The recently concluded 2015 legislative session was notable both for the bills that passed (expanded felon voting rights, the Maryland Second Chance Act) and those that did not (law enforcement officers bill of rights reform).
The AFRO has covered many of these bills over the course of these past three months, but below are some of the other bills with direct relevance to Baltimore City that made it out of the General Assembly this session and are heading to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk to await his signature (or veto).
Law Enforcement Reforms
While the 2015 legislative session was not particularly friendly to attempts to reform law enforcement practices in Maryland, two smaller measures sponsored by Del. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City) did manage to pass the General Assembly.
House Bill 339 will require the Maryland State Police to continue reporting demographic and other data related to traffic stops as a means to ensure that the agency is not engaged in racially disparate traffic enforcement.
House Bill 771 will require the Baltimore Police Department to report certain information annually to the mayor and city council, as well as to the Baltimore City delegation to the General Assembly. Among the information the department will be required to report is the number of African American, Latino, and women officers in the department, as well as the number of civilian use of force complaints received against officers, and the number of officers suspended by the department with and without pay.
House Bill 533, sponsored by Del. Charles Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), creates an exemption from Maryland’s wiretap statute for the recording of oral communications by a policeworn body camera used in the course of a police officer’s official duties.
While courts have consistently held that our wiretap statute only applies to private communications, according to David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Maryland, some jurisdictions in the state were nonetheless worried that a court might one day rule that body cameras record audio in violation of Maryland law. This bill removes that concern and may help lead to greater adoption of body cameras across the state.
House Bill 533 also requires the Maryland Police Training Commission to develop basic uniform policies for the use and operation of police-worn body cameras, which jurisdictions adopting the technology will have to conform to as of Jan. 1, 2016, according to Sydnor.
House Bill 926, also sponsored by Sydnor, creates a pilot program for behavioral health police units in both Baltimore City and County. These units will be specially trained to handle and deescalate situations involving persons suffering from mental health issues, deemphasizing arrests and engagement in the criminal justice system for such persons.
House Bill 954, sponsored by Del. Alonzo Washington (D-Baltimore City), will require all local law enforcement agencies to report annually on officer-involved deaths, as well as deaths suffered by officers in the line of duty. In the case of officer-involved deaths, agencies must include the age, gender, ethnicity, and race of both the deceased individual and the officer involved.
House Bill 368, sponsored by Del. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel County), provides exemption from civil liability for police or first responders who administer anti-opiate drugs to persons suspected of having overdosed on heroin or other opiates. The bill provides exemption from liability for negligence by the first responder, but not gross negligence, according to Anderson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. The exemption was asked for by both police agencies and first responders worried that their use of anti-opiate drugs could result in lawsuits in certain cases.
Senate Bill 517, sponsored by chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Sen. Bobby Zirkin, strengthens the marijuana decriminalization law passed in 2014 by removing criminal penalties for the possession of drug paraphernalia related to the use or possession of marijuana. While possession of marijuana in amounts under 10 grams was already decriminalized (carrying only a civil fine) last year, possession of paraphernalia related to the use of marijuana could still serve as grounds for criminal charges. That will change if Hogan signs the bill into law.
House Bill 121, sponsored by Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City), gives judges in the state the discretion to ignore mandatory minimum sentencing laws for subsequent convictions of felony drug possession (currently, a second such offense carries a 10 year minimum, while a third carries a 25 year minimum) in favor of enrolling someone convicted of felony drug possession in a drug treatment program if the judge finds such treatment in the interest of justice and that the defendant at issue does not otherwise pose a threat to public safety.
“Freddie Gray, the guy that was killed, he had three or four different convictions for possession with intent to distribute, and was never ever really given a chance to get into drug treatment. Maybe drug treatment would have had him off the streets and doings something
positive with his life other than being subjected to scrutiny by the police which ultimately resulted in his death. I think is an extremely important bill for Baltimore,” said Anderson.