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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Updated Marijuana Vote Totals

marijuana vote

My vote totals from yesterday were based on the above photo of the vote board since the House doesn’t publish the tally immediately. Here is the final vote total. This one is courtesy of Del. Bill Frick’s Facebook page but he had the official tally. The changes are all from people shown as previously not voting to casting votes. As a result, there was an increase of one in the number of Democrats voting no with Del. Mary-Dulany James being the newbie.

The House of Delegates voted 78-55 to pass the marijuana decriminalization bill. Most prominently, Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario defied House tradition and voted against a bill now supported by his own committee.

A total of 17 Democrats voted red. Del. Charles Barkley (D-39) was the only Montgomery delegate who voted no. Most of the Democrats who voted no are from more conservative jurisdictions in the State with a smattering of African Americans

Democrats who voted NAY (18): K. Kelly (Allegany), Donoghue (Washington), Burns (Baltimore County), Frush (Prince George’s & Anne Arundel), Hubbard (Prince George’s), Valentino-Smith (Prince George’s), Howard (Prince George’s), Vallario (Calvert & Prince George’s), Jameson (Charles), Wilson (Charles), Bohanan (St. Mary’s), Wood (Charles & St. Mary’s), Sophocleus (Anne Arundel), Rudolph (Cecil), Conway (Wicomico & Worcester), Barkley (Montgomery), Conaway (Baltimore City), and James (Harford & Cecil).

Republicans who voted YEA (2): Costa (Anne Arundel), and Smigiel (Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s).

Democrats who didn’t vote (2): Walker, Harper.

Republicans who didn’t vote (5): Myers, Stocksdale, McDonough, Dwyer, Stifler.

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Dwyer’s Quiet Weekend and Simonaire Challenge

Now I know why Del. Don Dwyer didn’t vote on marijuana decriminalization. He’s unavailable on weekends:

Del. Don Dwyer Jr., spends weekends in the county jail in Glen Burnie, serving time for convictions last year on charges of drunken driving and drunken boating. His absence — he checks into jail on Friday evenings and is released on Sunday nights — means the Republican can’t vote on matters that are being decided on the final weekend of the 2014 General Assembly session.

He also has lost his committee assignments, which renders him even more ineffective than usual. Dwyer was not expelled because his offenses were misdemeanors unrelated to his work in the House. Besides his conviction after having caused injury to seven people in the boat accident, Dwyer is probably best known for his strident social conservatism and opposition to LGBT rights, as he believes that gays and lesbians are a “threat to children.”

D31B

He has filed for reelection from District 31B. House Minority Leader Nic Kipke is running as well in the two-seat district, as are six other Republicans. One of them is 24-year old Meagan Simonaire:

Simonaire, the daughter of state Sen. Bryan Simonaire, is a cosmetologist with a degree from Bob Jones University in South Carolina. She said she grew up in a political family and has a history of political activism.

If elected, the two Simonaires would be the only father-daughter Senate-House duo.

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Analysis of Marijuana Vote

The House of Delegates voted 78-55 to pass the marijuana decriminalization bill. Most prominently, Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario defied House tradition and voted against a bill now supported by his own committee.

A total of 17 Democrats voted red. Del. Charles Barkley (D-39) was the only Montgomery delegate who voted no. Most of the Democrats who voted no are from more conservative jurisdictions in the State with a smattering of African Americans

Democrats who voted NAY (17): K. Kelly (Allegany), Donoghue (Washington), Burns (Baltimore City), Frush (Prince George’s & Anne Arundel), Hubbard (Prince George’s), Valentino-Smith (Prince George’s), Howard (Prince George’s), Vallario (Calvert & Prince George’s), Jameson (Charles), Wilson (Charles), Bohanan (St. Mary’s), Wood (Charles & St. Mary’s), Sophocleus (Anne Arundel), Rudolph (Cecil), Conway (Wicomico & Worcester), Barkley (Montgomery), Conaway (Baltimore City).

Republicans who voted YEA (2): Costa (Anne Arundel), and Smigiel (Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s).

Democrats who didn’t vote (6): Olszewski, Jones, DeBoy, Griffith, Walker, and James.

Republicans who didn’t vote (8): Myers, Hogan, Stocksdale, McDonough, Dwyer, Glass, Stifler, and Harper.

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Marijuana Decriminalization Passes House of Delegates

marijuana vote

Marijuana decriminalization passed the House today by a vote of 78-55 after consideration of a slew of amendments by Republicans that all failed to garner sufficient support.

Del. Michael Hough (R) submitted an amendment rejected 58-72 that would require offenses within a drug-free school zone to be charged as misdemeanors rather than civilly. Del. Neil Parrott’s (R) amendment to make all offenses in a public place misdemeanors instead of civil offenses also failed 45-87.

Del. Kathryn Afzali (R) offered two amendments. The first amendment would have reduced the amount of marijuana classified as a civil offense from 10 grams to 5 grams. It failed 54-78. The second amendment that failed 42-87 would have required police to charge offenders by citations rather than as civil offenses.

Del. Rick Impallaria (R) sponsored an amendment that went down 40-89 that would have required the attorney general to notify the public of a slew of risks associated with marijuana use before the law could go into effect. Finally, Del. Justin Ready (R) tried to amend the bill to retain criminal offenses for people less than 21. This one failed 38-93.

The Judiciary Committee submitted a small amendment that slightly modify the Senate bill that does not alter its intent. This change will nonetheless require the Senate to assent to the modified bill before it can go to the Governor’s desk for his consideration.

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Marijuana Vote in Judiciary This Morning

Here is how the committee voted on the Committee’s decision to do an about face and restore the marijuana decriminalization bill to more or less its earlier form (see previous post).

YEA (13, 12D, 1R): Dumais, Lee, Waldstreicher, Clippinger, Carter, Swain, Valentino-Smith, Smigiel (R), Rosenberg, Valderrama, Arora, Anderson, Simmons.

NAY (8, 2D, 6R): K. Kelly (D), McComas, Parrott, Glass, Hough, Cluster, McDermott, Conaway (D).

NOT VOTING: Vallario (Chair generally does not vote).

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Marijuana Decriminalization is Going to Pass

The House is debating marijuana decriminalization as I type. This morning, the Judiciary Committee did a major turnabout and adopted amendments that essentially restore the bill to the form passed by the Senate and sponsored by Sen. Zirkin.

Sufficient pressure was applied on Committee Chair Joe Vallario to allow this to occur by leadership and committee members. Restoring the bill will also avoid any awkward votes for committee members who can now vote to support decriminalization without also voting to roll their chairman. The minor changes to the Senate bill provide a fig leaf of cover for Vallario.

These changes pave the way for marijuana decriminalization to pass the House today with sufficiently few differences to the Senate bill that they can likely concur.

You can listen online to the House debate this right now.

UPDATE: Now, the House has delayed the debate until later today.

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Marijuana Saturday

The General Assembly is meeting today as the session rushes to its Monday night close. Many days the General Assembly does not attract much attention, even if its decisions have a large day-to-day impact on Marylanders.

This is not one of those days. The heat and light will revolve around the fierce debate in the House over marijuana decriminalization. Washington Post Reporter John Wagner and Frederick Kunkle have a fine article summarizing the state of play.

The Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Bobby Zirkin to decriminalize marijuana on March 14 by a vote of 36-8 with 7 Republicans joining 29 Democrats in voting green. The 8 red votes were split evenly between the two parties.

Led by Chairman Joe Vallario, the Judiciary Committee proceeded to gut the bill by replacing it with text that created a task force to study the question. They then voted 14-5 to report on the bill favorably to the full House.

The decision to report favorably on any bill at all was an interesting one. Last year, the Committee let a similar bill die last year without a vote. This year, they did the same to another decriminalization bill and also killed off a legalization bill.

The favorable report on the bill appears to have provided a vehicle for decriminalization proponents to attempt to roll the Judiciary Committee in the full house. (Perhaps a sign of a crack in Chairman Vallario’s control?) Del. Kieffer Mitchell has offered an amendment to strike all of the House changes.

At the request of Del. Vallario, the House special ordered the bill for today when the House will take it up again. Wagner and Kunkle report that the vote in the House is expected to be close with negotiations occurring to tighten the bill in order to attract enough supporters to pass:

Closed-door discussions late in the day Friday focused on ways to tighten several provisions in the Senate bill, according to several delegates. For example, the Senate bill would require young people caught with marijuana to appear before a judge, who could order treatment and counseling. Delegates were considering making the age that triggers that provision under 21, rather than under 18.

Interestingly, at least some committee members, such as AG Candidate Aisha Braveboy, appear inclined to break with tradition by voting against their committee’s decision. Several other delegates face a similar choice, such as Del. Jeff Waldstreicher who has good relations with his chair. No doubt his constituents–and his primary opponents–will look with interest which way he jumps.

You can listen to the House proceedings online if you’re so inclined.

Thinking for the long term beyond this particular bill is the issue of Joe Vallario’s future as chair of the Judiciary Committee. Speaker Busch keeps a delegate who not only votes against his caucus but works repeatedly to thwart its goals at his peril.

Similar situations in Congress in which conservative Democrats used their seniority to control committees inspired a revolt that led to rules reform in the 1970s. All Democratic committee chairs must now be approved by the full Caucus.

Vallario has chaired this committee for over two decades. But this long tenure generates frustration as well as respect from younger delegates restless to advance. Seems like an opportunity for the Speaker to satisfy some pent up ambition. Might solve two problems at once.

 

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Another Take on D38

D38
Lower Eastern Shore Districts 38A, 38B, and 38C
Editor’s Note: John Hayden was the author of the Maryland on my Mind blog from Ocean City. He offered this alternative view to my post on the races for delegate in District 38 on the Lower Eastern Shore.
I think your analysis of the District 38 delegate races is appropriate, based on campaign fundraising reports. From a Democratic point of view, I like that your report gives Mary Beth Carozza reason to to feel overconfident.
IMO, Norm Conway should be rated as safe, and Judy Davis-Carozza should be rated a toss-up. Norm met his wife when they were both students at Salisbury University (then Salisbury State). They were both career educators in the Wicomico County public schools. Norm and his wife personally know nearly everyone in his Salisbury district. He nearly lost in the sprawling 38B in 2006, but learned his lesson and came back with a strong campaign in 2010 and won easily. His new single-member district is safe for him, IMO.
You’re correct that 38C is the most Republican leaning of the subdistricts in 38. However, the local backgrounds of the candidates is going to be a big factor. Carozza departed the Eastern Shore to go to college, and never returned, until last year. It’s true that she worked briefly for Ehrlich, but most of her career has been as an inside-the-beltway professional working for people like Rumsfeld. Nearly all her support comes from Republicans she knows from her years on Capitol Hill and in DOD. (I’ve reviewed the list of her donors closely.)
The Judy Davis bio is a mirror image of Carozza’s bio. Judy came to the Eastern Shore to attend Salisbury State, and has lived on the Shore her entire adult life. She married, raised a family, and taught in public schools in Wicomico County and Worcester County.
You’re probably aware of the Democratic Emerge program. Judy was handpicked for the first Emerge class in Maryland, which was held last winter. Judy made a lot of contacts through Emerge, and she will have the endorsement of teachers statewide. Those two networks should enable her to raise significant funds after the primary, when Democrats focus on the general election.
Also, I’m hopeful that both Mathias and Conway, and Mike Busch, will point Democratic contributors in her direction. District 38C is one of the few places Democrats can hope to pick up a delegate seat, to offset possible losses in other districts. I suspect that key people in the state’s Dem fundraising network will understand the opportunity to pick up a delegate seat, and will support Judy.
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Frederick County Exec Battle

FredCtyPartisanshipFrederick County Political Leanings

In 2014, voters in Frederick County will be electing their leaders under charter government for the first time. Previously, Frederick had been governed by a board of County Commissioners elected at-large. In 2014, they will elect a County Council with five members elected from districts and two at-large.

They will also be electing a County Executive for the first time. Blaine Young should be able to dispatch his Mark Sweadner, who was the Frederick County Budget Director for a long stretch in the 1990s, and David Gray–a sitting County Commissioner.

Young had $185,000 left over from his aborted gubernatorial Campaign in January. Jan Gardner, a Barbara Mikulski staffer and former County Commissioner had $43,000 in January. Young has money and a famous surname on his side. Frederick’s rapidly changing demographics favor Gardner.

Frederick County was once reliably rock ribbed Republican territory However, an influx of migrants from Montgomery County has turned the southern party of the County Purple. Combined with the increasingly Democratic City of Frederick nearly outweighs the dark Red, rural precincts in the northern part of the County. Frederick is perhaps the most swingy county in Maryland.

Gardner needs to turn out base Democratic Voters in Frederick City while also winning independents and Republican crossover votes in the southern part of the county. Young will need to super charge rural turnout and get as many Republican’s as possible in the rest of the County to vote. Someone as hard right as Young is unlikely to get many Democrat or Independent crossover votes.

This is one of the most competitive county general elections in Maryland this cycle.

Republican Primary Rating: Likely Young
General Election Rating: Toss Up

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