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BOE seeks dismissal of lawsuit over Hopkins police ballot question

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

A judge could rule by the end of the month on whether a new law allowing Johns Hopkins University to establish a private police force can be subject to a referendum.

The ballot initiative group Women Against Private Police (WAPP) sued the Maryland State Board of Elections earlier this month after the board issued a preliminary determination that the law cannot be put on the ballot because it is an appropriation.

The board on May 8 moved to dismiss the group’s petition for judicial review. That motion will be argued Tuesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, according to a scheduling order. If the petition is not dismissed, the court has scheduled a hearing on the merits for May 28, just days before the first deadline for filing signatures supporting the measure on May 31.

Senate Bill 793 was passed by the legislature on April 1 and signed into law on April 18. It allows the university to create its own police department and was the subject of fierce debate during the 2019 General Assembly session.

WAPP submitted its proposed petition to subject the bill to a referendum to the Board of Elections on April 8, seeking an advance determination about its sufficiency. The group was informed on April 17 that the bill could not be referred to referendum because “legislative spending measures” in the bill made it an appropriations bill. The bill directs the governor to include funds in future budgets for four youth programs.

The Maryland Constitution prohibits rejection or repeal by referendum of a law “making any appropriation for maintaining the State Government, or for maintaining or aiding any public institution, not exceeding the next previous appropriation for the same purpose.”

In its motion to dismiss, the board argues the advance determination, which was later revised, pointed to multiple deficiencies in the format of the petition and those issues were the basis of the conclusion. Whether the bill could be subject to referendum was mentioned under “other considerations” and that portion was rescinded by the revised advance determination.

A final decision about the sufficiency of a petition is not made until it is formally submitted and the board argues the issue is not ripe yet.

“The claims for judicial review seek adjudication of a legal determination that has not formally been issued; the Revised Advance Determination—which replaced and superseded the initial Advance Determination—did not purport to implicate whether the subject matter of the petition may properly be referred to the voters,” the motion states.

WAPP is represented by the ACLU of Maryland and the Public Justice Center.  As of press time Friday, they had yet to file their response to the motion.

The case is Women Against Private Police et al. v. Maryland State Board of Elections et al., C-02-CV-19-001327.


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