The Maryland General Assembly convened for a special session Monday with the main agenda to vote on boundaries for the state’s eight congressional districts.
Besides dealing with a process done every 10 years to assess changes in population based on U.S. census data, the legislature may also use part of the week to override more than a dozen bills Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed this year.
Del. Nicole Williams (D-District 22) of Greenbelt appreciates being part of the special session that includes selecting a new state treasurer. Nancy Kopp plans to retire at the end of the month and Del. Dereck Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville expressed interest in the position.
“That I am excited about,” she said. “It’s great to have someone from Prince George’s County in a statewide office.”
The major item of redistricting received approval Tuesday, Dec. 7 in the House of Delegates by a 97-42 vote, mainly along party lines.
Republicans pushed for their Democratic colleagues to change their minds but to no avail.
Del. Robin Grammer (R-Baltimore County) opposed the map using this description: “My bowel movements are more compact and contiguous than these districts.”
House Speaker Adrienne Jones issued a warning for Grammer to avoid distractions from interrupting the debate.
The Senate must also review the map that proposes to stretch across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge into portions of Democratic neighborhoods in Anne Arundel County. The district currently runs north and south with a heavy GOP influence along the Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties.
The map created by a Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee would shift Maryland’s state capital of Annapolis in Anne Arundel into the 4th Congressional district, which remains an open seat because Rep. Anthony Brown will seek the office of Maryland attorney general. The population data shows the district that includes Prince George’s County would house the state’s largest Black population with 419,596 out of the total 733,616 residents.
Democrats represent seven of the eight districts. Rep. Andy Harris, who represents the first congressional district along the Eastern Shore and a Donald Trump supporter, serves as the only GOP member from Maryland on Capitol Hill.
Another map created by a Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a non-partisan group appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, allows a possible district to receive competition for possibly a second Republican elected to Congress.
Nathan Persily, a law professor at Stanford University in California who helped the nine-member, non-partisan commission, praised the group’s work during Monday’s more than two hour committee session.
“This really was a blessing that Republicans and Democrats and Independents could come together in what can sometimes be a contentious process and come to a consensus [on a] redistricting plan,” he said.
The new congressional districts may receive full approval from both the House and Senate chambers by the end of the week.
Legislators also convened to override vetoes Hogan made earlier this year.
One major bill members in both chambers voted to override focused on removing the governor’s role in blocking the state Parole Commission’s decision to grant a person parole serving a life sentence. The Senate voted 31-16 on Monday and the House 96-42 on Tuesday.
The votes allow for at least six of the 10 commissioners, all appointed by the governor, to determine “whether an inmate is suitable for parole.”
The law, which would take effect next month, extends a person’s eligibility for parole from 15 to 20 years.
Before Tuesday’s vote, Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles County) said Maryland served as one of three states in the nation that involved the governor in the parole process.
“That’s adding a political element to the process that serves no practical good,” she said before voting to override the governor’s veto.
Some Republican lawmakers such as Robert Cassilly of Harford County said families of victims will not matter.
“This has nothing to do with racial equality or justice,” he said about the bill. “This is an abomination.”
Walter Lomax, executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative who attended the Senate session with more than a dozen criminal justice advocates, smiled and hugged each other after the vote.
“The politicians that voted for it really understood this issue exactly for what it is,” said Lomax, who was released from prison in 2006 after he served nearly four decades for a crime he didn’t commit.
“We never advocated for everybody to be released from prison. We’ve only advocated that they be given a meaningful opportunity to receive parole. If they earn it, they get it. If they don’t earn it, then they don’t get it,” he said.
The governor has stood by his reasoning in making a decision that hasn’t been based on politics but he said on the oversight process.
Sen. President Pro Tem Melony Griffith (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro said the special session “will be a jam-packed week” but also a “positive experience” in the Senate chamber with the removal of the seven-foot plexiglass that separated each senator last year.
“The last time we were all in the chamber the circumstances were different because we were at a different place in the pandemic,” she said. “I look forward to a productive week and then a short break before we return in January for our full 90-day session.”