Several bills important to many in the state’s communities of color will be voted on this week, while legislators continue to grapple over others as the 2014 Maryland General Assembly nears an end.

One of the measures is not actually a part of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus’ official agenda. The legislation would help some of Maryland’s Methodist churches control their assets and even maintain their independence.

HB0840 would repeal provisions of current state law which, mandate all assets owned by any Methodist Church to be held in trust and under the general authority of the United Methodist Church even if the local denomination decides to break from the larger church body. The law actually appropriates Methodist doctrine from a text called, The Book of Discipline.

“Back in the 1950’s (1953 specifically) the state of Maryland unlike most states adopted a law…which said any land held by a church affiliated with the United Methodist Church whether or not… the United Methodist Church is the owner or beneficiary of the property, the property is held for their benefit,” said Prince George’s County Delegate Aisha Braveboy, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Braveboy, who is also a candidate for Maryland Attorney General, claims several older Black churches, some of which were built by slaves and former slaves were unknowingly affected by the law even after they decided to break away from the United Methodist Church.

“The question really is for us constitutionally, does it make sense and should the state of Maryland be in the business of adopting language out of religious documents that specifically affect one religion, one denomination,” Braveboy said. “Have we violated the separation of church and state?” she added.

A hearing and a vote on HB 0840 was scheduled for a vote in the House this week.

Lack of diversity within state law enforcement agencies, specifically the state troopers is also an issue of concern for the Black Caucus. The number of Black state troopers has been dwindling for more than a decade. In 2012, according to state statistics, only 197 of the Maryland’s 1,453 troopers are Black, this compared to 2000 when 312 of the state’s 1,612 troopers were Black. It’s a decrease of about 37 percent.

“It’s a huge issue,” Braveboy said. “We have a bill (HB1349) that has passed the House and is over in the Senate,” she added. The bill would require the State Police when it advertises for or recruits new employees to include advertising that targets communities of color and women among other remedies. A hearing in House is scheduled this week and a Senate hearing is slated for April 2.

The fate of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) is being considered in the courts and debated in the legislature.

HB1194 is crafted to help Black institutions reach funding and operational parity with their White counterparts.

“The bill will provide for an evaluation of the 10-year plans that were developed by the institutions…to determine whether or not it’s enough to reach the level of parity to make them comparable with other universities,” Braveboy explained.

The bill that passed the House was amended and is currently in the Senate and a hearing is scheduled for April 2.

Battles to raise the minimum wage are taking place in statehouses across the country including Maryland, as the national debate continues to take shape. On March 7, the House voted 89-46 to increase the state minimum wage from the current $7.25/hr to $10.10/hr by 2017. The bill is currently in the Senate where Senate President Mike Miller has said it could be, `scaled back.’ The increase would take place in phases; $8.20 by January 2015, $9.15 by January 2016 and finally $10.10 by January 2017.

The bill would also allow individual counties to set a higher minimum wage than the state. Late last year, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County both voted to raise the minimum wage to $11.50/hr by 2017.

HB1166 is currently in the Senate being considered with other pieces of legislation crafted to aid certain ex-offenders in gaining employment.

“There is a shielding bill…that has passed the House,” Braveboy said. “This would provide an opportunity for individuals who have been convicted of non-violent misdemeanors…to have their record shielded from public view so they can actually be competitive when they’re applying for jobs,” she added.


Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor