Tag Archives: Heather Mizeur

How Marijuana Decriminalization Passed the House

As the session drew to a close, the prospects for marijuana decriminalization looked grim despite its passage by an overwhelming majority in the Senate. Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario had once again put the kibosh on the bill.

At Vallario’s behest, the Committee amended the bill to replace it with one that would create a task force to study the issue. As we say in Montgomery County, paralysis by analysis. So how did a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana end up passing the House on Saturday?

First, Vallario made a critical mistake by passing any bill out of Committee at all. Though probably necessary to mollify committee members, it also provided decriminalization supporters a key opportunity to amend the bill back to its original intent.

Various advocates, including Dan Furmansky who has been lobbying on this issue, began to press legislators to put up a fight on the floor. Del. Eric Luedtke agreed to sponsor an amendment to overturn the Committee’s decision and restore the original intent of the bill.

Luedtke was a good choice. Del. Heather Mizeur has been active on this issue but her name on the amendment would have immediately doomed it due to gubernatorial politics in this election year. Ditto for Del. Jolene Ivey. Their willingness to step back and allow others to take the lead aided the effort greatly.

Bill advocates quickly began talking with Del. Keiffer Mitchell and Del. Nat Oaks who reached out to the Black Caucus. As this was going on, time passed and decriminalization proponents made the call not to offer their amendment on second reading, as it would have received only a couple dozen votes and died.

Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck Davis gave the effort a major boost when he advocated fighting for decriminalization on the floor to the Black Caucus and made a statement to that end in the media. Support from a respected member of leadership helped propel the amendment forward.

Key legislative advocates, such as Dels. Luedtke, Oaks, Mizeur, Ivey, David Fraser-Hidalgo, and Alonzo Washington, organized a whip operation supported by various advocacy groups like the ACLU. Republican Del. Mike Smigiel agreed to work on libertarian members of his party.

By the time they had close to 40 supporters, Vallario dug in his heals and made clear that he expected members of his committee to stick with him. But the House leadership forced him to ask the House to special order the bill, which it did, so he could negotiate with decriminalization advocates.

Del. Kieffer Mitchell agreed to sponsor the amendment, which was another good move to move matters forward, as attaching this junior but prominent African-American legislator’s name helped to emphasize the racial disparities associated with current enforcement of criminal penalties for marijuana possession.

By the end of the day on Friday, it became clear that Speaker Busch had released senior leadership to vote how they wished (i.e. to vote against Vallario), as Dels. Maggie McIntosh, Sheila Hixson along with Dereck Davis expressed their support. Like Davis, McIntosh proved especially helpful in gaining new supporters. The whipping operation was also highly visible on the floor.

Some Judiciary Committee members, like Dels. Curt Anderson and Luiz Simmons, began to rebel against sticking with Vallario. However, he still had support from others, such as Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais who has genuine reservations and Del. Jeff Waldstreicher who did not want to harm his excellent relationship with his committee chairman.

In the midst of all this, Vallario finally sued for peace. Good timing, as amendment supporters had received 66 firm commitments of support and he was about to get rolled publicly. Vallario and Dumais met with Bobby Zirkin, the Senate sponsor who had also been very active, to draft a new amendment. Mitchell and Luedtke were brought in later that night to help organize the plan for the floor.

Judiciary met on Saturday morning to ax the task force plan and recommend favorably the original bill as modified in small ways. Mitchell withdrew his amendment and matters proceeded according to regular order. As the bill was now a committee bill, it became critical for it to pass for the House leadership, particularly after all the contretemps surrounding it. And it did.

A few quick thoughts on the outcome. First, it showed that junior backbench members both can and will exercise influence on critical issues when committee chairs flout the will of the bulk of the Democratic Caucus. This was already a moderate, compromise bill. Remember it accomplished mild decriminalization–not full-scale legalization. Vallario’s repeated noes were not acceptable.

Second, Speaker Michael Busch did not have Vallario’s back. The Judiciary Committee Chair has simply opposed his Caucus too often on priority issues. Leaders don’t last long in power if they don’t listen to their members–something Speaker Busch and Senate President Miller understand far better than many realize.

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Health Care Exchange Tech Scrapped

The opening paragraph from this WaPo story is terrible news for the Brown campaign:

Maryland officials are set to replace the state’s online health-insurance exchange with technology from Connecticut’s insurance marketplace, according to two people familiar with the decision, an acknowledgment that a system that has cost at least $125.5 million is broken beyond repair.

That’s a lot of money down the drain on an initiative on which Lt. Gov. Brown had hoped to tout his leadership. Indeed, his placement at the head of the roll out seemed designed with that purpose.

The key question remains whether either AG Gansler or Del. Mizeur can capitalize on it. How do they attack Brown’s management skills without conflating it with a general attack on the President’s signature achievement?

Finding the way to craft a message successfully to pick that lock could well be the key to shifting voters in the fight for Democratic nomination. A further complication is how to make the attack without shifting voters to your other opponent.

If Brown wins the nomination, I expect that this issue will continue to feature in the general election. For a Republican, it’s a great way to rally the base and to attack Brown’s skills. In any case, he needs to get this problem fixed quickly so he can put it behind him.

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#ABrowning #Ganslering and #Mizeuring ?

I admit it’s hard to outdo #McConnelling as the star looks like he is straight out of central casting for Yertle the Turtle. But the way to really do this meme to death is to take it local. If anyone is up for the challenge, you can find the first ads for the Doug Gansler and Anthony Brown campaigns on this site. If Heather Mizeur has a good video, someone please send it this way, so she can play too. Videos of Republican candidates are, of course, also welcome. I’ll consider showing the results here (note: must adhere to the rules of clean campaigning entirely as interpreted by me).

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Marijuana Friday Vote

The bill to decriminalize marijuana use passed the Maryland Senate today by a vote of 36-8. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Zirkin and Kittleman.

Voting YEA: Miller (D), Astle (D), Brinkley (R), Brochin (D), Conway (D), Currie (D), DeGrange (D), Feldman (D), Frosh (D), Glassman (R), Jacobs (R), Jennings (R), Jones-Rodwell (D), Kasemeyer (D), Kelley (D), King (D), Kittleman (R), Klausmeier (D), Madaleno (D), Manno (D), McFadden (D), Middleton (D), Montgomery (D), Muse (D), Peters (D), Pinsky (D), Pugh (D), Ramirez (D), Raskin (D), Reilly (R), Rosapepe (D), Shank (R), Stone (D), Young (D), and Zirkin (D).

Voting NAY: Colburn (R), Dyson (D), Getty (R), Gladden (D), Hershey (R), Mathias (D), Robey (D), and Simonaire (R)

Not Voting: Benson (D), Edwards (R), and Forehand (D).

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration. The major challenge in the House is getting the bill past Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario (D), who is not keen.

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Dem Gov Hopefuls Testify for FAMA

govhopefulsDel. Heather Mizeur, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, and AG Doug Gansler

We’re fortunate that all three of the major Democratic candidates for governor are strong supporters of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, the trans equality legislation. I know many appreciate their united support despite other differences, so I thought I’d share snippets of their testimony.

Today, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown will testify before the House Health and Government Operations Committee in support of the bill. He issued a press release stating:

“No Marylander should face discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientaion,” said Lt. Governor Brown. “By passing the Fairness for All Marylanders Act we will take an important step forward for equality and provide Marylanders with the assurance that here, in our State, all citizens will be afforded equal rights and protections under the law.”

Attorney General Doug Gansler advocated for marriage equality long before it become fashionable. Here is a portion of the testimony he submitted to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee:

The Constitution’s command to provide “the equal protection of the laws” applies to “any person” within a state’s jurisdiction, regardless of that person’s identity. We deprive our citizens of that equal protection when we allow discrimination against them on the basis of their gender identity. Inequality for any person is inequality for all of us. Gender identity, like race, sex, sexual orientation, and creed, must not be tolerated as a ground for denying any person the opportunity to obtain employment, housing, and public accommodation.

Del. Heather Mizeur is a member of the LGBT Caucus and a longtime advocate for this legislation. As the Washington Blade reported, she advocated strongly in favor before the Senate committee:

Baltimore County and City, Montgomery and Howard Counties – four of our state’s larger jurisdictions have stepped up to provide nearly half of our state’s residents protection from gender identity discrimination.

But protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.  We need a statewide law.

And we cannot wait.  Real people are suffering real consequences of our inaction.

Fear and prejudice are not acceptable reason for assigning a vulnerable group of Marylanders to a future of discriminatory practices in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

17 states and the District of Columbia have stepped forward to do this.  The Chrissy Lee Polis’s in Prince George’s County, Southern, Northern, Western Maryland, and the Eastern Shore are expecting us to do the right thing – to prove to them that Maryland really is the Free State where everyone – EVERYONE – gets protected equally under the law.

There can be no exceptions. And there are no excuses.

The House has passed a version of this bill previously. Now that the blockage in the Senate has cleared, we should “get it done” as Heather put it in her testimony and to me.

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Marylanders Like Obamacare

The Washington Post reports that Marylanders approve of Obamacare by a 55-40 margin. The poll also says few attach blame to LG Brown but instead to state and federal administrators. One suspects that the share of Democratic primary voters who blame Brown is even lower.

I suspect that this aspect of the poll is more vulnerable to the answer choices provided. It is also unclear or whether voters deem the issue important or have fixed opinions. Campaigns also have the capacity to raise the salience of issues and to frame them in ways that opinions shift (i.e. who oversees those administrators blamed by the voters). However, the poll suggests that has yet to occur despite efforts by both AG Gansler and Del. Mizeur.

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