Montgomery County Dominates Leadership of State’s Judicial Proceedings Committee
Appointments could lead to more progressive bills, local delegate says
Sens. William Smith and Jeff Waldstreicher
Photos courtesy of the Maryland Senate
Two state senators from Montgomery County were named to leadership roles on the State Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee — appointments that are largely seen as a boon to other local delegates.
Sen. William Smith (D-Silver Spring) was named chair of the committee by newly elected Senate President Bill Ferguson. Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Kensington) was named vice chair.
Their appointments are part of a leftward shift for the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which also includes Montgomery County Sen. Susan Lee (D-Bethesda) and long-time Frederick County Democratic Sen. Ron Young.
“This will make for an interesting #MDGA20!” Montgomery County Del. David Moon wrote on Twitter, using a popular acronym for the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session.
Moon, a Democrat from Takoma Park, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that the benefits of the new appointments are two-fold. One: a strong Montgomery County presence could be a benefit for local bills that have previously been rejected or failed in the committee.
Moon specifically cited his own efforts to pass a bill that would have given the county greater control to set speed limits below 25 miles per hour on some residential roads. The bill was passed by the House of Delegates during the 2019 session but wasn’t given a hearing by the full committee. That killed the law’s chances of going before the Senate for a vote.
“I’d like to think that with two Montgomery County members on the committee, bills that pertain to local issues might get a better hearing,” Moon said. “And the agenda-setting power of the chair is very strong. So, for me, having a Montgomery County person there — from my own district — is very useful.”
The leftward shift on the committee has also raised hopes for a coalition of progressive Democrat leaders who have frequently been frustrated by changes to legislation heard by the committee, Moon said.
During the 2019 session, committee members passed an aid-in-dying bill that allowed Maryland doctors to administer lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients. But they also significantly amended the original text of the legislation, including removing legal immunity for doctors.
“I had serious questions about how usable the bill was after they watered it down,” Moon said. Many state Democrats also blamed the committee for gutting a 2017 bill that would have limited local law enforcement’s participation in immigration enforcement. It was accused again in 2019 of running out the clock for a bill that would have mandated background checks for private sales of shotguns and rifles.
Much of the blame often fell on Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a moderate Democrat from Baltimore County, who announced plans to resign before the start of the 2020 session in January. Two seats on the Judicial Proceedings Committee have been reserved for his replacement and the replacement for Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, another Baltimore County Democrat who resigned from the General Assembly earlier this month for health reasons.
“That’s a really big deal,” Moon said, and has raised hopes among some Democrats that at least one of the seats will go to a more progressive member of the party.
Changes to the committee came after the deadline for filing local bills. But Moon already has plans to reintroduce a county-specific speed limit bill next October and said the new committee makeup has led to an overall shift in what kinds of laws are considered possible.
“I know a number of lawmakers are having to rethink their calculations about what kinds of bills are passable,” he said.