ANNAPOLIS – Marylanders of mixed ancestry may no longer have to mark “other” or settle for just one racial category when filling out state forms.
The Senate gave final approval Monday to a House bill that allows people of multiracial background to choose more than one racial category on state forms.
“This bill would allow them to … represent who they are and where they come from … without having to pick one race or another,” said Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard, a sponsor of the bill.
The bill’s sponsors said it responds to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the state.
Maryland currently uses the same racial designations adopted in 1977 by the federal Office of Management and Budget. The categories include American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, black, white and two Latino groups that show Hispanic or non-Hispanic origin.
“We were fitting people in categories that were truly unfair,” said Del. Adrienne Mandel, D-Montgomery, also a sponsor.
Isabelle Horon, an adoptive parent of two mixed-race Colombian children, said the racial categories “forced [children] to deny their full heritage” and made them choose between their parents’ ancestry. Parents, too, are torn when they have to choose between racial categories on school forms for their children, she said.
“It was very upsetting to parents,” said Horon, who led a state task force that studied the issue and recommended in December that Marylanders be allowed to check off multiple racial boxes on state forms.
Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, introduced a similar bill in 1995, but it was vetoed by Gov. Parris Glendening, who said the state should not alter its race categories until OMB changed its standards.
The OMB did just that in October, recommending that people of mixed ancestry be allowed to report more than one race on federal forms and adding a two-question format when collecting race and Hispanic ethnicity. Those changes are to take effect no later than Jan. 1, 2003.
Horon’s task force recommended that the state adopt similar standards.
The bill approved Monday would let people with multiracial backgrounds check all race categories that apply to them and it provides a separate question to distinguish people of Hispanic or Latino background. The state forms should be changed by Jan. 1, 2002.
A spokesman for Glendening said the governor is focused on other priorities now, including the budget, and would deal with the racial ID bill when it reaches his desk. But Healey said she is not worried about a veto this year, since the bill now mirrors the federal policies.
Horon said she was “thrilled” about the Senate’s decision.
“I’m very happy for the people who it’s going to affect,” she said.