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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Got no use for logical cops

Sentences worth pondering, from coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice’s employment-practices suit against Baltimore County: “The exams tested reading, grammar, logic and other skills that the suit alleges are not related to the job of being a police officer or police cadet.” Critics take heart, however: “County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. issued a statement saying the police department has discontinued the test.” [Pamela Wood and Wilborn P. Nobles III, Baltimore Sun] (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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“Country Roads” and Maryland

Today I learned [via Lori Wysong, WETA “Boundary Stones”]: “Country Roads” was written after a drive along then-rural Clopper Road in Montgomery County, but songwriters Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert couldn’t get “Maryland” to scan and swapped in “West Virginia,” a state in which they’d never set foot. And then they shared it with John Denver….

It’s often been pointed out that the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River, both mentioned in the song, are much more closely associated with Virginia than with West Virginia. I’d explained those to myself as being landmarks that the singer passed and felt warmly about while driving home to West Virginia from points east. Either way, imagine a future archaeologist trying to reconstruct the geography of the area with only this song to go on.

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In miniature, September 22

  • “Maryland Court of Appeals Will Hear Challenge to Baltimore’s Food Truck Rules” [Andrew Wimer, IJ press release]
  • Four of eight members of Maryland House delegation (Reps. Raskin, Cummings, Sarbanes, Brown) would eliminate private health insurance [Allison Stevens, Maryland Matters]
  • A view from the Left: “Why I support single-member districts” [Richard DeShay Elliott]
  • Maryland legislature should address outcome of Court of Appeals case in which 16 year old girl was brought up on child pornography distribution charges for “sexting” video of herself engaged in sex that was both consensual and legal [David Post, Volokh Conspiracy]
  • Ban on foam packaging “did not encourage” staying around: Dart Container closing Carroll, Harford County warehouse and distribution centers [Jon Kelvey, Carroll County Times, earlier on polystyrene bans here, here]
  • Looking for an alternative to the pro-secessionist lyrics in “Maryland, My Maryland”? There’s a competing Unionist version [Todd Eberly, Free Stater last year]

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My Washington Post letter on Maryland’s red flag law

My letter to the editor at the Washington Post last month on red flag gun laws:

August 13, 2019

Red flag’ laws can have deadly consequences

The Aug. 9 front-page article “Results of ‘red flag’ gun laws uneven across 17 states, D.C.” quoted critics of Maryland’s “red flag” gun-confiscation law who find the law lacking on due process grounds. It might also have mentioned another kind of collateral damage done by the law this past November in its second month of operation, namely the death of 61-year-old Gary J. Willis of Glen Burnie, shot dead by Anne Arundel County police who had come to his door at 5 a.m. to present an order to confiscate his guns. Willis answered the door with a gun in his hand. He set it down but then became angry, picked up the gun, and, in an ensuing scuffle with an officer over the weapon, it went off without striking anyone. A second officer then shot Willis dead.

In the aftermath, because of confidentiality rules, neither press nor public could view the red-flag order that had set police on the fatal encounter. Defending the shooting afterward, the county’s police chief described any possible threat from Willis to others in the vaguest of terms, telling the Capital Gazette, “We don’t know what we prevented or could’ve prevented.” Family member Michele Willis, speaking to the Baltimore Sun, took a different view: “I’m just dumbfounded right now,” she said. “My uncle wouldn’t hurt anybody. … They didn’t need to do what they did.”

Walter Olson, New Market

It is true that in principle “red flag” laws can draw on the same respectable historic taproots of judicial power as, e.g., domestic violence restraining orders. [David French, National Review] One problem with that is that it’s not clear the current use of domestic restraining orders inspires confidence, due-process-wise. In two posts last month (firstsecond) Jacob Sullum, who also cites the work of Dave Kopel, critically examines the shortcomings of the red flag gun laws enacted so far, while California lawyer Donald Kilmer looks at his state’s existing law. [cross-posted from Overlawyered]

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In miniature, August 26

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