Today marks the 45th day of this year’s 90-day Legislative Session. I am pleased to report that the General Assembly accomplished some truly important things this week.
On Thursday, the House of Delegates unanimously approved HB 78, which will protect pit bulls and their responsible owners while safeguarding the rights of dog bite victims and of landlords. The bill will now move to the Senate, where I expect similar swift passage. Also on Thursday, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee passed Governor O’Malley’s Firearms Safety Act, as well as a bill to repeal the death penalty in Maryland. Those bills will now go to the full Senate. (The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Firearms Safety Act next Friday, March 1.) Today, the House passed the Governor’s Offshore Wind Energy Act by a vote of 86-48.
These are substantial steps toward making our state safer, more fair, more responsible, and more just, and I am proud to have been a part of this progress. Other highlights this week include:
Keeping People Out of Jail for Failure to Pay Small Debts:
On Wednesday, I presented two bills to the House Judiciary Committee that aim to protect consumers from predatory debt collectors who are using the power of our state’s courts, sheriffs, and jails, to strong arm consumers – often the most vulnerable populations – into paying debts that are often old, and sometimes simply wrong.
Our state’s constitution provides that “no person shall be imprisoned for debt.” Yet, in 2012, 39 Marylanders were arrested and incarcerated for failing to appear for judgments issued against them in small claims court. In several of those cases, the bond they, or their families and friends, paid to get them out of jail was then forfeited to the debt collector. Those 39 people arrested are part of a broader group of 1,830 Marylanders who had body attachments issued against them for failing to appear in small claims cases.
Often, debt collection agencies buy outstanding debt from creditors for pennies on the dollar, and then go after consumers for failing to pay their debt. Too many Marylanders have been through the ordeal of being arrested for failing to pay debt. The process is ripe with mistakes, bad service of process, or no service at all, and a gross imbalance of power. We see people who never received a summons, then had a default judgment issued against them, and then were arrested for failing to appear when they tried to clear things up.
Allowing debt collectors to use our state’s judicial process to intimidate people who may or may not have small unpaid debts is unacceptable, and that’s why I’ve introduced the following bills:
· HB597 – says that in cases in small claims court, you cannot be put in jail. Small claims court deals with cases where the amount at stake is under $5,000. Importantly, in small claims court, there is no discovery, no rules of evidence, and the parties are often not represented by counsel. It’s an informal process, which means that debt collectors don’t need the contract, the actual account or other proof. (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2013RS/bills/hb/hb0597F.pdf.)
· HB596 – says that if you are arrested for failure to show cause, you are immediately entitled to a hearing before a judge or magistrate. This bill would apply to all cases – not just small claims. (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/2013RS/bills/hb/hb0596F.pdf.)
I am working with Senator Frosh, as well as victims of these practices, consumer advocates, and the Consumer Law Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law, in order to make sure that people are not put in jail for small debts. If you’d like to get involved, please visit the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition web site at http://www.marylandconsumers.org/.
I Need Your Help to Keep Guns Away From Criminals:
On Friday, March 1, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Firearms Safety Act of 2013. Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence is holding a rally in support of the bill, and it would be wonderful to have you here in Annapolis. Those who feel, as I do, that reasonable regulation of guns is necessary to save lives need to hear from you. Please sign up to participate in the Rally to Prevent Gun Violence and make your voices heard: http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50979/p/salsa/web/questionnaire/public/?questionnaire_KEY=1384
On Tuesday, March 5, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on a bill I introduced that will mandate the reporting of lost or stolen guns in order to prevent straw purchases and to encourage responsible behavior by those who own guns. As I’ve said previously, this bill is the result of extensive discussions with law enforcement, especially the BPD, and gun policy experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. It will prevent the illegal transfer of firearms to criminals by creating a state-wide reporting requirement for lost or stolen firearms.
The bill will require licensed gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm within 72 hours of the time that they knew that the firearm was missing. You can find the bill, HB1077, here: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?pid=billpage&tab=subject3&id=hb1077&stab=01&ys=2013RS.
62 of my colleagues in the House have signed on as co-sponsors of this important legislation, but we can really use your help to spread the word about this bill. So, please tell your friends, neighbors, and colleagues about the legislation, and ask them to contact their legislators to ask them to support the bill. If you’d like more information on this legislation, please contact me at Luke.Clippinger@house.state.md.us, or visit this entry on my blog, which explains this and other gun-related bills in further detail: http://www.luke46.org/3/post/2013/02/legislative-update-4-purple-friday.html
In the neighborhood: I enjoyed meeting many constituents in Curtis Bay, Bayview, Highlandtown, and Washington Hill last weekend. I will be knocking on doors again this Saturday, rain or shine. If you’d like to join me, please email me at email@example.com.
I appreciate your interest in my work in the General Assembly, and I am thankful for your continued support. As always, you can reach me at 410-841-3303, or at Luke.Clippinger@house.state.md.us.