The Maryland Senate voted to overturn Republican Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto on a bill that removes the governor’s office from parole decisions.
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The Maryland Senate voted to overturn Republican Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto on a bill that removes the governor’s office from parole decisions. The measure will become law if the veto is also overturned in the House of Delegates, where it is likely to be debated on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 202, championed by Senator Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), places parole decisions in the hands of the state’s 10-person parole board.
Parole board members are appointed by the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and approved for six-year terms by the governor.
Lawyers say reform is necessary to avoid potential political pressures that could arise by requiring the governor’s involvement in the process.
By law, people serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole become eligible for release after serving the equivalent of 20 years, which represents a reduction in credits. At least six members of the commission must vote in favor of their release.
“… I want us to understand that we are talking about the end of the process: these are cases that have already been argued before a tribunal, a jury [or] a judge made a decision on a sentence and now they are serving a sentence and it is up to the parole board to decide whether or not it is in the… well-being of our community that this person be released ”, Sen Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) said from the Senate. “And if that decision is no, they will not recommend their release.”
Those who were convicted of a crime committed before October 1, 2021, become eligible after serving the equivalent of 15 years.
Hogan’s veto was overturned in the Senate by a 31-16 margin.
Maryland is one of only three states to require the governor to give final approval to parole recommendations.
Senate Republicans have argued that current Maryland law is already sufficiently progressive, noting that parole policies for first degree murder convictions are stricter in other states.
“… When we say that a lot of states don’t allow this, we’re not just talking about some of the states that might come to mind: conservative states, the rust belt, southern states. Senate Minority Whip Justin D. Ready (R- Carroll) said from the audience. “We’re talking about states like New York and Minnesota that don’t even allow the possibility of parole for premeditated first degree murder. “
Senator Robert G. Cassilly (R-Harford) said Hogan had done the legislature a “favor” by vetoing the bill, arguing that, in cases where diminishing credits are applied, people could be released in 11 and a half years.
Carter disagreed with Cassilly’s claim that anyone could be released after serving just over a decade, saying anyone eligible for release under the bill would be required to serve at least 17 and a half years.
Carter also said it was rare for someone to be recommended for parole after their first hearing with the board.
Key figures in the fight to remove the governor from the parole process, including criminal justice reform advocate Walter Lomax, watched from the rostrum during the debate.
In an interview ahead of the exemption vote, Lomax said passing this bill finally removes politics from the parole process.
“What this personally means to me is that – at this point, at least – those people who deserve a meaningful opportunity [for release] will at least have that, ”he said.
Gwendolyn Levi, a lawyer with the Maryland Justice Project, cheered after the Senate vote counted.
Levi, who described herself as a “returning citizen” after 16 years of incarceration, said she was thinking of the women she served time with at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.
“It’s a shame because some of them are older, a lot older and just in storage, not even remembering their crime because they are dealing with dementia or other things besides the age drives, ”Levi said.
She was delighted that the Senate had voted in favor of the bill again, as political influence is inevitable if the governor remains a part of the process.
“My question was, because the parole board is doing a full and thorough investigation, what different criteria does the governor use to go against what his appointed board recommended?” Asked Levi. “… If there are no different criteria that the governor uses, and uses it only as a political tool based on today’s title – and not on the lives of the people it it affects – then it should be removed from this process. “
In a floor session that lasted just under two hours, the Senate voted, largely along party lines, to overturn 13 of the Republican governor’s vetoes.
Several of the votes were undertaken without debate, including measures that demand wages in effect on utility projects, encourage the development of clean energy and reform emergency procurement.
But lawmakers debated bills that would change local tax structures and create a collective bargaining process for full-time and part-time employees at all community colleges across the state.
Currently, only Baltimore City Community College and Community College of Baltimore County have bargaining rights for at least some employees, while Montgomery College has bargaining rights for many employees, including faculty.
“Our community colleges are the backbone of each of our communities – the people who work there are our friends, our neighbors … let’s show them the respect and dignity they deserve,” said Senator Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery), the sponsor of Senate Bill 746. He stressed that this bill “would not oblige” but rather “would give the possibility” to the employees to be represented by a bargaining unit. If the employees are happy with their management, then “everything stays as it is,” he said.
However, Ready asserted that the bill would increase tuition fees “for the very people we want to try to keep education affordable – working families, single parents.”
Kramer responded that there is no evidence that student tuition fees increase when collective bargaining for workers is passed.
Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore) said she spoke to the president of Wor-Wic Community College, who said it was a “very bad time for collective bargaining” because the school faces severe labor shortages.
The Senate overturned the veto in a 32-15 vote, depending on party lines.
The vote on the local income tax bill was 30-17. This measure, called the Local Tax Relief for Working Families Act of 2021, would allow local governments to apply county income tax based on a taxpayer’s economic bracket. The change could result in lower local tax rates for lower income residents and higher rates for the richest.
The Senate also proposed to “postpone indefinitely” consideration of a notwithstanding vote on two measures: the Purple Line Marketing Act and a bill to decriminalize the possession of drug-related accessories.
Lawmakers are planning updated legislation to address the plight of small businesses along the purple line construction scar in Montgomery and Prince George counties.
In an interview, Ferguson said the drug paraphernalia vote was pushed back to give more attention to “a really complex problem” and take a holistic approach to overdose prevention. He said lawmakers “must be open” to all policies, including the potential for safe drinking sites in Maryland.
“We really want to make sure it’s done the right way. It’s an important question that we really need to understand, ”Ferguson said. “And we will take it again during our next session [in January 2022]. We just have to get it right.
Carter, who sponsored the bill, called the failure to overturn Hogan’s veto on Senate Bill 420 as “heartbreaking”.
“I’m just going to assume that there were people who were hesitant to vote for this in an election year because of the implications that somehow means you’re like ‘pro-drugs. “or something, which of course we ‘no,” Carter said in an interview after the ground session on Monday. “It’s about saving lives.
It plans to reintroduce the measure in 2022.
Ferguson said the Senate override votes had central themes: “Protecting Maryland’s middle class, ensuring we have a more fair and transparent justice system by removing the parole policy and ensuring that that we give a voice to the voiceless, ensuring that we protect those on the margins of society.
The House of Delegates is expected to take the first steps on a series of vetoes of House bills starting Monday evening.