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Protective order, hate crime, hairstyle bills become law

The Maryland State House in 2019. (Maximilian Franz / Special to The Daily Record)

The Maryland State House in 2019. (Maximilian Franz / Special to The Daily Record)

Measures to expand protection for alleged victims of sexual assault, ease the standard for proving a hate crime and broaden the state Maryland civil rights law’s definition of “race” to include ethnic hairstyles will go into effect Oct. 1.

The General Assembly-passed bills became law at 5 p.m. Thursday when Gov. Larry Hogan declined to sign or veto them.

The sexual assault law will enable alleged victims to seek protective orders against any individual who allegedly attacked them in the previous six months. The new statute broadens existing law that permits alleged victims to seek protection orders in district court against family members or romantic partners.

Current law also enables disabled or elderly adults to seek protective orders.

The House of Delegates passed the protective order measure, Senate Bill 210, on a vote of 123-8. The Senate approved the bill 27-18.

Supporters of the legislation, including House of Ruth, called it necessary to protect sexual assault victims from being attacked by the same person. Opponents, including Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., decried the absence of due process protections – such as the right to an attorney — for those accused in civil court of having essentially committed a violent crime against someone they have never met.

Under the hate-crime law, prosecutors will no longer need to prove that hate for the victim’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability was the sole motivation for a defendant’s criminal act. Instead, the prosecution will have to prove – still beyond a reasonable doubt – that the criminal act was motivated “in substantial part” by the victim’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

The legislation, approved overwhelmingly by both houses, was spurred by the May 2017 slaying of Richard Collins III, a black Army 2nd lieutenant, by Sean Urbanski, who is white, on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

Urbanski was found guilty of first-degree murder last year and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His sentencing, previously scheduled for last month, has been delayed due to pandemic-compelled court closures.

Before the Prince George’s County Circuit Court jury deliberated in the case, Judge Lawrence V. Hill Jr. dismissed a hate crime charge against Urbanski. Hill ruled that prosecutors had not proved the slaying was motivated solely by Urbanski’s animus toward Collins’ race, as required by law.

The new hate crime statute, SB 606, has been dubbed “2nd Lt. Richard Collins III’s Law.”

The new civil rights law will ban race discrimination based on “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, afro hairstyles, and protective hairstyles.” The law defines a “protective hairstyle” as one “designed to protect the ends of the hair by decreasing tangling, shedding, and breakage, including braids, twists, and locks.”

Civil rights attorneys have long challenged corporate hairstyle policies — such as a requirement that hair be kept unbraided — as having a “disparate impact” on racial minorities. Such arguments of unintended or tacit racial bias have had mixed success in the courts in the absence of an express, statutory link between race and hairstyle, according to court records.

The same courtroom results have held true with regard to claims of housing and public accommodations bias, where courts have often held that while racial minorities are a protected class, hairstyle is not.

The new law, which passed both houses overwhelmingly, makes clear that hairstyle is inseparable from race, said Sen. William C. “Will” Smith Jr., the bill’s chief sponsor and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The law linking race and hairstyle bias, SB 531, is part of a national movement to end a tacit form of racial discrimination.

California, New Jersey and New York have recently enacted such statutes, known as CROWN laws, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair.

Montgomery County passed a CROWN ordinance last year. The law went into effect Feb. 6.

The issue of hairstyle bias came to the fore in December 2018, when a referee in New Jersey told a black high school wrestler to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the match. Last year, a high school student in Mont Belvieu, Texas, was told his dreadlocks violated the school’s dress code.

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