October 1 Marks Effective Date for Laws Impacting Maryland Workers

Originally published by the Jobs Opportunities Task Force

By Caryn York and Kimberly Routson

During the 2017 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly, the JOTF policy team aggressively advocated on behalf of low-wage workers and job seekers across our state. On Sunday October 1st, Marylanders will have the opportunity to access many of these important policy changes that reduce barriers to employment.  Below are some of the changes that will have a direct impact on Maryland working families.

 Laws Effective on October 1

1. Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA)
In 2015, the bipartisan intergovernmental Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, of which JOTF served as the only appointed nonprofit representative, analyzed ten years of state corrections and sentencing data to better understand who we have been sending to prison, for how long, and why. The Council crafted solutions for Maryland that would hold offenders accountable while reducing the state’s nonviolent incarcerated population. Those solutions resulted in legislation, and, during the 2016 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly successfully adopted into law theMaryland Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA).

The JRA will provide the necessary changes needed to move Maryland towards a criminal justice system that runs efficiently and fairly. Some of these changes effective October 1 include:

  • Requiring an immediate risk and needs assessment of inmates sentencing and a plan for rehabilitation while in custody.
  • Restructuring drug possession penalties and provides guidance to the court to divert offenders with substance abuse disorders into treatment.
  • Eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties.
  • Authorizing expungement for certain nonviolent misdemeanor after 10-years under specified conditions.
  • Reducing and/or eliminates jail time for certain offenses;
  • Increasing felony theft threshold to $1500;
  • Allowing drug offenders sentenced to mandatory minimum terms before the safety valve was enacted in 2015 to be eligible for resentencing; Eliminates mandatory minimums for all commercial drug offenses except volume dealers and kingpins;
  • Removing “doubler” penalty (this is a statute that allows prosecutors to double the sentence for subsequent drug offenders) unless you have a crime of violence in your history;
  • Making 3rd and subsequent commercial drug offenders ‘violent’ for the purposes of parole, meaning these offenders will now be eligible at 50% of their time served instead of the current law which makes them eligible at 25%;
  • Establishing a form of parole for certain drug offenses and misdemeanor property crimes (excluding: (1) those with 2 prior commercial drug offenses or (2) with any history of violence or sex crime)

2. Protecting the Safety Net
The punitive collateral consequences of a criminal record can be far reaching and have a negative impact on families, especially children. Last session, JOTF worked with allies Out for Justice, Inc. and Maryland Hunger Solutions to pass the Maryland Equal Access to Food Act of 2017 that would eliminate the one-year ban and testing requirement for SNAP and TCA recipients convicted of felony drug offenses. The implementation of this legislation furthers our state’s commitment to the rehabilitation and reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals returning to our communities and supporting their efforts to become contributing, productive members of society.

3. Record Expungement 

In addition to the expungement opportunities made available in the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA), Marylanders will also have the opportunity to have certain driving records eligible for automatic expungement and marijuana possession convictions eligible after a certain time. As passed, House Bill 1017 will allow more people to have their driving record expunged because, for the first time, the only suspensions that delay expungement eligibility will be those related to driver safety. Certain suspensions, such as child support noncompliance, will no longer prevent someone from accessing expungement opportunities. More than 600,000 Marylanders will benefit from this new law.

Another new law expands eligibility for expungement to include convictions for possession of marijuana under § 5-601 of the Criminal Law Article. Marijuana possession convictions will now be eligible for expungement after a five (5) year waiting period. The law also clarifies expungement eligibility for drug possession that is not marijuana.

4. Increasing Access to Postsecondary Education
Substantive elements of two JOTF priorities Workforce Development Sequence Grants and Scholarships and Career Apprenticeship Opportunity Act of 2017  were included in the comprehensive jobs legislation, More Jobs for Marylanders Act of 2017  which takes effect on October 1st. The Act incentivizes employers to provide structured, supervised, on the job training for apprenticeable careers and establishes a Workforce Development Sequence Program, with grants that are disbursed to community colleges to award scholarships to eligible students. This robust piece of legislation now ensures that more state dollars will be used to provide job readiness, training and credentialing as an alternative educational path for Marylanders as we work towards a more highly skilled workforce.


Veto Override Campaigns

Following the 2017 legislative session, Governor Hogan vetoed two JOTF signature priorities, The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act and The Maryland Fair Access to Education Act of 2017 (Ban the Box on College Applications).  JOTF is committed to providing Marylanders with access to earned paid sick leave and reducing barriers to postsecondary education for individuals with criminal records, and therefore will be mounting veto override campaigns for both initiatives in the 2018 legislative session.

Everyone gets sick, but not everyone can take time off to care for themselves or loved ones when they do. Everyday thousands of Marylanders are going to work sick or sending a sick child to school because staying home means loss of needed income or, worse, loss of job.  As a founding member of the Working Matters Coalition, JOTF has led efforts to advance the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act for the past five years. During the 2017 legislative session, HB 1 successfully passed both the House and Senate with veto-proof margins. To learn more about the Working Matters Coalition and our efforts to bring over 700,000 HBryanders access to earned sick days and override Governor Hogan’s senseless veto of HB1, visit our website! Help us move #ForwardonHB1 in 2018!

Ban the Box on College Applications

It is well established that education is strongly correlated to income and can reduce employment barriers for individuals with a criminal record. Yet, institutions of higher education ask prospective students to check a box if they have been charged or convicted with a crime—a major deterrent for applicants with a criminal record. During the 2017 legislative session, JOTF led efforts to successfully “ban the box” on certain college applications to require Maryland Universities to consider merit and academic qualifications to determine admissions eligibility before they inquire into a prospective student’s criminal background. The Maryland Fair Access to Education Act of 2017 would place Maryland at the forefront of states in eliminating initial educational barriers for individuals with a criminal record.

Join us on Saturday, October 7th from 11am to 2pm at Johns Hopkins University (The Beach-3400 N. Charles Street) to rally in support of college after incarceration. We need your voice in our override campaign!