Kirwan Commission (Photo courtesy of wypr.org)
Kirwan Commission (Photo courtesy of wypr.org)

The ongoing Kirwan Commission recommendations to boost public school education will likely be the main topic when the Maryland General Assembly convenes Jan. 8 in Annapolis.

However, state lawmakers will hear other bills that come before them on housing, transportation and other education topics.

The House chamber will be led for the first time to begin a session by House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) after the April death of Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County), who presided over the chamber since 2003.

Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), unanimously chosen by the Senate Democratic Caucus for president to replace longtime Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., must receive a formal vote from the full Senate next month. Ferguson chose Miller, who’s presided over the Senate chamber for 32 years, to serve as president emeritus.

“You’ve got new leadership. It’s decidedly more progressive than it was before,” said Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s, Maryland. “Both of the new leaders know there are huge shoes to fill. Neither wants to give the impression that they are out to replace them, but certainly want to demonstrate that they are capable of succeeding them.”

In addition to new leadership in several committees, Eberly said some bills that failed in this year’s session may come up again in 2020.

For instance, the aid-in-dying bill received approval earlier this year in the House. However, the bill failed in the Senate after Sen. Obie Patterson (D-District 24) of Fort Washington chose not to vote, which resulted in a 23-23 tie.

“There are going to be a lot of folks who aren’t going to be ready to just push everything else aside to solely focus on Kirwan,” Eberly said.

That will be the case for Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. She plans to present legislation to expand the state’s hate crime statute to include cases where hate isn’t the only crime committed.

She also proposes to make strangulation, as it relates to domestic violence, a first-degree assault. It would become a felony with a person convicted to serve up to 25 years in prison and $5,000 fine. The state law currently lists the offense as second-degree assault, a misdemeanor punishable up to 10 years in prison and a possible fine not to exceed $2,500.

County and municipal politicians, lobbyists, educators and advocates plan to flood the State House during the 90-day session presenting an array of bills for lawmakers to review.

Housing

According to www.realtytrac.com, which analyzes housing and foreclosure data, Maryland ranked third in the nation last month in foreclosure rates, with one in every 1,476 housing units. Within the state, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County ranked one and two, respectively.

That’s why Elizabeth Johnson, executive director of Strategic Housing Solutions Inc., has up to six pieces of proposed legislation in the works.

Johnson, of Temple Hills who also serves as housing chair for the NAACP Maryland State Conference, receives help from Beth Jacobson, a former Wells Fargo loan officer.

Jacobson said a nearly 10-year-old Maryland statute requires both the homeowner and bank attorney to present certain paperwork during a foreclosure mediation.

However, she said homeowners and even some lawyers don’t know about the law. Jacobson, who’s attended more than 100 mediations throughout the state, said attorneys who represent the financial institutions are familiar with the law and still don’t present some required documents.

After a session ends, a mediator must file what happened through an electronic system managed by the Office of Administrative Hearing in connection with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations. Jacobson said meditators only have three choices:

• Mediation was successful.
• Mediation was unsuccessful.
• Borrower didn’t show up.

Because mediators aren’t provided space to summarize what happened and why a meeting may have failed, proposed legislation would allow a mediator, or administrative judge, to alert a circuit court that banks failed to provide requested paperwork. Then an automatic hearing would be held and a judge can decide whether to dismiss the case and not allow a bank to foreclose on a home.

“We’ve got people pretending they know what is going on, but they don’t,” Johnson said. “Our little group has gone up in the weeds for five or six years to learn the behaviors of these banks, lawyers and others. The mediation process is one thing people need to know about.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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