Long-Running HBCU Lawsuit Could Settle With Bill’s Passage in Senate

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), center, testifies in favor of her legislation to direct $577 million in additional funding to Maryland's four HBCUs over the next decade to settle a 14-year lawsuit. She was joined by Speaker Pro Tem Sheree L. Sample-Hughes (D-Middle Shore) and presidents of the state's HBCUs. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Annapolis abounds with historical moments this week as lawmakers announce a rushed end to the legislative session in the face of a looming COVID-19 outbreak.

With a mere three days left to complete three weeks’ worth of work, the General Assembly has been forced to prioritize which legislation to pass — most notably the state’s operating and capital budgets and the Kirwan Commission’s education recommendations, to name just a few.

Among those expedited bills is House Bill 1260, which officially passed both chambers after receiving a unanimous vote in the Senate during a rare Sunday floor session.

Sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), the legislation would allot $577 million for the state’s historically black colleges and universities over the course of a decade.

When Jones presented the bill before the House Appropriations Committee in February, she stated that its intent was to settle the long-fought 2006 lawsuit that the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education had waged against the state. 

The coalition claimed instances of continued segregation in higher education based on a lack of adequate funding for the state’s HBCUs, coupled with degree program duplication on the part of traditionally white schools. 

The U.S. District Court in 2013 ruled in their favor regarding program duplication but did not find that the schools were underfunded in comparison to other institutions. 

The case has yet to settle.

If enacted, measures provided under the bill would go into effect if a resolution is not reached by Dec.1 of this year. The fate of the bill, and the lawsuit, is now in the hands of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R).

The legislation received a standing ovation from many supporting House lawmakers when it passed on the floor late last week, during which time Jones shot a quick thumbs up and offered a very brief “thank you” to the chamber.

Supporters of the bill in the Senate welcomed the vote.

Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s) called its passing “long overdue” during an explanation of his vote on the floor Sunday.

“This has certainly been a long time coming,” he said. “It has not been easy, but at this point we are so pleased to see a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) took a moment of personal privilege on the floor as the vote was finalized to describe a conversation he had had with Patterson earlier in the session.

“Sen. Patterson said was that it shouldn’t be the Black Caucus carrying this issue,” Ferguson told the chamber after the unanimous vote. “And it’s something that will stick with me because the Black Caucus did carry this issue too long.”

“This is not a bill that will improve the lives or opportunities for black Marylanders. This will improve the life of all Marylanders, and it’s something that all of us should have been working for for a long period of time,” he said.

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.