Submitted by Advocacy Co-Chairs Fran Rothstein and Emily Shetty
WDC's Advocacy Committee supports legislative initiatives that disproportionately impact women and families at the state and county levels. Our current advocacy priorities focus on criminal justice, health care, economic security, and children and youth.
Protecting Women and Children
In the criminal justice space, we applaud the legislature for passing legislation clarifying that a rape victim is not required to physically resist in order to receive justice. Rape victims sometimes opt not to resist because fighting back could further endanger them. This legislation makes it clear that a victim is not required to physically resist in order for her case to move forward. We are also thrilled that in Montgomery County's just-released Council budget, the Council included funds for safe supervised visitation/safe exchange sites. This is a critical effort that WDC partnered with CourtWatch Montgomery on to make sure that families with protective orders have a safe location for supervised visits with children.
Improvements Needed On Justice Reform Issues
Despite last year's Justice Reinvestment Act, Maryland remains in desperate need of reform on important criminal justice issues. We continue to work with our coalition partners and elected officials on several additional initiatives including terminating parental rights for rapists; keeping guns out of the hands of individuals convicted of violent crimes, and ending juvenile life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Health Care and Fracking Ban
WDC advocates saw greater success in our health care priorities. We supported the fracking ban for three reasons: (1) its negative effects on health, including an increase in pregnancy-related complications, and an increase in rates of asthma and other bronchial conditions; (2) its negative effects on the environment, contaminating drinking water, soil, and air; and (3) its negative effects on land values in Garrett and Allegheny counties, where tourism is a major source of revenue that would likely disappear.
We were thrilled that the HOPE Act passed, which included important maternal mental health provisions as well as increased access to behavioral health care services by ensuring stability for community-based clinics so they can keep their doors open.
Planned Parenthood Protection
In the face of the threatened repeal of ACA, monikered Obamacare by some, we worked hard to retain its provisions for Marylanders, including protecting funding for Planned Parenthood. Maryland is now among the first states include this state-level protection.
Healthy Working Families Act and Fight for 15
We partnered with the Working Matters Coalition on our economic security priorities. The Healthy Working Families Act (allowing workers to earn safe and sick time) passed and is awaiting the governor's signature. We also joined in the Fight for 15, which would raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. We supported similar bills at the County level (sick leave passed; the Executive vetoed the minimum wage increase), and had hoped to see both measures pass in the 2017 state legislative session.
Children and Youth Bills
Among bills we supported that relate to children and youth, the legislature passed a prohibition against suspending or expelling young children (pre-K through 2nd grade). Suspension and expulsion, which falls disproportionately on boys and children of color, can have lifelong negative impacts for those children and for society; prohibiting those practices deals a major blow to the school-to-prison pipeline. We also joined the successful efforts to expand Maryland students' access to food in schools, and to increase rights for families of children with disabilities relative to child care facilities and to Individual Education Programs (IEPs).