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With less than two weeks left in the 2023 Legislative Session, legislators and advocates are hard at work moving through bills and voting sessions before Sine Die. Crossover Day was on March 20, marking the traditional deadline for bills to pass at least one chamber to ensure they have a committee hearing in the other chamber and a higher likelihood of passage.

Through the great work of MSBA Sections and the Laws Committee, MSBA continues to advocate on behalf of the profession. The following is a non-exhaustive list of legislation with commentary on some priority bills MSBA has been tracking:

Probation Before Judgment – Probation Agreements

HB193/SB211: The proposed legislation benefits and protects Maryland residents by removing the negative consequences, including deportation for immigrants, that can follow a criminal defendant who pleads guilty and receives probation in certain criminal cases, as a probation before judgment is considered a conviction under federal immigration law. The amended bill passed the House (102-32) and the Senate (41-4) and is the result of several years of advocacy. The MSBA was proud to work with the bill sponsor and stakeholders to secure amendments and passage this year.    

Access to Counsel in Evictions – Funding

HB1050/SB756: Extends a requirement that the Comptroller distribute a certain amount of certain abandoned property funds to the Access to Counsel in Evictions Special Fund through a certain fiscal year; extends a requirement that the Governor include in the annual budget bill a certain appropriation from the Fund to the Maryland Legal Services Corporation through a certain fiscal year. An amended version of the bill, changing the proposed funding from “2024 onwards” to “2024 through 2027,” passed the Senate (35-11). Funding for legal services for all Marylanders is one of the MSBA’s top legislative priorities, and the ACE Program is a beneficial, cost-effective access to justice solution for the state. The value of having one of Maryland’s 42,000 attorneys in court representing a tenant during an eviction proceeding is undeniable. Continued funding of the ACE Program will yield a fairer system of justice and more efficient court processes. The MSBA looks forward to continued advocacy to ensure funding for ACE implementation.

Criminal Law – Expungement Bills and Comprehensive Reform

HB97/SB37 (REDEEM ACT): Shortens the waiting periods applicable for filing a petition for expungement of convictions of certain crimes following satisfaction of the sentence(s) imposed including parole, probation, or mandatory supervision: 3 years for a misdemeanor (currently 10 years), 5 years for a non-violent felony (currently 15 years). The amended bill passed the Senate (38-9). The MSBA recognizes that comprehensive expungement reform is required to balance the need to help those with criminal records progress in their lives with the need to permit the public to research the background of people with whom they might hire or contract, and will accordingly follow HB97/SB37 and related expungement bills through the end of session.

HB1281/SB209: The proposed bill will guide further expungement reform through the establishment of the Task Force to Study Crime Classification and Penalties to review the penalties for all criminal and civil violations in the Maryland Code, study the history and legislative intent of the classifications, study criminal classifications and penalty schemes in other states, and make recommendations regarding the current statutory scheme for criminal and civil violation in the State; report its findings to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 31, 2024. The bill passed the Senate (45-0). The MSBA worked with bill sponsors to include the MSBA in this important initiative: two MSBA members will serve on the Task force, including a member with expertise in victims’ rights and a member of the MSBA’s Criminal Law Section.

Judicial Security

HB536/SB221 (By Request – Judiciary): Authorizes certain current and former judges, prosecutors, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and immediate family members to make a written request that certain personal information be removed from the Internet or from certain other publications; requires a person who receives a request under the Act to remove the information within 72 hours. The amended bill passed the Senate (41-5). Enhancing judicial security is critical to the MSBA and the entire legal profession, in light of recent attacks at the federal, state and local level. The bill would not only protect the safety of judges and their families, but also preserve judicial integrity and independence, allowing judges to make decisions without fear of harmful recourse. Judicial security is also critically important for future recruitment and retention of judges in Maryland, so they can safely seek judgeships and fulfill their obligations without fear of retribution. 

Hate Crimes – Civil Remedy

HB13/SB5: Provides that a person who is the victim of an act that would constitute a violation of certain hate crime laws may bring a civil action against the person or persons who committed the act in a court of competent jurisdiction; and authorizes the court to impose an injunction and award certain economic and noneconomic damages. The bill passed the House (106-30) and the Senate (45-0). The MSBA supports this opportunity for increased access to justice for victims of hate crimes through civil remedies.

Taxpayer Advocate Division

HB707/SB660 (By Request – Office of the Comptroller): Establishes a state level Taxpayer Advocate Division in the Office of the Comptroller (similar to the Taxpayer Advocate Service within the IRS) to assist taxpayers and their representatives in resolving certain taxpayer problems and complaints and represent taxpayers’ interests in a certain manner. The MSBA supports the establishment of this Division to best serve Maryland taxpayers and support the work of the MSBA’s tax practitioners. MSBA’s Taxation Section provided amendments to the bill to add more value to the proposed office. The amended bill passed the House (136-0) and the Senate (45-0).

The MSBA monitors hundreds of bills each session and advocates on behalf of the profession. The ability to make a difference in Annapolis is just one of the many reasons we need all attorneys to belong to the MSBA to ensure we remain a strong and vibrant association. Thank you for your support.