General Assembly | WYPR

General Assembly

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Law enforcement officials and some of the police’s most fervent critics agreed during a four-hour state Senate hearing Thursday that the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights needs to be changed. They disagreed, however,  on the scope of the change.

 

The controversial Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, or LEOBR, governs police internal investigations and discipline. Critics say it gives too much protection to police who violate rules or even the law. 

State lawmakers continued day two of their marathon hearings Wednesday on a series of bills aimed at reforming policing in Maryland. They heard from police, prosecutors, civil rights lawyers and from the mother of a 14-year-old boy who was shot and killed by police.

Police had been called to the Southwest Baltimore home of Greta Willis in August 2006 for what they were told was a fight between her and her son, Kevin Cooper.


General Assembly leaders voted Wednesday to issue a rare subpoena to Gov. Larry Hogan’s former chief of staff Roy McGrath. Lawmakers want answers about the $230,000 payout McGrath received when he left the Maryland Environmental Service to work for Hogan. 

 

Lawmakers plan to subpoena both McGrath and former Maryland Environmental Service director of operations Matthew Sherring. 


State lawmakers heard hours of testimony Tuesday about a slate of Democratic proposals to reform policing in Maryland, in the first of three straight days of hearings on the topic. In addition to civil rights advocates, law enforcement leaders and elected officials, the state Senate Judicial Proceedings committee heard from several residents who spoke about fathers, sons and other family members killed by police in Maryland.

Statewide efforts to reform policing will be the focus of a three-day marathon of hearings that begins Tuesday before the state Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee. The hearings will consider issues related to body cameras, police discipline, and use-of-force policies.

 

The timing of the hearings — more than three months before the annual 90-day General Assembly session begins — is unusual, but Sen. Will Smith, chair of the committee, said this is an unusual time.

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More than six months since the pandemic caused widespread job losses, Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson says her office has processed 96 percent of unemployment claims — which still leaves about 30,000 people waiting for benefits.

Joel McCord

The presiding officers of Maryland’s General Assembly disappointed a coalition of progressive activists Wednesday night, telling them they would not call for a special session to act on issues such as housing, worker protection and police reform.

Members of the coalition, from groups like Progressive Maryland, Jews United for Justice and CASA, spread out on 141 socially distanced folding chairs—the same number as in the House of Delegates—in a field outside an Annapolis school. They were trying to demonstrate that lawmakers could safely hold legislative hearings and votes.

Maryland’s public universities have for months strategized about ways to keep students and faculty safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But staff members who provide essential services, from housekeeping to IT, at many of those universities say their schools’ leaders have treated their safety and wellbeing as afterthoughts.

Members of the labor union that represents the staff shared their concerns with a group of state lawmakers on Wednesday.


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State legislators on Wednesday received a bleak picture of life at the Maryland Environmental Service under the leadership of former director Roy McGrath. During his time at the helm, McGrath was “guarded and secretive,” and morale was low, former MES deputy director Beth Wojton told members of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight.

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State lawmakers on Tuesday grilled the Maryland Environmental Service’s board over the unusual severance package given to its former director, Roy McGrath, when he left to become Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff. After his severance package became public earlier this month, he resigned that job. Rachel Baye and Nathan Sterner discuss the controversy.

Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun

Former state Delegate Cheryl Glenn was sentenced to two years in federal prison Wednesday for accepting nearly $34,000 in bribes in exchange for political favors.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake said during a virtual sentencing hearing she had to balance Glenn’s offense with her personal history of accomplishment and the need for deterrence.

Rachel Baye / WYPR


More than half a million Maryland residents have filed for unemployment insurance since March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state is still working through a backlog of about 34,000 of those applicants whose claims have not been processed.

 

During a Zoom meeting Wednesday, Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson told state lawmakers that the state has so far sent $2.7 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 400,000 residents. But she said Labor Department staff members are still reviewing applications received in May and the first half of June.

Mary Rose Madden / WYPR


House Speaker Adrienne Jones and all 98 Democratic members of the Maryland House of Delegates called on Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday to sign an executive order that would make several policing tactics illegal in the 18 law enforcement agencies under the state’s control. 

Rachel Baye / WYPR

  

The state government employees who process unemployment insurance claims and work in state prisons, juvenile services facilities, hospitals and universities say they lack the resources necessary to do their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

The workers spoke Tuesday at a virtual meeting of the state House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.

Emily Sullivan / WYPR

As the country approaches the end of a second week of protests over police abuse of black Americans, state and local leaders in Maryland are calling for reforms, including changes to state laws governing police. Many of the proposed changes have been attempted before unsuccessfully, but some lawmakers say this time is different.

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Leaders in the Maryland House of Delegates are forming a workgroup that aims to improve trust and accountability in police statewide. The announcement this weekend came a few hours before hundreds in Baltimore joined nationwide protests of abuses by police.

“Policing in America is broken,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones in a statement announcing the new workgroup. “As the mother of two sons, accountability in policing is not just philosophical, it is personal.”

The Governor's Office


As Maryland officials raced to meet the state’s urgent need for medical supplies over the last two months, two deals gained national attention:  The governor’s procurement of 500,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea and a $12.5-million contract for ventilators and masks from a company started by two Republican fundraisers.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers grilled an official in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration over whether the tests from South Korea are actually being used. They questioned whether officials have been too quick to approve these deals.

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

Stores in Baltimore City are closed. In Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, retail is open for curbside pickup and delivery. In Harford and Carroll counties, customers can actually go inside stores.

When Gov. Larry Hogan replaced his stay-at-home order with a “Safer at Home” advisory and lifted some other statewide restrictions last week, he said what’s considered safe will necessarily vary county by county. He pointed to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which together account for more than half of the state’s COVID-19 cases. He left it up to local officials to decide how to move forward into the first phase of his recovery plan. 

 

The result is a patchwork of rules that change as you cross county lines. Some county health officers told state lawmakers on Wednesday that the variation forces them into a defensive position as they explain their choices to confused residents. 

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Maryland’s unemployment insurance system has been plagued by problems for weeks. For more than nine hours on Tuesday, dozens of residents took turns sharing their experiences navigating the system with members of two state Senate committees.

Residents described spending entire days on hold with state call centers and sending repeated emails, trying to reach a Department of Labor staff member who might be able to help. They said claims are rejected without reason, and benefits that were approved suddenly stop coming.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

Gov. Larry Hogan has vetoed more than three dozen bills the General Assembly passed during this year’s abbreviated session. The rejected bills include a massive school system overhaul; funding for Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities; and a bill closing a background check loophole for long guns.

Nathan Sterner and Rachel Baye talk about some of the vetoes.

Rachel Baye / WYPR


Angel Lopez lost his job as a mechanic in Baltimore when business slowed due to the coronavirus  pandemic. Then his partner lost her part-time job cleaning houses. 

 

Lopez is undocumented, and his partner’s application for asylum is on hold while the courts are closed. As a result, they don’t qualify for unemployment, federal stimulus money, or Baltimore’s small existing rental assistance program.

During an interview in mid-April, Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he would pay for May’s rent. He said he was considering selling his car.

Rachel Baye

Maryland officials announced on Friday that they are expecting a $2.8-billion drop in revenues for the three months that end June 30. In response, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a state budget and hiring freeze.

Rachel Baye / WYPR


The leaders of the state Senate and House of Delegates are pushing back on calls to require that all voters in the June primary election submit their ballots by mail. Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones lodged their concerns in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday.

Rachel Baye/WYPR


 The Maryland General Assembly adjourned its annual 90-day legislative session on Wednesday, 19 days early as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the first time since the Civil War that the legislature cut its time in Annapolis short.

Patrick Semansky / AP


  As state lawmakers hurdle toward an early end to the legislative session, lawmakers passed two bills on Tuesday that aim to help Baltimore with its crime-fighting efforts.

Rachel Baye


The state Senate passed two changes to the sales tax on Tuesday night. One of the bills extends the sales tax to digital products, such as e-books and streaming services. The other raises taxes on tobacco products.

Rachel Baye

A sweeping overhaul of Maryland’s public school system is one step closer to fruition after the state Senate passed it Monday night. The changes came out of what’s known as the Kirwan Commission, a state panel that spent three years developing recommendations for making Maryland’s schools globally competitive.

Rachel Baye

The state Senate voted Monday to pass a bill that aims to provide some relief to residents from some of the effects of the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Joel McCord

For the first time since the Civil War, Maryland’s General Assembly is going home early. Legislative leaders announced Sunday they are ending the session March 18 because of increasing threats of the novel coronavirus.

In an afternoon news conference Senate President Bill Ferguson said the threat of the virus has become critical.

Rachel Baye/WYPR

  Gov. Larry Hogan has announced several drastic actions aimed at mitigating what experts say is the inevitable spread of the novel Coronavirus in Maryland. Among these, the state is closing public schools for two weeks, activating the National Guard, and closing the Port of Baltimore to cruise ships.

 

The measures were prompted by the news that Maryland has its first confirmed case of community-transmitted COVID-19, the disease caused by the new Coronavirus. The infected person, a Prince George’s County resident, has no known exposure to the virus through travel or another infected person.

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