Cathryn Paul is a research and policy analyst at CASA.
In protests that began after the death of George Floyd, Marylanders have been taking to the streets of Annapolis and across the state demanding police reform that will bring justice to our communities. But as other state and county governments have responded by adopting substantive reforms, our legislature has only been meeting informally to plan for the next session — which won’t begin until January. Our governor has yet to even acknowledge that black lives matter, so we can’t expect him to use his executive powers to right the wrongs of a broken criminal justice system.
The reality is that bills that would increase police accountability and transparency, outlaw use of force and get police out of schools have already been brought to the table of the General Assembly many times over. The legislature just lacked the political will to pass them. With Speaker Adrienne A. Jones’s (D-Baltimore County) renewed commitment to addressing this issue, the will to pass reform is there now. The people have spoken. We need legislators back at work.
Police reform is just one issue that needs to be addressed. Without action, Maryland is looking at mass evictions in the near future. As Hogan gears up for his book tour, courts have resumed eviction cases, and residents across the state are facing a future of homelessness. The clock is ticking. Hogan might be willing to let this happen, but Democrats have a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t.
There are a number of other common-sense housing relief policies that must be addressed. Emergency legislation is needed to prohibit late fees and provide meaningful financial relief to the about 20 percent of renters facing homelessness. The $30 million allocated to preventing eviction equates to about $200 per household in need — little to nothing for families who have been out of work since March and embarrassingly small compared with the $175 million that Pennsylvania allocated. Undocumented immigrants won’t see a cent of this money and have been abandoned by Hogan’s anti-immigrant ideologies. Only the legislature can fix this.
A special session would be a chance not only to pass emergency legislation that can’t wait another day, such as for housing relief and police reform, but also to override the governor’s vetoes of bills such as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which would reform and fund our public schools, along with a bill that would fund historically black colleges and universities.
Though there is hesitation about the cost of bringing legislators and staff back to Annapolis, I urge leadership to consider the price tag of inaction: additional loss of life, a failed general election process, mass evictions and more. If mayors and councils can get it done, why can’t you?
At least 13 states have reconvened or plan to reconvene for a special session, including Virginia. It’s clear that they are doing everything in their power to continue serving their people — why isn’t Maryland? When the pandemic is over and we reflect on this moment in history, I hope that we will be able tell our children how fiercely our state fought to protect us. It’s time for legislators to reconvene now. Our lives are depending on it.