Coalition Against Sexual Assault issues session report

Annapolis, MD - The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) supports legislation that promotes justice for survivors of sexual violence, accountability for offenders, and protection for the general public.  The 2019 legislative session brought continued progress for survivors of sexual assault. 

Thank you to everyone who made calls, sent emails, testified in Annapolis, and donated to MCASA to support our public policy efforts. You make a difference for survivors.

This session, MCASA continued to advocate on behalf of survivors of all types of sexual assault: child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, sexual harassment, rape, and other forms of sexual exploitation.  Our goal is to improve systems at every level.  Survivors should have access to justice, services, and support without regard to their immigration status, gender identity, class, race, age, or choice to participate in the criminal or civil justices systems.  Sexual assault must be condemned no matter who the assailant is.  The law should stop sexual violence without regard to whether the offender is a spouse, a co-worker, a family member, or clergy.

This year’s state legislative session brought important progress on many issues.  The Workplace Harassment bill creates major statutory reforms that will empower thousands of victims of sexual harassment in the workplace (HB679/SB872).  The bill was sponsored by the presiding officers, Speaker Mike Busch and President Mike Miller, and based on the recommendations of the Commission these leaders created last year.  This bill is one of many that Speaker Busch championed during his legislative career. MCASA mourns the loss of Mike Busch and honors him as an effective and committed advocate for women.

While the Workplace Harassment bill has a wide scope, one of MCASA other top priorities has a narrow one.  With the leadership of Senator Nancy King and Delegate Kirill Reznik, a bill was enacted to prevent HIV for rape victims (SB657/HB1249).  This seems like an obviously correct policy, but was defeated last session and required strong advocacy to pass this year.  Thank you especially to Jen Witten and the Maryland Hospital Association; their partnership was crucial to passing this legislation.

Other bills regarding sexual assault forensic exams (often called “rape kits”) also passed.  Maryland will have mandatory rape kit testing and the funds to support this work.  Senators Will Smith and Sarah Elfreth led the charge in the Senate, and Delegate Shelly Hettleman sponsored House bills (SB767/HB1096; SB569/HB1268).  On another bill addressing rape kits, we were very disappointed that the Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention opposed efforts to protect victim privacy in HB1248/SB933.  Freshman Delegate Sandy Bartlett successfully shepherded this bill through the House and we are delighted to have this fierce advocate for survivors in the General Assembly.  Experienced legislator Senator Jeff Waldstreicher also made strong efforts to find consensus and pass this bill, but ultimately ran out of time.  We are committed to addressing these issues in the future and look forward to continuing to work with Delegate Bartlett and Senator Waldstreicher.  All of these bills related to rape kits were supported the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee and their advocacy is welcome and helpful.

MCASA spent considerable resources this session on the issue of sex trafficking.  We were pleased that a bill creating a regional navigator system and services for youth survivors passed and that efforts to update the criminal code were successful.  Disappointingly, the bill expanding the ability of survivors to vacate convictions died in the Judicial Proceedings Committee despite the support of both advocates for survivors and the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association.  We look forward to continuing these efforts in the future and especially appreciate the efforts of Delegates Vanessa Atterbeary, Brooke Lierman, Jesse Pippy, and David Moon in the House.  Senator Susan Lee continues to be the leading champion of bills to respond to sex trafficking in the Senate and is always appreciated.

Marriage should not be a defense to sex crimes.  Maryland does not agree and still permits sex offenses against spouses as a matter of law.  Sadly, the bill to strike these archaic and insulting provisions did not pass (HB958).  Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield, Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, and Vice-Chair Vanessa Atterbeary sponsored the bill this session and we look forward to working with them next year to pass it.  It should be easy, but will not be, and we will need the community to express its outrage that the provisions still exist.

Overall the session was a strong one and it is clear that many of the newly elected legislators care about responding to sexual violence and helping survivors.  We appreciate the new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Delegate Luke Clippinger, for increasing the transparency of the Committee and for continuing his long-time support for survivors of sexual violence.  The Committee is more open and fair as a result of his leadership.  It is also gratifying to have so many women on the House Judiciary Committee who are committed to ending sexual assault.  New delegates Sandy Bartlett, Charlotte Crutchfield, Wanika Fisher, Lesley Lopez, and Emily Shetty all sponsored helpful bills and spoke out at hearings.  They join more experienced House legislative leaders this session, including Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, Vice-Chair Vanessa Atterbeary, Vice-Chair Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Delegates Brooke Lierman and Shelly Hettleman, and Chair Maggie McIntosh.  Women in the Senate who continue to lead anti-sexual violence efforts include the incomparable Chair Nancy King and Senators Susan Lee and Sarah Elfreth.  Male allies are also crucial, and this session we especially appreciate Senators Will Smith, Jeff Waldstreicher, and Chris West, and Delegates Kirill Reznik, Ben Barnes, C.T. Wilson, and, of course, the presiding officers, President Miller and Speaker Busch.  Many others provided support in large and small ways. The presence of these legislators in Annapolis will help make sure sexual assault is not minimized and that the needs of survivors are heard. 

Thank you also to the many advocates who work as partners in Annapolis and to the many MCASA members and supporters who took the time to testify, make phone calls, and send emails.  The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, Maryland Hospital Association, and Maryland State’s Attorneys Association continue to be strong partners.

There is still work to do.  Please join MCASA and help continue the fight for sexual assault survivors.

Stay strong,
Lisae C Jordan, Executive Director & Counsel
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault

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