Del. Angela M. Angel got the idea for what would become Maryland House Bill 1396 when she was running for office in 2014, juggling a campaign, five children and an estranged husband who, she said, would call, text and email her up to 30 times a day.
She went to court seeking a restraining order and learned that without allegations of physical abuse, the judge wouldn’t grant one.
“The bottom line was there was no legal remedy,” Angel (D-Prince George’s) said in an interview. “I thought, as soon as I get to the House of Delegates, I am going to change this.”
She did not realize how tough it would be to achieve that goal. The State House in Annapolis is a place where progress is incremental, where hierarchies and the rules of engagement must be respected.
“You can’t be married to a bill,” said Del. Maricé I. Morales (D-Montgomery), another first-term lawmaker, whose bill attempting to boost consent standards in addressing campus sex assault was killed this winter. “It’s your bill until you bring it to committee.”
Angel drafted a bill that would change the definition of abuse to include harassment and malicious destruction of property, so protective orders could be granted on those grounds. Both it and Morales’s bill were assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.
At a hearing on Angel’s bill in March, “many were supportive,” the 36-year-old lawmaker said. “Victims testified. Advocates testified and state troopers testified and supported it. It was one of those things that we thought, ‘This should be simple.’ ”
It wasn’t. Detractors — including Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), chairman of that chamber’s Judicial Proceedings Committee — said the bill was so broadly written that it could be invoked frivolously by warring couples.
“Getting a protective order when somebody kind of takes their own shoe and throws it through their own computer or something — that’s not, unless it’s meant to be threatening, that shouldn’t subject somebody to criminal sanction,” Zirkin said.
The bill never made it out of the House committee.
It was all but dead last week, with just a few days remaining in the annual legislative session.
Angel decided drastic measures were needed. She attached her legislation as an amendment to a domestic-violence-related bill sponsored by Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s) that had cleared the Senate and was on its way to passage in the House.
Senate Bill 924 would continue a program that sends notifications to domestic violence victims when their protective orders are served. Ramirez set up the program six years ago, and it is set to expire this year.
Angel made her move Thursday, when the bill was on third reader in the House. Her amendment passed narrowly, 65 to 61. Judiciary Vice Chair Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) tried to stop it, and other veteran lawmakers said Angel’s boldness violated constitutional rules.
“Look, we all have bills we care about,” said Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), House parliamentarian. Reviving a dead bill by grafting it onto a live bill, he argued, upends the integrity of the committee system that first put the brakes on Angel’s legislation.
Angel launched a social media campaign, using the hashtag #WhereisSB924. She wrote op-eds, conducted interviews with news reporters and invited three domestic violence survivors to help her lobby each lawmaker personally.
One of the survivors was Vickie McLean, who said her ex-husband vandalized and flooded their home — destruction of property that, under Angel’s bill, would have entitled McLean to a protective order. “He did it to terrorize me,” McLean said.
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore) said constituents were “blowing up my phone” with long text messages, imploring him to support Angel’s amendments.
With just a few hours until midnight, Zirkin told Angel that he would support a stand-alone version of her bill if she removed the “destruction of property provision.” She said Zirkin also promised to work with her next year on a bill to address abusers who intimidate their victims by destroying things.
But other lawmakers needed to be convinced as well — and there wasn’t enough time left.
The House-approved version of Ramirez’s bill made it, meaning that the notification program will continue. But the Senate version, with Angel’s bill attached, died when the session adjourned.
“This will not silence me,” Angel said, embracing the women who had spent the final day of the session lobbying with her. She vowed to try again next year.
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