2024 Legislative Recap: Human Trafficking Prevention Project

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and the Human Trafficking Prevention Project continue to work in partnership to prioritize systemic advocacy as a needed and necessary part of our direct practice work, and we provided advice on interpretations and practical implications of proposed bills affecting survivors of trafficking, people who trade sex, and those populations put at highest risk of exploitation throughout the 2024 Maryland General Assembly session. 

As usual, HTPP and related MVLS advocacy was wide-ranging and covered both new legislation as well as topics that have been critical to our clients for years. We submitted testimony supporting legislation to decriminalize the possession of drug paraphernalia, support development of Overdose Prevention Sites in Maryland, and repeal the archaic and discriminatory prohibition on HIV transmission, although sadly all of these bills died in committee.

However, there were some victories as well, with legislation increasing protections for child victims of labor trafficking (a priority of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force), providing for the addition of gender-affirming care to Maryland’s definition of legally protected healthcare, and making critical changes to support survivors of violence through the Victim Compensation Reform Act being passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor.

Still, a primary advocacy objective of both the HTPP and MVLS during the 2024 legislative session was passing HB 73/SB 454, known colloquially as the Abhishek bill. Working alongside a group of Maryland-based organizations focused on providing and expanding access to expungement in Maryland, the HTPP and MVLS strongly supported Abhishek because it would remove yet another unnecessary barrier preventing all Marylanders, including HTPP clients, from expunging their records and enabling them to more readily access the opportunities they need to better their lives. Unfortunately, the bill failed to pass out of the Maryland Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee and will not become law this year.

The Abhishek bill would have fulfilled the promise of last session’s REDEEM Act, which significantly reduced the time a person must wait to file a petition to expunge an eligible conviction after satisfactorily completing their sentence, including any period of incarceration, parole, or probation. However, in a 2022 case known as In re Expungement Petition of Abhishek I., the Appellate Court of Maryland held that the petitioner, Abhishek I., who was seeking expungement of a 12 year-old conviction, was ineligible because he had violated the terms of his probation and therefore not “satisfactorily” completed his sentence. Because of this interpretation, any Marylander who has violated their probation post-conviction, regardless of the age of the conviction or the circumstance behind the violation, is now generally barred from having the record of that conviction expunged.

Through our MVLS and HTPP partnership, we work with clients who have histories of human trafficking and survival sex work almost always fueled by a lifetime of complex trauma, homelessness, poverty, and substance use. All too often, these experiences lead to convictions for the types of low-level crimes that are eligible for expungement under current law; however, the difficult road to recovery from both trauma and substance use disorder often results in probation violations in the form of a failed drug test, failure to complete mandatory rehabilitation, or a missed meeting with a probation officer. We will continue to push to rectify the situation created by the Abhishek ruling and expand availability of criminal record relief for our clients and all Marylanders.