It might be hard, at least for a while, to identify many of the members of the incoming General Assembly without a scorecard.
The 2019 session will see 60 new members — the vast majority in the House of Delegates — take the oath of office on Jan. 9.
“This group is enthusiastic and they probably have 90 percent participation in the freshman tour traveling around the state,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “We have a lot of experience coming and a great deal of enthusiasm.”
Changes in the Senate include 17 new members and a Republican caucus that grows by one member to 15 — far fewer than the five Gov. Larry Hogan had hoped for in order to block veto overrides in his second term.
The results of the 2018 elections didn’t just bring new members but ushered out seasoned veterans, especially in the Senate, where just one chairman returns and all of the vice chairs are new to the roles.
Miller saw the number of longtime lieutenants diminish as upstart Democrats from the House, including Dels. Cory McCray and Mary Washington, both of Baltimore, knocked off Sens. Thomas “Mac” Middleton and Joan Carter Conway, the chairs of the Finance and Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committees, respectively. Seven other incoming senators were members of the House in the previous session.
Both McCray and Washington represent a crop of more progressive Democrats who will likely move the chamber more to the left, especially on issues such as passage of a $15 minimum wage.
“At the same time, they’re showing an interest in wanting to learn rather than simply jumping into issues,” Miller said. “They want to hear both sides. They want to meet with the chairmen and members of their committees.”
In the House, there are 43 new members, including eight Democrats who won seats formerly held by Republicans.
Veterans of the legislature urged incoming lawmakers to take a session to learn the legislative process and focus on an issue that is important to them. Some lobbyists say privately they expect the new crop to continue the trend began with the 2014 freshmen and be more active and submit more bills in their first year.
Another seismic change in the General Assembly will be in the House Judiciary Committee, which will be under new leadership for the first time in a quarter-century.
Longtime Chair Joseph F. Vallario Jr., whose control over whether bills would be voted on favorably and sent to the House floor rankled fellow legislators, lost in the June party primary and will be replaced as committee leader by Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat. Clippinger, unlike his predecessor, said he does not enter with an ambitious agenda but will consider proposals put forth by committee members.
Those members include incoming Vice Chair Vanesssa E. Atterbeary, who said strengthening the state law against cyberbullying is a top priority. Such legislation died in the House Judiciary Committee in 2018 due substantially to Vallario’s opposition to the bill based on free-speech concerns.
But Vallario, D-Prince George’s, will not be an obstacle this year, said Atterbeary, D-Howard County.
Atterbeary criticized the First Amendment argument that had derailed the bill, saying an absolutist free-speech position must fail when youngsters are driven to suicide by the online harassment.
“To take a hard-line stance on free speech when we are talking about children’s lives is not even rational,” Atterbeary said.
Atterbeary succeeds Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery, who will leave the vice chair’s seat to be House majority leader.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, in contrast to its House counterpart, will have much the same look in 2019 with Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, returning as chair.
But the panel will have a new feel, as incoming Vice Chair Sen. William C. “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, will replace Sen. Delores G. Kelley.
Kelley, D-Baltimore County, will leave to chair the Senate Finance Committee.
The Judicial Proceedings Committee will also have an old face in a new place, as incoming Sen. Jill P. Carter joins the panel having served earlier in the House Judiciary Committee.
Carter said she will likely bring to the Senate panel legislation to mandate a presumption of joint custody in child-custody cases, a measure that had died in the House Judiciary Committee when she has sponsored it there.
The Baltimore Democrat said her once and future bill would remedy a longstanding de facto presumption that custody should go to the mother, which has fostered a mistaken public perception that mothers are more important than fathers.
Carter said the bill failed in the House due to the Judiciary Committee’s then leaders, who erroneously believed courts already apply a presumption of joint custody. But judges often determine custody on where the child resides and in most cases that is with the mother, and, by doing so, they marginalize fathers, Carter added.
Carter added the presumption of joint custody can be rebutted with evidence that one parent – the father or the mother — should not have custody.
“We send messages to children … that one parent is more important than the other,” she said. “I want to send a message to society that both parents have equal value in a child’s life.