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Maryland Black Caucus releases legislative agenda, prioritizes health, housing and criminal justice reform

Black Maryland lawmakers highlighted a package of measures on Thursday that they are prioritizing to improve health, access to housing, minority business opportunities, education and criminal justice reforms.

Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, noted that the caucus includes 66 of the Maryland General Assembly’s 188 legislators, the largest caucus of its kind in the nation.

“Our agenda seeks to address health disparities and maternal health and cancer that plague our communities and lead to high mortality rates,” Wilkins, a Montgomery County Democrat, said at a news conference. “We will seek to increase access to housing and create a more stable environment for renters and Marylanders.”

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Here’s a look at some of the measures that are being prioritized by the caucus:

HEALTH

The caucus is supporting a measure to improve the health of pregnant women by streamlining medical forms after they are discharged from hospitals and connecting patients with community-based services.

Black lawmakers also are adding their support to a bill to expand the authority of the Maryland Prescription Drug Affordability Board to set upper payment limits on prescription drugs statewide. The caucus also wants to do more to raise public awareness about the availability of cancer screening.

HOUSING

The caucus is backing a bill to give local governments the authority to require just cause to deny the renewal of leases and establish clear criteria for evictions to protect tenants. Another bill would restrict housing providers from discriminating against potential tenants who have criminal records by barring landlords from reviewing criminal history three years after release.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

The caucus is seeking to expand criminal record expungement laws. One measure would enable courts to decide whether a person’s record could be expunged, even if a crime falls outside of current statutory allowances. Supporters say that while the state has made progress on expungement rights, there are still a number of misdemeanors — like driving without a license or without insurance — that can’t be expunged.

The caucus also supports a bill to create an ombudsman’s office for the correctional system that would provide a voice for the incarcerated and their families about conditions in correctional facilities.

EDUCATION

A measure with caucus support would ensure that Maryland is not approving duplicate programs that are already being provided by the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities.

The caucus also expressed opposition to a proposal in Gov. Wes Moore’s budget proposal that would create a copayment of up to 7% of families’ income to participate in a child care scholarship program. Del. Stephanie Smith, a Baltimore Democrat, said the potential copays “could actually make the value of the scholarship program less potent.” The governor’s office said Moore is proud to have put forward the largest investment ever in the program, and that the governor looks forward to continuing conversations with lawmakers, local leaders and advocates.

MINORITY BUSINESS

The caucus highlighted a bill to increase transparency in the awarding of state contracts. One measure would create an interactive public dashboard for the state’s Board of Public Works, which approves most state contracts. Another measure would increase prime contracting opportunities for minority businesses.

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