Economic and criminal justice, education and health care are among the top priorities of the Legislative Black Caucus for the burgeoning 2020 session.
During a Wednesday morning news conference, Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the LBC chairman, opened with an acknowledgment of the historical significance of the day: the first House session to be led by Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), who took over on May 1.
“For the first time ever in 441 sessions, we have our first African American woman — first African American person — to be the speaker of the House,” said Barnes. “We are excited to support her and stand with her 100 percent.”
Barnes also addressed challenges that the caucus has had with the establishment of the medical marijuana industry in the state, saying he feels confident the legislature is moving in a direction that will ensure more African Americans are eligible to participate.
Before pivoting to a new speaker, Barnes acknowledged the indictment of former Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City), a one-time LBC leader who was charged late last month with bribery and federal wire fraud for pushing medical marijuana legislation for financial gain from a medical marijuana firm. Barnes described Glenn’s legal peril as the “elephant in the room.”
“Del. Glenn was a friend to me, and I make no bones about that,” he said. “I do not condone the things that she is alleged of doing, but I do commend the work that she did. And I think all of us stand with her as being a delegate that was advocating and fighting for African Americans to be a part of an industry that we are left out of.”
Glenn resigned late last month ahead of her indictment. Her seat has yet to be filled.
Of other legislation supported by the Black Caucus, here are some highlights:
• Sen. Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City) discussed two bills on the table this session that he said will support small minority business owners, including one that would require state agencies to make payments on contracts within 15 days of settlement on an invoice, allowing for small businesses to more consistently maintain their financial requirements.
• Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) said he is hoping three pieces of legislation emerge this year to boost the state’s four historically black colleges and universities, including measures to address program duplication and to appropriate $577 million for a proposed settlement of a lawsuit brought against the state on behalf of the HBCUs more than a decade ago.
• Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the Commission on Health Insurance Protection, cited several pieces of legislation for this session that the caucus will prioritize, including one that will preserve the consumer protections provisions afforded by the American Care Act.
• Del. Charlotte Crutchfield (D-Montgomery) said the Black Caucus plans to promote bills calling for more police accountability, better education for youth in juvenile detention centers and the possibility for more citizens to have their criminal records expunged.
• Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) discussed his intent to reintroduce “Anton’s Law”: a police accountability bill named after 19-year-old Anton Black, who died in 2018 after being in police custody. The legislation would provide new standards for police use of force policy, update the Maryland Public Information Act and reform the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
• Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery) said it is of prime concern to the caucus that all citizens be counted in the 2020 Census. She suggested that black communities are historically undercounted, which contributes to underfunding in schools and public works projects.
Barnes concluded the meeting by noting that diversity runs through not just the legislature, but also the Black Caucus.
“From our most senior legislators to our freshman legislators, they all now have an opportunity to participate in echoing the concerns and supporting the issues that plague our community,” he said.