Baltimore City Council unanimously passed a bill Monday night that bans the use of gag orders in city settlements for police brutality and discrimination cases.
Council President Brandon Scott and Councilwoman Shannon Sneed introduced the bill in July following a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found the gag order requirement unconstitutional. In addition to prohibiting the nondisclosure agreements, the ordinance requires the city’s law department to publicly disclose information about the claims filed.
“No one who has experienced brutality or discrimination should be forced to stay silent as a term of their compensation,” Scott said during a news conference Monday night.
The legislation will head next to Mayor Bernard C. Jack Young’s desk for signature. A spokesman for Young did not respond to a reporter’s question about whether the mayor would sign or veto the bill.
Young announced an executive order in September that he said freed individuals who have received city settlements to say what happened to them. Although new recipients of such settlements are freed of nondisclosure agreements, the settlements place some restrictions on what individuals can say.
Some advocates and city council members say Young’s executive order is not enough.
“Thank you, Mayor, for taking a stance, but we need you to go a step farther," Sneed said Monday.
City solicitor Andre Davis said in September he had “told the City Council that the council does not have the authority to do two or three of the things that the bill seems to mandate, and that no city solicitor would ever try to enforce those mandates because the city charter won’t permit it.”
In written testimony on the bill, Davis called the bill a “clear violation of" and “plainly unenforceable under” the city charter, which grants the city solicitor control of legal decisions. Also, he said the city law department’s position is that the council cannot pass a law pertaining to settlements involving the Baltimore Police Department because the police department is officially a state, not a city, agency.
Asked Tuesday whether his office would take any action after the bill’s passage, he said the legal opinion offered in the testimony “speaks for itself” and pointed to new procedures adopted alongside Young’s executive order that aim to improve transparency. Since September, when offering settlements in cases involving police, the law department has offered plaintiffs a chance to appear before the Board of Estimates and speak for two to five minutes about those agreements to city officials and reporters.
No one has taken advantage of the offer yet, Davis said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Dance and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.