Three years ago, a House committee rejected a proposal to make attacks on transit personnel a felony.
On Wednesday, the head of the Maryland Transit Administration and union leaders told members of a Senate panel that assaults on bus and subway operators are getting worse — and that state laws must be updated to provide frontline transit workers with the same protections afforded other government personnel.
“The women and men who operate transit service are heroes. During this COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve shown up to work every single day to provide a critical service,” said Maryland Transit Administrator Kevin Quinn.
“They get riders to their doctors appointments, to the grocery store, frontline jobs in hospitals and medical facilities, and without them the region would absolutely stop moving.”
UFCW MCGEO Local 1994 Vice President Clint Sobratti said a female bus driver in the Washington, D.C., suburbs was repeatedly harassed by the same male passenger — until the stress became so great she couldn’t work.
“This passenger threatened the driver daily, throwing objects at the bus operator, causing her to be distracted with a bus full of passengers,” he said. “This passenger went as far as kicking and breaking the glass door to the entrance to the bus. She was in fear of her life.”
Sens. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) and Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) have introduced legislation to stiffen the sanctions for people who attack transit workers. Their bill, Senate Bill 91, would elevate assaults on transit personnel from a Second Degree misdemeanor to a Second Degree felony, just as they are for law enforcement and corrections personnel, paramedics and firefighters.
“Transit operators are being shouted at, spit upon and assaulted,” Waldstreicher told the panel. “We need a remedy.”
Labor leaders said the abuse drivers receive is worse now that fare-collection has resumed. The enforcement of mask-orders is another source of conflict, they said.
“Assaults on bus drivers are at an all-time high,” said Mike McMillan, head of Amalgamated Transit Local 1300. “Enough is enough.”
According to Waldstreicher, Sen. Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County) has offered an amendment that would rename the bill the Marcus Parks Transit Operators Protection Act.
When ‘kill the ump’ becomes a little too literal
T.C. Cameron was a muscular 36-year-old umpire when he was chased off the field by a college baseball team in South Bend, Ind., and attacked in 2006.
He told the Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday that was trapped against a fence, struck in the face and threatened for a call the players didn’t like.
“I feared for my life,” Cameron said. The discovery of security camera footage that supported his call, four days later, was of little comfort, he said.
He said even when police officers are called to the scene, they won’t charge a person who has assaulted an umpire because they didn’t observe the incident. He said officers are often reluctant to treat on-field attacks seriously.
Senate Bill 28 would authorize police officers to arrest a person based on witness testimony and video evidence.
Cameron, who now lives in Annapolis and is taking a year off from his referee work, said Maryland is one of 24 states that does not protect youth and lower-level college game officials.
“We see this every day. I don’t want Maryland to end up on YouTube video,” he told the committee.
Michael Schilpp, president of Baltimore’s Best Umpires, testified that game officials are dropping out of the profession because of the risks they face from over-exuberant parents, players and spectators.
“Guys are quitting at an alarming rate,” he said. “You’re going to turn sports events over to parents to start officiating games, and then that will become quite disastrous.”
SB 28 is sponsored by Sen. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George’s) and eight others.