Legislative Work

Systemic Solutions for Systemic Issues

Our political advocacy is based on the cultivation of deep relationships to many segments of the Black community and to use the support that this provides us as our primary leverage to advocate policy positions that are in the interest of Black people. Our ability to impact policy is based on the years of community organizing and community service that has translated to a base of support that authentically represents the depth and diversity of the Black community in Baltimore.

We also tap into the rich cultural and intellectual resources that reside in our community to form the basis of our intellectual and political analysis. Our fidelity to the Black Radical Tradition and a worldview rooted in Pan Africanism guides the intellectual production that guides our approach to our political advocacy.

a smiling group photo of individuals involved in LBS's legislative efforts

2023 Legislative Agenda

Cannabis

Even though the Maryland General Assembly took some steps toward legalization of recreational cannabis, there is still work to be done in the legislature.  There are 2 major aspects of cannabis legalization that need to be addressed in 2023.
 
  1. Criminal justice reforms.  Law enforcement has used cannabis prohibition as the basis of their policing strategy.  Maryland still needs to remove criminal penalties for possession (above 2.5oz) of cannabis and for possession with intent to distribute.  Additionally, the legislature needs to curtail the ability for law enforcement to use the odor of cannabis to justify warrantless searches.  This is important to reduce the opportunities for law enforcement to engage in police misconduct and police brutality.
  1. Black participation in the cannabis industry.  Cannabis will be a multimillion dollar industry that is based on a product that played a substantial role in propelling mass incarceration of Black people.  The Maryland General Assembly must ensure that the legislation that will regulate the industry in Maryland provide substantial opportunities for Black participation in the industry.
 
a close up image of emergency lights on top of a police car in the dark

Police Accountability

The Maryland General Assembly has moved in right direction over the last couple of years regarding police reform, but has continued to fall short on the issue of community oversight of law enforcement. The legislature should allow for Police Accountability Boards to have independent investigatory power in order to ensure that the community has its own independent means of investigating police misconduct.

Local Reparations Commission via Community Repair and Reinvestment Fund

The Community Repair and Reinvestment Fund was established by the legislature and 2022 will receive 30% of the tax revenues of recreational cannabis. Each of the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland will receive a percentage of the funds (proportional to the that jurisdiction’s contribution to the state wide cannabis related arrest over the last 20 years).  Each jurisdictions has to pass a law that will determine how they will allocate their portion of those funds.  LBS is working to establish a reparations commission that will have experts on reparations and the war on drugs to determine how those resources are allocated.  In addition we will push for the city council to have oversight over the commission to ensure accountability and transparency.  This is legislation that will work its way thought the city council.

a black man and woman laugh while leaning out of a shop window. the sign below them reads "black businesses matter."

Approach

  • LBS draws our perspective on the work of police accountability from the Black radical traditions. Law enforcement and the overreaching carceral system are instruments of white supremacy’s assault on the humanity of Black people. From this analysis there are two major guiding priorities that ground our advocacy on police accountability. 
  • The first is that we must weaken the ability of law enforcement to operate insulated from public oversight. The legacy of COINTELPRO, and the role of local law enforcement in undermining and disrupting Black social movements, in addition to its overall lack of regard for the humanity of Black people through police brutality and violation of our rights, requires that the public have mechanisms to oversee law enforcement to deter its ability to operate without pushback from the public. The ability to operate in secret is a large element of the power of law enforcement to function as a threat to the humanity of Black people. This is why LBS has prioritized legislation that allows public access to police disciplinary records.
  • Our second grounding principle of our work on police accountability is community control. The best deterrent of police abuse is giving the community power over the institutions that govern our lives. The call for community control is an extension of the history of Black radicals who understood that the solution to police brutality was not making pleas for white people to recognize our humanity, but to fight for the power to punish those who do harm to our community.
  • Communities that are most impacted by the war on drugs should get the most access to revenues from cannabis. We’re advocating that 60% of the tax revenues from cannabis sales should go back into the community. 
  • The revenue should be allocated directly to local jurisdictions so that the community can have a role in how those resources are distributed. A metric should be used to determine jurisdictions most impacted by the war on drugs, and their portions of the tax revenues should be determined by that metric. The local legislature (county council) will pass an ordinance to determine specifics of how the resources are allocated within that particular jurisdiction.

Past Legislative Work

  • Expungement for people convicted of simple possession of cannabis.
  • Opportunity for people to have their records expunged for possession with intent to distribute after 3 years.
  • Increase in allowed personal amount from 10oz to 1.5 grams.
  • Allow for homegrow for up to 2 plants per household.
  • Establishment of Community repair and reinvestment fund, which will bring tax revenues from the industry directly to communities impacted by the war on drugs.
  • Advocated successfully for amendments to the (MPIA) that would allow for public access for police investigatory records. 
  • Worked to repeal the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights and replace it with a disciplinary framework that would allow for community oversight.  Even though LEOBR was repealed – and it allowed for more community participation in the internal police disciplinary process – it did not create community oversight.
  • Partnered with Conscious Heads Barbershop to pass legislation that would allow for master barbers to apprentice three barbers at a time instead of just one.  This bill helped to support the workforce development project of Conscious Heads and Reflections Eternal to train more barbers and professionalize the industry.
  • Worked on unsuccessfully to create amendments to Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) that would allow public access to police investigatory records.  This would allow for more public oversight of law enforcement. 
  • Advocated for the creation of a $10 million fund for community based anti-violence programs as an alternative to mandatory minimum legislation.  This bill passed, was vetoed by the Governor and overridden by the legislature.
  • Passed legislation in the Baltimore City Council that established BCYF as an independent and permanent organization. 
  • Fought legislation that would authorize the establishment of a John Hopkins University (JHU) private police force.  This bill ultimately passed, but there continues to be local resistance to it.
  • Advocated for legislation that would create a Baltimore City Anti-Violence grant program as an alternative to the focus creating mandatory minimum legislation.  The justification for this legislation is that investing in Black led, grassroots anti-violence programs are more effective in deterring violence than sentence enhancements. This bill did not pass.
  • Worked with the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office to successfully pass legislation that would allow the vacatur of convictions that were based on testimony from corrupt police officers.

Fought against a bipartisan crime package that included mandatory minimum sentences – which are ineffective at addressing public safety and fueled the prison industrial complex.

  • Worked to fight against legislation that would nullify a court of appeals ruling on pretrial reform.  The MD Court of Appeals ruled to reduce the use of cash bail and prefer non-financial conditions for release. If bail was assigned, it needed to be affordable to the defendant.  The bail bonds industry put in a bill that would use the legislature to reverse that court of appeals ruling.  LBS, and our partners, worked to defeat the legislation that would have nullified this ruling –  which would lessen the burden of cash bail on poor people in Maryland.
  • Crafted legislation in the Baltimore City Council to begin the process of building the infrastructure for the Baltimore City Children and Youth Fund (BCYF).
  • Opposed and defeated a piece of legislation in the Baltimore City Council that would create a 1 year mandatory minimum for mere possession of a firearm in a public place.

Worked on amendments to LEOBR that were in the bill we advocated for in 2015 – which includes requiring that civilians serve on administrative hearing boards and the non-law enforcement entities are allowed to participate in the internal investigations of police misconduct.  The legislation that passed was a change that allowed civilians to serve on trial boards (though it is not required).  What did not pass was allowing non-law enforcement to participate in the internal investigation of police misconduct.

Worked on amendments to the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights (LEOBR).  The primary focus of our advocacy that year was to require that civilians serve on the trial boards and to allow non-law enforcement entities to be involved in the internal investigations of police misconduct.  This bill did not make it out of committee that year.

Passed Christopher’s Law, named after Christopher Brown who was killed by an off duty police officer in Baltimore County in 2012.  This law required additional racial sensitivity and deescalation training.  Additionally, it required that police officers learn CPR, due to the fact that the officer that killed Christopher Brown could have saved him if he knew how to do CPR.

Pressured the MD legislature and governor to abandon the plan to build a new youth detention center in east Baltimore.