2015 Public Policy Agenda
Our advocacy work stems from a recognition that a healthy Maryland economy requires public policies that meet the workforce needs of employers and promote fair and equitable access to economic opportunities for low-income Marylanders.
During the 2015 state legislative session, JOTF will support legislative and budget initiatives that promote education, training and employment advancement opportunities for low-wage, low-skill workers and job-seekers, the reentry of people with criminal records, workplace benefits, and best-practice hiring policies.
Maryland Healthy Families Act
Everyone gets sick and everyone deserves time to recover without risking their economic stability, yet 40 percent of American workers are unable to earn paid sick days. Amongst low-wage workers, the people who can least afford to take unpaid time off when sick, 82 percent lack access to this basic benefit.
In Maryland, more than 700,000 of our neighbors are forced to make impossible choices: go to work sick, send an ill child to school or daycare, or stay home and sacrifice much-needed income or, worse, risk job loss. Marylanders need a basic standard guaranteeing their ability to earn paid, job-protected sick days. The Working Matters coalition, of which JOTF is a founding member, will introduce the Maryland Healthy Families Act in 2015. The proposed legislation would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of seven days per year for full-time workers.
Criminal Records - Non-Convictions - Expungement
Employers often refuse to hire applicants with criminal records, even if there has been no conviction. In Maryland, non-convictions may be expunged from an individual’s criminal record immediately or after a waiting period; however, current law prohibits the expungement of a non-conviction if the individual is subsequently convicted of any crime, no matter how minor. JOTF believes that Marylanders should not be penalized for offenses for which they were never convicted.
JOTF will support the reintroduction of legislation that would repeal the rule prohibiting expungement if a subsequent conviction occurs. We will also support legislation that would allow for the automatic expungement of certain non-convictions (NPs, Acquittals and Dismissals) after the required three-year waiting period. The expungement can be immediate if the individual waives their right to sue.
Maryland Second Chance Act of 2015
The ability to secure gainful employment is crucial to the successful reentry of those returning to society from prison. Research shows that recidivism risks are highest in the first 3-5 years following incarceration. A study funded by the National Institute of Justice examined more than 80,000 criminal records and found that there is a way to accurately estimate a point in time when an individual with a criminal record is at no greater risk of committing another crime than other individuals of the same age.
Given that recidivism declines steadily with time clean, JOTF will support the reintroduction of legislation in 2015 that would allow persons to petition the courts to shield certain nonviolent misdemeanor convictions after a three-to-five year waiting period. Law enforcement will continue to have full access to the shielded records, as will employers and entities with a statutory or contractual duty to conduct a criminal background check.
Justice Reinvestment Initiative
JOTF is a member of the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (MAJR), a bi-partisan, statewide coalition seeking legislative solutions to the collateral consequences that result from mass incarceration policies in Maryland. One of MAJR’s legislative solutions this year include a statewide Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) proposal that would reinvest savings from reduced incarceration to increase job training and educational opportunities behind the fence and in local detention centers and communities, identifies and review regulations and policies that restrict licensure and certification due to a criminal record, and requires the courts to advise individuals of the collateral consequences associated with a guilty plea.
Post-Secondary Access and Affordability
Increasing access to post-secondary education can strengthen Maryland’s families and communities and improve outcomes for the working poor, especially as workers with college experience are more likely to move out of poverty and attain higher-paying jobs. The poverty rate drops from 14 percent among Marylanders with a high school credential to less than 5 percent among Marylanders with at least some college experience.
Unfortunately, low-income and non-traditional students face the greatest barriers to post-secondary completion, and affordability is high on the list of challenges. While federal student aid plays a major role in college financing, state policy ultimately drives the cost of college. JOTF will encourage the State to drive program innovation and direct state aid resources to the students who need them most.
In addition to the importance of post-secondary access, JOTF recognizes that nearly one million working-age Maryland adults lack a high school diploma. More education could help many of these workers move into high-demand, better-paying jobs. JOTF will carefully monitor the state budget to ensure the protection of funding for adult education. We will also work to preserve the access and affordability of the GED examination.
Low-Cost Auto Insurance
Mobility is a vital factor for working families, yet the insurance industry practice of “territorial rating” – setting premiums based on the statistical likelihood of accidents and claims by residents of a given area – means that urban drivers pay considerably more for car insurance than do other Maryland residents. The lowest-wage Baltimoreans tend to face the highest rates of all – largely regardless of their personal driving histories. A 2003 Maryland Insurance Administration comparison of premiums offered by the state’s ten largest insurance companies found that Baltimore City residents paid up to 60 percent more than those in Baltimore County. JOTF is also concerned by the key role that consumer credit histories play in setting auto insurance rates.
Legislation to create a Task Force to Study Methods to Reduce the Rate of Uninsured Drivers was passed in Maryland in 2014. As Task Force members, JOTF will encourage policymakers to consider how low-income residents are impacted by insurance industry practices, and we will closely monitor any legislation that may arise in 2015 as a result of Task Force recommendations. We will also work to educate members on the merits of models such as California’s Low-Cost Automobile Insurance Program, which seeks to close the gap between what low-wage drivers can afford to pay for insurance and what companies charge for basic coverage.
In 2012, JOTF successfully worked with partner organizations, DHR’s Child Support Enforcement Administration, and DPSCS to educate policymakers on the importance of suspending child support orders for incarcerated individuals. Under the new law, individuals who are sentenced to at least 18 consecutive months of imprisonment and do not have the financial capacity to pay will have their child support order automatically suspended upon incarceration. During the 2014 legislative session, JOTF will seek to commission an implementation audit so that we may gauge a better understanding of whether the policy has been successful.
For more information, or to receive weekly policy updates during Maryland's legislative session, contact Melissa Broome at 410-234-8046.