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After a packed legislative session that culminated in the passage of landmark police reform, several key legislators joined former Senator Bobby Zirkin for a virtual recap and look ahead for MSBA members. The panelists were: Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary (D, District 13), Senator Jill Carter (D, District 41), Delegate Luke Clippinger (D, District 46), Senator Michael Hough (R, District 4). A recording of the entire webinar is available for MSBA members.

Mr. Zirkin began the discussion with introductions from the legislators, and then the conversation moved quickly into the recently passed police reform legislation. Senator Carter said she was proud of what was accomplished and the teamwork that it took. She cited the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, Anton’s Law, which requires criminal investigations and misconduct allegations of a police officer to become public record, the statewide use of force statute, the uniform law on the use of force, and the appointment of civilians to the charging commission as major achievements. 

Delegate Atterbeary agreed and also cited the increase in liability caps and the tightened standards for “no-knock” warrants as achievements. Delegate Clippinger, who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said it was very important to create more civilian involvement in law enforcement oversight. Delegate Clippinger noted there is a need to look more broadly at what we ask police officers to do and what skills they need to have. 

Senator Hough, the lone Republican on the panel, said that there was wide agreement on most of the legislation. But he felt that the measures had gone too far in some respects. He worries that the increased liability cap would hit small police departments in Maryland hard. He felt that the statewide use of force standard of necessary and proportional force puts officers in limbo, and he fears they will back off and not police anymore. And he says Anton’s Law will allow false allegations against police officers to be made public. 

There were other measures beyond police reform in the legislative session. Mr. Zirkin asked the legislators to review their personal highlights from the session. Delegate Clippinger called it a “fairly extraordinary session where a lot of ground was covered.” He worked on a bill to decriminalize juvenile “sexting” when it involves minors close in age who are consensual. Delegate Clippinger hopes that the legislature will take up a measure regarding the liability of private actors in child abuse cases in the next session.

Senator Hough said he was pleased that the legislature agreed to raise the monetary cap on jury trials to $25,000. Senator Hough says the move, which still needs to be approved by voters, will help to move cases along quicker. Senator Hough was also influential in the passage of the Violent Firearms Offenders Act, which enhances penalties for using guns in violent crimes, closes the drug dealer loophole, and increases penalties for knowingly selling a gun to someone who commits a crime.

Senator Carter regretted the failure of workers’ compensation legislation that didn’t get through that would have created a rebuttable presumption that workers who tested positive for Covid contracted it on the job. She was pleased that legislation that decriminalized possession of drug paraphernalia passed. Senator Carter called it one tiny step in fixing a problem that should have been fixed a long time ago. 

Delegate Atterbeary hopes that divorce law reform that stalled in the House will move forward in the next session. The measure would allow people who live in the same house to get divorced. It would also allow people to divorce based on irreconcilable differences. Delegate Atterbeary also noted a workplace violence bill that allows employers to file for a peace order for the workplace, which passed. 

Mr. Zirkin closed by urging MSBA members to be involved. All of the legislators asked members to be in touch with their expertise on particular areas of law. Each legislator posted their email addresses in the chat and suggested MSBA members look them up on social media platforms.