Md. Legislative Session Includes Numerous Bills Relevant to Jewish Community

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Hate crimes. Holocaust education. Elder abuse.

Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Howard Libit (Courtesy)

These are just a few of the issues addressed by state lawmakers during this legislative session — and that the Jewish community cares deeply about.

The Baltimore Jewish Council, the advocacy arm of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, along with Jewish Community Services, CHANA and the wider Jewish community, helped usher in a package of bills and continued state funding for Jewish programs in fiscal year 2024.

None of the approved bills, now awaiting the governor’s signature, are expected to be vetoed.

The BJC lobbies and advocates at the local, state and federal levels. “Each session we go in with priorities both fiscal and policy,” BJC Executive Director Howard Libit said.

The BJC has two staff members in Annapolis full time during the legislative session, and Libit is there part time.

The BJC finds partners in the state legislature to get bills passed. “We frequently go to legislators who trust our judgment, and we work with them to help shape a bill and get supporters on board,” Libit said. “It’s a very collaborative process.

“This year’s work was focused on fiscal and policy priorities that counter hate and protect vulnerable communities,” he added.

The state budget for fiscal year 2024 has included dollars for faith institutions, schools and day care programs that are at risk of hate crimes. “They will be able to apply for grants for security enhancements,” Libit said.

The package of bills relevant to the Jewish community includes a hate crimes bill that codifies the Attorney General’s Hate Crimes Task Force, making it a permanent commission with a dedicated staff. The commission’s purpose is to develop strategies to prevent and respond to hate crime activities and to evaluate state laws and policies relating to hate.

Members of the commission would include the BJC, the ADL, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and non-Jewish social justice organizations.

In addition, $5 million was appropriated for the Protecting Religious Institutions Grant program.

Another $3 million was allocated for the Schools and Childcare Centers at Risk of Hate Crimes Grant Program.

A civil remedy also passed that allows a hate crime victim to bring a civil action against the person or persons who committed the crime.

One piece of legislation is a proclamation that ensures that Maryland commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day each year on Jan. 27, which is tied to the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. This bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Wes Moore on April 11.

BJC also worked to establish a two-year state task force to examine laws related to elder abuse “to fix whatever loopholes there were in existing law,” Libit said. The recommendations to be made to the General Assembly “are really important to help protect our seniors.”

Another bill gives power to the Office of Health Care Quality to investigate whether residents in an unlicensed assisted living program have been subject to neglect, exploitation or abuse and gives the attorney general the ability to pursue injunctive relief.

Another approved bill provides $500,000 for school field trips to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and others.

“The field trips provide historic and sociological learning opportunities on the history and culture of an oppressed and historically underrepresented community,” BJC stated in an end-of-session report.

A major accomplishment this session was changing the 2024 primary election day to May 14, as the initial date for the 2024 primary election conflicted with Passover, Libit said.

For fiscal year 2024, BJC’s government relations team was able to secure continued funding for two capital improvement projects: $500,000 for the Pearlstone Center renovation and expansion, and another $500,000 for The Associated’s Park Heights campus. The Associated, along with its agencies CHAI, CHANA and JCS, received $300,000 for the AgeWell Baltimore program. CHANA’s elder abuse program received $75,000. The Maryland/Israel Development Center was awarded $300,000 to help Israeli businesses continue to fund opportunities, partners and customers in the state. JCS was awarded $350,000 for its program to help Holocaust survivors age in place.

To see the Baltimore Jewish Council’s End of Session Report, visit www.baltjc.org, call 410-542-4850 or email [email protected].

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.

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