Maryland’s legislative session runs from January through April each year. Mid-March is a critical time when the fate of roughly 3,000 proposed bills begins to be decided, as legislators – and advocates! – race against the clock to make sure critical reforms pass before the session ends.
With just weeks left in this legislative session, here are some of the top priorities our team has been working on in Annapolis – take a moment to contact your legislators TODAY to support these important bills! (You can find your legislators here.)
This year, our Birth to Three Strategic Initiative has been working on a number of reforms in Annapolis. First, we are supporting SB 912/HB 1685 “Thrive By Three” to increase funding for care coordination for pregnant parents and families with young children. We are supporting efforts to expand Maryland’s Child Care Subsidy (SB 379/HB 430) to eliminate barriers for low-income families to receive high quality child care. And we are working with our Child Welfare program to expand Maryland’s Birth Match law, which provides a safety check for newborns whose parents have had their parental rights terminated due to abusing and/or neglecting older children. Our expansions (SB 490/ HB 454) will ensure that newborns whose parents have been convicted of killing a child will also receive a safety check. This is an effort to intervene and potentially prevent neglect, abuse, or death of the new baby from occurring.
Our other Child Welfare policy priority relates to increasing access to federal benefits for youth in foster care (SB 291/HB 524). This bill requires the Department of Human Services to create savings accounts to protect federal benefits for youth while they are in foster care. Currently, instead of using the additional money for the individual needs of the children entitled to it, the Department of Human Services uses the money to reimburse themselves for the cost of foster care. The funds can be accessed once the youth exits the foster care system in an attempt to improve what are currently bleak outcomes for our most vulnerable youth.
While the focus of our Economic Sufficiency program early in session was supporting the veto override for paid sick leave, we then shifted our focus to a trio of anti-hunger programs that would ensure all children have access to healthy, nutritious foods. Our goals were to provide extra funds that people receiving federal benefits could use to buy food at their local farmers market (SB 185); to double the funding for school breakfast programs that allow students to eat breakfast on the go, rather than in the cafeteria (SB 818/HB 1235); and to eliminate the cumbersome ‘reduced price’ meals options in schools, to ensure all children in need have access free breakfast and lunch (SB 740/HB 315).
Our Education Program focuses on three areas – climate, discipline, and funding. Our priority this session has been on reforms at the state and local level that end the school to prison pipeline – a term used to describe the often unfair and harsh criminal consequences that disproportionately impact African-American students and students with disabilities. During session, we advocated for increased training for school police so that police officers who may interact with children understand child and adolescent development (HB 1488). We also are pushing for MSDE to be more transparent in its release of student arrest and suspension data so that parents, community members and advocates can begin to understand the root causes of student discipline (HB 1254). Additionally, we are working to ensure that schools are adequately funded in a way that addresses some of the disparities within our education system (SB 1092/HB 1415).
Our Health Policy Director worked hard with our oral health coalition partners to make progress on the bill that would authorize a mid-level dental provider, known as dental therapists, to practice in Maryland (SB 544/HB 879). This reform would increase access to dental care in Maryland for low-income kids and families who are not able to get to the dentist. ACY also supported the efforts of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative to increase drug pricing transparency (SB 1023/HB 1194)and to address issues around the affordability and access to health care coverage (SB 1011/HB 1167).
Our Youth Justice work focused on a trio of issues that would improve conditions and outcomes for justice system involved youth across the state. While reforms that would give youth who get involved in the system the support they need for better outcomes (SB 257/HB 555 and SB 657/HB 1244) have not survived the session, we continue to work for additional funding for violence intervention and prevention programs (SB 545/HB 432) and to oppose any legislation that would expose more youth to harsher penalties (SB 198/HB 102 and SB 122).
You can read our testimony, and see other legislation we supported, on our website!