The 445th meeting of the General Assembly concluded on April 10th as legislators continued to work late into the evening to secure passage of bills that head to Governor Moore’s desk for signature, veto, or no action by May 30. The MSBA was proud to put forward legislation and support bills that protect the legal profession, preserve the integrity of the judicial system, and ensure access to justice for Marylanders. Through the diligent work of practice-based Sections and the Laws Committee, the MSBA advances legislative priorities as we convene attorneys with diverse perspectives and expertise to inform our representatives.
The MSBA’s 2023 legislative successes that impact the legal profession include:
- Improving the probation before judgment process in criminal cases to no longer negatively impact a Marylander’s immigration matters or professional opportunities and licenses;
- Securing an additional $42 million in civil legal aid funding to implement Maryland’s Access to Counsel in Evictions program, a beneficial, cost-effective access to justice solution;
- Increasing access to justice for victims of hate crimes through civil remedies;
- Making Maryland a no-fault divorce state through new grounds of “irreconcilable differences,” thereby offering a simpler path to divorce and lowering the financial burden on parties;
- Updating Maryland corporation code to better support and retain Maryland business entities, clients, and lawyers;
- Modernizing estates and trusts law through the Trust Decanting Act, permitting e-filing of documents with the Register of wills, and updating intestacy law to secure rights for surviving domestic partners;
- Closing the spousal defense loophole in criminal law which prohibited prosecution of a spouse for charges of rape and sexual offense.
Here is a preliminary list of priority bills the MSBA has been tracking. We will continue to provide post-session updates about additional bills that impact your practice area and the profession. You can view the full list of the bills passed in the 2023 Legislative Session here. The MSBA thanks our members, Section and Committee leaders, legislators and their staff for a successful 2023 session.
Family Law – Grounds for Divorce: PASSED (HB14/SB36)
- The MSBA’s Family and Juvenile Law Section led a significant effort to bring Maryland in line with 39 other states which allow for divorces based on no-fault grounds, noting that the bill “will streamline Maryland’s current divorce law and allow our citizens to file and obtain divorces with less waiting time, less expense and less acrimony within their families.”
- This bill eliminates limited divorce and revises the grounds for absolute divorce, adding the two grounds of a six-month separation or irreconcilable differences, and repealing the grounds of adultery, desertion, certain criminal conviction and sentence, twelve-month separation, insanity, cruelty, or excessively vicious conduct. Parties would also be permitted to file for an absolute divorce based on the existing ground of mutual consent if the parties have submitted a written agreement resolving all issues.
- The bill also codifies case law to clarify the concept that parties shall be deemed to have lived separate and apart even if they reside under the same roof, thereby allowing parties to obtain a divorce even if they continue to reside in the same house.
Criminal Law and Public Safety
Probation Before Judgment – Probation Agreements: PASSED (HB193/SB211)
- The bill amends the probation before judgment statute in criminal cases to remove negative, unintended consequences, including deportation and detention in immigration matters and the loss of professional opportunities and licenses.
- The MSBA was proud to work with the bill sponsors and stakeholders to secure amendments and passage to benefit Marylanders, after several years of advocacy.
Criminal Law – Sexual Crimes – Repeal of Spousal Defense: PASSED (HB4/SB129)
- Legislators finally closed the loophole of “spousal defense” which prohibits prosecution of a spouse for charges of rape and sexual offenses. Prior versions have failed for several years, as amendments were added that weakened its protections.
- MSBA has provided leadership on this issue for years, with our Family and Juvenile Law Section noting that this law “will provide the highest level of support and relief for victims of sexual assault, including those married to their perpetrator.”
Criminal Procedure – Expungement of Records (REDEEM ACT): PASSED (SB37)
- The MSBA monitors and provides guidance on proposed expungement legislation, balancing 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. SB37 will allow for earlier expungement by shortening 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.
- Amendments to the bill added back two years to the proposed reduction in waiting time to file for expungements (to 5 years instead of 3 for misdemeanors, to 7 years instead of 5 for non-violent felonies).
Expungement of Records – Good Cause: FAILED (HB664/SB17)
- The proposed legislation authorizing a court to grant a petition for expungement of records relating to a certain conviction at any time on a showing of “good cause” did not move out of Committee for a vote.
Task Force to Study Crime Classification and Penalties: PASSED (SB209)
- A Task Force to Study Crime Classifications and Penalties will engage in a broad study of crime classifications in Maryland, review trends from other jurisdictions, and provide recommendations to guide comprehensive reform in important areas such as expungements.
- The MSBA ensured that our membership will provide expertise to the group, through the inclusion of two MSBA practitioners with expertise in criminal law and victims’ rights on the Task Force.
Criminal Law – Wearing, Carrying, or Transporting Firearms – Restrictions (Gun Safety Act of 2023): PASSED (SB1)
- Prohibits the open carry of guns in Maryland and restricts where firearms can be carried. Amended bill reduces the types of excluded specific locations. The final version restricts concealed carry in schools, hospitals, government buildings, and more, and also says guns may not be carried onto private property unless the owner grants permission.
- The amended bill also incorporates proposed language from another bill supported by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Bates (HB481) to increase jail time for illegal handgun possession from three to five years for people 21 and older, to match the punishment for those younger than 21 with the same violation.
Public Safety – Regulated Firearms – Possession and Permits to Carry, Wear, and Transport a Handgun: PASSED (HB824)
- Alters language for persons to be eligible to be issued a concealed carry permit; prohibits possession of a regulated firearm by certain individuals; alters the penalty for violation of the prohibition on wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun; expands training requirements.
Criminal Law and Procedure – Cannabis – Fines for Smoking in Public, Stops, and Searches: PASSED (HB1071)
- Prohibits the use of certain types of cannabis-related evidence as the sole basis of establishing reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity.
Reproductive Health Protection Act: PASSED (HB808)
- Prevents other states from using Maryland’s licensing authorities or subpoena and investigative power to punish persons for accessing or providing reproductive healthcare, thereby protecting Maryland abortion providers and patients from criminal charges, civil litigation, and administrative penalties.
Public Safety – Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission – Notification of Action Filed Against Police Officer: FAILED (HB430)
- The MSBA monitored HB430, initially titled “Police Immunity and Accountability Act.” The original version eliminated any qualified or sovereign immunity for police officers.
- An amended version was retitled and heavily revised to include a notice provision, requiring a court to notify the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission of the filing of a civil action against a police officer involving allegations that the police officer wrongfully caused the death of or serious bodily injury to an individual, within 10 days after the filing of the civil action.
- The bill passed Third Reading in the House but did not move forward in the Senate.
Corporations and Associations – Revisions: PASSED (HB209)
- HB209 is the annual bill sponsored by the Committee on Corporation Law of the MSBA’s Business Law Section to make technical changes and upgrades to the Maryland General Corporation Law to better support and retain Maryland business entities, clients, and lawyers.
- This year’s bill is a combination of fixes to highly technical corporate laws, including: 1) authorizing that a corporation’s charter or bylaws may provide for ex officio directors, 2) clarifying that stock certificates may not be issued in bearer form, 3) clarifying annual meeting requirements for investment companies, and 4) establishing a Notice of Termination requirement with SDAT for termination of real estate investment trusts.
Corporations – Filing Requirements for Dissolution and Termination of Registration or Qualification – Repeal: PASSED (HB999)
- Repeals certain provisions of law applicable to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation that prohibit the acceptance of articles of dissolution and issuance of a certificate of termination for certain corporations unless certain reports on personal property are filed with the Department.
- The MSBA’s Business Law Section supports the law as it makes it easier for companies that want to dissolve to do so and will lessen the burden on SDAT of having to put those companies into forfeiture when they don’t dissolve, given the time and expense involved before companies can file articles of dissolution.
Limited Liability Companies – Articles of Organization – Required Information: FAILED (HB981)
- Requires a limited liability company to include in its articles of organization the name and home address of each member of the limited liability company; and prohibits a person from submitting to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation articles of organization for a limited liability company that the person knows or has reason to know contain false information required under the Act.
- The MSBA’s Business Law Section opposed the bill as it would be burdensome on businesses and likely result in many existing Maryland LLCs moving to neighboring states without such requirements. The section notes that no other U.S. state requires provision of the names of an LLC’s members to form an LLC, nor do they require their residential street address, all of which would be publicly accessible on SDAT’s website.
Cannabis Reform: PASSED (HB556/SB516)
- Creates licensing regulations and tax rates to open a recreational marijuana market, following voter approval of a November 2022 constitutional amendment. Dual licensure for medical cannabis stores to sell recreational marijuana; additional licenses available with focus on equity.
- Tax rate of 9%.
- After payment of operating costs to regulate the industry, 35% of the state’s tax revenues will go to communities disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and prosecutions.
Estates and Trusts
Estates and Trusts – Registers of Wills – Electronic Filing and Signature: PASSED (HB255/SB253)
- Updates current law to allow electronic filing for submission of documents to the Register of Wills.
- The MSBA’s Estates and Trusts Section supported the measure and informed the Legislature: “As our members discovered during COVID, the ease of filing documents electronically with the Registers of Wills allowed us to serve our clients and residents of this state in an economical way. E-filing saves money and time, both of which are important to the residents of this state.”
Estates and Trusts – Trusts – Decanting (Maryland Trust Decanting Act): PASSED (HB687/SB446)
- The MSBA’s Estates and Trusts Section worked with bill sponsors to unanimously pass legislation that would allow a fiduciary to exercise discretionary power to modify the terms of an irrevocable trust, to ensure that the terms of the trust remain aligned with the grantor’s intentions when circumstances have changed. A trustee could “decant” one trust into another trust under certain circumstances.
- The MSBA strongly supports this Act to bring Maryland in line with 13 other states that have adopted decanting statutes, to provide more certainty and flexibility for trustees to further a settlor’s objectives, and to allow more trusts to continue to be administered in Maryland (rather than moving trusts to other states with decanting provisions).
Estates and Trusts – Registered Domestic Partnerships: PASSED (SB792)
- Modernizes Maryland intestacy law to include recognition of a surviving registered domestic partner with the same rights as a surviving spouse. The bill also updates the intestacy law related to the intestate share of the surviving spouse, removes the great-grandparent level of inheritance, and changes the stigmatized term “illegitimate child” to “child.”
Orphan’s Court Judges – Election: FAILED (HB1282/SB195)
- The proposed bill requires that candidates for judge of the orphans’ court appear on the ballot without party designation.
- SB195 passed Third Reading in the Senate (38-8) but did not move out of Committee in the House.
Animal Law, Real Property
Real Property – Actions for Possession – Pet Protections: PASSED (HB102)
- Establishes procedures to protect companion animals and due process rights during an eviction.
- The MSBA’s Animal Law Section supports the measure as it will “satisfy due process requirements, close a gap in the law, and reinforce Maryland’s constitutional protections.”
Access to Justice and Delivery of Legal Services
Access to Counsel in Evictions – Funding: PASSED (SB756)
- Funding for legal services for all Marylanders is one of the MSBA’s top legislative priorities. 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.
- SB756 provides an additional $56 million from 2024 through 2027 in civil legal aid funding to implement Maryland’s Access to Counsel in Evictions program through a $14 million/year distribution of certain abandoned property funds to the Maryland Legal Services Corporation. The bill was amended to change proposed funding from “2024 onwards” to “2024 through 2027.”
- The MSBA looks forward to continued advocacy to ensure funding for ACE implementation.
Maryland Legal Services Corporation – Affordable Life, Wills, and Estate Planning for Seniors Program: PASSED (SB351)
- Establishes the Affordable Life, Wills, and Estate Planning for Seniors Grant Program in the Maryland Legal Services Corporation to provide eligible seniors access to affordable civil law-related services; and requires the Governor to provide an appropriation of $225,000 in the annual budget for the Program.
- SB351 ensures civil legal aid to low-income senior Marylanders on important estate planning issues including last will and testaments, powers of attorney, special needs trusts, and advance health care directives. The advice of legal counsel in these matters is critically important, particularly for those of limited means, to ensure that future generations can benefit from proper estate planning and not lose claims to assets due to a mistake in drafting or execution of documents.
Civil Litigation, Victims’ Rights
Hate Crimes – Civil Remedy: PASSED (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 MSBA supports this opportunity for increased access to justice for victims of hate crimes through civil remedies.
Child Victims Act of 2023: PASSED (HB1/SB686)
- The ability of child sexual abuse survivors finding relief and access to the civil justice system has been a priority bill for sponsor and abuse survivor Del. C.T. Wilson for several years, and passed this year with the leadership of Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair Smith and House Judiciary Chair Clippinger.
- The bill lifts all age and time limits to file such suits and caps liability for non-economic damages. Governor Moore has indicated he will sign the legislation.
- The constitutionality of the bill may then be considered by the Maryland Supreme Court.
Government Officials – Public Disclosure of Personal Information: FAILED (HB536/SB221)
- This bill, at the request of the Judiciary, authorizes certain current and former judges, prosecutors, 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.
- SB221 was amended to add the Governor and Lieutenant Governor (at their request). The bill passed Third Reading in the Senate (41-5) but did not move out of Committee in the House.
- 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 preserve judicial integrity and independence, allowing judges to make decisions without fear of harmful recourse. The MSBA will continue advocacy on this issue to protect the profession.
Court Proceedings – Access and Records
Court Proceedings – Remote Public Access and Participation: FAILED (HB133/SB43)
- The bills require public virtual access to court proceedings, unless closed, confidential, or restricted by law or by a judge in certain circumstances. Courtroom transparency advocates have focused on this legislation over the past few years during the pandemic, when more proceedings were held virtually with public access. The bill’s goals of transparency and access to hearings are important to the MSBA and our practitioners. Concerns include implementation costs around the state, infringement on judicial authority, and the potential impact on court proceedings and witnesses.
- SB43 received an unfavorable Report from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and no further activity.
Courts – Recording of Proceedings – Access: FAILED (HB1143)
- Requires courts to make available upon request copies of recordings of court proceedings except portions of proceedings that the court has ordered shielded. The bill was amended to only include audio recordings instead of audio-video recordings.
- HB1143 passed Third Reading in the House (133-3) and was referred to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, but had no further actions.
Office of the Attorney General
MSBA monitored bills introduced at the request of Attorney General Brown, given the impact on our practitioners.
Office of the Attorney General – Independent Investigations Division – Authority to Prosecute: PASSED (SB290)
- Expands the investigative jurisdiction of the Independent Investigations Division of the Office of the Attorney General to investigate certain police-involved injuries to citizens.
- Prior to the passage of SB290, the IID examined police-involved situations resulting in death or serious injuries likely to result in death of a civilian, and referred information to local prosecutors’ offices to determine whether to proceed with prosecution. Now the Office of the Attorney General will have the first authority to prosecute police-involved deaths instead of local prosecutors.
Human Relations – Civil Rights Enforcement – Powers of the Attorney General: PASSED (SB540)
- Enables the Office of the Attorney General to investigate, prosecute, and remediate certain civil rights violations, to intervene in certain causes of action, obtain certain relief in certain civil actions, and recover certain investigation and litigation costs.
- The passage of SB540 will allow the Attorney General to investigate and litigate unlawful discrimination against private entities and bring class action lawsuits.
Commercial Law – Maryland Antitrust Act – Premerger Notification Requirement and Remedies: WITHDRAWN BY SPONSOR (HB776/SB657)
- Introduced at request of the Office of the Attorney General, the bill requires every person or entity that acquires (directly or indirectly) assets of another person or entity outside ordinary course of business with a value of more than $8 million to file a notice with the Maryland Attorney General at least 60 days before the closing.
- The bill was withdrawn by the sponsor after opposition from several MSBA Sections, including Agricultural Law, Business Law, and Estates and Trusts, who noted that by comparison, the Federal anti-trust law threshold dollar amount for 2023 was approximately $100 million. The sections also noted that as drafted, the bill would apply to transactions in Maryland and outside Maryland if the buyer is seller is subject to jurisdiction in Maryland, imposing unnecessary burden and delay on individuals and businesses.
Office of the Attorney General – Environmental and Natural Resources Crimes Unit – Establishment: PASSED (HB874)
- Establishes the Environmental and Natural Resources Crimes Unit of the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute cases against persons that violate State criminal environmental and natural resources laws.
Human Relations – Patterns and Practices of Civil Rights Violations – Remedies: FAILED (HB771/SB658)
- Authorizes the Office of the Attorney General to investigate and initiate a civil action to remedy unlawful patterns of alleged racial bias or other discriminatory practices by certain government officials.
- The proposed legislation did not move out of Committee in the House or Senate.
Office of the Comptroller
Office of the Comptroller – Taxpayer Advocate Division: PASSED (HB707/SB660)
- MSBA’s Taxation Section proposed several amendments to create a stronger foundation for the proposed division to best serve Maryland taxpayers and support the work of the MSBA’s tax practitioners.
- The bill 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 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. Visit us at msba.org/advocacy.