sure their voices are heard and the most disadvantaged groups in the state will be protected through legislation.
“The laws that are being passed in Annapolis have a major effect on people’s lives. The more engaged that we are the more opportunity we have to shape the kind of state that we live in,” said Molly Amster, the Maryland policy director for Jews United for Justice.
Her organization is hoping for a number of bills to pass this session including the Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings Program, which allows access to government-appointed lawyers to Maryland immigrants.
Another major bill JUFJ wants legislators to finally pass this year is House Bill 8 known as the Time to Care Act. It will provide 12 weeks of paid leave to workers who are suffering with an illness or caring for someone who is ill or a newborn. Unlike the federal Family Leave Act, this bill will create a fund using paid time off like an insurance policy in the sense that employees and businesses will split the cost.
Both the detention of immigrants without counsel and the lack of paid family leave are issues that have been heightened by the ongoing pandemic. Amster said it’s important not only to her organization, but to the Jewish faith to make sure that those already unprotected don’t fall deeper into their struggle.
“Our tradition teaches us to treat people with respect, dignity and fairness regardless of their incarceration status, their immigration status, their status as a homeowner and their status as a worker,” Amster said. “Everyone needs time to care for themselves, everyone needs a fair chance to defend themselves in court.”
The Baltimore Jewish Council also is backing the Time to Care Act, among other issues.
“We believe that preserving life and health is paramount above everything else,” said Sarah Miike, the BJC’s deputy director. “You shouldn’t be going to work if you are sick, suffering with a long-term illness or if you have to care for someone that is sick.”
Another bill that will be a priority for BJC this session is the Interim and Temporary Protective Order. With this legislation they hope to make the process of getting a restraining order easier for victims of violence who are seeking medical treatment in a hospital or urgent care.
“Your abuser could be sitting in the waiting room, or in their car for you. And you can’t leave with any protection, so this bill will allow that,” Miike said.
In addition to their priority bills, BJC is seeking funding from the state to renovate The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Pearlstone and Park Heights campuses, which provide social services to the Baltimore and surrounding communities.
Miike said a lot of money is in play this legislative session, so Marylanders need to follow what lawmakers are doing in Annapolis.
“We have a $6 billion surplus. It’s really important to see how our legislators are going to spend this money,” said Miike. “For us, it’s so important to help the most vulnerable Marylanders.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington has high hopes that legislators will pass and fund bills that will help issues like domestic violence, climate change, child care and many more.
“Our priorities follow the wisdom of Jewish teaching rooted in Jewish values of justice (tzedakah), caring and kindness for all human beings,” said Deborah Miller, the JCRC’s director of Maryland government and community relations.
One bill JCRC will be supporting is the Love is No Defense to Sexual Crimes Act. The passing of this bill will repeal the current Maryland law prohibiting the prosecution of certain sexual crimes if the victim was the offender’s legal spouse at the time of the offense.
Another major concern this session is the continuation of funding for grants to the Jewish Social Service Agency to help the needs of Holocaust survivors and the Coming of Age programming. Both initiatives ensure that seniors will be able to age in place.
The 2022 Maryland General Assembly session will adjourn on April 11.