April 19, 2024 - by Shaoli Katana

MSBA’s Legislative Wins Include Increased Security, Defeating a Tax on Legal Services, and Securing Civil Legal Aid Funds

MSBA’s advocacy protects the legal profession, preserves the integrity of the judicial system, and ensures access to justice for Marylanders. Successes following Sine Die 2024 include:
  • Defeating a proposed tax on legal services that would decrease attorney and firm competitiveness and reduce access to justice; 
  • Enhancing judicial and attorney security through the protection of personal information of judicial officers and their families, related penalties, address confidentiality program, and a Task Force to study and recommend security measures; and
  • Securing civil legal aid funding to allow high-quality legal services reach the state’s low-income and vulnerable populations.  

Below is a summary of key pieces of legislation relevant to the legal profession. 


Tax on Legal Services – HB1515 – SUCCESSFULLY DEFEATED

Late in the 2024 session, the House introduced a bill that would raise revenue through a 5% sales tax on everyday professional services, including legal services, accounting and financial services, appraisals, real estate services, advertising, and printing services. The bill would have a direct and devastating effect on every MSBA attorney, law firm, and legal organization by increasing operational costs and decreasing competitiveness. The bill would also reduce access to justice and the affordability of Maryland legal services by imposing a regressive tax on the most vulnerable populations. Having previously opposed and defeated an identical bill in 2020, MSBA again testified in opposition to the bill, with input and support from several sections and the Laws Committee. MSBA also successfully engaged over 500 members through an online grassroots campaign to contact legislators to oppose HB1515. The bill did not move out of the Ways and Means Committee and legislators instead turned to increased vehicle fees and tobacco taxes to raise revenue. Given ongoing concerns about funding sources for education and transportation, MSBA will continue to monitor this issue in future sessions.

Enhanced Judicial and Attorney Security – HB664/SB575 – SUCCESSFULLY PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

MSBA President DeLoach joined members of the Judiciary in Annapolis to successfully advocate for the passage of the Honorable Andrew F. Wilkinson Judicial Security Act. The bill protects personally identifiable information for federal and state judges and their families, except with prior consent or information that is a matter of public concern; offers appropriate relief, damages, and criminal penalties for violations; shields judicial addresses through an Address Confidentiality Program; and establishes a Task Force to review and identify immediate and long-term security needs. MSBA secured inclusion on the Task Force and will voice firsthand experiences and security concerns of members in courthouses across the state. The bill passed with full support from both legislative chambers.


MSBA joined its partner, Maryland’s Access to Justice Commission (A2JC), in supporting continued civil legal aid funding. MSBA and A2JC successfully engaged over 3,200 individuals through MSBA’s online grassroots campaign to contact legislators to support civil aid funding in the bill. HB693, included as part of Governor Moore’s 2024 Housing package, adds a filing surcharge increase in certain civil cases that would fund MLSC and allow Maryland’s high-quality legal services to reach the state’s low-income and vulnerable populations. The bill also establishes an Office of Tenant and Landlord Affairs in Maryland’s Housing and Community Development Department, requires the development and publication of a Tenants’ Bill of Rights, limits security deposits, and provides a tenant’s right of first refusal in certain leases. (Note: MSBA took no position on the tenant’s right of first refusal included in the bill, given the diverse views of the membership.)


Judgeships – Prince George’s County Circuit Court – HB592/SB688 – SUCCESSFULLY PASSED

MSBA supported the Judiciary’s request for one additional judgeship in Prince George’s County Circuit Court to address the high-volume dockets in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, increase service to vulnerable populations, more equitably distribute judicial workloads, and allow judges to more effectively dispense justice.

Judges' Retirement System - Special Death Benefit – HB768/SB604 – SUCCESSFULLY PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

MSBA supported the establishment of a line-of-duty special death benefit for members of the Judges' Retirement System, including health benefits for a surviving child or dependent parent. As threats and attacks against the judiciary are on the rise, the bill would provide peace of mind and security to families of Maryland judicial officers and bring the Maryland Judiciary in line with other state employees and their families currently covered with special line-of-duty death benefits.  


Ratification of Defective Corporate Acts – HB888/SB544 – SUCCESSFULLY PASSED

MSBA’s Business Law Section developed and supported this bill that alters statutory provisions regarding the ratification of defective corporate acts, including by clarifying the approval, quorum, and other requirements that apply to a ratification and altering the process to bring an action in court to determine the validity of a ratification or to modify or waive a ratification procedure. The bill also repeals and alters certain definitions to clarify statutory provisions.

Corporations and Associations – Definitions, Emergencies, and Outstanding Stock – Revisions – SB400 – SUCCESSFULLY PASSED

MSBA’S Business Law Section also drafted and supported a bill that alters provisions of the Corporations and Associations Article, including: authorizing a corporation to adopt emergency bylaws and establishing related provisions applicable to an emergency, clarifying statutory provisions related to a corporation’s acquisition of its own stock, and alternating specified definitions.

Corporations and Associations – Transparency – Beneficial Ownership SB954 – SUCCESSFULLY DEFEATED

The bill was filed with the intent to align Maryland law with the Federal Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), which requires certain business entities to file beneficial owner information with federal agencies. MSBA’s Business Law Section opposed the bill as entities would be required to provide even more information than what they provide under the federal CTA, compliance costs for Maryland businesses would be substantial, and business concerns about the security of personal data in existing state data systems. The Section raised concerns that potential businesses may choose to organize outside of Maryland with such a statute. SB954 did not move out of Committee.

Maryland Online Data Privacy Act – HB567/SB541 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

This bill implements new consumer protections, rights, and disclosures related to online personal data controlled or administered by certain companies that conduct business in Maryland or target Maryland residents. The Act bans the sale of sensitive personal data, imposes strict data access controls, and prohibits the sale without consent of personal data of minors.  


Juvenile Law – Reform – HB814 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

The heavily amended bill addresses broad juvenile reforms, including expansion of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction to include children over ten (10) years old for crimes related to weapons, sexual offense, car theft, or animal cruelty, and raising the maximum length of probation for juvenile offenders. HB814 also adds reporting requirements and legal oversight of the system. Opponents of the bill said the law was not evidence-based and that recent reforms required more time to work.

Sexual Extortion, Stalking, and Revenge Porn – Statute of Limitations – HB544/SB391 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

The amended bill removes the one-year statute of limitations in a prosecution for sexual extortion, stalking, or revenge porn, given delayed reporting/discovery and the time needed for thorough investigations, and establishes the following statute of limitations for prosecution: 1) five years for sexual extortion, 2) ten years for stalking, and 3) any time for revenge porn.

Partial Expungement – Information Technology for Dept. of Public Safety and Correctional Services and Maryland Judiciary – SB11 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

As originally filed, SB11 addressed challenges from the unit rule by providing for partial expungement of eligible charges with a unit of charges. The amended version strikes the original bill language, defines partial expungement as the ability to expunge a charge or conviction that is eligible for expungement when two or more charges arise, and adds requirements for procurement by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The Department shall include certain system upgrades to allow for automated expungement of charges and partial expungement of charges in any vendor contracts being negotiated.

Expungements and Waiting Periods - Clean Slate Act of 2024 – HB658/SB602 - FAILED

This bill offers a simplified expungement process for clearing criminal records, aims to expand eligibility for expungements, and seeks to establish an automated expungement process for eligible records. The bill did not move out of either committee in the House or Senate.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Board – HB575 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

Included as part of Governor Moore’s public safety agenda, this bill makes significant changes regarding victim compensation through CICB, including: removing requirements that victims cooperate and report a crime to law enforcement for eligibility;  consideration of additional documents when evaluating claims; increasing maximum awards for funeral expenses, mental health counseling, and crime scene cleanup; expanding and diversifying board membership; and enhanced program reporting requirements to improve transparency.


Orphans’ Court Judges – Restriction on Practicing Law – HB528/SB116 - SUCCESSFULLY PASSED

This bill was introduced last year and passed in the Senate, but did not move forward in the House. This year, MSBA’s Estate and Trust Section successfully supported its passage, creating a statewide rule for attorneys who become Orphans’ Court judges to continue practicing law during their term of office, but refrain from practicing estates and trusts and guardianship law. Without this provision, attorneys would need to give up their law practice to serve as an Orphan’s Court judge. This bill would enable more attorneys to serve as Orphan’s Court judges and allow them to continue practicing civil, criminal, family, and other practice areas.

UTMA Transfers – Authorization by Court – HB324/SB75 – SUCCESSFULLY PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

MSBA’s Estate and Trust Section drafted a bill that increases, from in excess of $10,000 to in excess of $25,000, the threshold amount for certain transfers by a personal representative, trustee, or conservator as a custodian for the benefit of a minor to require authorization by a court. The increase saves time, legal fees, and court costs for the recipients of the distributions and will help to preserve more of the estate assets for the minor’s use.

Appointment of Personal Representative – Objections - HB326/SB80 - SUCCESSFULLY PASSED

MSBA’s Estate and Trust Section advanced a bill that authorizes only an interested person or unpaid claimant, rather than any person, to file an objection to the appointment of a personal representative of an estate of a decedent. The bill ensures that only those with an interest in an estate or claim against the estate will have standing to object to appointment of the personal representative.


Child Support – Incarcerated Obligors – HB435 – SUCCESSFULLY  PASSED

MSBA’s Family Law Section supported HB435, providing for the modification of child support at a time that an incarcerated obligor cannot pay child support (by allowing the Court to determine a material change of circumstances) and by making child support order suspensions available to all affected individuals, regardless of the amount of time they spend incarcerated.

Child Custody Evaluators – Qualifications and Training – HB405/SB365 – SUCCESSFULLY DEFEATED

MSBA’s Family Law Section opposed a bill that puts into statute the qualifications for a custody evaluator for family law cases. While qualifications are needed for this work, these are already contained in the Maryland Rules. The broad scope of the bill would require custody evaluators in many more cases, with the unintended consequences of overwhelming custody evaluator offices, significantly increasing costs of family law cases around the state, and potentially limiting the pool of existing qualified evaluators. The bill did not move out of Committee in the House or Senate.


Employment Standards, Prevailing Wage, and Living Wage - Employer Adverse Actions and Enforcement – HB136 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

This bill standardizes anti-retaliation prohibitions by restricting employers from taking or threatening to take adverse action against employees who take specific actions relating to rights and responsibilities, complaints, investigations, proceedings, or hearings under the law.

Workplace Fraud and Prevailing Wage – HB465 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

This bill would have established criminal penalties for employers who misclassify employees and for contractors and subcontractors engaged in wage theft. An amended version passed that removed criminal penalties and increased existing civil penalties. The bill also requires the Commissioner of Labor and Industry to refer violations under certain circumstances to appropriate agencies.  


Noneconomic Damages in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death – HB83/SB538 – FAILED

MSBA monitored legislation that would repeal limitations on noneconomic damages in civil actions for personal injury or wrongful death. Bill supporters cite the discriminatory impact of general cap statutes and argue that the current system disproportionately favors high-wage earners. Opponents are concerned about the bill’s impact on Maryland’s ability to keep the costs of doing business competitive. HB83 did not move out of committee. SB538 was amended to raise and limit the cap to $1.75 million and passed in the Senate (27-18), but did not move out of the House Judiciary Committee. 

Jury Examination and Voir Dire Process – SB827 – FAILED

This bill would expand the current voir dire process to permit questions that would provide more information on potential jurors, including information relevant to considerations of fairness and impartiality. SB827 was amended to include a Workgroup to study the voir dire process and make findings and recommendations. The bill passed in the Senate but did not move out of the House Judiciary Committee.

State Government – Attorney General - Determinations and Settlements – SB680 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

The original bill requested by the Attorney General was offered to allow the office to more easily settle public welfare actions with multiple defendants for their share of harm. Following the collapse of the Key Bridge, the bill was narrowed to cover an action brought by the State arising from or related to alleged or threatened injuries to the environment, infrastructure, or the natural resources of Maryland associated with the March 2024 collision of the Dali ship into the Key Bridge.   

Nominal Damages – HB832/SB829 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

The bill codifies the ability of Maryland courts to award nominal damages in civil rights or consumer rights by defining the terms “damage” and “loss,” allowing a plaintiff to recover where there has not been a quantifiable harm.  


Artificial Intelligence Governance Act of 2024 – SB818 – PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

This Act requires the Maryland Department of Information Technology to develop AI policies and inventory and assess AI systems. The bill also codifies Governor Moore’s Executive Order on AI, including the establishment of the Governor’s AI Subcabinet to provide oversight on how state agencies use AI tools. As MSBA’s membership includes a broad group of AI experts across multiple practice areas as well as a recently-formed AI Task Force, MSBA will continue to engage with legislators and stakeholders on this Act and related legislation.


Tax Assistance for Low-Income Marylanders – Funding – SB1142 – SUCCESSFULLY PASSED WITH AMENDMENTS

MSBA supported the distribution of abandoned property funds and State appropriations to fund the Tax Assistance for Low-Income Marylanders Fund. The funds include grants to the University of Maryland School of Law, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service to operate tax clinics for low-income, senior, rural, and under-resourced communities. 

In the coming weeks, MSBA will send further legislative updates to our membership about additional bills and outcomes that impact the practice of law