A Proven Fighter for Working Families
Joseline Peña-Melnyk has represented Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties as state delegate for ten years. She feels privileged to work on behalf of her constituents and a passion for public service is at the core of her character.
As a child Joseline emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. with her single mother and sister. Her mom worked in New York’s garment industry, often struggled to make ends meet, and there was a time when the family was on welfare because Joseline’s father did not pay child support. But despite tough circumstances, Joseline succeeded in school and learned English. She was an Equal Opportunity Program scholar and the first in her family to attend college. “When I look back on it now, I see how much I benefited from programs that open doors for minority students.”
Joseline feels an obligation to fight for people on society’s margins – the ones who are often overlooked. One summer during law school she worked in Alabama to represent prisoners on death row. Another summer she was in Ohio farm country visiting migrant farm workers and fighting for basic living conditions, a safe work environment, and fair wages. After Joseline got her law degree, she took court appointments to represent abused and neglected children, and to provide criminal defense for the poor. Later she joined Eric Holder’s U.S. Attorney’s Office and prosecuted criminals; building cases by working closely with police officers, witnesses and victims in the community.
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And she took time to be a mom, having a son in 1998 and twin daughters in 2000. But the urge to stay involved in the community would not go away. Joseline has served on the board of Casa de Maryland, a community social service organization focused on immigrant issues, and she ran for, and won, a seat on the College Park City Council. In 2006 she ran a long-shot, grass roots campaign for Maryland’s General Assembly, and with dedicated volunteers and modest contributions from ordinary people she won.
Joseline is committed to making Maryland stronger, fairer, and more inclusive. For example, she co-sponsored a bill to prohibit discrimination based on “gender identity” in public accommodations, employment, and housing (HB1265 (2014)). As the “floor leader”, she defended the bill from challengers during a vigorous four-hour floor debate.
From her own experience, Joseline understands that many working families, despite their best efforts, still need help to make ends meet. She co-sponsored legislation to increase the minimum wage, expand opportunities for minority businesses, broaden the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, crack down on mortgage fraud, and create state apprenticeship and workforce development programs in our secondary schools and community colleges. (See, e.g., HB 1370; HB 128, 2011; HB 456, 2011; HB 644, 2009; HB 360, 2008.)
She is tenacious and doesn’t hesitate to roll up her sleeves, do the heavy lifting, or to take a controversial stand. Joseline and her staff have stepped in to help many families save their homes from foreclosure. She also was among a group of very few legislators that voted against casino gambling because she felt strongly that our communities should be protected from the damaging social effects of problem gambling.
Joseline’s committee in the House deals with public health and she has made great strides to improve the healthcare system by making it more efficient and in line with the needs of everyday Marylanders. Her legislation to digitize medical records is improving health care delivery and lowering costs. She has also moved many bills into law dealing with women’s and children’s health, including bills on family planning, mammograms, childhood obesity and suicide prevention.
She also leads on matters of policing and criminal justice. The Baltimore riots show that we need to create more paths to success for all our citizens and that a broken justice system weakens our communities. Joseline was one of ten Delegates that served on the Workgroup on Public Safety and Policing Practices established after the riots, but her strong record on these issues predates the riots. One of her bills made Maryland the first state to count inmates of state prisons in the place where they lived when arrested, which helps boost representation for the poor communities with the most problems. She co-sponsored repeal of the death penalty (HB 0295, 2013) and she supported “ban the box” on state employment forms because we need to improve employment options for people with criminal convictions if we are to break the cycle of incarceration. Joseline also has pushed for police accountability, including ending race based traffic stops and promoting legislation for an independent state prosecutor to investigate deaths related to law enforcement. (See, HB 130, 2011.)
Finally, Joseline is a strong advocate for a people’s democracy and supports public campaign financing to limit the corrosive effects of large contributions and constant fundraising on our democracy.
Joseline is a proven fighter for working families. She has represented both Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland’s General Assembly since 2007. During her tenure, Joseline has sponsored legislation to increase the Maryland minimum wage, expand opportunities for minority businesses, broaden the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, crack down on mortgage fraud, and create state apprenticeship and workforce development programs in our secondary schools and community colleges.
Joseline graduated from Buffalo State College with a B.S. in Criminal Justice, and earned her Juris Doctor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Joseline pursued a successful legal career, serving as a defense attorney before becoming a prosecutor in Eric Holder’s United States Attorney’s Office. She also served as a court-appointed advocate for neglected and abused children. Joseline was elected to two terms on the College Park City Council before being elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2006, and being reelected in 2010 and 2014.