Senate sends housing discrimination bill back to committee

senate-chamberBy Ilana Kowarski

A bill that would prohibit landlords from screening prospective tenants based on their source of income was sent back to a Maryland Senate committee after three days of floor debate over whether landlords should be allowed to exclude those on public assistance. The 23-22 vote likely dooms the bill this session.

Advocates of the legislation said that it would encourage poor Marylanders to move out of ghettos and into communities with greater resources and superior schools, giving them a head-start in the race towards the American Dream.

The law’s opponents said that it would herald an era where businesses were forced to participate in voluntary social welfare programs and that a universal mandate to accept government housing vouchers like those in the Section 8 program would place a heavy financial burden on landlords.

The vote to return SB487 to the Judicial Proceedings Committee was extremely close, with 23 in favor and 22 opposed. Senate President Mike Miller took the side of those who thought the legislation was not ready for passage.

“Members of my party are not happy with me right now,” Miller said, “but this is not the time to decide on this legislation.”

Sen. Thomas Mac Middleton

Sen. Thomas Mac Middleton

Bill needs work, Miller says

Miller said that senators needed to work out kinks in the bill, and that it was probably too late for them to correct all the problems with it, since the session ends in less than two weeks. He also questioned whether it was appropriate to pass statewide legislation requiring landlords to participate in Section 8 and other public assistance programs.

Charles County Democrat Thomas Mac Middleton said that the goals of the bill were laudable but that he could not support it in its current form, because landlords would not be allowed to evict Section 8 tenants if the federal government refused to pay rent increases, reduced housing payments, or halted the distribution of rent checks during the sequester.

Middleton said that the bill might even be counterproductive.

“If an apartment complex owner has 100 units and 100 people show up with Section 8 vouchers, the owner would be required to accept all of them, and you’d end up with a building that was 100% Section 8,” he said.  “One of the goals of this legislation is to decentralize poverty, but if this scenario happens, haven’t you defeated the purpose?”

Sen. James Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, said that the authors of SB 487 set out to accomplish their goal in a backwards fashion. He acknowledged that needy Marylanders frequently had difficulty finding landlords that would accept their housing vouchers but argued that there is a better solution.

“The housing authority needs to find ways to attract landlords to the Section 8 program,” Rosapepe said.  “Instead this bill uses a very blunt instrument, forcing businesses to take part in a government program, and that’s unprecedented.  We don’t force doctors to participate in Medicaid, and we shouldn’t do this either.”

Bill not likely to return

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), said that he was disappointed by the resistance of his fellow senators.

“The bill is unlikely to resurface this session because of the time crunch,” he said.

Raskin argued that his opponents’ arguments were misleading.

“The unfortunate part of the debate was that it was cast as a conflict between tenants and landlords, and we heard testimony from landlords in Montgomery County and other places with laws like this one, and they had positive experiences with Section 8.”

There were other senators who tried to stop SB 487 from being referred back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, including committee chairman Brian Frosh, who urged senators to take a stand on the law rather than sending it back.

Sen. Roger Manno, D- Montgomery, also objected to the bill’s return.

“This bill is about discrimination,” he said.  “It’s unconscionable to send it back to committee.”

About The Author

Meg Tully

Contributing Editor Meg Tully has been covering Maryland politics for more than five years. She has worked for The Frederick News-Post, where she reported during the General Assembly session in Annapolis. She has also worked for The (Hanover) Evening Sun and interned at Baltimore Magazine. Meg has won awards from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association for her state and county writing, and a Keystone Press Award for feature writing from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. She is a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. If you have additional questions or comments contact Meg at:


  1. joe

    There seems to be a dearth of conservative Republicans and a plethora of liberal Democrats in the Annapolis Statehouse. The latter politicians desire to keep their hands in Maryland taxpayers pockets, tell us how to live our lives and violate our rights. This housing bill is only the tip of the iceberg, e.g. gun control, cell phones, cigarettes, gasoline taxes, liquor, unfunded mandates, and stepping on our right to referendum, etc. Many bills just as onerous that don’t make it into print unless you read the Maryland Reporter and the Maryland Legislation pages of the General Assembly web site. Even then the bill details are sketchy.

    Some other examples:

    The Democratic liberal governor increases his state budget by 4% to $37 billion and increases the gasoline tax for transportation/roads while “borrowing” $1 billion from the Transportation Trust Fund. If you or I did this kind of “borrowing” in a business, we would go to jail! Maryland road construction will still be underfunded, as a large portion of the tax money will go to public transportation.

    Spurred by their environmentalist friends, the Democratic politicians have also come up with another unfunded mandate for storm water runoff(exempting state and county facilities) to put their hands in Maryland taxpayers/property owners and businesses’ pockets again. Maryland farmers and the states rural residents are also harassed by the suburban environmentalists.

    They do these things during a severe recession, while Marylander’s are scrambling to save a buck here and a buck there to survive. When the Democratic liberal voters finally get it that their pockets have also been emptied, maybe some of these Democratic legislators will be out of a job. I doubt it!

    When did “We the People” change to “We the Annapolis Democratic liberal Politicians?”

    Thank you Maryland Reporter for your coverage.

  2. defeatraskin

    Good the bill failed. Why should landlords be told to enter a program they don’t like.

  3. cwals99

    Let’s see, we have a bill to raise the minimum wage out of the stone ages so people can pay for housing; you have massive mortgage fraud that took tens of thousands of Maryland homes to foreclosure yet to have justice as billions more need to come to Maryland and then to the victims of the fraud… them homes; you have charter schools in underserved schools and development corporations using schools and housing to gentrify large swaths of urban communities all of which violates all equal housing/education laws. You have Enterprise Zone contracts that detail requirements for underserved families being built into projects being totally ignored by developers with no followup by justice because no oversight is given…..


  4. Cheryl Davis Lehmuth Lesage

    I’m not a business!! I’m a Marylander overseas serving my country. So who the hell do those legislators sitting in their comfy offices think they are to try to tell me who I have to rent my house to. And I can’t evict them when I come home!!!! I need to start looking for a new home state. With legislation like this all that’s going to be left in MD is poor and illegal.

    • pomigranate

      Have you ever heard of the Civil Rights Movement? The Fair Housing Act? Yes, the government tells you who you can rent to. It’s a good thing. Otherwise, black and Jews would still be living in ghettos.

  5. teet

    Rosapepe needs to sent back to his community and not come back to the Senate! If he truly believes in increasing opportunities for low-income Marylanders than he needs to sponsor a bill to encourage landlords to accept housing choice vouchers.

  6. truth

    Illana – You are disappointingly biased! You did not provides any quotes from Sen. Ramirez, Ferguson, Kelley, and Gladden – only from the naysayers.

    • Ilana

      If you read the entire article, you will see that I did in fact provide quotes and paraphrases from the proponents, including Senators Jamie Raskin (the bill’s sponsor), Brian Frosh, and Roger Manno, who I gave the last word in this article as he expressed outrage over the decision to send the bill back to committee. I quoted Ferguson in the previous story on this topic, and the statements of other proponents were summarized in the second graph of this story, where I explained that advocates of SB 487 said that it would give poor Marylanders “a head start in the race towards the American Dream,” which was my way of articulating their perspective using what I thought was their finest argument. I even included Raskin’s criticisms of his opponents’ rhetoric. I am not a hack journalist, and I never will be. Being fair is important to me, and I try my best.