July 27, 2020, Hyattsville, MD – Over 70 Maryland organizations including non-profits, unions, religious organizations, municipalities, and others have issued an open letter calling on Speaker of the House of Delegates Adrienne A. Jones, Senate President Bill Ferguson and members of the Maryland General Assembly to reconvene for a special session. Advocates who are concerned with Governor Larry Hogan’s lack of action on a variety of different pressing issues facing vulnerable Marylanders urge this reconvening as soon as possible.
“We remain deeply concerned for the most vulnerable, especially under the failed leadership of Governor Larry Hogan,” read the letter. “Black, brown, and other marginalized communities confront a tsunami of negative COVID-19 health outcomes, economic freefall including mass evictions, and the relentless denial of their humanity by the police and other pillars of the criminal justice system. The Governor will not meet the urgent demand for relief and protection, and Marylanders simply cannot wait until January.”
Citing the absence of leadership from the General Assembly, the groups press for the top concerns of emergency COVID protections for workers, renters and homeowners; police accountability, transparency, and reform; and a fair and accessible General Election.
The letter draws attention to the least 13 other states that have reconvened or plan to reconvene for a special session and outlines ways that they were able to do it safely, pressing the General Assembly to reconvene as a necessary action that would save and protect the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones
Senate President Bill Ferguson
Maryland General Assembly
State House, 100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401
July 27, 2020
Dear Speaker Jones, President Ferguson, and Members of the General Assembly,
We, the undersigned faith, labor and community based non-profit organizations, unions, associations, and municipalities represent hundreds of thousands of working families and individuals across the state. We remain deeply concerned for the most vulnerable, especially under the failed leadership of Governor Hogan. Black, brown, and other marginalized communities confront a tsunami of negative COVID-19 health outcomes, economic freefall including mass evictions, and the relentless denial of their humanity by the police and other pillars of the criminal justice system.
The Governor will not meet the urgent demand for relief and protection, and Marylanders simply cannot wait until January. The General Assembly must reconvene for a special session as soon as possible to address the following actions legislatively:
Emergency COVID protections for workers, renters, and homeowners;
Police accountability, transparency and reform; and
A fair and accessible General Election.
With over 70,000 confirmed COVID cases, and over 3,000 COVID-related deaths in Maryland, we are experiencing a profound suffering that, left unchecked, will continue to wreak havoc. A special session would allow the General Assembly to prevent additional deaths and minimize the devastating ripple effects of the pandemic. This is the best hope that we have. While there are challenges to reconvening, we urge you to follow the lead of other states who have safely reconvened to address these crises.
According to the Maryland Constitution, the Governor must convene a special session upon petition by a simple majority of members in the Senate and members in the House of Delegates. Additionally, if the General Assembly cannot safely meet in the State House, the Governor may direct special sessions to be held at any other convenient location.
At least 13 other states have reconvened or plan to reconvene in a special session to address these issues, not including states who have returned to finish their regular sessions. They have safely done so through a variety of ways, including (1) mandating health screenings, masks, and physical barriers between desks; (2) seating some members in the galleries to socially distance; (3) meeting offsite in other locations such as a convention center or sports arena, and (4) meeting virtually. Maryland must follow these states, who are leading the efforts to protect their residents from these crises.
Emergency COVID Protections for Renters and Homeowners
Renters and homeowners were already facing a housing crisis across the country even before the unprecedented increase in unemployment. While Governor Hogan instituted a moratorium on evictions in March, it does not cover all eviction cases, leaving many Marylanders at risk of homelessness in the coming months. This was described in detail in the recent Environment and Transportation Committee Virtual Hearing on the effects of COVID-19 on housing.
In addition to the limitations of the current executive order addressing evictions, there are also considerable limitations on the amount of relief that has been allocated. Governor Hogan’s recent allocation of $30 million dollars in funding to address rent delinquencies simply does not suffice when evictions have already begun. Based on the 20 percent delinquency rate cited in the Governor’s announcement, around 145,000 people are at risk of eviction due to failure to pay rent. This allocation roughly equates to about $200 per household, which does not adequately address the demand of the crisis. To prevent mass homelessness, the following actions must be taken by the General Assembly during a special session:
Allocate at least $175 million to rental assistance and eviction protection from both state and federal funds.
Expand the eviction moratorium to cover all types of eviction cases and extend the moratorium until the public health emergency ends, and residents have sufficient relief.
Prohibit rental late fees and debt collection activities on rental payment during the State of Emergency and for at least one year after the State of Emergency is lifted.
Public Health & Safety Protections for Workers
Although the federal government enacted a limited paid sick leave law and expanded family leave for some workers, it left far too many workers without protection and will sunset at the end of the year. Maryland’s Healthy Working Families Act does not address public health emergencies or close the loopholes in the federal law. Many of the most vulnerable workers are least protected physically and economically, and as businesses begin to reopen, are having to make unconscionable choices between providing for their families or risking their lives. In a special session, legislators must:
Amend Maryland’s Healthy Working Families Act to address public health emergencies, complement the federal law, and ensure broad coverage for vulnerable and “essential” workers.
Clarify that employers may not take disciplinary action or use absence control policies against workers who use sick time, and enact penalties to encourage whistleblowing and compliance.
Ensure that the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) division establishes and enforces a COVID-related standard to protect the health and safety of Maryland’s workforce.
Enact additional protections for workers who are not considered “employees” covered under state or federal sick leave law or unemployment insurance.
A Fair and Accessible General Election
As we navigate protecting our community through this pandemic, we must not overlook the implications that COVID-19 will have on our democracy. We are embarking on the most significant election of our lifetimes, facing the highest stakes in determining the future of our state, our country, and our values. We must ensure that all voters are able to safely participate in our democratic process, yet as of now, Governor Hogan has used his sole authority to decide how Marylanders will vote.
We strongly oppose the Governor’s decision to operate the election during a pandemic as if this were a normal time, requiring the State to only provide voters an application for a mail-in ballot, instead of the ballot itself. Realistically, if conducting a successful electoral process was truly the goal, the Governor would support the recommendations made by local boards of election which call for automatically mailing eligible registered voters a ballot and providing adequate in-person voting options during the early vote period and on election day.
The Center for Disease Control recommends that voters consider alternative options to voting in-person, and voting rights experts and election advocates have suggested and recommended many different alternatives that have all been ignored. The General Assembly must take the following actions during the special session to ensure that our November elections are fair, protected, accessible, and accurate:
Provide all voters a multilingual ballot via mail with a paid postage return label.
Make drop boxes (in areas accessible to voters using GIS mapping) available as soon as ballots begin to get mailed out, ensuring 24/7 surveillance and ballots picked up at least 3X a day.
Extend early voting periods and provide safe in-person voting centers.
Lead robust efforts to recruit and train new poll workers, possibly paying them a higher daily rate.
Extend the voter registration deadline and mail voter registration forms with paid postage return labels to accommodate those without internet or other means to register online.
Conduct a robust public education campaign via paid digital and broadcast media, text and phone alerts, and other methods.
Ensure that communities that may struggle with the new processes, particularly students, people with disabilities, the elderly, non-English speakers, incarcerated individuals and those without access to the internet, are educated and have assistance with voting by mail.
Police Accountability, Transparency, and Reform
The country has reawakened to the epidemic of police violence. The people of Maryland have seen life after life stolen by police who are meant to protect and serve, and have been in the streets demanding change. Since George Floyd’s murder, several states have passed and are slated to pass police reform legislation. Maryland must join in passing the following reforms with urgency:
Reform the Maryland Public Information Act to allow disclosure of all records of police misconduct.
Create statutory limits on the use of force by law enforcement.
Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) (Pub. Safety §3-101 – §3-113).
Bring the Baltimore City Police Department under local control.
Remove School Resource Officers (SROs), and shift funds toward effective behavior support and intervention strategies for students.
These five legislative reforms are addressed in detail in this letter that was delivered to the members of the General Assembly last month. Thus far, 33 Senators and Delegates have publicly committed to supporting these reforms.
Speaker Jones and President Ferguson, your leadership is desperately needed to address this pandemic. The people of Maryland cannot wait until January for a response to these statewide emergencies. A special session for the General Assembly is essential to save and protect the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Marylanders and uphold our democratic values. Our organizations stand ready to work with you to do whatever is necessary to safely reconvene and achieve these outlined priorities.
If you have any questions about this letter, please contact Cathryn Paul at email@example.com.
ACLU of Maryland
Advocates for Children and Youth
Baltimore Computer Game Wizards, Inc.
Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition
Baltimore Women United
Bend the Arc Jewish Action Prince George’s County
Beyond the Boundaries
Blessings Abound, LLC
CASH Campaign of Maryland
Center for Progressive Reform
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
City Council of Mount Rainier
City of Hyattsville
St. Vincent de Paul Church Social Action Committee
Community Development Network of MD
Congregation Action Network, Montgomery County Cluster
Doctors for Camp Closure
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Food & Water Action
Forest Heights Oxon Hill Community Development Corporation
Health Care for the Homeless
Homeless Persons Representation Project, Inc.
Howard County Coalition for Immigrant Justice
Hyattsville Mennonite Church
Immigration Outreach Service Center, Inc.
IMPACT Silver Spring
Jews United For Justice
Justice For All
Liberty Village Project
LiUNA Local 11
Maryland Center on Economic Policy
Maryland District 14 Democratic Club
Maryland Legislative Coalition
Maryland United for Peace and Justice
Maryland Violence Prevention Coalition
Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence
Million Gun Victims March Inc.
Montgomery County Democratic Socialists of America
Montgomery County Young Democrats
Montgomery Housing Partnership
Mothers on a Move
No Boundaries Coalition
Northeast Catholic Community Peace/Justice Committee
Our Revolution Maryland
Pax Christi Baltimore
Prince George’s County Peace and Justice Coalition
Public Justice Center
QED Inc. & The QED Foundation, Inc.
Resources for Immigrant Support and Empowerment (RISE) Coalition of Western Maryland
Sex Workers Outreach Project, Baltimore
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Showing Up For Racial Justice Baltimore
Silver Spring Justice Coalition
Sisterhood of Salam Shalom Silver Spring
St. Francis of Assisi R.C. Church
Sunrise Movement Baltimore
Takoma Park Mobilization Equal Justice Committee
Town of Brentwood
Turner Memorial AME Church
Ujima People’s Progress Party
UNITE Here Local 25
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER)