The 2017 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly concluded on April 10, after taking action on several issues of importance to Catholics in Maryland. Here is a roundup of the highlights from the session.
The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act was passed, requiring businesses with 15 or more employees to allow their workers to earn up to five days of sick time per year to use to care for themselves or a sick family member. The Maryland Catholic Conference supported this bill due to the Church’s teaching about the dignity of work and the worker, as well as the value the Church places on families.
Funding for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program increased to $5.5 million for the 2018 fiscal year. Together with the remaining funds from the current year, nearly $6 million will be available in BOOST scholarships for the 2017-18 school year, which is about $1 million more than this year.
The Maryland Catholic Conference has supported the BOOST program throughout the legislative session, advocating for children of low-income families to have equal opportunities to attend Catholic schools. During “Non-public Schools Advocacy Day” in Annapolis, 1,400 students from non-public schools, including many schools in the Archdiocese of Washington, advocated for the BOOST scholarship to their state representatives.
While the funding in the budget is less than the $7 million that Governor Larry Hogan had hoped for, it is enough to continue the scholarships for families already receiving them and to accept new applications for the 2017-18 school year. The application for BOOST scholarships will be available on the State Department of Education’s website at the end of April, and interested families are encouraged to sign up to be notified at www.educationmaryland.org/BOOST.
The End-of-Life Option Act was introduced for the third consecutive year and withdrawn in the Maryland State Senate. If it were passed, this bill would have made it legal for physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to terminally ill patients who have a prognosis of six or fewer months to live.
The Maryland Catholic Conference opposed the bill, and in a position statement wrote that the intentional use of drugs to artificially end life “violates the most basic tenet of our belief in the sacredness of life, and simultaneously poses many dangers to vulnerable populations.”
“It is a relief that this very dangerous bill is not moving forward again this year,” Jennifer Briemann, the associate director of respect for life issues at the Maryland Catholic Conference, said after the bill was withdrawn.
The Civil Statute of Limitations on child abuse cases was extended; meaning victims of child abuse now have until age 38 to file a lawsuit. While in the past the Maryland Catholic Conference has opposed similar bills, this year the MCC worked with the bill’s sponsor (Del. C.T. Wilson, a Democrat representing District 28 in Charles County) to reach a compromise that they could support.
In a statement regarding the bill, Mary Ellen Russell, the Maryland Catholic Conference’s executive director, noted three reasons that led to the conference supporting the bill: it applied to both public and private institutions, it is prospective and will not open decades-old cases, and the sponsor and “the sponsor and legislative leadership publicly agreed this issue will now be put to rest, and not revisited again every year.”
“We have great sympathy and admiration for Delegate Wilson and other survivors who have worked on this issue over the years, and recognize the courage Delegate Wilson had to summon every year to testify for the bill,” Russell said in the statement. “We are grateful that he will not have to endure that in the future, and that he was able to achieve an important victory for the survivors on whose behalf he was advocating.”