In a stunning rush to a forced Wednesday deadline, Maryland lawmakers passed over 650 bills in three days — adjourning weeks ahead of schedule due to the quickly escalating spread of COVID-19.
Many of the bills ushered through the legislature were either inspired by events that occurred at the University of Maryland or will affect the campus moving forward. Still others that have yet to pass were passionately supported by activists tied to the school.
However, legislators intend to return in May for a special session to revisit bills that failed to make it through before last week’s end date, or consider new legislation to bolster the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the meantime, though, many of the bills legislators approved during the rushed session await Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature to become law. Here’s a rundown of key legislation tied to COVID-19 and this university that passed, as well as bills the campus community flagged that did not.
Hogan signed both into law earlier this month.
One bill authorizes the governor to transfer up to $50 million from the state’s rainy day fund to support measures fighting coronavirus, and another expands the governor’s powers for the duration of the “catastrophic health emergency.”
This second bill — which terminates April 30, 2021 — would give Hogan the go-ahead to order the state’s health department to cover COVID-19 testing costs if they would not otherwise be covered by a third party or insurance carrier. This would also require insurance carriers and Medicaid to cover COVID-19 immunization for those who are eligible.
2nd Lieutenant Richard Collins III’s Law
Lawmakers also passed a bill Monday that expands the definition of what is considered a hate crime, making it easier to convict someone accused of such a crime.
The legislation is named in honor of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, a black Bowie State University student who was stabbed to death on this university’s campus in 2017. Sean Urbanski, a white former student at this university, was convicted of first-degree murder in Collins’ killing this winter, but a judge decided to drop a hate crime charge against him, saying prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence.
The bill loosens language in Maryland’s current hate crime statute, which Aisha Braveboy, state’s attorney for Prince George’s County, says is overly restrictive and makes prosecuting hate crimes an “almost impossible” task.
Currently, the law states a person cannot commit certain crimes against individuals or groups “because of” factors including their race, gender and sexual orientation. The bill would change that phrasing to “motivated either in whole or in substantial part” by those factors.
State legislators also passed a bill named after Olivia Paregol, a freshman at this university who died in 2018 from pneumonia caused by adenovirus. The bill would require Maryland public higher education institutions to create “outbreak response” plans, ready to be implemented when necessary.
This university’s administration has received criticism for waiting 18 days to notify students of an adenovirus outbreak on the campus in fall 2018. While an independent report found the university followed state, federal and campus protocol in its response to the outbreak, it faltered in its communication between departments.
Public Education Reforms
Legislators also approved a massive overhaul of the state’s public education system, which endeavors to boost teacher pay and increase funding to schools that have a large number of students from low-income families, among other goals.
The price tag for the reforms is enormous — $3.8 billion a year by the 2030 fiscal year — but legislators amended the bill to limit funding increases to the rate of inflation if a substantial economic downturn happens, or if an oversight board finds they aren’t being properly implemented or boosting student performance.
The state also passed multiple tax increases and other measures to cover the bill’s costs.
Other notable bills
HBCUs – Another bill would provide an additional $580 million to the state’s four historically black colleges and universities over ten years. Along with helping the schools bolster scholarships, recruit faculty, expand programs and market themselves, the bill aims to settle a 13-year-old lawsuit against the state, which alleges Maryland’s government made decisions that harmed the viability of the schools.
Racial discrimination based on hairstyles – Legislators passed a bill that would expand racial discrimination statutes to include discrimination based on hair style as well as texture.
Textbook transparency – Another bill would require University System of Maryland institutions to “clearly and conspicuously” note in course catalogs the classes that require free or low cost textbook materials.
Bills that have yet to pass
To pass so many bills, lawmakers waived restrictions barring multiple readings of the same bill in a given session and adjourned sessions to open new ones seconds later, according to a tweet from a Baltimore Sun reporter.
Despite the breakneck speed, though, some bills considered high priority by campus activists were not addressed in the final sessions before lawmakers adjourned Wednesday evening.
This included a bill named in honor of Jordan McNair, a Maryland football player who died from heatstroke in 2018 after participating in a team workout. The legislation would establish an advisory council to address student-athletes’ health concerns and set up potential avenues for athletes at Maryland public universities to profit off their own names.
Lawmakers also left two House bills unresolved that would govern how state public universities must respond to mold outbreaks — such as the one that occurred on campus in fall 2018, spreading through dorms and prompting Elkton Hall to be temporarily evacuated.
One bill would mandate building inspections on school property and establish mold exposure limits. The other would have University System of Maryland universities prepare environmental reports on the presence of mold and other contaminants, including asbestos, in campus buildings.
Two bills on collective bargaining have also yet to pass. One would allow graduate assistants at this university, as well as others in the University System of Maryland and two other state schools, to unionize — a cause campus activists have supported passionately for two decades.
The other would allow unions representing workers at system institutions — such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, which represents employees at this university — to negotiate their contracts collectively with the university system, rather than on an institution-by-institution basis.