A new law preventing discrimination based on hairstyles is set to take effect this week in Maryland along with dozens of others ranging from the expansion of the definition of a hate crime to a requirement for colleges and universities to develop outbreak response plans.
The laws are among more than 600 passed by the Maryland General Assembly this year during a legislative session cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. While some bills became law in July with the start of the fiscal year, the majority go into effect Thursday.
The anti-discrimination hairstyle measure, Maryland’s version of what’s called the Crown Act in other states and in Congress, was sponsored by Democratic Del. Stephanie Smith of Baltimore, as well as other Black women legislators. It expands the definition of “race” to include all textures of hair and hairstyles often worn by African Americans. It specifically safeguards hairstyles such as braids, twists and dreadlocks that are designed to protect the ends of hair by decreasing tangling, shedding and breakage.
The regulation of Black hairstyles dates to the 17th century trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were forcibly brought to the Americas for labor, and has continued for centuries in both public and private arenas. The U.S. Army, for instance, banned twists, dreadlocks and cornrows in 2014. It lifted the ban in 2017 amid public outcry.
The Maryland Commission on Civil Rights will enforce the new law.
Smith, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the law is “sadly necessary” in a climate where “research shows that Black workers face discrimination for wearing natural hairstyles.”
“That’s why it was critical to ensure Maryland workers were judged for their talents, skills and contributions and not their hair,” she said. "I am proud to have sponsored this legislation and have been humbled by the public response.”
The hairstyle measure is not the only new law that touches upon employment discrimination. Another measure effective Thursday prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for inquiring about their own salary.
Hate crime expansions
Also beginning Thursday, the use of a noose or swastika to intimidate someone or a group will be barred, and the state’s definition of a hate crime will be expanded.
The noose and swastika measure, proposed by Democratic Del. Mark Chang of Anne Arundel County, prohibits the use of both symbols, actual or depicted, on any property without permission of the owner or occupant with an intent to threaten to intimidate. Violating the law is punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000.
Another measure, known as 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III’s Law, amends the state’s hate crimes statute to include crimes “motivated either in whole or in part by” hate or bias. Maryland’s existing law covered race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, disability, national origin and homelessness, but required the “sole” motivation for a crime to be hate or bias to prosecute it as a hate crime.
Dawn and Richard Collins Jr., parents of the bill’s namesake, campaigned for the legislation in honor of the younger Collins, 23, who was fatally stabbed at a University of Maryland, College Park bus stop in 2017. Sean Urbanski, a white man from Severna Park, was convicted of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors argued Urbanski targeted Collins because Collins was Black. But a judge threw out a hate crime charge, arguing prosecutors did not provide a direct link between the crime and racist images on Urbanski’s phone. Urbanski belonged to a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation” and had saved several racist memes.
While the coronavirus pandemic has dominated public policy on disease control this year, Maryland has a new law going into effect inspired by a different outbreak.
Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher of Montgomery County, “Olivia’s Law” will require colleges and universities to create plans to address the outbreak of infectious diseases.
It’s named for Olivia Paregol, a University of Maryland freshman from Howard County who died in 2018 after contracting adenovirus. Forty students were sickened that year, including 15 treated at hospitals.
Serious conditions as a result of adenovirus are rare, but they are more common in people with compromised immunity. Paregol was taking a medication to combat Crohn’s disease, weakening her immune system.
Paregol’s family told The Washington Post they believed her death could have been prevented if the university had not waited 18 days to notify students and parents that the virus was spreading through the College Park campus.
An independent review of the university’s handling of the outbreak found that the health problems that cropped up that fall, which included students sickened by mold, were never elevated to a campus-wide emergency because different departments didn’t coordinate with each other.
Under the new law, schools must submit outbreak plans to the Maryland Department of Health on or before Aug. 1 annually, starting in 2021.
Imprisoned parents who owe child support will see some relief starting in October.
A new law would allow inmates to have their child support order frozen while behind bars if they are serving a jail sentence of six months or more. Until now, the threshold was 18 months.
The law, sponsored by Democratic delegates Shaneka Henson of Anne Arundel and Jazz Lewis of Prince George’s County, and a coalition of six senators headed by Baltimore Democrat Jill P. Carter, hopes to address the mountain of child support debt that can accrue while a parent is behind bars. A nine-month investigation by The Baltimore Sun published earlier this year found the system sets poor parents up to fail — saddling many fathers with massive debt, sometimes driving them from their children and sending some into an underground economy to make money.
Unpaid child support triggers an aggressive enforcement system in Maryland, including the suspension of driver’s and professional licenses. The Sun’s analysis showed debt is heavily concentrated in 10 Baltimore ZIP codes, where 15,000 parents collectively owe $233 million.
Map: Concentration of child support debt in Baltimore
On the roads
A pair of new laws affect drivers and the cyclists they share the road with.
The first repeals the state’s authority to suspend a car’s registration if its driver fails to pay a ticket issued for a speed or red light camera violation.
Democratic Delegate Alfred C. Carr Jr. of Montgomery County, the bill’s sponsor in the House, said the measure was inspired by a review of traffic and toll debt policies that found Maryland was the only state to allow such suspensions.
“Turns out this provision was rarely used, and thus unneeded,” Carr said.
The state still will be able to refuse to renew a driver’s registration due to unpaid fines.
Another law will allow drivers to drive on the left side of a road in an area marked “no passing” to safely pass a cyclist traveling in the same direction.
Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie and Yvonne Wenger and Baltimore Sun Media reporters Olivia Sanchez and Naomi Harris contributed to this article.