From eliminating HIV-specific criminalization from the state code to creating overdose-prevention sites, the People's Commission to Decriminalize Maryland has presented key policy changes it would like to see the state Legislature pass this session. Comments from Christopher Dews, senior policy advocate, Job Opportunities Task Force; and Jason Szanyi ("Zany"), deputy director, Center for Children's Law and Policy.

As Gov. Larry Hogan revealed his proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget in Annapolis yesterday, the People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland announced its legislative priorities for the 2022 legislative session.

The commission is made up of representatives of 28 advocacy groups mostly based in Maryland.

Christopher Dews, a senior policy advocate for the Job Opportunities Task Force, said the commission has a focus on five bills this session he contended would help decriminalize poverty. Among those include eliminating the use of credit history and ZIP code as factors in auto insurance rates, which disproportionately impacts communities of color.

“That’s going to greatly lower the cost and allow more returning citizens and formerly incarcerated people and those who are simply poor to be able to afford auto insurance so that they can get in their cars and go to work,” Dews asserted. “Those two factors have nothing to do with an individual’s ability to drive.”

A bill introduced last week by Del. Alonzo Washington, D-Prince George’s County, would prohibit the use of such information in establishing auto-insurance premiums. A hearing is scheduled for today in the House Economic Matters Committee.

Jason Szanyi, deputy director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, said the commission also supports Senate Bill 165, which would change Maryland’s current system of transferring youths to adult court. The state requires children as young as 14 to be automatically prosecuted in adult court for 33 criminal offenses.

“Many of those kids end up getting transferred back to the youth justice system but only after they’ve experienced the harm of incarceration and being charged as an adult,” Szanyi explained. “A vast majority of those kids are Black and brown youths.”

A companion bill was introduced this week in the House by Del. Charlotte Crutchfield, D-Montgomery County. Senate Bill 165 will receive a hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Jan. 27. Other priorities of the commission include cannabis legalization and expungement reform.

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