Perhaps the only prediction that will come true regarding the 2019 General Assembly session will be the influential Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will have a starkly different look than it had this year.
The 11-member panel, from which this year’s controversial anti-crime legislation emanated, will have at least four new senators to replace those who are leaving not only the committee but the Senate itself.
Sens. Jim Brochin and C. Anthony Muse are forgoing re-election to seek the Democratic nomination for executive of Baltimore and Prince George’s counties, respectively. Sen. Victor R. Ramirez is seeking the Democratic nomination for Prince George’s County state’s attorney. And Sen. Linda Norman, R-Cecil and Harford, will step aside after having served the remainder of the term of her husband, Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr., who died March 4.
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, the committee’s chairman and a diehard Baltimore Ravens fan, said he has no idea who will be named to his committee and joked that he has no draft picks.
“We’ll see who comes,” Zirkin said. “It’s always exciting to have fresh perspectives.”
He also noted there is no guarantee he will be chairman, as that decision – as well as who joins the committee – resides with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
An aide to Miller said Wednesday that no decision regarding committee assignments will be made until after the general election in November.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has jurisdiction over a vast array of subjects, including criminal procedure, family law, juvenile justice, the Judiciary’s structure, trusts and estates, vehicle laws and real property.
The anti-crime bill package, which awaits Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, was drafted amid a wave of homicides in Baltimore, where more than 400 people have been slain since Jan. 1, 2017. The bill’s call for mandatory or enhanced prison sentences for repeat gun offenders has drawn praise from prosecutors as a welcome response to the carnage but scorn from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the state’s public defender’s office as encroaching on the rights of the accused.
The legislation also calls for increased funding of community programs aimed at providing those at risk of participating in the violence with alternatives through education and vocational training.
“The issues we deal with are extremely complicated and important,” Zirkin said. “When we make a mistake, somebody loses their liberty or their life.”
While being a lawyer might be a preferred quality for a committee member, it is by no means a prerequisite, Zirkin said.
Neither Brochin nor Muse is an attorney. Linda Norman is also not a lawyer, though her husband was.
Other non-lawyers on the committee are Sens. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County and the vice chair; Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll; and Justin Ready, R-Carroll.
The lawyers are Zirkin, Ramirez and Sens. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford; Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery; and William C. “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery.
More important than bar membership is the willingness “to dive into intricate areas of the law,” said Zirkin, of Zirkin and Schmerling Law in Pikesville.
Senators seeking to serve on the committee should also be prepared to “leave your party affiliation at the door, roll up your sleeves and work late into the night” during session, Zirkin added.