A Decision Expected On Bill To Repeal A 1917 Law In Frederick City

Delegation is scheduled to vote on it this Friday.

Delegate Karen SImpson

Frederick, Md (KM) Legislation to repeal a more than 100-year-old law in the City of Frederick is expected to be voted on this Friday  by the local Legislative Delegation. The measure sponsored by Delegate Karen Simpson would do away with a part of the Maryland Code that allows judges to sentence persons accused of “vagrancy” or other municipal infractions to do road work as their punishment.

“It was introduced last year. It’s a simple repeal. It’s a  1917 basically Jim Crow law that’s out there,” says Delegate Simpson.

If the Delegation supports it, the bill will go through the legislative process in the General Assembly with committee hearings and votes by delegates and state senators.

Simpson  said the way this section of the  Maryland Code is written, it targets groups of people, including those without homes,  for forced  labor. “We don’t want this on the books any longer. It’s not how we clean our streets. And I don’t think anybody in this delegation supports chain gangs,” she continued.

State Senator Karen Lewis Young said she supports this bill. “My only concern is the title. I find it inflammatory. It kind of reminds of the 1967 Paul Newman movie  ‘Cool Hand Luke’ with chain gangs. Can we find a better tile for this bill,” she asked.

The words in the title which Senator Lewis Young found inflammatory were “chain gang.”

Delegate Simpson introduced this bill last year, but it didn’t go very far on the House Judiciary Committee. Members declined to advance it without local Delegation support.

During discussion on the bill last Friday, some legislators were willing to go forward with a promise to change the title at a later time. But a staffer with the Department of Legislative Services advised lawmakers not to vote on the measure as a Delegation bill until the title is changed.

Delegation Chair Jesse Pippy said he would support the bill with the title change. “Why don’t you go ahead and put in the request to change the title, and then we’ll do a ten-second re-vote on it next week, and we should be good to go,” Delegate Pippy said to Delegate Simpson.

Simpson also said she has gathered support for the bill from local officials. “Our Chief of Police as well as the Mayor and as well as the County Executive,” she said. “it’s not something that we utilize any longer.”

By Kevin McManus