The Maryland House of Delegates will focus on a “decency agenda” in 2024, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said.
During an interview last week at her office in Annapolis, Jones said the package of bills will focus on combating hate and prejudice, including against Jewish and Muslim people.
“These bills will put safeguards and best practices in place to make sure that intolerance and hate don’t take further root in our state’s institutions and schools,” she said. “We can’t count on the courts to protect us anymore. So, stay tuned.”
More details are expected in the first week of the 446th General Assembly session, which kicks off Wednesday at noon.
According to a Maryland State Police 2022 Hate Bias Report released Oct. 1, law enforcement agencies reported 465 hate bias cases that year, the highest figure in 10 years. Any reports received after July 1 of last year will be included in the next annual report.
In comparison, law enforcement agencies reported 388 hate bias cases in the 2021 report and 382 in the 2020 document.
The report released in October shows the top two “bias motivations” were against Black people at 43% and against those of Jewish descent at 15%. Hate crimes have risen dramatically in recent months, partly in response to the Israel-Hamas War.
“It’s quite obvious we aren’t being decent. Some of the stuff I see people doing is ridiculous,” Jones said. “That’s why we deliberately named it that way because we’re not being decent to each other.”
The legislature passed a measure last year to help assess and combat hate crime, creating the Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention, overseen by the Office of the Attorney General.
Other legislative priorities for 2024 that Jones highlighted include passing a balanced budget, working with Gov. Wes Moore (D) and his administration to increase affordable housing, expanding mental health services with more inpatient beds and reducing emergency room wait times.
With the legislative session set to begin Wednesday, here are a few other legislative priorities the speaker summarized:
Jones said the House and Senate will work together on a joint agenda to address juvenile crime.
Part of that will be assessing the protocols of Children In Need of Supervision. The process, also known as CINS and overseen by the state Department of Juvenile Services (DJS), allows representatives from law enforcement and various agencies to fill out a form to refer youth and their families to a variety of services.
But the House Judiciary Committee held briefings in the fall that revealed some jurisdictions do not file the CINS forms that would refer youth to services after they have been in trouble. At a hearing, the president of the state’s fraternal order of police, Clyde Boatwright, told the committee that officers don’t fill out the form because they see no remedy when a young person continues to commit certain crimes.
“From DJS to the state’s attorneys to law enforcement, we discovered a clear lack of cohesion and coordination,” Jones said. “As a result, our youth fall through the cracks because we’re not talking to each other.”
However, she said the legislature doesn’t anticipate “rolling back the recent juvenile justice laws that we have passed, but we may look to make some tweaks to these bills to improve the system.”
As the state faces $3.3 billion in cuts to proposed transportation funding, the Transportation Revenue and Infrastructure Needs Commission released recommendations last month on ways to build revenue. Those include charging new fees for owners of electric and hybrid vehicles, increasing tolls and having the state Department of Transportation overhaul the process for setting a rolling six-year list of road and transit projects.
“We’re going to be looking at these this coming session,” Jones said. “But our goal is to ensure safe and efficient transit while balancing our fiscal realities. We got to make sure that it makes sense for our citizens that we serve.”
‘A lot of pride’
The House of Delegates will be at full strength when it convenes Wednesday, with the swearing-in Monday of Del. Denise Roberts, who fills a vacant seat in Prince George’s County’s District 25.
The chamber will also continue to hold one of the largest Legislative Black Caucuses in the country, a group of lawmakers that has significantly influenced State House policies in the last several years.
That history and influence is not lost on Jones.
“They’re serving in that chamber that was built by slaves,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of rich history here. There’s a lot of pride here. I’m very proud of what we have here.”