Unequal justice and white smoke

I’ve spent more time in my committee’s conference room this week than I have in our public hearing room.

One meeting was about a bill that would have created a new right to sue in family law.

The question arose whether people could afford the cost of bringing such a lawsuit.

I said that we already have too many instances where people can’t secure their rights because they can’t afford a lawyer.

I could not support creating another example of unequal justice.

The bill’s sponsor responded that we shouldn’t deny this right to those who could afford it.

Under the compromise we reached, the merits of this new legal right will be considered by the judiciary this summer.

Consequently, the debate over a right to counsel was postponed as well.

The other issue discussed in the conference room was medical marijuana.

No details I can share yet, as there has yet to be any white smoke, the sign of consensus when a Pope is chosen.

The secret word

A pre-meeting meeting is an Annapolis staple.

Before the public meeting where votes are cast, the committee leadership meets in the back room (usually the Chairman’s office) to decide the fate of every bill on the voting list.

On some committees, a voting list is then distributed with up or down arrows next to each bill.

This morning, I attended a post-meeting meeting.

After a negotiating session, some of us regrouped for a post-mortem in a much smaller office.

Someone knocked on the door before opening it.

I welcomed my colleague, “Want to join us in Groucho’s state room?”

(If you don’t know the reference, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZvugebaT6Q
If you don’t know the reference, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZvugebaT6Q)

Five bills left

My focus between now and our final day (April 10) will be five bills.

They are the five bills I introduced that have passed the House and now need to pass the Senate.

Last night, right after HB 1487 got a favorable vote, 97-42, I emailed this message to the landlord and tenant advocates whom I’m working with on this legislation.

“We should meet to strategize for the Senate on Wednesday or Thursday.”

This morning, I discussed with my staff what we need to do on all five of my bills.

“Don’t take anything for granted, even though these bills passed the House by a wide margin.”

“What issues could arise in the Senate that didn’t in the House?”

These bills aren’t my sole focus, however.

In a concession to conservatives, President Trump and Speaker Ryan have agreed to add a provision to the health care bill that would allow the states to impose a work requirement for able bodied applicants for Medicaid.

I dealt with this issue during welfare reform.

Since I may do so again, I contacted Ron Haskins, an expert on this issue at the Brookings Institution.

A precedent we should not repeat

House Bill 172 would amend our fair housing law.

It would prohibit discriminatory practices with respect to residential housing because of a potential buyer or renter’s source of income.

It’s the Section 8 bill.

In my first job after law school, I started the Section 8 program in Baltimore City.

This was a Nixon Administration program. Instead of building more public housing, income-eligible tenants were given a voucher to pay a portion of the rent in privately owned properties.

Over the years, however, countless landlords rejected Section 8 applicants.

HB 172 would prevent that.

The amendment before the House would have exempted certain counties from the bill.

I rose to speak:

I remind the House that currently there is precedent for this amendment.

When the civil rights laws in this state were first enacted in the 1960’s, there were exemptions for certain jurisdictions.

That is something we should not repeat. We have not repeated it since then, and a red vote would make sure that we don’t repeat it now.

The amendment failed, 47-84.

We are in an extraordinary time.

Today we debated the bill giving the Md. Attorney General the authority to sue the federal government.

This is what I said:

Thank you Mister Speaker. This legislation, I would respectfully submit, does not waste taxpayer dollars. It preserves the fundamental rights under our constitution of every resident of this State.

By giving our Attorney General the authority on his own, after consulting with the governor, to initiate a lawsuit to protect those fundamental rights, we are not giving the Attorney General carte blanche.

The checks and balances of the system, of which we are a part, will insure that if he brings a suit that is unfounded, it will not prevail.

And through the budget process we will also, under this bill, be able to every year check and balance the Attorney General’s decision.

We are in an extraordinary time, this is an important measure, I urge a green vote.

The bill passed, 85-49. (a veto-proof majority)

Factual funding

“This is a reminder to the body that this bill puts funding in the hands of 10 clinics, instead of in the hands of 93 community health centers.”

The minority whip said this before the vote on House Bill 1083, which would preserve public funding for women’s reproductive health services if the Congress and President Trump defund Planned Parenthood.

What my Republican colleague said is not true.

The State of Maryland would not be funding Planned Parenthood clinics, instead of community health centers.

The women of Maryland would be making that choice instead.

If someone decides that she wants to continue to get health care at Planned Parenthood, she could do so and have it paid for by her insurance plan or Medicaid.

If someone decides that she wants to change providers and get health care at a community health center, she could do so and have it paid for by her insurance plan or Medicaid.

The bill passed, 90-51.

Every Republican in the House voted against HB 1083, joined by one Democrat.

Neither party has a big tent on this and other social issues.

It would help, however, if the arguments made in this debate were factual.

Additional preparation

I’m the floor leader for the legislation that gives our Attorney General the authority to bring a lawsuit when the rights of Marylanders are impaired by the federal government.

The bill also requires the Governor to fund the staffing needed to bring these cases.

It was scheduled to be debated today on the House floor but was postponed until tomorrow.

I wrote a lawyer friend and mentor: “Since I have prepared to defend this bill for the last 66 years, I can prepare for an additional 24 hours.”

Encounters – Chance and otherwise

I had some chance encounters today.

My staff was snowed in. The responsibility for getting today’s testimony to the print shop fell to me at 8 a.m.

That’s what happens when you do the final draft first thing in the morning.

On my way to the print shop, I ran into a leadership staffer and made a pitch for one of my bills.

I ran into a Senator in the hallway.

I asked him about a bill we’re both working on. He told me that it’s not doing as well as I thought.

We discussed remedial steps.

I ran into a lobbyist who testified against another of my bills. He had the bill with him.

He proposed an amendment. I whittled down his language. We shook hands.

My subcommittee gave HB 1107 a favorable report late this afternoon.

One encounter was not by chance.

Right after our floor session ended, I asked the chairman of a subcommittee if my bill was scheduled for a vote.

It wasn’t, but he told me it would be. He wrote down the bill number.

The next thing I did was email his committee counsel about our conversation.

You should never take anything for granted.

In and out of state

The debate on House Bill 224 was lasting longer than normal.

Extended debate means your bill could be in trouble.

HB 224 would waive the residency requirement for in-State tuition purposes at a public post-secondary institution in the state for an individual who has completed an AmeriCorps Program in the state.

Simply put, as the bill’s opponents were doing, these out-of-state do-gooders would be taking seats in a classroom at College Park or another campus that would otherwise go to your constituents’ children.

This issue came up once before.

Maryland students, regardless of immigration status, pay in-state tuition at Maryland universities if they graduated from a Maryland high school, which they attended for at least 3 years, and if their families paid taxes for at least 3 years.

However, these students are not counted as in-state students and thus do not count against the cap on in-state students, who pay a lower tuition than out-of-staters.

We passed the DREAMERS Act in 2011, and it was approved by the voters on referendum.

Delegate McIntosh sits next to me on the House floor. She chairs the Appropriations Committee. House Bill 224 was reported to the House floor by her committee.

I reminded her about how we handled the in-state issue in the DREAMERS Act.

Despite the extended debate, the bill passed the House today, 86-50.

We may see an amendment on this matter when the Senate considers House Bill 224.