Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Senate Black Caucus delays vote on justice reinvestment bill

A vote on a bill meant to overhaul the state’s justice system has been delayed until Wednesday to allow members of the Senate Black Caucus to meet and develop amendments.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who has been a vocal proponent of the overhaul effort, had hoped to finish work on the bill Monday in time to meet the deadline for bills to be sent to the House of Delegates.

But Sen. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George’s, asked for a delay late Monday night for as yet undefined concerns about the bill.

Sen. Joanne C. Benson

Sen. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George’s County. (Maryland State Archives)

Benson said the caucus is taking a deeper look at the bill because black males make up 70 percent of the people the law would affect.

“Once the caucus has met, we’ll definitely tell you what our concerns are and it’s definitely more than one,” Benson told Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The caucus meeting is scheduled for Wednesday morning prior to the Senate session.

The nearly 90-page bill is the result of a summer work group that looked for data-driven ways to save money by reducing incarceration for non-violent offenses and use potential savings for reducing recidivism through expanded drug treatment, job training and education.

More than 30 states have undertaken similar initiatives but to different degrees.

The concerns appear to center around two issues. the first is related to wide discretion for judges to exceed caps on the number of days someone can be sent back to jail for so-called technical violations including missed probation appointments and failed drug tests. The second is related to a proposal that increases the penalty for second-degree murder to a 40-year sentence. Some legislators say the provision is a half step from a new mandatory minimum sentence.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick, proposed an amendment Monday night that removed the ability of judges to exceed the revocation caps “for good cause” leaving judges discretion only in cases where there is a concern about public safety or the need for drug treatment.

But for every facet of the bill that any legislator can support, there seems to be another that legislators find problematic. Zirkin acknowledged that not everyone would like all of the bill but each would find a number of efforts they could support.

“It’s the ultimate compromise bill,” Zirkin said.

Miller urged the caucus and the Senate to work together to pass law.

“This is a bill that affects everybody,” Miller said. “This isn’t a black bill or a white bill. It’s for everybody…It’s not a caucus issue, it’s a Senate issue and it’s a bill of great importance to the state of Maryland.”