The Maryland State Bar Association held its third annual MSBA Day (formerly “Lobby Day”) on February 15, 2022. The event provided valuable insight on recent legislation, the MSBA’s legislative priorities, and perspectives from the legislative, judicial, and executive branches.
MSBA DAY’S SLATE OF distinctive guests invited to speak on matters of importance to Maryland’s legal profession and residents included Governor Larry Hogan, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin, and Chris Van Hollen, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John P. Morrissey, and numerous Maryland Senators and Delegates. The day’s discussions were moderated by Reena Shah, the executive director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, and Shaoli Katana, MSBA Legislative and Advocacy Director.
M. Natalie McSherry, President of the MSBA, welcomed participants and reported that MSBA Sections and their chairs, counsel, and legislative liaisons employed measures to integrate member input into the MSBA’s public advocacy efforts like never before. She highlighted the MSBA’s recent public advocacy successes as well, including defeating a proposed tax on legal services and winning COVID-19 vaccine priority for Maryland lawyers. President McSherry challenged MSBA members to make an even greater commitment to advocacy in the days to come to help ensure the voice of the profession is heard.
Ward Coe, Chair of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission (A2JC), kicked off the day by explaining the Commission’s mission to make the civil justice system fair, equitable, and accessible for all Marylanders. Coe explained that the A2JC is able to pursue its goals because it receives great support, financially and otherwise, from the MSBA. One way the Commission achieves its mission is by supporting legislation that promotes access to justice. He noted that last year’s legislative session was like any other for the Commission.
Coe explained that the problems the pandemic exacerbated were monumental, but with the assistance of key leaders from the Senate and the House, they were able to make unprecedented progress, and 19 bills that came from the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force were enacted into law. One of the bills, HB18, provides that residential tenants have the right to legal representation in eviction proceedings, making Maryland one of the first states in the country to have a statewide Access to Counsel in Evictions program. This year, funding the program is one of the Commission’s top priorities.
Senate President Bill Ferguson explained the Senate’s top priorities during the 2022 Legislative Session. Specifically, continuing to navigate the immediate and long-term impacts of the pandemic. He believes that we are in a place where we can have real conversations about recovery and post-COVID life. He thinks the pandemic affected the lives of young children more than any other facet of the population, and the Senate’s focus in the remainder of the session will be providing them with greater certainty going forward.
After moderating a panel discussion with members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, on a number of issues, former State Senator Bobby Zirkin talked to Governor Hogan about the significant challenges he faced during his administration and how that impacted his leadership, including a cancer diagnosis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the worst violence in 47 years in Baltimore City.
One of Governor Hogan’s primary goals in his final year in office is eliminating the tax on retirement income. As the state has a surplus of funds, he believes that we are in a position to do it. Senator Zirkin noted that Governor Hogan has very high approval ratings, which they both attributed to his commitment to bipartisanship.
Following the discussion with Governor Hogan, Attorney General Frosh, who is a member of the MSBA and a commissioner on the A2JC, spoke with President McSherry about his commitment to safeguarding Maryland’s vulnerable populations, including nursing home residents, people with disabilities, victims of lead paint poisoning, low-wage earners, and members of minority groups. His priorities this session, which will be his last, are banning ghost guns, which are unserialized weapons that come in kits and are, therefore, not classified as firearms, but are very easy to put together and turn into deadly weapons. The other measure that he thinks is important aims to increase the filing fee for evictions from $15 to $80, which he believes will disincentivize mass evictions. The additional income will be used to fund the Maryland Legal Services Corporation.
Chief Judge Morrissey then spoke to MSBA Day participants, noting that the pandemic has dominated much of the work of the judiciary over the last two years and recounted efforts to continue proceedings while protecting the health of citizens, attorneys, the judiciary, and court staff.
The House Judiciary Committee Panel wrapped up the day, speaking with Shah and Katana about key initiatives and their goals during the 2022 session.