Maryland lawmakers this week quickly defeated a bill that targeted young transgender athletes’ participation in high school sports — the third year in a row they’ve turned down similar bills.

Less than 24 hours after hearing testimony on the “Fairness in Girls’ Sports Act,” the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee voted the bill down in a 10-minute session on Thursday.

The bill, if it had become law, would have required students competing in high school sports to be on teams aligning with their sex as assigned at birth — not the gender they identify with.

Current state policy requires that students’ participation in sports be “consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s records.” Local school systems must set up review boards to handle cases when there are questions about whether a student’s request to participate in a sport based on their gender identity is “bona fide.”

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The bill was the subject of a nearly two-hour public hearing on Wednesday, in which proponents said they intended to support girls who want to participate in sports.

“It’s about fairness for girls. It’s about protecting our girls on the field and in the locker room,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican from Baltimore County who sponsored the bill.

Szeliga and others contended that “biological boys” participating in girls’ sports could cause injuries to girls, and say they’d have unfair advantages of being faster and stronger. Girls might be uncomfortable using locker rooms alongside transgender teammates, she said.

Ways and Means Committee member Del. Kris Fair said the hearing was full of “offensive, diminishing language” about transgender people, including assertions that they are mentally ill or sexual predators. He said some who testified shared inaccurate information about biology, sex and gender.

Fair, who chairs the legislature’s LGBTQ+ Caucus, said he was “heartbroken” to think of trans children learning about the bill hearing.

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Del. Kris Fair, center, a Democrat from Frederick County, urged colleagues to defeat a bill that would have affected transgender students’ participation in high school sports. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“Every Maryland citizen deserves to know they are welcome here, loved and affirmed,” Fair said, as he made a motion to defeat the bill, which he said would cause harm to young trans Marylanders.

“We as a committee must take an affirmative stance against that harm, to tell all Marylanders — and especially vulnerable transgender people — that they are seen, they are real and they are affirmed,” said Fair, a Democrat from Frederick County.

Del. Joe Vogel, a Montgomery County Democrat, seconded the motion to defeat the bill “because I believe in fairness and privacy for all children in our state, including trans children.”

A full vote breakdown was not yet available, but it represents the third year in a row that a bill addressing transgender students’ sports participation has been defeated. A version of the bill introduced in the Senate is scheduled for a hearing next week, but the House committee’s vote assures that the measure is effectively defeated for the year.

Nonpartisan analysts warned that the bill, if passed, could have put the state in violation of the federal law known as Title IX that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational settings.

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Meanwhile, state lawmakers voted last year to require the Medicaid insurance program to cover more gender-affirming treatments for transgender patients. And Gov. Wes Moore led the state government’s first official observance of International Transgender Day of Visibility with a State House ceremony last year.

— Pamela Wood

Olszewski raises $400K after campaign announcement

Within the first 48 hours since announcing his candidacy for Congress, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. raised more than $400,000, his campaign said.

Olszewski announced Tuesday that he would run for Congress in Maryland’s 2nd District, shortly after Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger announced his retirement last week.

Donations to Olszewski’s campaign came from the entire 2nd District, including Baltimore City and Baltimore and Carroll counties, according to the campaign. Olszewski cruised to reelection in 2022 and his current term as county executive would run through 2026.

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His campaign declined to share the number of donors who had so far contributed to the campaign.

- Cody Boteler

Davis pick of seven Baltimore council members to replace Cohen

Members of the Baltimore City Council’s nucleus of centrist Democrats have endorsed Liam Davis in his run to represent the 1st District.

Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton and council members Danielle McCray, Mark Conway, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, Eric Costello, Robert Stokes and Antonio Glover tapped Davis for the seat.

Davis, a Greektown resident, previously served as an aide to then-City Council President Jack Young, during a term alongside Middleton, Schelifer, Costello and Stokes. In 2019, he joined the city’s Department of Transportation as a legislative affairs manager.

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Securing endorsements from seven members “demonstrates the overwhelming belief in Liam’s ability to be an effective City Councilmember, starting on day 1,” Middleton said in a statement.

According to campaign finance reports filed earlier this month, Davis has $87,123 on hand. Notable contributors include Alex and Eric Smith of Atlas Restaurant Group; each gave the candidate the maximum individual donation of $6,000.

Incumbent Councilman Zeke Cohen is vacating his 1st District council seat to run for City Council president, leaving the Southeast Baltimore position up for grabs. Last Saturday, Cohen announced his endorsement of Mark Parker, the pastor at Breath of God Lutheran Church in Highlandtown. Cohen previously ran against Parker in 2016; Cohen won with 27.3% of the vote, while Parker finished fourth with 17%.

Joseph Koehler is also running as a Democrat. He reported raising about $23,300 in 2023 and has just under $2,000 on hand.

Candidates have until Feb. 9 to file to run. The primary is May 14.

- Emily Sullivan

Community schools push for rental assistance

Maryland lawmakers are considering a bill that would allocate state budget money to a fund that would support eviction-prevention programs in community schools.

Established by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the 2019 landmark legislation that attaches nearly $4 billion a year in state and local funding over 10 years to the state’s public schools, community schools have rapidly cropped up across Maryland over the past few years. Schools that meet the qualifications receive extra funding and social services designed to improve learning and attendance for vulnerable students.

Schools are designated as community schools based on their percentages of students living in poverty, with priority placed on schools with the highest percentages of those students. The money enables a school to hire a “coordinator,” who acts as a kind of social worker and health practitioner. Nearly 700 schools are set to receive community personnel grants in the next few years, according to a nonpartisan outline of the community schools bill.

But none of these schools have money set aside for students facing eviction, said state Sen. Shelly Hettleman, a Baltimore County Democrat, who is co-sponsoring the senate bill in Annapolis.

Hettleman referred to the fund as a “critical” need for the state. She noted that about 18,000 Marylanders received eviction notices in 2023, according to state data, and an overwhelming majority of those households contained children.

Housing advocates have called on Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s administration to allocate money in the upcoming fiscal year budget for eviction-prevention funding, including for community school students. School coordinators would use the funds to pay landlords and utility providers directly, and the bill outline makes clear that the funding would likely be completely exhausted and in need of replenishment each fiscal year.

More than a dozen supporters testified for the bill Wednesday afternoon, including attorneys, educators and tenant organizers. Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chair Guy Guzzone said though he understood the connection between health and housing, he did not think the state could afford to pledge $10 million annually for the cause.

“Look, what we have done already is made huge commitments to the degree that we can afford at the moment,” Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat, said, referring to economic headwinds that have forced state leaders to tighten next year’s planned budget. “Part of what we’re trying to figure out right now is what we can do now, and what can be added, or not added, given all the desire to do all the good stuff we’ve been talking about.”

A companion Maryland House of Delegates bill, sponsored by Montgomery County Del. Vaughn Stewart, is scheduled to be heard in the House Appropriations Committee next week.

— Hallie Miller