Click here to download a PDF copy: MLAW History Updated 2020
The Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women (MLAW) celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2019.
It began as a group called the Legislative Agenda for Maryland Women or LAMW and was associated for its first 10 years (1994-2004) with the Maryland Commission for Women.
In 2004 it became an independent organization called the Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women or MLAW.
It was established to harness the collective power of women and to create a statewide, non-partisan, independent coalition of groups and individuals to advocate for progressive legislative initiatives that promote and protect the well-being of women and their families in Maryland.
This call to action for legislative change has resulted in a coalition almost unique in the United States.
The annual legislative conference and other activities have energized thousands of women – and male allies – to become engaged in advocacy for important issues affecting Maryland women and families.
The annual Legislative Agenda has included a broad diversity of issues and the organization’s advocacy and collaborative efforts have resulted in the passage of 90 pieces of legislation enacted by the Maryland General Assembly in the last 25 years.
This extraordinary success has made a significant difference for women and families and established MLAW as a powerful voice for women and their priorities.
LAMW: The Legislative Agenda for Maryland Women
The first incarnation of the Legislative Agenda concept was a group called the “Maryland Women’s Committee for the Future” that began meeting in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Most of the leaders were involved in a group called the Women’s Alliance of Maryland (WAM), an advocacy group of domestic violence, sexual assault, displaced homemaker programs and homeless women’s groups seeking increased state funding for programs serving women.
The idea was to create a broad coalition of women’s groups and to have a legislative agenda. The Maryland Commission for Women had also held statewide conferences in 1987 and 1991.
However, none of these initiatives resulted in a permanent statewide coalition.
The coalition that eventually became MLAW was initiated in January 1993 with a reception to honor the Women Legislators of Maryland and to inaugurate a Statewide Women’s Network to Support a Women’s and Children’s Legislative Agenda.
The idea for the event was conceived and organized by Carolyn Bates of the Junior League of Annapolis and Michaele Cohen, who represented three co-sponsors: the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County through the YWCA Woman’s Center, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV), and the Women’s Alliance of Maryland (WAM).
The event was coordinated with the Maryland Commission for Women, represented by executive director Joanne Saltzberg. It was also co-sponsored by the Junior League of Baltimore and the Maryland Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
The goal was to create a statewide coalition of organizations and individuals to advocate for women’s and family issues.
The coalition would hold an annual conference to determine the group’s priority legislative issues.
On Saturday, May 1, 1993, a conference to establish a Legislative Agenda for Maryland Women was sponsored by the Maryland Commission for Women and the Maryland Statewide Action Agenda Steering Committee and held at Morgan State University.
The first conference had four objectives:
- To provide a forum in which issues of special interest to women could be discussed.
- To establish a Legislative Agenda for Maryland Women.
- To develop strategies for collective action.
- To create a network to support the Agenda.
The new Legislative Agenda for Maryland Women that was created was sponsored by the Maryland Commission for Women and the Statewide Steering Committee.
The Maryland Commission for Women would provide administrative support and some funding for the LAMW.
However, the Steering Committee and subcommittees included individuals and representatives of women’s advocacy groups.
The Steering Committee would operate quasi-independently and would have a separate legislative agenda from the Commission that was determined by the vote of individuals and women’s groups.
There would be both statewide and local advocacy efforts to promote success.
The group would create an Agenda document that organizations and individuals would sign on to that would be distributed to all legislators.
A Statewide Strategy Meeting in October 1993 was held to formally establish the LAMW.
After the October 1993 conference, Elizabeth Johnson, chair of the Steering Committee, announced that since her term on the Commission was ending, Sharon Leatherman would become chair of the Steering Committee. Sharon Leatherman served as chair and then president until 2006 (13 years).
The first Legislative Agenda for Maryland Women document was created for the 1994 legislative session with sign-ons from 75 organizations and 250 individuals and distributed to all legislators.
A lobby night, press conference and reception were held to introduce the Agenda.
The first piece of Agenda legislation passed was the omnibus Domestic Violence Act of 1994. It was passed after being gutted by the Judiciary Committee but revived on the House floor through the extraordinary efforts of women legislators who reinstated key provisions through the amendment process.
In every succeeding year, the LAMW held an annual conference, selected legislation to include on the Legislative Agenda, sent the Agenda to legislators and advocacy groups, held an advocacy day, legislative briefing, and reception to promote the Agenda, and advocated for the Agenda legislation.
The LAMW created a Vision Statement, Guiding Principles, criteria for selection of legislation, a sign-on policy, and a ballot process.
These are still used today.
MLAW: Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women
In 2004 the LAMW became MLAW.
As previously described, the Maryland Commission for Women provided administrative support and some funding for the LAMW.
However, the LAMW Steering Committee and subcommittees, which oversaw the Legislative Agenda, included individuals and representatives of women’s advocacy groups.
The Steering Committee operated quasi-independently and always had a separate legislative agenda from the Commission that was determined by the vote of individuals and women’s groups.
Among the LAMW’s most notable legislative successes were:
- 1994 and 1995 comprehensive domestic violence acts and expansion and increased access to domestic violence protective orders.
- 48 hour hospital stays for new mothers.
- Funding for low-cost screening mammography.
- Maryland Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
- Expanded coverage for prescription drugs.
- Increased protections for abused children.
- Gun safety.
- Universal hearing screening for newborns and hearing aids for children.
- Anti-discrimination legislation and racial profiling prevention.
- Pay equity.
In August 2004, the Maryland Commission for Women decided that the LAMW would no longer operate as a semi-independent organization in association with the Commission but would be subsumed under a Commission legislation and policy committee.
The LAMW leadership believed that it was critical to maintain an independent voice for women’s issues in Maryland. This effort was supported by key organizations and legislators.
Meetings were held with legislators and advocacy group leaders.
Legislative leaders included Senator Delores Kelley, Delegate Sharon Grosfeld, Delegate Liz Bobo, and former and future Delegate Sue Hecht.
The decision was made to continue the LAMW as an independent organization, to become incorporated, and to adopt the name Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women or MLAW.
- Provide a non-partisan, independent voice for Maryland women and families.
- Be a statewide coalition of groups and individuals.
- Be led by women’s groups, advocacy organizations, and issue groups.
- Advocate for critical legislation.
- Maintain a grass-roots, democratic process for choosing issues and legislative priorities.
- Maintain a diversity of viewpoints and a broad range of issues.
- Maintain collaboration and advocacy through lead groups.
- Welcome the support of all groups that support the Agenda, including the Maryland Commission for Women.
MLAW incorporated as a 501c4, elected a Board of Directors in July 2005, and established a structure and policies. Sharon Leatherman, who had been the chair of the LAMW became the first President.
MLAW held its first annual fall legislative conference in October 2005 as MLAW.
In the next 15 years, MLAW held annual fall legislative conferences, produced and disseminated an annual Legislative Agenda document, held an annual reception and briefing to introduce the Agenda and promote networking, coordinated and strategized with lead groups, advocated and testified for legislation, sent legislative alerts, produced an annual final legislative report, and added a legislative wrap-up 5 years ago.
Other MLAW activities:
- Established a website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and an email list to enhance communications.
- Created a Legislative Leadership Award for outstanding legislators.
- Speak to community groups, participate in and co-sponsor events to expand the visibility of MLAW, provide information, and encourage participation in advocacy.
- Participate in the annual Women’s Legislative Briefing where the MLAW Legislative Agenda is distributed to 600-700 attendees.
- MLAW has an active Board of Directors representing diverse backgrounds, organizations and issues, and communities from across the state.
- MLAW has increased its visibility among legislators and advocacy organizations.
- MLAW’s importance as an advocacy organization is demonstrated by the increased number of lead groups and legislators seeking to present legislative proposals at the annual fall legislative conference.
- Attendance at MLAW events has doubled during the last three years.
- MLAW has supported 51 successful pieces of legislation since 2005, including earned sick leave, equal pay, sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, health care and reproductive rights, and many others – for a total of 90 successful pieces of legislation in the past 25 years.
We invite you to join us in in creating another 25 years of extraordinary success!