MSBA members walk down the street in front of the Maryland State House in Annapolis on a rainy day.

February 16, 2024 - by Colleen Aracri

MSBA Highlights Its Legislative Priorities During MSBA Day

MSBA prides itself on being the voice of the legal profession in Maryland and continuously works to protect the rights and interests of attorneys, judges, paralegals, law students, and the profession as a whole. Among other things, this includes engaging with members of the Maryland General Assembly to advocate for laws that protect the integrity of the judiciary, increase access to justice for all Marylanders, and protect attorneys and judges.  MSBA highlighted its advocacy efforts and legislative priorities during MSBA Day, which was held on February 13, 2024. The day kicked off with MSBA President-Elect Raphael Santini addressing the intrepid members who convened despite the inclement weather.  Santini noted that MSBA member attorneys provide legislators with unique perspectives and important insight into pending legislation. He also recalled recent legislative achievements MSBA members helped bring about, including modernizing family law with new no-fault grounds for divorce, which aim to reduce the financial burden on families and simplify the divorce process, and securing rights for surviving domestic partners, treating them the same as a spouse for probate purposes.  MSBA member advocacy efforts have also helped implement updates to the Maryland corporation code to better support and retain Maryland business entities, clients, and lawyers.  Furthermore, improvements have been made to the probation before judgment process to mitigate negative impacts on immigration matters or professional licenses of Marylanders. Finally, Santini reported that significant funding has been secured for the Access to Counsel in Evictions program to provide pro bono attorneys to Marylanders facing eviction.  As Santini stated, these updates have had an immediate impact on Maryland residents and businesses, easing the judicial process, reducing financial burdens and duration of litigation, and increasing access to justice for those unable to afford legal representation.  Santini also briefed MSBA members on the association's legislative priorities for the 2024 Legislative Session, namely judicial security, funding civil legal aid, and juvenile justice reform.  Members then heard from Senator Will Smith, who discussed the judicial security and juvenile justice reform bills, before heading off to attend the Senate’s morning hearings. As Senator Smith noted, in the 2024 Legislative Session, both Republican and Democratic legislators have introduced several bills concerning juvenile justice and public safety, building upon the 2022 Juvenile Justice Reform Act and the 2022 Child Interrogation Protection Act. These bills address various aspects of juvenile justice, including extended probation periods, mandatory petitions for certain offenses, reforms to child interrogation procedures, and parental liability. For instance, HB309/SB52, introduced by Delegate Kipke and Senator Folden, allows parental consent as an alternative to attorney consultation, among other provisions. SB2, proposed by Senator Carter, mandates filing a Children in Need of Supervision petition for certain offenses by children under 13. Members of the General Assembly have worked with many MSBA partners and members, including the Office of Public Defender and criminal law practitioners, to better understand what changes should be made to existing laws to achieve the best outcomes for all Marylanders. Senator Smith also expressed that the members of the General Assembly, many of whom do not come from legal backgrounds, appreciate the knowledge and expertise of MSBA members when considering the potential impact of bills. Next, Ward Coe, Chair of the Access to Justice Commission, discussed the challenges civil legal aid organizations face in attracting and retaining qualified attorneys given their salary constraints, and noted the importance of legislation that increases civil legal aid funding, as it helps to ensure people throughout the state have access to legal services.  The morning wrapped up with Co-Chair of MSBA Laws Committee, Kelly Hughes Iverson, Partner at Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP, outlining the structure and processes of the Laws Committee, which is responsible for monitoring legislative activity for bills that could impact Maryland’s legal profession.  Subsequently, MSBA members engaged in discussions with various members of the General Assembly and their staff, including Delegates Brian Chisholm, Elizabeth Embry, Brooke Grossman, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and Malcolm Ruff and Senators Clarence Lam, Nick Charles, and Katie Hester. Beyond MSBA day, MSBA encourages members to participate in advocacy efforts throughout the legislative session to ensure their voices are heard by the parties responsible for crafting the laws that impact their profession and, potentially, to impact how such legislation is drafted. If you want to learn more about MSBA’s advocacy process and efforts, contact us at [email protected] or visit our advocacy page.