Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun, February 2, 2021
When Maryland lawmakers weigh bills on changing policing practices and reforming criminal justice, they’ll have extra information to consider on racial equity.
The General Assembly is starting a pilot program that will give lawmakers expert analysis on whether bills would result in disparate harm — or help — to different segments of the population.
Democratic leaders say this will be a help in efforts to dismantle structural racism — the laws, policies and standards that have an adverse impact on people of color and perpetuate advantages for white people.
“There is finally a broader understanding across Maryland and the country of the existence of structural racism — but we have to have better and deeper information in order to reverse its impact,” House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones said in a statement.
The nonpartisan analysts at the state Department of Legislative Services will generate the “racial impact statements” on bills, using data and assistance from Bowie State University and the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy.
The analysts already write comprehensive summaries for every bill introduced in the General Assembly, including explanations of how the proposals would work, how much they would cost and how they would affect local governments and small businesses.
Del. Jazz Lewis, who pushed for the racial equity analysis, said he hopes the effort can expand in future years to cover bills related to health care and education and then eventually all bills.
Jones is promoting what she’s calling a “Black Agenda” of bills, sponsored by various lawmakers. It includes legislation that would declare racism as a public health crisis, direct more money to an entrepreneurship fund to help minority-owned businesses and fund targeted health care programs in underserved communities.
State legislatures in Connecticut, Iowa and New Jersey already use legislative analyses of racial equity on bills, while Florida, Minnesota and Oregon have arranged for outside reviews on certain bills, according to legislative leaders.