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Sen. Smith on Looming Deployment: ‘Obviously, the Session Makes it Complicated’

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) is the lead Senate sponsor of aid-in-dying legislation. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

A Maryland lawmaker widely considered to be a rising star spent Wednesday receiving both birthday greetings and expressions of support after announcing that he is being deployed to Afghanistan.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve, will report for duty on March 29. He will take part in combat training at Ft. Jackson, S.C., before deploying overseas.

The seven-month stint will take him away from his family — Annapolis lobbyist Camille Fesche and the couple’s 10-month-old daughter, Jacqueline — and it’ll force him to miss the final 10 days of this year’s legislative session, a hectic time when the fate of hundreds of bills will be decided.

“Obviously, the session makes it complicated because of the tight legislative schedule,” he said. “A lot of the works gets done in those final weeks. … It’s like three-dimensional chess.”

The newly-appointed vice-chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Smith is the primary sponsor of 37 bills this session, and he has cosponsored approximately 100.

He said committee chairmen and the legislature’s presiding officers have offered to move up his bills as a courtesy, where they can, so that hearings and votes occur before he deploys.

He is also working with like-minded colleagues in the House of Delegates. “For every major piece of legislation, I have a cross-file,” he said. “So the fate is not entirely in the Senate’s hands.”

Among Smith’s legislative priorities this year:

The End of Life Act, which would give people with terminal illnesses the ability to work with doctors to put an end to pain and suffering;

A measure that bans correctional officers from holding an individual without charges at the request of federal immigration officials;

The Veterans Suicide Prevention Act;

— A proposal to legalize cannabis (that he concedes isn’t moving this year, pending the work of a House-Senate study group);

— A proposal to clear the backlog of rape kits; and

A bill that would create a third category, other than “male” and “female,” on Maryland drivers’ licenses and ID cards, for people who have non-binary identity.

“District 20 expects you to push a lot of things,” the Silver Spring/Takoma Park lawmaker said of his lengthy list of bills.

A Silver Spring native who turned 37 on Wednesday, Smith attended the College of William & Mary as an undergraduate and for law school, and also earned a master’s degree in politics from Johns Hopkins University.

Smith decided to join the military as a college sophomore in 2001, while watching the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on television – though his mother insisted he graduate before enlisting.

He declined to talk about the nature of his assignment in Afghanistan or whether he will be deployed to an unstable area.

Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), who entered the legislature at the same time as Smith and attended his wedding, said their colleagues will be praying for his safe return.

“He’s young, a rising star, but he’s also a husband and a father,” McCray said. “The first thought is, you keep him, his family, his young child in your prayers.”

In a post on twitter, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) expressed the same sentiment.

“Our prayers and full support go to Senator Will Smith and his family as he readies for deployment to Afghanistan at the end of next month,” he said.

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Sen. Smith on Looming Deployment: ‘Obviously, the Session Makes it Complicated’