Halfway through the Maryland legislative session, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington is fighting to raise the criminal charge for strangulation from second- to first-degree assault.
It became an agenda item this year at the behest of the Jewish Council Against Domestic Abuse, or JCADA, said Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC.
“There is a statistical direct correlation between being strangled by one’s partner and being murdered,” said Halber. “What happens is it often gets bumped down to second-degree assault and time served, depriving women of the opportunity to see their attackers go to jail” or putting them at physical risk in the future.
Last month, the JCRC sent volunteer lobbyists to Richmond and Annapolis to meet with elected officials and discuss the organized Jewish community’s legislative priorities. In Annapolis, the change in assault charges was one of those priorities.
In Richmond, the JCRC favored a bill to require the Virginia State Department of Education’s Office of Diversity to convene a panel of outside experts to determine how to teach about the Holocaust at schools throughout the state.
It is important to create a curriculum in social studies that is “pedagogical and consistent,” one that teaches “that words can lead to genocide,” said Halber. The current state fallback — a resource sheet for teachers with links to materials — is not enough, he said.
An issue that affects the Jewish community but is not exclusive to it is hate crimes. In Maryland, a perpetrator can’t be convicted for a hate crime unless hate is proven to be the exclusive motivating factor. Halber said his agency is trying to change that.
“As long as hate was a partial factor in an attack on someone, we want them to be held accountable for that,” said Halber. “If it can be proven that it was anti-Semitism, that it was bigotry or racism, we want to give prosecutors what they need to give these people strong sentences. “
A number of items on the JCRC’s wish list are reflected in Maryland Gov. Larry
Hogan’s (R) proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year.
For instance, the capital budget allocates $600,000 dollars toward the new Hillel Student Center under construction at University of Maryland-College Park.
Another building project is the roof and HVAC restoration at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School’s lower school campus in Rockville. The JCRC is seeking private and county funding to help match the state’s allocation of $600,000 to complete the needed improvements, said Halber.
The JCRC is supporting the Jewish Social Services Agency’s effort to maintain
current funding from the state for its Coming of Age Program ($350,000) as well as the services it offers the Holocaust survivor population ($350,000).
ElderSAFE Center is also being supported by the JCRC in its quest for maintained funding ($75,000) from the state in the 2021 budget.
“There’s always a tension in deciding what issues to pick, and the Jewish community has to pick issues to lobby on that we feel morally compelled to speak out,” said Halber. “If there is already a tidal wave in one direction and it is already going to happen, the JCRC putting in a ton of effort is not a smart move.”
“We prioritize our leverage in places where we can play a key role in making a difference for the Jewish community,” he said.
The Virginia General Assembly session ends on March 7. The Maryland General Assembly session continues until April 6.