Tag Archives: Joe Vallario

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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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.

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.

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.

 

Will Vallario Kill Marijuana Decriminalization?

Vallario

The General Assembly session is rapidly coming to a close and the House Judiciary Committee may kill efforts to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Chairman Joe Vallario is leading the effort to kill the bill:

The Senate passed the bill by a 36-8 vote earlier this year. Vallario opposed the bill last year and continues to be the major hurdle to a full vote in the House of Delegates. The ACLU, in its statement, said Vallario “has been lobbying his committee members to reject the measure in 2014.”

Vice Chair Kathleen Dumais is also deeply ambivalent about the bill:

In an interview last week, Dumais expressed doubt for the bill’s prospects, saying she “is not so sure it’s the right  message to send to young people.”

“I’m just not ready to make that leap,” Dumais said. “My committee has never been real comfortable with it and to be honest I’m not that comfortable with it. Maybe there’s something we can do with it. We haven’t had a full discussion because it hasn’t come up for a vote yet.

“I don’t think it’s going to move this year but I could be wrong,” Dumais said.

The ACLU released results from a poll showing strong support for the Senate bill in their two districts as well as Del. Frank Conaway as part of an effort to build pressure for the bill’s passage. You can see the full results in .pdf form here:

MD-ACLU Marijuana Decriminalization Poll