Maryland Legislature Seeks to Bolster Rights of Sexual Assault Victims

While the 2020 Maryland Legislation Session was cut short due to COVID-19, there were a number of bills proposed and considered that sought to strengthen the rights of sexual assault victims.1 Senate Bill 807, codified under MD. CODE, Crim. Proc. §11-929 (2020), was one of those bills.2

Senate Bill 807, which became effective on October 1, 2020, prevents law enforcement from providing “waiver forms” or from offering verbal agreements to victims of sexual assault in which they agree to waive their right to an investigation.3 If victims still waive their rights, or request that the scope of an investigation be limited or suspended, the law enforcement agency must document the victim’s request and conduct a thorough follow-up.4 In addition, each law enforcement agency was required to have policies in place to enforce the prohibition of seeking waivers by January 1, 2021.5

Why was such a bill necessary? While not uncommon for victims of sexual assault to be hesitant about prosecuting their attacker, it was also not uncommon for police departments to offer victims to “put it all behind them” by signing a waiver of their rights.6 For example, in Baltimore County, between 2017 to 2018, these waiver forms were used with victims 172 times.7 Instead of empowering the victims to make informed decisions about their cases, the use of these waiver forms pressured the victims into saying they were uninterested in pursuing their case.8 The forms also put pressure on the victims to agree to release the law enforcement agency from any accountability for stopping the investigation.9

Ignoring these crimes of sexual assault does not make them go away. This “waiver of rights” prohibition in S.B 807 should help victims of sexual assault become less fearful and more confident in their rights and wishes to seek justice, and to be more open to participating fully in the criminal justice process.10


Renee Boyd is a third-year student at the University of Baltimore, School of Law and a Staff Editor for Law Forum.  Renee received a Bachelor of Science degree from Towson University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Loyola University.  She works full-time in the Orphans’ Court of Baltimore County where she oversees the Mediation program and provides legal support to the three probate court judges.  Renee will graduate in May 2021 and hopes to work in the area of Trusts and Estate law.

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Maryland House Judiciary Committee considers an increase to the statutory compensatory damages cap for injured or killed domestic animals

The Maryland House Judiciary Committee has recently considered new legislation that would raise the statutory cap on compensatory damages for injured or killed domestic pets from $10,000 to $25,000.i Prior legislation under the Maryland Code for Courts and Judicial Proceedings limited the recovery of damages to $10,000 for tortious injury or death to a pet.ii Uniquely, this cap on compensatory damages only existed under Article 11-110, and only applied to tortious injury caused to pets, whereas there is no cap on damages to other private property.iii

While the above discrepancy served as initial motivation for considering the increase in the cap, the true motivation was framed as a response to the market increase in the cost of veterinary services.iv Delegates and sponsors for the proposed legislation presented testimony that veterinary bills can easily exceed $10,000, especially for complex surgeries or treatments. v The cap in Article 11-110 has steadily increased since 1989 to reflect market changes in veterinary While this most recent proposed increase is more than double the current limit, most sponsors of the legislation supported the cap increase to $25,000 because it is in line with similar damage cap increases across the country.vii

The proposed legislation is fully supported by the House Judiciary members but is not without some third-party dissent. Representatives from property insurance associations opposed the proposed increase on the basis that most evidence is anecdotal and that asking for damages would not necessarily be limited to the cost of veterinary bills but could extend into extra- medical costs such as attorney fees.viii This opposition is expected, as it is insurance companies which will pay for veterinary services for pets that are insured.ix However, it is unlikely that the third-third party opposition will sway the Delegates as the bill has both legislative and heartfelt support from a majority.

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Curtis Paul is a third-year day student at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a Staff Editor for Law Forum. Curtis graduated from UMBC in May 2016 with a degree in philosophy. Since then, Curtis has been active in the UB Law community and has interned for multiple Federal bodies including the Department of Justice this upcoming Spring. Curtis will graduate in May 2021 and will clerk for the Honorable Stuart R. Berger on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals after graduation.

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Maryland General Assembly Proposing Right to Representation in Eviction Proceedings Statewide

A recent study of eviction cases in the District Court of Maryland in Baltimore City revealed that 99% of tenants do not have legal representation in eviction proceedings, compared to only 4% of landlords without representation.1 In order to combat the negative social, economic, and public health costs of displacing families, the Maryland House of Delegates proposed House Bill 18 (“H.B. 18”) which would grant individuals who are facing eviction the right to legal counsel.2 H.B. 18 was cross-filed with Senate Bill 154 (“S.B. 154”).3 If passed, the bill will take effect on October 1, 2021 and be fully implemented by October 1, 2025.4

Under H.B. 18, an individual who occupies a residential property under a claim of legal right other than owner and whose household income is below 50% of the median Maryland income would have the right to legal counsel in an eviction proceeding.5 For reference, a family of four making less than $60,022 annually would have the right to counsel.6 The right to counsel extends to cases where a tenant is being evicted, facing retaliatory action by a landlord, awaiting repair of dangerous defects with rent in escrow, or is facing nonjudicial eviction.7

H.B. 18 would also establish a Right to Counsel in an Evictions Program administered by the Maryland Legal Service Corporation to organize and supervise the allocation of resources to provide legal representation.8 Further, a task force would be established for the purpose of evaluating the quality of the legal representation, making recommendations to improve the program and applying for both public and private grants for additional funding.9

H.B. 18 comes on the heels of a Baltimore City ordinance (“Ordinance”) enacted on December 7, 2020 which extended the right to counsel in eviction cases for individuals who are occupying a dwelling under a claim of legal right other than owner in Baltimore City.10 A notable difference between the Ordinance and H.B. 18 is that Baltimore City did not impose a limitation on household income to establish eligibility to receive legal representation.11 If the bill is passed, it will unquestionably conflict with the Ordinance, as Baltimore City is subject to the control of the Maryland Legislature.12 As of March 16, 2021, H.B. 18 was passed by the House Judiciary Committee, but was tabled on the floor of the House of Delegates.13 S.B. 154 is currently awaiting action in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.14

Baltimore is only the seventh city to grant tenants a right to counsel in eviction proceedings.15 Maryland would be the first state to enact a state-wide right to counsel for tenants facing eviction if the bill is passed.16

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Alexa Mellis is a second-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law and is a Staff Editor for Law Forum. Alexa is currently a corporate counsel extern with Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland’s Office of the General Counsel and will be working as a student attorney with the UB Civil Advocacy Clinic in the fall. Alexa will also be serving as Resource Editor on the 2021-2022 Law Forum executive board. Alexa will graduate in May 2022 and intends to pursue a career in medical malpractice defense litigation.

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Plastic Bags, No Longer the Most Beautiful Thing

The Comprehensive Bag Reduction Act, which was originally slated for implementation on January 13, 2021, (Ordinance 20-337; Baltimore City Code Article 28 § 32-1, Article 7 § 62-1) bans single-use plastic check out bags at the point of sale, pickup, or delivery.1 Eight U.S. states and hundreds of municipalities have enacted laws like Baltimore’s Comprehensive Bag Reduction Act.2 The roll out has been delayed in light of the evolving impacts of COVID-19 on Baltimore City retailers and restaurants.3

Baltimore businesses may supply single use alternative bags to consumers and will be required to charge a minimum of $0.05 for each alternative bag distributed at check out, of which $0.01 must be paid to the city.4 Permissible bags for distribution include paper bags, compostable bags, and plastic bags that are 4 millimeters or thicker.5

The Bag Reduction Act applies to: supermarkets; convenience stores; corner stores; restaurants; shops; gas stations; and other sales outlets.6 With the roll-out of the ban, a limited number of free reusable bags will be distributed to residents with accessibility challenges.7

The ban will not apply to plastic checkout bags used solely to contain: fresh fish, meat or poultry; otherwise unpackaged fruits, nuts, vegetables, confectionary, fresh cheese, or baked goods; ice; foods and goods obtained at a farmers’ market; prescription drugs; newspapers; or dry-cleaned goods.8

Plastic bags came to widespread use in the 1950’s, generating massive environmental, health and economic repercussions.9 Plastic shopping bags are low-cost, convenient and durable; they are also one of the most common types of litter.10 Plastic bags do not readily biodegrade, taking 10-20 years to decompose.11 In Baltimore City, plastic bags end up in our trees, streets, parks, drains, harbor, waterways, and oceans.12 The Baltimore harbor’s sustainability powered trash interceptors, the “Mr.

Trash Wheel family”, have collected over 755,558 plastic bags.13 Baltimore City recycling centers cannot accept plastic bags because they cause costly damage to the sorting machines and eventually break the machines.14 Plastic bags are made from petroleum and are a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, fueling climate change.15 The Bag Reduction Act aims to address and mitigate these environmental and waste management issues.

As of January 6, 2021, Mayor Brandon Scott has postponed the implementation of the plastic bag ban until July 9, 2021.16 In consideration of the continuing health and economic impacts of COVID-19, Mayor Scott and his administration will work together with Baltimore City retailers to ensure a smooth roll-out of the ordinance.17

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Katherine Burgess is a third-year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a Staff Editor for the Law Forum.  Katherine received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.  While in Baltimore, she has served as a member of the Jessup International Moot Court Team and worked as student attorney with the Saul Ewing Civil Advocacy Clinic.  Following graduation in May 2021, Katherine will serve as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Melissa K. Copeland in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and plans to pursue a career in litigation.

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The RELIEF Act of 2021 Paving the Way for A Year of Rebuilding and Recovery

After a virtual rally resulted in a petition signed by over 6,500 Marylanders calling on the state to provide additional financial support, Governor Larry Hogan announced the Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs and Families Act (RELIEF Act of 2021) which among other things provides tax relief to struggling Marylanders and small businesses.1

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic Maryland businesses were shut down and stay at home orders were enforced to prevent the spread of coronavirus.2 There are more than 580,000 small businesses in Maryland and they employ more than 1 million people.3 Unfortunately, shutdowns resulted in failing businesses and unemployment.4 During the COVID-19 pandemic Maryland’s unemployment rate rose to an all-time high of 9.9%.5 Despite financial assistance from the federal government Marylanders are still struggling.6 Further, economists do not expect a full recovery of the economy until 2024 or 2025.7

To help Maryland recover, Governor Hogan introduced the RELIEF Act (“the Act”) which if signed into law will provide emergency stimulus and tax relief by automatically distributing $1 billion for Maryland families, small businesses, and those who have lost their jobs.8 Specifically, the Act will provide $500 stimulus payments to families and $300 stimulus payments to individuals who filed for the Earned Income Tax Credit, followed by a possible second-round stimulus for those who meet certain requirements.9 In addition, the Act repeals state and local income taxes on unemployment benefits and extends unemployment tax relief for small businesses.10 The Act will support small businesses by providing sales tax credits of up to $3,000 per month for four months.11 The Act will be funded by a combination of the surplus at the end of Fiscal Year 2020 and a portion of the state’s rainy day fund.12

Comptroller Peter Franchot critiqued Governor Hogan stating that the Act falls short in helping Maryland families.13 Franchot suggested that Governor Hogan take executive action by using $1.5 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to provide faster and larger payments to Marylanders in need.14 In response, Governor Hogan said Franchot’s plan would drain the state’s rainy day fund.15

Rainy day funds are a key tool that states use in combination with their general fund surpluses as a buffer against revenue declines.16 States that do not have enough saved in their rainy day funds will need to increase savings in their respective funds to avoid spending cuts and tax hikes during the average recession.17 A 2015 study found that Maryland could weather a mild recession, but not an average or severe recession.18 Governor Hogan made it clear that he will do what he can to prevent raising taxes.19 Maryland will be recovering from the effects of COVID- 19 for the next several years and as a result will need to conserve the rainy day fund.20

Given the state of Maryland’s economy, Governor Hogan’s concern over a depleted rainy day fund, and economists estimations that full recovery will not happen until 2024 or 2025, the RELIEF Act seems like the more appropriate route as opposed to an executive order. Further, given that coronavirus relief and economic recovery seem to be lawmakers top priorities Maryland can be hopeful that the Act will be passed.21 Although some legislative leaders did not endorse the Act they openly expressed their intentions to make 2021 a year of “rebuilding and recovery.”22


Candice Miller is a third-year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where she serves as an Associate Editor for Law Forum. Additionally, Candice completed her second semester as a student attorney with the UB Law Tax Clinic, is a Student Liaison for the ABA Law Practice Division and is a Student Ambassador for the MSBA. In January 2021, Candice will begin a legal internship with Frost Law, where she will continue to work on a variety of tax and estate matters. Candice will graduate with her Juris Doctor in May 2021 and her Master of Laws in Taxation in 2022. Upon completing her Juris Doctor, Candice will begin clerking for the Honorable Kevin F. Arthur on the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

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