Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland members, state officials and community leaders convened for a two-part meeting dedicated to delving into dueling bail reform bills.

Del. Erek Barron, D-Prince George’s, introduced House Bill 1390, strongly supported by the Rev. Todd Yeary of the National Action Network; Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, introduced House Bill 1215, strongly supported by J. Howard Henderson of the Greater Baltimore Urban League – two very different pieces of legislation addressing the same problem.

But the Black Caucus’ decision to do a comparative analysis of both pieces of legislation before rushing to a decision has perturbed special interests groups, who are pushing the Caucus to support one bill over the other without due diligence.

Andy Pierre, Executive Director of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LinkedIn Photo)

Andy Pierre, Executive Director of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LinkedIn Photo)

The Maryland Court of Appeals and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland share the same goal – improving the pre-trial release system throughout the state. Recently the Maryland Court of Appeals adopted a rule – which goes into effect July 1 – that is designed to accomplish that goal.

This rule requires judicial officers to release an arrested individual on their personal recognizance if there is no probable cause found for the arrest (or the charges). If the judicial officer determines that a defendant should not be released on their own recognizance or unsecured bond then the judicial officer is required to impose the “least onerous condition or a combination of conditions of release … that will reasonably ensure the appearance of the defendant and the safety of the alleged victim.”

Further, this rule requires judicial officers to give individualized consideration when deciding pre-trial release conditions by reviewing the facts, circumstances and probable cause for the charges against the arrested individual. Black Caucus chair Del. Cheryl D. Glenn said, “We have to protect the best interests of all citizens and make sure that our action on bail reform doesn’t undermine the Court of Appeals’ new rule.”

After the March 9 Black Caucus meeting, Del. Glenn asked Anderson and Barron to come to a consensus on bail reform and present one solution to the Caucus at the next Caucus Meeting.  After deliberations, on March 16 at the following Caucus meeting, Delegates Anderson and Barron presented a letter that outlined their opinion. The two primary sponsors “strongly believe that legislative inaction … is necessary at this time,” the letter read.

The newly adopted rule, it added, “will have a significant impact on correcting many of the deficiencies and inequities currently present in Maryland’s pretrial system.” The letter also states that the action of the Caucus should be to organize a work group during the legislative interim to develop a template for pretrial release systems and play an instrumental role in establishing pretrial release systems in counties that don’t have one.

After passionate testimonies and lively debates, the members of the Black Caucus decided (in an 18-13 vote) to take no legislative action on bail reform at this time and encourage the Judiciary and Judicial Proceedings committees to take no position, allowing the court rule to take effect.

Del. Turner and Del. Haynes will work on getting strong language added to the budget to help counties set up pretrial release units and the Caucus will organize a pretrial release workgroup.

Medical Cannabis

A medical cannabis workgroup has been convened to review the Medical Cannabis Emergency Legislation sponsored by Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (House Bill 1443) and Sen. Joan Carter Conway (Senate Bill 0999). The workgroup is currently considering amendments to the legislation.

Andy-Evens Pierre is Executive Director of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland