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New House Judiciary chair declares no-passing zone

Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. (File Photo)

Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. (File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS – The House Judiciary Committee’s first new chair in a quarter century told the panel’s members Thursday that they shalt not “pass” when it is their turn to vote on legislation and that witnesses testifying on legislation must sign in with the committee at least 30 minutes before the bill hearing or forever hold their peace.

Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore City, said committee members who pass on the first round of voting will be recorded as having abstained on the legislation. In addition, members who are not present when it is their turn to vote will be regarded as having been absent.

Clippinger’s no-pass rule stands in contrast to former Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., who during his 25-year reign as chair permitted members to pass on the first round of voting and then let them cast their vote at the end. That practice enabled members to know whether their vote would significantly affect the bill’s fate.

“If you pass, you are abstaining, or considered absent if you are not in the room,” Clippinger said at the committee’s organizational meeting on the second day of the General Assembly’s 90-day session.

Clippinger, in another break with Vallario, also said he will not permit witnesses to testify at the 1 p.m. public hearings if they have not signed in by 12:30 p.m.

The electronic sign-in sheet generally closes as 12:30, but Vallario – who lost in the Democratic primary last year — had often permitted those who did not sign in to testify nevertheless, which often added to the length of bill hearings.

“We won’t be having an open free-for-all,” Clippinger told the committee.

In a change likely to be welcomed by lobbyists and others testifying on legislation, Clippinger said he will remove the mystery of the order in which scheduled bills will be heard during public hearings. The order will be posted by 12:30 p.m., a half hour before the hearing starts, he added.

This advance listing contrasts with the general practice of committee chairs in which the order is not announced before the hearings begin.

Clippinger also said he will make an effort to ensure that committee members are informed of the bills to be voted on in conference well in advance of their voting session, so that members are prepared and can have amendments drafted and distributed.

This plan for prior notice was welcomed by Del. Susan K. McComas, R-Harford, a longtime committee member who said Vallario, D-Prince George’s, gave little warning.

“I’m not used to that” much notice, McComas said. “I’m used to it being a surprise.”

Of the committee’s 22 members, 11 are brand new, not only to the panel but to the General Assembly this year.

“It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be challenging,” Clippinger told the members of the committee’s work this session. “I think we will work very well together.”

‘It was legislative malfeasance not to pass it last year,’ Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin says of cyberbullying legislation. (File Photo)

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County. (File Photo)

In contrast to the rookie Clippinger, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin has begun his fifth session as chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where the members have changed but not the panel’s practice in conducting public hearings and voting conferences.

Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, told the 11-member panel at its first public meeting Thursday that it conducts its business “without any thought about partisanship.”

Committee members noted the panel’s bipartisan work on the landmark 2016 Justice Reinvestment Act that changed the way Maryland’s criminal justice system treats nonviolent offenders from a tool of punishment to a gateway to treatment.

“We really work hard and dig in to get it right,” Zirkin told the Senate panel.

In addition to Clippinger and McComas, the members of the House Judiciary Committee who are returning delegates are Vanessa E. Atterbeary, D-Howard and the panel’s new vice chair; Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City; Jon S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County; Frank M. Conaway Jr., D-Baltimore City; Robin L. Grammer Jr., R-Baltimore County; Jazz Lewis, D-Prince George’s; Michael E. Malone, R-Anne Arundel; David Moon, D-Montgomery; and Charles E. Sydnor III, D-Baltimore County.

First-year delegates on the House panel are Lauren Arikan, R-Baltimore and Harford counties; J. Sandy Bartlett, D-Anne Arundel; Dan Cox, R-Frederick and Carroll; Charlotte Crutchfield, D-Montgomery; Debra Davis, D-Charles; Wanika Fisher, D-Prince George’s; Wayne A. Hartman, R-Wicomico and Worcester; Lesley J. Lopez, D-Montgomery; Jesse T. Pippy, R-Frederick and Carroll; Emily Shetty, D-Montgomery, and Ron Watson, D-Prince George’s.

Besides Zirkin, returning members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee are Sens. William C. “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery, the panel’s new vice chair; Robert Cassilly, R-Harford; Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll; Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery; and Justin Ready, R-Carroll.

The Senate panel’s five new members, all first-year senators, are Jill P. Carter, D-Baltimore City; Katie Fry Hester, D-Carroll and Howard; Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery; Mary Washington, D-Baltimore City; and Chris West, R-Baltimore County.

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