Current Advocacy

HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESERVING DEMOCRACY: UNDERSTANDING HR1/S1 WEBINAR

Republicans nationwide have embarked on a legal onslaught to limit voting rights in the states. And even before these most recent insidious efforts, our democracy was under attack by efforts to restrict, suppress, and intimidate voters; by partisan gerrymandering; by a lack of ethics and accountability among elected officials, and by the influence of big money.

The urgent antidote to all these efforts is HR1/S1, the For the People Act – a landmark act that the Brennan Center for Justice has described as “the most significant democracy reform in the past half century.” The bill’s architect, Maryland’s own Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD 3rd District), headlined DoTheMostGood’s virtual town hall--Preserving Democracy: Understanding HR1/S1--on February 24. HR1 passed the House on March 3, without a single Republican vote.

Now, the For The People Act is in the Senate, where it faces more difficult terrain. At least ten Republicans will have to join Democrats in supporting the bill to avert an expected Republican filibuster. Without that Republican support, Democrats must either end or change the filibuster rule or watch the bill fail.

The ramifications of that would be terrible. But why? The short answer is that the For the People Act would secure in federal law the voting rights that Republicans are working to take away at the state level. But how, specifically? What reforms would the For the People Act achieve, and why are they so important?

Answering those questions was the primary driver behind DTMG’s February 24th town hall which featured an outstanding panel of experts: Rep. Sarbanes; Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of End Citizens United; and Elizabeth Hira, Spitzer Fellow and Policy Counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. About 170 people attended the town hall, which was co-sponsored by seven grassroots groups, including Indivisible MoCo, Indivisible Waterfront, Montgomery County MD Women’s Democratic Club, MoCoWoMen, NOPE, Silver Spring Progressive Action, and Virginia Democracy Forward. You can view the livestream recording and DTMG’s Resource Portal for the event using the links on this page.

Highlights from the town hall

Sarbanes said that “our democracy is still very fragile” and that “the stakes could not be higher” because of what the Republican party is doing at the state level. According to the Brennan Center, Republicans have introduced 253 bills in 43 states to limit voting rights. They want to limit early voting, make absentee voting by mail dependent on having a medical excuse, limit the accessibility of vote by mail collection boxes and require state-issued identification for in-person voting. Sarbanes said the For the People Act would “stop that in its tracks,” while also addressing other issues (gerrymandering, ethics, money, etc.) that impede our democracy.

Muller provided detailed information about “the attacks we’ve seen on our democracy” not just in recent months but “over decades.” Many of them, she noted, clearly target voters of color. But, she said, “the good news is that HR1/S1 fixes these problems.” And fixing voting-related problems will ultimately have an impact on every other issue, from climate change to immigration, from gun violence background checks to prescription drug costs.

Hira told specific – and shocking -- tales of what Republicans are doing now to win elections by limiting people’s right to vote. In Texas, someone can use a gun license as a voter ID – but they can’t use a student ID. In North Carolina, the state took out early voting at historically black colleges. In Georgia, Republicans have already succeeded in getting a bill passed in the state’s House of Representatives that would stop early voting on Sundays and all but one Saturday during that state’s early voting period.

There are many, many more such stories. Hira said the For the People Act “picks up the work of the civil rights movement” to fix these how-is-this-happening-in-2021 problems, and also does “proactive work to build an inclusive and reflective democracy.”

Among a long list of other reforms, the bill would allow same-day voter registration at all voting sites, automatic registration of voters, and no-excuse voting by mail. It would limit a favorite Republican voter-suppression tactic: purging the voter rolls. It would eliminate partisan gerrymandering, fix the Federal Elections Commission, set up a new system of funding Congressional elections and require PACs and dark money groups to disclose their donors, so money does not determine who can run for office and who wins elections. There are ethics provisions as well – including the first ethics laws ever specifically for Justices of the Supreme Court.

Sound ambitious? It is. Sound like something that will have a tough climb in the Senate? That too. But as Sarbanes said, “It’s the big-bang transformation we need to see in our democracy. And where there’s a will, there’s a way.” You are part of that way. Check out the options for action on this page and sign up today. The time is now.

Important Wins, Disappointing Losses as MD General Assembly Concludes

 

By the time the 90-day 2021 Maryland General Assembly session ended at midnight on Monday, April 12, more than 2,300 bills had been introduced in the House and Senate, and lawmakers had overridden most of Governor Hogan’s vetoes from last year – including the Blueprint for Education.

There’s a lot to sort through and a lot that matters, so DoTheMostGood is planning a Maryland-focused virtual General Membership meeting in early May. We’ll have some of our MoCo House and Senate members on hand to bring everyone up to speed on what happened in the General Assembly and how it will affect us all. Look for an announcement with meeting details soon!

DTMG submitted testimony on more than 90 bills addressing civil rights, education, elections, the environment, gun safety, healthcare, immigration, police reform, and transportation. We’re happy to report that many of them passed – see the list below. Unfortunately, several others did not. We urge you to read Maryland Matters’ thorough rundown, published just yesterday.

One of the most – if not the most – disappointing, detrimental results was the House’s severe weakening of the major omnibus climate bill we supported (SB0414 - Climate Solutions Now). During the final days of the session, DTMG and other grassroots groups across the state mounted an intense push, urging the House to compromise with the Senate. The House refused, and the bill died.

Cecelia Plante, the co-chair of the Maryland Legislative Coalition and chair of its Climate Justice Wing, critiques the path and fate of Climate Solutions Now in a perfectly headlined op-ed in Maryland Matters: “The House Is Listening to the Wrong People for Climate Solutions.” As she pointedly explains, the assertions by the state environmental bureaucracy, commercial real estate developers, and lobbyists out-influenced the input from independent researchers and constituent activists.

“Given the nature of the crisis we face, the loss of the Climate Solutions Now Act is a profound failure,” Plante writes. “We applaud the Senate for bringing such a powerful and forward-thinking bill and hope the House will take this crisis seriously and start listening to the scientists. And their constituents.”

Bills DTMG supported to ban “ghost guns” and provide additional oversight, and taxpayer protections for Governor Hogan’s project to add toll lanes to I-270 and the Beltway also failed to pass again this session.

There were, however, many victories. Passage of COVID relief, the package of bills on police reform, and repeal of the racist Maryland state song have already received a lot of news coverage. Here’s a quick summary of some of the other bills we supported that did pass (and we thank the Maryland Legislative Coalition for collating some of this list!):

 

Civil Rights:

  • HB0018 – Residential Tenants – Right to Counsel – establishes a Right to Counsel in Evictions Coordinator to organize and direct services and resources for tenants who are evicted.

  • HB0581 – Maryland Essential Workers' Protection Act – provides safe working conditions, PPE, testing and public health emergency leave for anyone who becomes sick during a public health emergency and allows workers to refuse hazardous work.

  • HB0039 – Action for Name Change – Waiver of Publication Requirement – allows a person to change their name without having it publicized, and protects the privacy of trans youths,

 Education:

  • HB0541 - Montgomery County – Residential Property Sales – School District Information – requires home buyers to be informed that school boundaries are subject to change.

  • HB0636 - Safe School Drinking Water Act – reduces allowable levels of lead in school drinking water from 20 ppb to 5 ppb.

  • Elections:

  • HB0156 – Student and Military Voter Empowerment – provides ballots, better voting information, and access for college students and military members.

  • HB0745 – Election Law – Early Voting Centers – makes early voting centers in each county more accessible.

  • HB1048 – Election Law – Voting – Permanent Absentee Voting, Ballot Drop Boxes and Reports – allows voters to automatically get an absentee ballot, and makes drop boxes more convenient based on population.

Environment:

  • HB0080 – Urban Tree Program – provides for replacement of trees removed in urban areas disrupted by transportation projects, particularly along the Purple Line route.

  • HB0208 - Neonicotinoid Pesticides - Sale and Storage – restricts sale and storage of bee-killing neonic pesticides.

  • HB0264 – Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion – Food Residuals – requires large organizations (groceries, schools) to separate and recycle organic waste.

  • HB0280 – Maryland Recycling Act – removes incinerator ash from the definition of recyclable materials for the purpose of meeting local recycling requirements.

  • HB0298 – Utility Regulation – Consideration of Climate and Labor – requires the Public Service Commission to consider the effects new fossil fuel infrastructure has on climate change.

  • HB0768 – Montgomery County – Community Choice Energy - Pilot Program – allows the county to set up a program to negotiate better electricity rates and more clean energy for residents.

  • HB0991 – Tree Solutions Now Act – as amended, plants 5 million trees in urban areas and sunsets forest mitigation banks used by developers to avoid planting new trees to replace those removed.

  • HB1007 – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Geothermal Heating and Cooling Systems – adds geothermal heating and cooling to the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards.

  • SB0137 – Zero Emission Bus Transition Act – requires new buses purchased by the state to be electric or zero-emission.

Healthcare:

  • HB0123 – Preserve Telehealth Access - allows for the provision of Medicare and Medicaid services through audio or video communication as opposed to requiring an inpatient visit.

  • HB0565 – Medical Debt Protection – requires hospitals to offer affordable payment plans and prohibits them from filing lawsuits until payments are 180 days late.

  • HB1040 – Pharmacists – Administration of Children’s Vaccines – allows pharmacists to administer vaccines to children.

  • SB0278 – School-Based Health Center Standards – Telehealth - expands telehealth services to the broader community by allowing school-based health centers to provide general care.

Immigration:

  • HB0015 – Creating Governor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs – creates a cabinet-level position to support immigrants.

  • HB0016 – Dignity Not Detention Act – prohibits privately funded detention centers in the state; law enforcement from asking about citizenship, immigration status or place of birth during a stop, search or arrest; and correctional facilities from holding a person past their release date in order to hand them over to ICE.

  • HB0023 – Maryland Driver Privacy Act – prohibits personal records from being accessed by ICE without a warrant.

Transportation:

  • HB0110 - Electric Vehicle Recharging Equipment for Multifamily Units Act – prohibits restrictions on installation or use of electric vehicle recharging equipment by HOAs and condominiums.

  • HB0114 – Transit Safety and Investment Act - provides six years of funding to the Maryland Transit Authority to fix the backlog of repairs and fund the Western Region transit study.