Maryland bill would refine environmental justice commission

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

A bill in the Maryland Senate would reform a commission to reflect the diversity within the state and expand to help vulnerable communities affected by environmental justice issues. 

SB674, cross-filed as HB1207, would revitalize the commission to meet the needs of vulnerable communities facing environmental hazards, which have only increased because of the coronavirus pandemic, advocates said. 

The Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities was established in 2001 and consists of at least 20 members staffed by the Maryland Department of the Environment, according to the bill. 

Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, signed a new environmental policy Dec. 31, 2020, which he said outlines modifications to improve the commission and help affected communities. 

Environmental justice issues disproportionately affect marginalized groups — people of color, immigrants and low-income communities — according to advocates. 

Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel, lead Senate sponsor of the bill, said her own district suffers from poor air quality, lack of public water access and more. 

Elfreth said there have been shortcomings from the commission in recent years.

“It’s not meeting regularly, not filing its reports on time, not being particularly representative of the very communities it’s intended to serve,” Elfreth said during a Senate committee hearing on Feb. 24. 

The bill would require the commission chair to be appointed by its members, membership to reflect the diversity within the state, and the commission to meet six times per calendar year. 

New membership would include at least three members from communities most negatively affected and they would be required to attend a tailored orientation, Elfreth said.

Sen. Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s, one of the Senate sponsors of the bill, said the orientation is critically important. 

“Without appropriate orientation and being brought up to speed it takes one a while sitting in the room to get the vocabulary the group is using,” Griffith told Capital News Service. “To get the history of the group’s work, the progress that’s been made and the gaps that exist in their topic area.” 

The commission would work with different state agencies and use scientific data and mapping tools to analyze the cumulative impacts of state laws and policies on these communities, according to the bill.

Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, worked with the Senate sponsors to bring this bill forward. 

In August, Wilson and other Maryland environmental groups sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, R, calling on the Maryland Department of Environment to address clear racial disparities in Maryland’s environmental harms.

Wilson testified, during a House hearing on Feb. 26, that the bill should be taken a step further to address these environmental disparities.

His suggested amendments include the commission having at least four representatives from four parts of the state: Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore, Central and Southern Maryland.

As well, the commission should reflect the current census and use the most recent data sets and tools to assess the cumulative impacts on these communities, he added.

Wilson said the commission should get the same resources as the state’s commission on climate change and work with health agencies to determine the health impacts on these communities.  

“We can look at the health impacts and really support communities with (environmental justice) issues and all members having safe environments moving forward,” Wilson said. 

Michael Sakata, president and chief executive officer of Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association, testified in opposition, saying that resources should be used to fix the current damage to the state following the pandemic.

“We must focus our resources on the most pressing issues like our crumbling roads and highways, improving public transit options, and addressing economic disparities within Maryland,” Sakata said in his written testimony. 

General fund expenditures for the Maryland Department of Environment will increase by $122,648 in fiscal year 2022, which reflects the cost of hiring two administrators to implement the expanded duties of the commission, the bill states.  

Currently the bill doesn’t have any local impact and has minimal effect on small businesses. 

The Senate advanced the legislation on Friday and is expected to take up a final vote next week; the House committee has not yet scheduled a vote on its version of the bill.

Legislation for control of the Baltimore Police moves to the House

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau 

A groundbreaking package of police reform legislation has been passed by the Maryland Senate and now heads to the House of Delegates for hearings and approval. 

With bipartisan support, the Senate on Wednesday passed the package of nine bills that aim to increase police accountability, and on Thursday they were referred to the House Judiciary Committee. 

Included in this comprehensive legislative package is SB0786, which would transfer control of the Baltimore Police Department from the state to the city for the first time in almost 160 years. 

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, proposed a motion at the end of the Senate session on Wednesday to suspend the rule against voting on two readings for the same bill in one day to allow SB0786 to move through the Senate with the rest of the legislative package. 

SB0786 passed the Senate unanimously, 46-0. 

Five other bills in the package were also approved unanimously, including: 

–SB0071, which creates a state mandate for required all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras
–SB0074, which requires law enforcement agencies to provide access to mental health and employee assistance programs for police officers.
–SB0419, which restricts the use of no-knock warrants
–SB0599, which would restrict the ability of law enforcement agencies to receive military equipment
–SB0600, which requires independent investigations to be conducted in police incidents that result in citizen fatalities

The additional three bills, which include a repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Right, the creation of a statewide use of force statute, and Anton’s Law, which would make officer misconduct records public information, passed with a majority. 

The opposition to these bills mainly fell on party lines, with Republicans voicing concern that the bill provisions go too far. 

“We should definitely expose when wrongdoing has been done and proven, but this bill puts people in jeopardy for doing their job and having somebody complain, and it being unsustained,” Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll, said about Anton’s Law, before voting during the Senate session on Wednesday.

SB0786, which was created at the request of the Baltimore City administration and sponsored by Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore, would create a city charter amendment that would allow transfer of control of the Baltimore Police Department from the state and establish it as a city agency.  

Baltimore citizens would vote on the amendment during the 2022 general election, Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore City, explained during the Senate session on Wednesday, which Capital News Service viewed. 

If voters do not ratify the amendment in 2022, it would be added to the general election ballot in 2024, to be voted on again.

SB0786 was cross-filed in the House of Delegates with HB1027, sponsored by Del. Melissa Wells, D-Baltimore. 

Currently, Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in the state that does not oversee its own police department. 

The Baltimore City Police Department was made a state agency in 1861, when the Maryland General Assembly enacted public local laws in response to violence associated with the rise of the Know-Nothing Party, according to a report by the Abell Foundation. 

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott, D, submitted written testimony in support of the bill, stating that he has advocated for local control of the police force for the entirety of his career in city government. 

“Transferring control of the BPD to Baltimore City would enable City residents and local elected officials the ability to set policies and provide oversight without advocating for reform through state representatives,” Scott wrote in his testimony. 

The Baltimore City Police Department also submitted a statement in support of the bill. 

SB0786 would also create an advisory board, enacted on June 1, 2021, that would be assigned to study potential conflicts that could occur due to the transfer of control and submit a report of its findings to the Baltimore City Council, Maryland General Assembly, and the governor by December 1, 2022, according to a legislative analysis. 

The bill  received a lot of testimony and support from advocacy groups and Baltimore City citizens while being debated in the Judicial Proceedings Committee. 

Charlene Rock-Foster, a Baltimore resident, submitted written testimony to the Judicial Proceedings Committee in favor of SB0786, stating that a city-controlled police department would allow for increased transparency and more community involvement in policing. 

“For years, the residents contended with a public safety system that was, and still is, ripe for unfettered violence, misconduct, and corruption, well documented in the media and in books,” Rock-Foster wrote in her testimony. 

Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, stated that ongoing police brutality was a “second societal pandemic” during a press conference last week to discuss the legislative package, and that he felt confident this would be the session that effective change would be made.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick, said during the Senate session on Wednesday, that this package should “serve as a model to the public that on the most heated topic of today” the Senate was able to come together and create a bipartisan solution. 

The legislative package has received push-back from some advocacy groups that felt the legislative package does not go far enough. 

The Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability gathered outside the Maryland State House on Thursday to protest amendments they believe weakened the legislation, specifically the amendments made to SB0627 to repeal the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, according to a livestream on the group’s Facebook page. 

“Repeal LEOBR” the activists chanted. 

The House Judiciary Committee has not scheduled a hearing for the legislation yet. 

Biden and congressional Democrats try 180-degree turn on immigration

By ANEETA MATHUR-ASHTON Capital News Service Washington Bureau

Using executive orders and new legislative proposals, the Biden administration is attempting a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration system – changes that are aimed at reversing the policies of the Donald Trump years. 

“We are dedicated to achieving and, quite frankly, are working around the clock to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, humane, and safe immigration process,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters at a White House press conference Monday. “It is hard, and it will take time.” 

President Joe Biden issued a series of executive orders early last month that required a review of Trump’s actions that created barriers to legal immigration and hindered asylum-seekers, and he set up a task force to reunite families separated at the United States-Mexico border. 

On Jan. 20, his first day in office, Biden also sent Congress a legislative package, called the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would create an eight-year path to citizenship instead of the original 13 for those living in the United States illegally. 

The proposed legislation includes an exemption for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children who fall under Temporary Protected Status, so-called “dreamers.” Individuals who came to the United States before Jan. 1 would qualify for green cards, thus granting them legal status. 

The measure also would seek to clear EB-5 visa backlogs, remove the word “alien” and replace it with “noncitizen” in immigration laws, and invest $4 billion over four years in the U.S.-Mexico border area and the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Democratic congressional leaders have embraced the Biden plan, but differences in their own party may delay action for some weeks, according to a report by Politico on Thursday.

In addition, Biden’s immigration package faces widespread opposition among Republicans. Numerous bipartisan negotiations among lawmakers over recent years to find an immigration compromise have collapsed.

Mayorkas said that the Trump administration had “gutted” the U.S. immigration system.

He also noted that the Biden administration did not “have the facilities available or equipped to administer the humanitarian laws that our Congress passed years ago.” 

“It takes time to rebuild an entire system and to process individuals at the border in a safe and just way,” he said.

Although U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported between 3,000 and 4,000 daily illegal crossings at the southern border, Mayorkas declined to call it a crisis.

“This is a challenge that the border communities, the non-governmental organizations, the people who care for individuals seeking humanitarian relief all understand it is an imperative,” the secretary said. ”Everyone understands what occurred before us, what we need to do now.  And we are getting it done.” 

For many in the Hispanic community, Biden’s recent actions are a welcome first step following the harsh immigration rules put in place by Trump under a “zero tolerance” policy. 

One of the most visible and disturbing results of that earlier policy was an estimated 5,500 children separated from their parents at the border. Hundreds remain separated. 

Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), believes that the Biden plan is important to open up legal immigration and citizenship to the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country who have not been able to use legal channels. 

“We need to get it done in this year, 2021,” Garcia told Capital News Service. “Time is of the essence with the elections two years away, when immigration can be turned into another political pinata and immigrants are used as a source to divide Americans. It’s important that we get this off the table and move on to recovering from COVID and the economic questions we’ve had.”

The task force aimed at reunifying families at the border is led by Mayorkas and will receive input from first lady Dr. Jill Biden. 

More than 600 children have been separated at the border from their parents for more than two years. 

Garcia believes the first step in making sure the reunification efforts work is making it clear that parents will not be arrested when picking up their children and that they will not be subject to deportation, which was happening under the Trump administration. 

“If those safeguards are in place, then actually all of those children can be reunited in 90 to 120 days,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of those parents have been deported back to their countries of origin, and that will be difficult, or complex,  for unification.” 

When it comes to reassuring the Latino and Hispanic community that harmful orders against those wanting to emigrate here won’t be repeated, Garcia said, the Biden administration still must deal with  “thousands of refugees in squalor in refugee camps under the ‘Stay in Mexico’ order.” 

“The Trump administration committed horrific human rights abuses by separating families at the border,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said in a statement. He is also head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“I commend President Biden for immediately working to reunite these families and ensure these atrocities never happen again,” he said.

Castro and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, are the authors of legislation that would grant lawful permanent resident status to eligible people who were separated by the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump years. 

Prospects for comprehensive immigration changes remain poor. The partisan divide in Congress on the issue has not narrowed. Most GOP lawmakers have viewed Democratic efforts to reform immigration as too lenient and not focused enough on border security.

“Biden wasted no time pulling out his pen and unraveling policies critical to our national security, border security, and immigration enforcement,” Rep. John Katko, R-New York, wrote last month on

The ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, Katko wrote: “From pausing deportations to halting border wall construction and ending the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, the president slapped an ‘open’ sign on our border – during a global pandemic.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, tweeted that the Biden plan amounted to “total amnesty, no regard for the health or security of Americans, and zero enforcement.”  

Biden’s COVID relief plan includes $130 billion to help schools reopen

Photo: MChe Lee

By KAITLYN CUPELLI Capital News Service Washington Bureau

President Joe Biden’s $130 billion school reopening plan focuses on making schools safer for teachers and students, although returning to school remains a contentious and difficult issue.

Reopening the majority of K-8 schools within his first 100 days in office is a key part of the president’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” passed by the House on Friday on a party-line vote and now under consideration in the Senate.

“We can do this if we give the school districts, the schools themselves, the communities, and the states the clear guidance they need, as well as the resources they need that they can’t afford right now because of the economic dilemma we are in,” Biden said in January. 

Supporters of the rescue measure will need every one of the 50 Democratic senators to vote for it. Under a procedural process known as reconciliation, a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris vote would allow the package to pass by a simple majority vote.

Although congressional Republicans also are supportive of returning kids to school, many do not support Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in a statement after the House vote that Democrats “jammed through a bill that even liberal economists and editorial boards say is not well targeted to this stage of the fight.”

“More than a third of its spending, including more than 90% of the K-12 school funding, would not even go out this fiscal year,” he said.

The back-to-school plan calls for more COVID-19 testing and transportation, additional cleaning and sanitizing services, protective equipment, and ventilation systems in schools. School districts could also use funds to take additional safety measures such as:

  • Reducing class sizes so students and teachers can maintain social distance; 
  • Hiring more janitors and implementing mitigation measures; 
  • Ensuring every school has access to a nurse; 
  • Hiring counselors to support students as they transition back to the classroom;
  • Closing the digital divide that has amplified inequalities during the pandemic;
  • Providing summer schools for students who have lost learning time;
  • Preventing cuts to state pre-k programs. 

The COVID-19 Educational Equity Challenge Grant will also be funded by the Biden plan, said Christian Unkenholz, spokesman for Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Largo. The grant will support state, local and tribal governments in working with teachers and families to respond to COVID-related educational challenges.

“This is a question of justice and equity,” Brown said. “Without this aid, our schools, students and educators will be left to fend for themselves, potentially further delaying the return to in-classroom instruction and leaving kids behind. That’s unacceptable.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly hurt lower-income students, Black and Latino students, and students with disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

The pandemic also has led to increased absences, poor learning outcomes, more hungry kids, and more social isolation. 

Research on disrupted instruction shows that the cumulative learning loss for students by the end of the 2020-2021 school year could equate to five to nine months on average, said Lora Rakowski, director of communications for the Maryland Department of Education.

“Many students rely on our school system for food,” Joe Weedon, a member of the Washington Teachers’ Union, told Capital News Service.  “(Our schools) assure they have safe places so they can focus on their work.” 

Thousands of Washington students returned to school on Feb. 2 as part of the city’s public schools’ expansion of in-person classroom learning. Twenty-three million dollars was used to prepare buildings for the return to schools, Weedon said, although he said he still has serious concerns about the readiness of a number of facilities.

Many District of Columbia schools have not yet released data about the quality of their air systems, so it is unknown if the buildings meet the nation’s air release guidelines, Weedon said. Teachers are also only just beginning to receive vaccinations, meaning very few individuals have immunity from COVID-19 at this point.

With hybrid-learning, teachers will be asked to do a lot more work, as they will have to teach partially from home and partially at school – a change that they are not used to, Weedon said. He added that the District’s current return-to-school is not a return to normal, but a return to the safety of their school buildings.

“We’d all love a return to normal, but we are still in a pandemic,” Weedon said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, also has submitted a $1.5 billion supplemental budget focused on education. 

“This supplemental budget provides further support for the safe reopening of Maryland schools,” Hogan said. “I want to commend all the teachers, administrators, parents, and public health officials who are doing everything they can to give Maryland students the chance to get back in the classrooms safely.”

The budget includes: 

  • $931 million to support local school systems and targeted assistance for the safe reopening of public schools.
  • $434 million in additional funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Pandemic EBT program. This program is intended to help families in Maryland purchase food while schools remain closed due to COVID-19
  • $128 million to support the state’s Child Care Scholarship program, including almost $60 million to help support licensed child care providers recover from the impact of the pandemic.
  • $35 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to support the safe reopening of nonpublic schools.
  • $20 million from the same fund to support community colleges, private institutions of higher education, and competitive innovation grants.

By the end of March, 18 out of 24 Maryland school systems will be providing an opportunity for in-person instruction at least two days a week, in elementary, middle and high school grade levels, Rakowski said. 

Carroll, Worcester, Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Frederick, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Talbot, Washington and Wicomico Counties are among the local school systems currently providing in-person, hybrid instruction.

Four local school systems are not opening for all grade levels by the end of March, Rakowski said. 

Harford County schools are open for elementary K-5 for two days, but only one day for middle and high school students. Baltimore City will open for elementary, K-5 and grades six and nine by the end of March. Charles County has a five-phase reopening plan and will start phase five on March 22, allowing special populations of students to meet in-person four days a week. Prince George’s County will open some of its schools for the month of April. 

As more schools re-open, the Maryland State Education Association has developed a checklist of expectations for every school building, utilizing CDC, Department of Health, and Department of Education health and safety guidelines.

Cheryl Bost, MSEA president and a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, said she believes accelerating the availability of vaccines to teachers, as well as following safety guidelines like adequate ventilation and social distancing, are key to protecting the health of students, educators, and families.

“We all want to be in school, safely and sustainably, with our students,” Bost told CNS. “That’s been our goal all along.”

Maryland General Assembly targets suicide prevention

Photo: Dan Meyers

Capital News Service

A rise in suicides and concerns about police interactions with those threatening to self-harm have prompted legislation in Maryland that would ease costs for certain treatment and require more training for law enforcement. 

Other legislation would require the state to study and track an increase in the number of Marylanders taking their own lives.

In 2018, 650 people in Maryland died by suicide, according to a 2020 report from the Governor’s Commission on Suicide Prevention, a 37 percent increase from the 474 suicide deaths in 2000; each year an average of 530 people in the state have died by suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Certain populations are at far greater risk of dying by suicide; veterans account for 18 percent of suicide deaths in the state, according to the National Violent Death Reporting System.

The Suicide Treatment Improvements Act (HB442/SB0557), sponsored in the House by Del. Karen L. Young, D-Frederick, would bar certain payments on counseling and assessments for suicidal individuals. 

Young told Capital News Service that the removal of coinsurance, deductibles and copayments would erase a major barrier to treatment.

“Research identified that one of the deterrents to getting help and counseling is the financial burden,” she said. 

Many people suffering from income loss and other financial pressures due to the pandemic choose not to seek help due to the increased financial burden, Young said.

However, the bill could have unintended consequences. 

According to written testimony by the Maryland Insurance Administration, certain health plans and tax exemptions would be adversely affected by the current language barring copays and deductibles.

The administration in testimony requested clarity from the committee on what would fall under the financial provision of the bill.     

The bill would also require the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission to implement training for officers to counsel suicidal individuals. 

The commission would be directed to create training policies for dealing with suicidal individuals without the use of force or brandishing a weapon.

Sen. Ronald Young, D-Frederick, said that making changes to the training standards would make it easier to get suicidal individuals the help they need. 

He added that a provision in the bill that would require the officer to be accompanied by someone trained to counsel suicidal individuals would give them someone to “fall back on” when giving guidance. 

Sen. Young sponsored the Senate cross-file of the bill, SB557, which had a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 17. 

The House version, HB442, was heard before the Health and Government Operations Committee on Feb. 3.

During the hearing, Del. Young said a provision in the bill that would require an officer to be accompanied by a trained suicide counselor could be changed to lessen the burden on smaller municipalities.

The Department of Legislative Services found that the Department of State Police could see their expenses climb by at least $200,000 to pay for the required counselors to respond to an incident.

However, those costs could be higher to ensure a significant amount of counselors were on hand to deal with calls for treatments of suicidal individuals.

Original provisions that would have required extra training for Crisis Hotline staff and healthcare workers were stricken from the bill.

Other legislation that addresses suicide prevention is also working its way through the General Assembly.

SB168, which is cross-filed as HB209 in the House, would establish a committee to review the increase in Maryland over the past 20 years.

The proposed Maryland Suicide Fatality Review Committee would conduct confidential investigations after deaths with uncertain causes, as is recommended by the U.S. National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

Examining the circumstances surrounding possible suicide deaths would allow the committee to  identify red flags, said Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico, the bill sponsor. 

“That’s part of the dilemma in Maryland, that we have a low rate of clearly identified suicides, but we have a high rate of … undetermined” deaths. 

Eckardt, who has a background in psychiatric nursing, says many suicide deaths are not immediately recognizable as suicides; the committee would be able to more thoroughly investigate these deaths.

“If we learn more about the completed suicides, but then began to look at other indicators, in some of those other non-suicidal deaths, will we learn more to be able to educate the public and families to determine if anybody is at risk for death by suicide and to be able to have early interventions,” Eckardt said.

The bill passed with amendments unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday, and was assigned to the Health and Government Operations Committee, where a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Amendments to the bill impose more restrictions on committee membership in order to protect patient privacy and clarify how other existing state fatality review committees would work collaboratively with the Suicide Fatality Review Committee so as not to duplicate work.

If passed it would take effect Oct. 1. 

SB164, cross-filed as HB605, which would expand mental health care options for veterans in the state, passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 8. Both bills have passed their respective chambers unanimously and are awaiting hearings in committees.

The Senate on Feb.19 passed SB41, a bill that would lower the age of consent for pursuing treatment for mental and emotional disorders from 16 to 12 years old. 

The bill advanced on a 31-16 vote, despite Republican opposition to the lack of parental involvement in the process. 
Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, said that he was “troubled” that the law could allow anyone to begin counseling young children on mental health issues.

“Just as we find teachers and lawyers and policemen that fall under the standards of care, there are also mental health providers that fall well below the standard of care.”  

Sen. Malcolm Augustine, D-Prince George’s, the bill’s sponsor, said the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Social Workers were among the groups in support of the bill. 

The bill now moves to the House of Delegates, where its version, HB132, had a hearing in the Health and Government Operations Committee Feb. 16.

Other related bills include SB74 cross-filed, which would create mental health assistance programs for police officers. 
SB74 passed the Senate on a unanimous vote on Wednesday with an amendment requiring mandatory mental health consultations for officers returning to duty after a shooting or incident involving serious injury.   

College athletes could be paid for endorsements under Md. bill

Capital News Service Annapolis Bureau

College athletes could be allowed to profit off of their name, image and likeness, and would be better protected under a bill that passed the Maryland House of Delegates this week. 

HB0125 and its cross-file, SB0439, with sponsors Del. Brooke E. Lierman, D-Baltimore, Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll and Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, are part of a growing conversation nationally surrounding the economic, mental and physical well-being of college athletes.

Also titled the Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act, the bill aims to protect student athletes from tragedies like McNair’s death, and cases of sexual abuse as seen with the Michigan State University gymnastics team.

“These are the stakes, life and death, sexual assault, and racial and economic justice — it’s time for Maryland to end the exploitation of its college athletes by adopting HB0125,” Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Player’s Association, said at a Jan. 27 House Appropriations Commitee hearing.

On June 13, 2018, McNair died two weeks after passing out from heat stroke during an offseason workout with the University of Maryland football team. 

Five other states have already passed legislation surrounding name, image and likeness — including Florida, where the bill goes into effect July 1.

“I think it’s time for the Maryland General Assembly to stand up to the NCAA and to support our Maryland student athletes,” Lierman said at the hearing.

Under current NCAA rules, student athletes are prohibited from profiting off of their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA Division I Council was scheduled to vote on the issue in early January, but the vote was delayed and is expected to resume in late March. 

“We would like to see the NCAA get to a point that falls in line with what we’re doing and other states around the country are doing,” University of Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans told Capital News Service. 

Every other college student who is not an NCAA athlete has the ability to earn money whatever legal way they want using their name, image or likeness.

Proponents of the bill also pinpointed the disparity between college athletes being prevented from earning income off their name, image and likeness, while athletic directors and coaches are often the highest paid public employees in the state.

Maryland basketball head coach Mark Turgeon was scheduled to make roughly $3 million in 2020, while football head coach Mike Locksley was scheduled to earn a $2.65 million salary in 2020, according to USA Today.

University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines was expected to earn $750,000 this year before a 15% pay cut.

“These are unnecessary and anti-competitive restrictions; it has the effect of exacerbating student athlete’s financial challenges,” Ready said at a Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee hearing Feb. 25.

The ability to generate revenue off of their name, image and likeness could be particularly beneficial for female athletes as well as those athletes of color and those from underprivileged backgrounds.
Female athletes traditionally don’t have as many opportunities to pursue their sport at a professional level, which means that they have fewer opportunities to profit than their male counterparts.

Athletes of color and those from disadvantaged backgrounds can be disproportionately affected by the inability to profit off of their name, image and likeness compared to other non-minority athletes and those from more privileged backgrounds.

“Name, image and likeness is going to help a lot of athletes across all sports,” Evans told Capital News Service.

Evans also explained that this could be beneficial for athletes across all sports to create a brand for themselves through social media.

The University System of Maryland initially expressed concern with the verbiage of some components of the bill, specifically some of the stipulations involving name, image and likeness, which they explained could present an issue for universities in the state deviating from NCAA policy.  

The University System of Maryland also wanted to ensure that the guidelines proposed for health and safety weren’t already imposed and would act as an extension to the policies currently in place.

As such the bill passed the House Appropriations Committee unanimously with amendments that specify the scope of name, image and likeness and would only add health and safety protocols that aren’t currently utilized by institutions within the University System of Maryland.

One of the amendments in the bill prevents athletes from using certain types of advertising including those that utilize the branding or logo of their school without permission from the institution or the athletic department.

Beyond the economic impact of the bill, it also introduces several measures to protect a student athlete’s mental and physical well-being.

Under this legislation, any intercollegiate athletic program at a public institution in the state is responsible for developing guidelines to prevent, assess and treat serious sports-related conditions including brain injury, heat illness, and rhabdomyolysis, according to the bill.

All three of those injuries can be caused by excessive workload or stress in a workout.
“We recognize that the need to pass legislation in order to help save the lives of student athletes is more critical than ever,” Marty McNair, McNair’s father and the founder of the Jordan McNair Foundation, said at a Jan. 27 hearing. 

“According to the CDC, heat illnesses have been recognized as the leading cause of death and disability among student athletes,” McNair added.

The bill also would establish protocols for players returning from serious injury as well as guidelines for those athletes who suffer from conditions like sickle-cell disease and asthma.

In addition, the University System of Maryland Intercollegiate Athletics Workgroup along with Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College would be responsible for submitting a report to the General Assembly on any changes with student athlete policy on or before Oct. 1, 2021, and each year thereafter, according to the bill.

In support of the bill, Del. Ben Barnes, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s explained that the Legislature shouldn’t wait for the NCAA to make their ruling and instead should put pressure on them to do the right thing by student athletes.

“A government or bureaucracy telling you what to do with your name, that is fundamentally un-American, that is not who we are, these athletes deserve to control their name, image, and likeness,” Barnes said at the floor session.

The House version of the bill passed 122-12 Wednesday and has been referred to the Senate Education, Health and Environment Affairs Committee. 

No voting session for the Senate version of the bill has been scheduled.

“We go to their games, we tweet our support, and we support them in our words,” Lierman said.

“Now it’s time we should support them here where we can truly make a difference, through passing this legislation,” Lierman added.