2016 Legislative Update

The 2016 Maryland General Assembly session was very successful for House of Ruth Maryland.  Once again, we want to thank Sean Malone and Phil Cronin of the lobbying firm Harris Jones and Malone who represent the House of Ruth on a pro bono basis. They are amazingly helpful to our legislative effort during the 90 day session.

Listed below is a short summary of the bills that we tracked this year. Please feel free to contact Dorothy Lennig at 410-554-8460 or dlennig@hruthmd.org, if you have any questions about our legislative activities.

Bills Supported

HB 155/SB 278 – Criminal Law – Stalking and Harassment – The House of Ruth worked with the Governor’s Family Violence Council, the Maryland State’s Attorney Association, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, the Sexual Assault Legal Institute, and many others to revise the current stalking statute. This bill adds “serious emotional distress” to the list of acts that define stalking. Under the current law, the defendant must place the victim in fear of an act of physical abuse to be convicted of stalking. PASSED

HB 314/SB 346 – Peace Orders – Grounds for Relief – Currently, harassment is one of the acts of abuse under the peace order. At the time the peace order was drafted, this was the only law referring to harassment. Since then, the legislature has passed several kinds of harassment laws. This bill amends the peace order to include these laws including telephone misuse, misuse of electronic communication, revenge porn, and various visual surveillance laws. PASSED

HB 237/SB 150 – Courts – Prohibition Against Testimony by Convicted Perjurer – Repeal – Under the current law, a person convicted of perjury may not testify. We have had at least one case where a domestic violence victim could not testify at her own protective order hearing because she had a previous perjury conviction. This bill repeals that law. PASSED

HB 534/SB 924 – Family Law – Protective Orders – Notification of Service – Sunset Repeal – In 2010, General Assembly passed a law requiring law enforcement to notify the Department of Public Safety within 2 hours after serving an interim or temporary protective order on the respondent. This is really helpful for alerting the victim that the respondent has been served, which can be a very dangerous time for the victim. This law has a sunset provision and would have ended on December 31, 2016 if we had not removed the sunset. This bill removed the sunset provision. PASSED

SB 1047 – Task Force to Study Recording Deeds for Victims of Domestic Violence – This bill creates a Task Force to study and make recommendations about how to protect the identity and address of a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) when recording a deed transferring real property to or from an ACP participant. Many of our clients use the ACP so that their abusers do not have their addresses. PASSED

HB 274 – Family Law – Divorce – Corroboration of Testimony – Under current law, divorcing parties must corroborate their testimony in order for the court to grant their divorce. This bill removes that requirement. PASSED

HB 167/SB 578 – Domestic Violence – Person Eligible for Relief – This bill modifies who is a person eligible for relief under the protective order statute to fix a redundant part of the current law. Unfavorable report by the House Judiciary Committee.

HB 1001/SB 943 – Criminal Procedure – Firearms – Transfer – For certain criminal convictions, a defendant must surrender his/her firearms. This bill spells out how the judge must inform the defendant about surrendering firearms and the procedures the defendant must follow when surrendering. The House and the Senate each amended the bill but differently from the other. A conference committee was appointed but the legislature ran out of time and the bill was not voted on.

HB 866/SB 833 –Civil Right to Counsel – Pilot Program – Domestic Violence – This bill would create a pilot project in Harford and Prince George’s County to provide free legal representation to all low income petitioners and respondents in protective order cases. It would also create a workgroup to study the civil right to counsel. Unfavorable

HB 1232/SB 978 – Child Custody – Legal Decision Making and Parenting Time – Three years ago, we supported a bill to establish the Commission on Child Custody Decision Making. The bill passed and the Commission studied many custody, visitation and access issues. The Commission ultimately drafted a proposed custody statute to both codify existing case law and suggest changes in how we handle these cases. No vote in either the House Judiciary or the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees

HB 819 – Domestic Violence – Permanent Protective Orders – Probation and Suspended Sentence – This bill would expand the permanent protective order to include defendants who were sentenced to at least 5 years and served at least one year, including any period of probation or portion of the sentence that is suspended. Under the current law, any period of probation or time that is suspended does not count. No vote by the House Judiciary Committee

HB 1091/SB 437 – Criminal Law – Committee a Crime of Violence in the Presence of a Minor – Repeal of Residence Requirement – Under the current law, a defendant must commit a crime of violence in the presence of a minor in a residence for the enhanced penalty. This bill would remove the residency requirement. Unfavorable

HB 1396/SB 960 – Domestic Violence – Education and Definition of Abuse – This bill makes two changes to the current law. It adds harassment and malicious destruction of property to the definition of abuse in the protective order and it encourages county boards of education to include domestic violence in their curriculum. Unfavorable

OPPOSING

HB 847 – Criminal Procedure – Crime of Violence – Definition – This bill would remove second degree assault from the definition of crimes of violence. Most domestic violence abusers are convicted of second degree assault. Unfavorable

HB 1386/SB 962 – Child Custody – Rebuttable Presumption of Joint Custody – This bill would create a presumption of joint custody. We have opposed this for many, many years because we believe it is dangerous to force a victim of domestic violence to have to negotiate parenting with their abusive partner. No vote by either the House Judiciary or the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees

HB 1120 – Family Law – Automatic Injunction – This bill would have required the court to issue an automatic injunction when a party files a family law case. This essentially freezes the parties in place, limiting how far the parties can move a child, what money can be spent, and who has to maintain payment on certain necessities. This bill could be very dangerous for victims of domestic violence who need to flee from their abusers. Unfavorable.

SB 890 – Expungement – Misdemeanor Convictions – This bill would greatly expand the kinds of misdemeanor crimes for which a defendant could have his/her record expunged, including domestically related crimes. We are asking that the bill be amended to exclude domestically related crimes. The contents of this bill was amended into the Justice Reinvestment Act.