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City Council passes bill banning ‘gag orders,’ sends it to mayor

Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young speaks during a news conference announcing a new collaboration in an effort to reduce homelessness in Baltimore City, Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in Baltimore. Through the initiative, eligible Medicaid participants will receive permanent housing and services they need to prevent a return to homelessness. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A bill that would prohibit non-disparagement agreements, also known as ‘gag orders,’ in police brutality and misconduct settlements with the city now goes to the desk of Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The Baltimore City Council unanimously passed the third reading of a bill Monday that would prohibit non-disparagement agreements, also known as “gag orders,” in police brutality and misconduct settlements with the city. The bill aims to stop settlements with the city that prohibit claimants from discussing their experiences with police misconduct in public and with the media.

Following the meeting, several council members, ACLU of Maryland representatives and members of civil rights groups held a press conference to celebrate the council’s passage of the bill, which also requires the city to provide greater transparency on claims against the city and to post details of the claims online.

The bill now heads to the desk of Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who has three council meetings at which to make a decision on the bill before it automatically becomes law.

Council members are urging the mayor to approve the bill, which would render non-disparagement agreements unenforceable and prevent the imposition of such agreements in the future, as well as allow victims of police misconduct to discuss their stories publicly and with the media.

“This is to all the men and women out there who had something bad happen to them with Baltimore City Police,” council member Shannon Sneed said after Monday night’s meeting.

The bill was introduced by Sneed and Council President Brandon Scott in July following a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that non-disparagement agreements are unconstitutional.

Young signed an executive order in September that he said banned “unreasonable constraints” on free speech in settlements with the city. However, members of the ACLU of Maryland denounced the order and said it did not stop the city from continuing the practice of imposing non-disparagement agreements.

City Solicitor Andre Davis wrote a letter to the City Council on Sept. 13 saying the city’s Law Department disapproves of the bill, arguing that it thwarts the power to handle settlements given to the department by the city charter.

Davis declined to discuss the bill Monday, but he provided letters that he sent to plaintiffs’ lawyers regarding recent claims brought against the Baltimore Police Department. Davis wrote that “under the new procedures,” the plaintiffs can attend Board of Estimates hearings and discuss their cases.

The letters from Davis add that if plaintiffs do not want to attend a Board of Estimates meeting to discuss their experiences but instead would like to contact the media, their lawyers may provide Davis with their contact information and Davis will provide it “on a confidential basis to members of the media who routinely cover the Board of Estimates meetings.”

Tre’ Murphy, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Maryland, said Monday that he hopes Davis will “step up on this issue and say, ‘It’s not enough to just say residents can come to a Board of Estimates meeting and speak’; they have to be able to speak wherever they want.”

If the bill is vetoed by the mayor, Scott said the council would look to override the veto, which would require a three-quarters majority of the council voting yes.


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