This report is based, in part, on the multi-page summary of this year’s legislative session from our lobbyist, Pam Metz Kasemeyer, JD.
The Maryland General Assembly adjourned its 439th Session on Monday, April 8th, ending a session that began with 60 new legislators. The Legislature debated major issues, including increasing the minimum wage, implementing the Kirwan Commission report recommendations having to do with school funding, addressing opioid use, and stabilizing the health insurance market.
School trauma, impact on minors and what we can do about it
In our last newsletter, I had written about the enlightened approach some legislators were proposing to create a pilot program to evaluate guidelines on a trauma-informed approach in schools. The pilot program, which we supported, was designed to assist schools in dealing with trauma experienced by both students and staff, with the hope of minimizing the impact of trauma on student learning, but the bill to create a pilot program in some schools failed in this year’s session.
In early in May, I attended a day-long conference looking at trauma and schools and heard one of the bill’s sponsors, Delegate Janelle Wilkins. She reassured conference goers that she will re-submit a bill to the MD General Assembly in 2020 for passage. Additionally, Peter Fonagy, PhD, Director of the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families in London, spoke about the impact of trauma on children and society. He said that trauma is not an “event,” but rather an experience associated with the event. Adversity becomes traumatic for a child when the child experiences him- or herself as being alone. A world-renowned psychoanalyst, Dr. Fonagy presented a strong case for the community to create a sense of trust for children attending school, and that a whole-school response is needed to address the impact of trauma there. His presentation suggests to me that a community response should be supported by legislation such as Delegate Wilkins proposed. This is where GWSCSW clinicians can present the strongest case to support legislation to improve children’s mental health by discussing our clinical experience and knowledge with legislators.
Another law impacting minors that passed is the Child Advocacy Centers-Expansion. This bill alters and establishes numerous requirements for child advocacy centers in the State. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention must ensure that every child in the State has access to a child advocacy center. The bill also requires the Governor to include at least $300,000 in the annual budget bill for child advocacy centers.
Criminal Law issues
This Session established two new laws that create misdemeanors for those who violate them, with implications for clinicians. See MARYLAND SOCIAL WORKERS: AVOID 3 YEARS IN PRISON!! for major news on the criminalization of failure to report child abuse and neglect by mandated reporters.
A law we supported that passed with hopefully a more positive impact was “Grace’s Law,” which deals with electronic harassment and bullying. The bill redefines “electronic communication” to mean the act of transmitting any information, data, writing, image, or communication by the use of a computer or any other electronic means, including a communication that involves the use of email, an instant messaging service, an Internet website, a social media application, a network call, a facsimile machine, or any other Internet-based communication tool. A person may not maliciously engage in electronic conduct if the conduct has the effect of intimidating, harassing, causing physical injury or serious emotional distress to a minor, or if the person intends to impact the minor in any of those ways. The most serious penalty of violating the statute is reserved for someone who intends to induce a minor to commit suicide through electronic means. In this case, the convicted person would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000 or both.
Stay tuned for additional information about the 2019 Session in the September newsletter. As always, do not hesitate to contact Judy Gallant at firstname.lastname@example.org with input on the laws discussed above, or other issues relating to Maryland mental health policy.