Week 6 – Protecting Individual Rights to Marry and Vote

After a favorable vote in the joint committee of jurisdiction, Marriage Equality legislation came to the floor of the House today in a heated debate.  My staff and I have received and responded to hundreds of emails, letters, and phone calls from engaged constituents on both sides of the issue.  The civil, respectful debate among most participants statewide is a great example of how our democracy works.  I appreciate the level of engagement in this important debate.  I have considered all perspectives; nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that providing equal protection under law for all Marylanders harms those opposed to same sex marriage.  This legislation does not compel religious organizations to perform same sex marriages, but it does give people in committed relationships the predictability of knowing the rights and protections they are guaranteed regardless of their sexual orientation.  The beauty of a free democracy is our ability to disapprove of our neighbors’ choices and, meanwhile, each enjoy an equal opportunity to pursue peace and happiness.  This Report has been sent before our long debate concludes and the final vote is taken in the House, but it is sure to be a very close vote!

As of the deadline for guaranteed bill hearings, only about 1,350 bills were introduced in the House—a surprisingly low number compared to the average of 2,300 to 2,500.  Despite this small number, my colleagues and I are faced with many challenges this year.  Unsurprisingly, the Election Law Subcommittee, which I chair is keeping very busy.  Due to the thoughtful efforts of the Commission to Study Campaign Finance Law, six bills recommended by the Commission to protect voters and the electoral process have been introduced, five of them with bipartisan support.  Furthermore, Delegates Sandy Rosenberg (D), Nic Kipke (R), and I have sponsored the Voter’s Rights Protection Act, HB 314, which would proactively protect voters from voter suppression and intimidation.  Specifically, the bill authorizes the Attorney General to obtain a court order to prohibit individuals from engaging in specified violations of election law.  The bill was reviewed by the Ways and Means Committee last week.  Once again, the House will pass this bill.  I hope the Senate will finally see our wisdom and follow suit.

On Wednesday, my Subcommittee also heard three and a half hours of testimony on HB 113, which would impose more stringent voter identification requirements.  Similar legislative efforts across the country have been much discussed and closely scrutinized in the national media.  I am convinced that placing overly restrictive limitations on the electoral process is not in any way productive, but instead only serves to suppress voting among certain populations.  Nevertheless, I listened carefully to all arguments during Wednesday’s hearing and remained engaged in the discussion to ensure the debate was intellectually honest and constructive.

This week, the Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on my Public Funding Act, HB 195.  This bill would implement a voluntary public financing system for General Assembly Elections to combat the dangerous rise in campaign spending and the impacts of Citizens United, which allowed tens of millions of dollars of special interest money to flow to campaigns through unchecked ”Super PACs.”  My bill to employ veterans in healthcare workforce shortage areas, HB 532, will be reviewed by the Committee this Wednesday.  I am hopeful the Committee will recognize the merit of my proposal, a low-cost solution to Maryland’s growing healthcare workforce shortage.

As many of you know, I am a big animal lover and try to be an advocate here in Annapolis as well.  This session we will see many pieces of legislation to enhance animal welfare and protection, from requiring pet store owners to disclose the details of how they acquire their pets, to assigning the costs of caring for abused animals to those convicted of animal cruelty.  I am a strong supporter of these and other similar bills and will continue to advocate on behalf of these issues.

The 15th Annual Maryland State Bicycle Symposium is to be held February 22nd from 8:30am to 4:30pm in the Senate Building.  I look forward to kicking off the event with an opening statement before various speakers and enthusiasts take the floor.  I continue to advocate for legislation that promotes bicycle and pedestrian safety and needed infrastructure.  My two bills on this subject should be assigned hearings very soon.

Finally, thank you to everyone for their well-wishes and the wonderful showing of support for my family and newborn daughter.  I also thank the many organizations who visited my office this week, including the Maryland School for the Blind, the nursing and pharmacy students, the Maryland Association for Justice, and others.

Jon S. Cardin