Don’t suspend drivers’ licenses over fines/fees unrelated to road safety

Sometimes the attorney general of this state takes positions I agree with. WTOP:

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined state lawmakers in Annapolis to call for an end to the practice of suspending people’s driver’s licenses because they failed to pay a court fee or fine.

Using drivers’ licenses as leverage to collect other moneys owed can be self-defeating as well as harsh, since it will often cut off debtors from holding the jobs by which they could secure the means of repayment. Glad to see Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County), as well as several leading Democrats, co-sponsoring this important bill:

Republican Sen. Chris West said drivers who do commit traffic infractions and can’t pay “would not get off scot-free” under the legislation. West said the state could recover the fees with civil action.

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Talking gerrymandering in Pennsylvania

I participated as both a speaker and a panelist in the November event “Getting It Right: Weighing the Options for Reform,” hosted by Fair Districts PA in Harrisburg. You can watch here.

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In miniature, December 22

  • Every move you make, they’ll be watching you: Montgomery County considers first-in-nation program to use road cameras to catch drivers using their cell phones [Rebecca Tan, Washington Post]
  • And whether relatedly or not: why is Montgomery County’s violent crime rate twice as high as that in neighboring Fairfax County, Va.? [Kevin Lewis, WJLA]
  • Baltimore Mayor Bernard Young gives a boost to white-van trafficking panic. Bonus: body parts harvesting rumors! [Vanessa Herring, WBAL; Donie O’Sullivan, CNN; Lenore Skenazy (“Being freaked out by a van is like being freaked out by a pigeon.”); mentioned on Yuripzy Morgan’s WBAL show]
  • In Rouse’s vision of Columbia, schools and housing patterns would work together to promote socioeconomic integration. But Howard County school boards and land use officials went their own way [Len Lazarick, Maryland Reporter]
  • Toward greater transparency in police misconduct and discipline [Glynis Kazanjian, Maryland Matters]
  • Frederick County Charter Review Commission update: I supported and argued for Councilmember Steve McKay’s well-thought-out proposal to give voters a bigger say in filling vacancies in elected office, a responsibility currently held mostly by party central committees. [Steve Bohnel, Frederick News-Post; earlier]

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Maryland newspapers beat bad law on online political ads

I’m in the Baltimore Sun discussing a bad Maryland law passed in response to the furor over Russian trolling on social media. I wrote about it earlier when a federal district court struck the law down, and now a Fourth Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, has agreed that it is unconstitutional. Excerpt:

Exposing foreign governments’ meddling in U.S. politics is a worthy goal. Infringing on First Amendment freedoms is no way to go about it….

[After the law passed] Google immediately stopped hosting political ads in Maryland, a step particularly unhelpful to newcomer candidates, for whom advertising may be one of the few effective ways to boost name recognition. Other platforms, including some Maryland newspapers, also faced a tough position as the effective date of the law drew near. Rather than publish disclosures that might expose to competitors’ eyes confidential information about their ad rates and viewer reach, they might prefer just to immunize themselves by turning down political and issue ads in the future as a category.

Whole thing here (cross-posted from Overlawyered).

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Teacher attrition and other myths of Kirwan

Sean Kennedy of the Maryland Public Policy Institute at Maryland Reporter:

Another false “crisis” that Kirwan’s massive pay hikes seek to remedy is the “teacher shortage,” with many teachers allegedly fleeing the profession. This is belied by the facts. Under 10% of Maryland’s teachers retired, quit, or were fired last year – less than half the leave rates for similar professional jobs. And they left the profession at a much lower rate than teachers across the country….

Baltimore City spends the third most ($17,500) of the largest 100 districts nationwide, while ranking as the third worst in outcomes for all districts. Three other counties – Montgomery, Prince George’s and Howard – also rank in the top ten for per pupil spending nationally.

And Stephen Walters of MPPI:

The state government will spend $8.48 billion on elementary and secondary education in fiscal 2020, a 5% hike over 2019. Its estimated share of Kirwan (about $2.8 billion by 2030) would pump that amount up by another 33%. And the $1.2 billion annual burden Kirwan would place on localities already has elected officials more than a little worried….

…between 2012 and 2017, while [the state’s] NAEP scores were declining, statewide per-pupil spending increased by over 9%. Now, after doing less with more for years, our public school monopoly seeks even more money.

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Montgomery County’s unwieldy racial lens

As promised, Montgomery County has followed through on enacting a so-called racial-equity bill, following the lead of Fairfax County, Va. and other jurisdictions. The main impacts are likely to be 1) reports, reports, reports and 2) an even higher volume of self-congratulation than is usual among MoCo elected officials. David Lublin at The Seventh State doesn’t expect it will do much for genuine social justice.

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In miniature, November 17

  • State of Maryland is appealing, to Fourth Circuit, federal judge’s ruling that its law regulating political advertising on social media is unconstitutionally broad [Denise Lavoie, AP/WHSV] As I wrote at the time, “Social media trickery is bad. Chipping away at First Amendment liberties to stop it is worse.”
  • Some overdue national attention for the role of Maryland’s “red flag” gun law in the shooting death of Gary Willis at the hands of Anne Arundel police [Jacob Sullum, earlier]
  • This, from Baltimore musician Jonathan Jensen, had me laughing [Classic FM]
  • Maryland’s Brian Frosh was a key player in national campaign to embed privately paid environmentalist lawyers in state AG offices [Todd Shepherd, Free Beacon; Chris Horner (“Turns out Maryland actually has *two* Bloomberg-funded ‘Special Assistant Attorneys General’ to pursue Bloomberg priorities”); earlier and more here, here, here, and here]
  • “Coincidentally or not, current and former members of the Baltimore Orioles, which the Angelos family owns, were dispatched to the State House for a good will visit while the [Angelos asbestos] bill was under consideration.” [Josh Kurtz, Maryland Matters]
  • Hospital price regulation in Maryland is often depicted as an unqualified policy success. Is it? [Chris Pope, The Hill]

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Latest mandatory-Section-8 push in Baltimore County

Last year I wrote:

In principle, the federal housing-voucher program known as Section 8 ought to win points as a market-oriented alternative to the old command-and-control approach of planning and constructing public housing projects. While allowing recipients wider choice about where to live, it has also enabled private landlords to decide whether to participate and, if so, what mix of voucher-holding and conventionally paying tenants makes the most sense for a location….

For landlords, participation in the program has long carried with it some significant burdens of inspection, certification, and reporting paperwork. So long as participation was voluntary, these conditions were presumably worth it in exchange for the chance to reach voucher-holders as a class of potential tenants. When accepting Section 8 tenants stops being a voluntary choice, however, the balance is likely to shift. And one of the big policy pushes of the past decade — zealously promoted by the Obama administration — was the local enactment of laws and ordinances prohibiting so-called source-of-income discrimination, which in practice can mean making it a legal offense for a landlord to maintain a policy of declining Section 8 vouchers.

Since then, battles over whether landlord participation in Section 8 should remain voluntary have continued to flare around the country. While progressive litigators have thus far failed to derive an obligation to participate from the “disparate-impact” branch of housing discrimination law, they have persuaded the American Bar Association to endorse laws along these lines. Among the many local battles is a long-running controversy in Baltimore County, Maryland, the subject of this useful opinion piece in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun by local businessman Ben Frederick III.

It is sometimes claimed that to not participate in the program is to “discriminate” against voucher-holders, and suggestions of proxy racial discrimination are often not far behind. But as Frederick notes, landlords (many of whom are minority themselves) object above all to the strings:

There is nothing discriminatory about a person who has invested their life savings in a rental property deciding that they do not want to lose two month’s rent while waiting for a voucher holder to be approved and move in before they begin seeing rent; or from refusing to sign a federally mandated 12-page lease addendum; or from being subject to the whims of government funding for approval for how much rent might be paid; or from being subjected to annual inspections that are unpredictable and inconsistent, where the government will stop paying rent if the rental unit needs repairs, even if tenants abuse and damage the property.

Johns Hopkins study last year for HUD of low-rent housing markets in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Dallas found that among landlords who chose not to participate in the voucher program, “the primary reasons stated were negative experiences with the program itself, including frustration with the inspection process, general bureaucracy, and disappointment when the PHA [public housing authority] did not take the landlord’s side in conflicts between landlord and tenant.”

Frederick notes that other landlords can and do build a business model around serving Section 8 users. That might involve developing standardized procedures, hiring and training staff with an eye to compliance know-how, and cultivating relationships with government actors. This is all more easily done at scale by adequately capitalized entrants in the rental property market. As it happens, however, the ranks of real-world landlords — perhaps especially in less affluent communities with older housing — include many mom-and-pop landlords short on the skill and inclination needed to pull this off.

Other government voucher programs, Frederick points out, get along with voluntary provider participation. “According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 72% of physicians accept Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for the poor; 75% of food retailers, including grocery stores, convenience food stores and farmer’s market retailers, accept SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps.” In both cases, shouldering the regulatory burdens gives them access to valuable customer markets. But when they don’t find the burdens worth it, no one compels the doctors and food retailers to participate (at least not yet.)

“As business owners,” Frederick writes, “landlords should be free to make the same choice.” Indeed. [cross-posted from Cato at Liberty; earlier)

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In miniature, October 19

  • Federal judge rejects four states’ suit challenging Congress’s changes to the SALT (state and local tax) exemption. Maryland AG Brian Frosh wasted the state’s resources and credibility on a suit that should never have been filed [Ilya Somin]
  • While on the subject, it’s worth noting how the state’s drug pricing law went down in flames, although the blame for its indefensibility would in this case be the legislature’s [Josh Kurtz, Maryland Matters]
  • Campaign to raise legal age of marriage to as high as 18 belatedly runs into some serious opposition as ACLU, other liberal groups concerned with youth rights and autonomy join conservatives skeptical of forcing out-of-wedlock births and libertarians who support, well, liberty [Dartunorro Clark, MSNBC] Due credit to the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, which helped block a bad bill of this sort in the 2018 Assembly, pointing out that there are other ways to detect and intervene against involuntary marriages [Scott Dance, Baltimore Sun; an opposing view (i.e., favoring ban) from UMD sociologist Philip Cohen]
  • Yuripzy Morgan took time on her WBAL radio show to discuss my article on the Supreme Court’s consideration of job bias law and you can listen here;
  • Stephen J.K. Walters makes a case for aerial surveillance as a Baltimore policing tool [Law and Liberty] In 2016 my colleague Matthew Feeney expressed libertarian misgivings about the “secret and indiscriminate surveillance” such systems enable;
  • “Maryland’s State Pension May Be Only 35 Percent Funded” [Carol Park, Maryland Public Policy Institute]

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Baltimore begins nullifying nearly 800 bad-cop convictions

Baltimore continues to pay a high price for the sorts of police corruption and misconduct on display in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. Part of that price is that convictions need to be thrown out, even in cases where a real crime may have been committed and not all the evidence was tainted. From the Sun:

“When you have sworn police officers involved in egregious and long-standing criminal activity such as planting guns and drugs, stealing drugs and money, selling drugs, making illegal arrests, and bringing false charges, our legal and ethical obligation in the pursuit of justice leaves us no other recourse but to ‘right the wrongs’ of unjust convictions associated with corrupt police officers,” Mosby wrote in an email.

And if you think maybe we could get fuller disclosure of police disciplinary proceedings so that problems might be headed off before they reach the stage of massive scandal, well, good luck with that.

More from the Abell Foundation: “Baltimore Police Department: Understanding its status as a state agency”:

The Baltimore Police Department became a State Agency 158 years ago in response to the rise of the Know-Nothing Party in Baltimore City. By 1860, the Know-Nothing Party had taken complete political control of Baltimore City, relying on violence and coercion. The Maryland General Assembly reached the conclusion that the City and Mayor had proven themselves incapable of maintaining order in the City of Baltimore and accordingly enacted Public Local Laws making the Baltimore Police Department a State Agency.

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