What Passed (and Didn’t) and How It Might Impact Your MVLS (and Other) Clients
Probate Fee Waiver- SB261/HB1305 requires a register of wills to waive the fees for administration of an estate if (1) the real property of the decedent is to be transferred to the decedent’s heir who resides on the property or is encumbered by a lien and subject to a tax sale; and (2) the estate is unable to pay the fees by reason of “poverty.” Poverty is defined as 50% of Maryland median income or the personal representative is represented by an agency funded by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, like MVLS. The bill takes effect October 1.
Two expungement updates were proposed in the most recent session. One would have eliminated the ‘unit rule,’ allowing for the expungement of individual charges from a case that would otherwise not be expungeable as a whole. The other was an omnibus bill designed to correct oversights in last year’s expungement update, as well as include new eligible convictions (namely, traffic charges and most misdemeanors).
Foreclosure – Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act- SB265/HB380 makes the state program permanent. While the federal act expired, this legislation will continue to ensure that Maryland homeowners who have negative equity in their homes forgiven by a bank as part of a short sale or foreclosure will not have forgiveness considered taxable income. The bill takes effect June 1.
Homeowner’s Insurance – Removal of Widow’s Penalty- SB607/HB191 removes the widow’s penalty from home insurance. The bill prohibits companies from increasing homeowner insurance when a spouse or partner has died. Since homeowner’s insurance is generally higher for single people, widows and widowers were seeing their costs increased after the loss of a loved one. The bill takes effect January 1, 2020.
Tax Sale- HB1209 includes several provisions to assist homeowners in tax sale proceedings. It creates a state ombudsman within SDAT. The ombudsman is required to (1) help homeowners understand the process for collection of delinquent taxes; (2) actively assist homeowners to apply for tax credits and other programs that may help the homeowners to pay delinquent taxes and improve their financial situation; (3) refer homeowners to legal services, housing services, and other social services; (4) maintain a website that functions as a clearinghouse for information concerning the tax sale process and services and programs that are available to assist homeowners; and (5) maintain a toll-free telephone number that a homeowner may call to obtain individualized personal assistance with delinquent taxes. It also requires SDAT to survey counties and municipal corporations annually to obtain specified data concerning tax sales and submit a report of the information each year. The bill takes effect January 1, 2020.
Tax Sale- SB96/HB161 permanently limit the authority of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City to conduct tax sale proceedings on properties to enforce liens for unpaid water and sewer service charges. The bills continue the exclusion of residential property from such a sale and newly exclude from sale real property that is exempt from taxation and used exclusively for public religious worship or a parsonage or convent. The bill takes effect July 1.
This year the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, of which the MVLS Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP) is a member, supported four pieces of legislation aimed at greatly increasing protections and services for survivors of human trafficking in Maryland. Three of the bills passed, representing a significant victory for survivors and advocates.
HB827/SB688 (Child Sex Trafficking Screening & Services Act of 2019) mandates funding for services for minor victims of trafficking and creates new regional coordinators to organize response and resources for cases involving minor victims. Unfortunately, the final version of the bill did not include a provision providing immunity from prosecution for minor victims, which was strongly advocated for by the Task Force. The bill takes effect October 1.
SB690/HB871 re-codifies Maryland’s current human trafficking law by relocating the statute from the Prostitution subtitle to the Crimes Against Persons title, an important change which more accurately represents the nature of the crime. The legislation also clarifies several provisions within the law, and establishes the separate crime of forced marriage, which was originally part of the human trafficking law. Finally, the bill also creates separate criminal offenses for buying and selling sex to more accurately track who is being charged each type of offense. The bill takes effect October 1.
HB734/SB689(Anti-Exploitation Act of 2019) establishes the crime of labor trafficking within the state. Prior to the passage of this legislation, Maryland was one of only three states that did not have a specific law against labor trafficking. The bill takes effect October 1.
HB782/SB691(True Freedom Act of 2019), sponsored by Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary (Howard County) and Senator Susan Lee, would have made critical improvements to Maryland’s vacatur law, which allows survivors of trafficking who have prostitution convictions stemming from their trafficking experience to petition the court to vacate, or, set aside those convictions. Maryland’s current vacatur law received an “F” grade in a recent nationwide review of criminal record relief laws co-authored by Jessica Emerson, our HTTP partner at the University of Baltimore Law School and a national leader in the human trafficking community. The True Freedom Act would have increased the number of criminal offenses eligible for vacatur, and eliminated the need for a survivor to obtain the consent of the State’s Attorney’s Office that originally prosecuted them before filing a vacatur petition with the court. Despite support from the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association, survivor leaders, and numerous state and national victim’s services agencies, the bill stalled in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
SB400/HB4160 prohibits for-profit schools from converting to nonprofit status for the purpose of avoiding protections against predatory student loans. Maryland is the first in the nation to take this step. The bill takes effect June 1.
SB399/HB464 added several items to the list of specified information that a for-profit institution must provide to a prospective student prior to the student signing an enrollment agreement, completing registration, or making a financial commitment to the school. The information must be prominently displayed on the website of the school without the need for providing personal information. The bill takes effect July 1.
SB670/HB594 strengthens the existing Student Loan Ombudsman position by prohibiting a student loan servicer from taking specified adverse actions with regard to student loan borrowers. In addition, the bill requires a student loan servicer to engage in certain conduct on receipt of a written inquiry or complaint from a student loan borrower or the borrower’s authorized representative. The bill takes effect October 1.
To learn more about these bills and others, you can review the The 90 Day Report, A Review of the 2019 Legislative Session from the Department of Legislative Services.