January 19, 2015
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.”
--Rev. Martin Luther King, 1967
Happy Martin Luther King Day. The riveting movie Selma has brought back the shocking and triumphant events of 1965 for generations of Americans, like my children, born decades afterwards. I only wish the directors of this splendid film, in rounding up during the credits what had become of the major figures like John Lewis and Andrew Young, had also updated the career of the Voting Rights Act, which was paid for by the blood sacrifice of the people killed and beaten to a pulp in Alabama. In 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court cut out the heart of the Voting Rights Act in a 5-4 decision, and voting rights are predictably under attack across the country.
But my thoughts of Dr. King always return to a telegram that he sent to my father in 1968 when I was six years old. My father, Marcus Raskin, had been indicted along with Dr. Spock, William Sloane Coffin, and two other anti-war activists, for conspiracy to aid and abet draft evasion during the Vietnam War. They were facing many years in prison. In the telegram, Dr. King said that if they were guilty, he was guilty too. I will never forget the joy and excitement in our house when that telegram arrived. (I had to explain to my kids that a telegram was like a text or an email that came to your door.) I have linked a September 6, 1963 photo from LifeMagazine of people listening to Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington while they dangled their feet in the reflecting pool. My father and mother are at the far right of the photograph.
As we return to Annapolis for our first full week and the inauguration of our new Governor, I am pressing for a legislative agenda that I hope will advance the kind of values that Dr. King and the civilizing movements of the last century championed. In addition to my continuing service on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, I will be the newChairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, the Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Ethics, and Senate Majority Whip. In these roles, I will be fighting hard todefend our long-term investment in the Purple Line, which is important not only to our transportation infrastructure (seven planned stations are in District 20) but to our economy, as thousands of jobs and lots of small business development are likely to follow from the project;and to pass legislation that allows Montgomery County the bonding authority to build the new schools we need to accommodate the huge influx of new students we see every year. Although I have passed the chairmanship of the Montgomery County Senate delegation to my colleague Senator Nancy King, I will still be pushing for our urgent County priorities.
With lots of citizen support and our great Delegates Sheila Hixson, David Moon and Will Smith, I am introducing and working to pass the following:
** The Maryland Second Chance Act, which will allow Marylanders to petition a judge to shield from public scrutiny evidence of non-violent misdemeanor convictions, like disorderly conduct or possession of small amounts of marijuana, if he or she has no more serious crimes on his or her record and is totally clean for a period of at least three years. Although law enforcement will always have this information, we want to give more than 180,000 mostly young Marylanders the chance to find a job and to be productive citizens without the constant stigma and obstacle of an old misdemeanor conviction.
** Civil Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Reform. The Washington Post has done a great job recently exposing the abuses of government seizure and forfeiture of people’s money, cars, and other private property without a prior criminal conviction or even prosecution. The police have been seizing cash and other valuable property, essentially forcing people to come and sue the government to prove that their property was not the proceeds of criminal activity. Many innocent people have been caught up in these practices, which have involved billions of dollars. I would like to shift the burden of proof to the government, and make sure that a statute that was designed for seizure of yachts and sportscars from drug kingpins is not used to confiscate a $5,000 family car. Attorney General Holder just announced that he was terminating cooperation between federal and state authorities in most cases like this, and it is clearly time to carefully study and reform civil asset seizure and forfeiture practices.
**The Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, which has passed the Senate unanimously several times, only to languish in the House. This law would give a woman impregnated by rape the right to petition the court for termination of the assailant’s paternity rights, including custody and visitation. In the past, assailants have used such rights to intimidate and harass their victims, to keep them from testifying against them, and to block adoptions. The bill has wide bipartisan support, from groups like the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and both pro-choice and pro-life groups.
** The Shareholders United Act, which will require corporations that want to spend money on political campaigns to receive an authorizing vote from a majority of their shareholders first and to disclose all political campaign spending on-line within 48 hours. These provisions respond to clear language from Justice Kennedy’s decision in Citizens United, and are being pushed this year by pro-reform legislators in numerous other states. Check out these pieces I wrote about this legislation in the Washington Post, http://tinyurl.com/
** Protecting Young Marylanders from Skin Cancer and Hazing. I am reintroducing legislation to ban the use of indoor tanning technology by minors. Indoor tanning devices have not only been declared to be carcinogenic by the World Health Organization and multiple other health authorities but the Food and Drug Administration last year described it as a serious hazard and recommends that they not be used. These technologies dramatically increase the incidence of deadly skin cancers like melanoma, and pose a terrible threat to the young women who are the target audience. With the FDA ruling, this should be our breakthrough year. I am also reintroducing legislation to substantially increase criminal fines—from $500 to $5,000—for assaults committed during college hazing rituals, which continue unabated despite more than 40 deaths nationwide over the last decade. A recent harrowing episode at Bowie State underscores the importance of acting now; that potential $500 fine is the cost of kegs over a long weekend and is deterring no one. Here's some recent news on the Bowie State case.
** Expanding the Use of Ignition Interlock Devices in all Drunk Driving Cases. I was very proud in 2011 to have introduced with delegate Ben Kramer the Drunk Driving Reduction Act, which required people convicted of Driving While Under the Influence to have an ignition interlock device installed in their cars if they want to keep their licenses. This meant that the worst drunk drivers, recidivists and those scoring a .15 on a blood alcohol test, essentially have had to take a breathalyzer before their cars would start. We have seen a dramatic reduction in drunk driving accidents and fatalities since then. But the law is still too narrow, and we should expand it to include everyone convicted of driving under the influence. I know people make mistakes, and this should not keep them from driving to work, taking the kids to school and using their cars, but only if they are not drinking.
** Making Violators Pay for the Cost of Care for Abused Animals: Every year Maryland’s taxpayers shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to care for animals that have been abused by their owners. This law would shift the financial burden onto the violators themselves and establish the principle that cruelty and violence against pet animals doesn’t pay.
We are also working to pass the Maryland Healthy Workforce Act, which will guarantee paid sick leave to the vast majority of Maryland’s workers so people don’t have to go to work sick and spread their germs. And we also have an ambitious agenda of local projects involving both small businesses and non-profits that we will be working on through the Session.
As always, it is an honor beyond measure to represent the people of Silver Spring and Takoma Park. Please stay in close touch and let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
All best wishes,
p.s. It has been very exciting to use our “advise and consent” powers to push for and confirm excellent District and Circuit Court judges from Montgomery County. Last week I represented the Senate at the judicial investiture of Holly Reed, a new District Court judge who grew up on Piney Branch Road and went to Takoma Middle and Blair High School, and this week I am attending an investiture for District Court Judge Zuberi Williams, an administrative law judge and distinguished graduate of the Washington College of Law.
p.p.s. You are always welcome in Annapolis during Session, so let me know if you have plans to come. I’d love to say hi.