ACLU Releases Legislative Priorities With An Eye Towards Major Police Reform

Lady Justice. Photo via Unsplash.com.

Following a year of significant social unrest and public health crises, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released its list of legislative priorities Tuesday.

“This is a tremendous time right now,” said Caylin A. Young, the organization’s new public policy director. “We’ve been watching over the last few years of how our current events have been really shaping our society, and it’s highlighted the need for some real positive and systemic change that we need to take place in the Maryland General Assembly.” 

Largely, the organization’s priorities surround overriding Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Education bill and major policing and prison reform.

Police reform

While the ACLU of Maryland has had its eye on reforming law enforcement policy for years, the death of George Floyd in late May has created even greater urgency.

“Despite repeated efforts, the legislature in Maryland has failed to take meaningful steps,” Yanet Amanuel, public policy advocate for the ACLU of Maryland, said at a virtual news conference. “We are a long way from the finish line.” 

In partnership with 90 other organizations, including the NAACP Maryland State Conference, Jews United for Justice and CASA, the ACLU is pushing for five major policing reforms, including:

  • A bill sponsored by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore City)  that would provide a full repeal of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights;
  • The reintroduction of Anton’s Law, also sponsored by Carter and Acevero, which seeks to amend Maryland Public Information Act to allow officer misconduct records and internal investigations to be disclosed to the public;
  • Legislation sponsored by Carter and Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles) that would implement a statewide use of force policy;
  • Two bills poised to remove police officers from public school campuses and reinvest the money into other services; and
  • Legislation that would return control of the Baltimore City Police Department to the city.

Due process for minors

Sen. Jill P. Carter

The ACLU is also endorsing the Juvenile Interrogation Protection Act.

Sponsored by Carter and Del. Sandy Bartlett (D-Anne Arundel), this bill would require that law enforcement keep track of attempts made to contact the legal guardians of children in police custody, order the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to create age-appropriate language to advise youths of their Miranda Rights and require that children have the ability to consult with an attorney prior to their interrogation.

“This is an important bill to pass because children are vulnerable and they must be protected,” said Justin Nalley, an education policy analyst at ACLU. “Kids will defer to authority when they have police presence in front of them, and they’re more likely to make false confessions when they have nobody to protect them.”

Removing the governor from the parole process

Currently, people serving life sentences who are eligible for parole in state prisons must have the governor sign off on their parole recommendation. Maryland is one of three states with this requirement.

“This wrongfully politicizes whether people can earn their freedom,” said Amanuel.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) is the first since former Gov. William Donald Schaeffer (D) to parole anyone serving a life sentence.

But advocates and lawmakers are looking to take the governor out of the parole process, completely.

This bill, sponsored this year by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), has been introduced several times, including last year when it passed in the House but didn’t move forward in the Senate during the abbreviated 2020 session.

Immigrants’ Rights

The ACLU is supporting Del. Wanika Fisher (D-Prince George’s) and Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) as they push again for the Maryland Trust Act, which would: 

  • Prohibit local law enforcement agencies from participating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers through the 287(g) program
  • Stop police from asking about an individual’s citizenship during regular police encounters;
  • Bar local officers from notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement of someone’s whereabouts; And
  • Protect immigrants from being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in schools, churches and hospitals.

This legislation has been introduced multiple times in the past, but made little headway in either chamber last session. 

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