Despite dozens of protests that have drawn large, diverse crowds across the state, a Maryland lawmaker’s effort to generate support for a special session, to tackle police reform, has generated scant interest.
Del. Julian Ivey (D-Prince George’s) contacted all 187 of his House of Delegates and state Senate colleagues on Friday, urging them to sign a petition to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).
In the letter, Ivey called police brutality “an extraordinary national crisis” that deserves “a prompt legislative response.”
Residents “simply cannot wait seven months,” he added, a reference to the General Assembly’s annual session that begins each year in January.
Instead, he urged an emergency session no later than July 31 to approve police reform and override the governor’s veto of a measure designed to settle a lawsuit involving the state’s historically black colleges and universities.
As of Monday, Ivey said had heard from several colleagues who expressed solidarity with his cause, but he conceded that few were willing to sign the petition.
Senior lawmakers said a special session poses several challenges:
— Police use-of-force issues are complicated and require hearings, research and careful drafting
“We’re still refining and collecting information and hearing from stakeholders,” said Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and a sponsor of police reform legislation.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. If you were to call a session soon, I’m not sure a lot of that work would be completed,” he added.
Another chairman who supports police reform, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), said any bill the legislature considers must be “thoughtful.”
“I don’t know if the House and the Senate committees have a bill down,” said Pinsky, head of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs panel.
“If everyone is almost to the goal line, that’s another story. But if a lot of it has to be hashed out, do you want everyone else, on the other committees, to sit around for three days or five days or two weeks? I don’t know.”
— The legislature, which ended its 2020 session early due to the COVID-19 crisis, lacks a legally-recognized plan for meeting remotely.
Other state legislatures, including Virginia’s, have held meetings in non-traditional venues to give legislators, staff, the public and journalists more opportunity to practice social distancing.
While the presiding officers of Maryland’s Assembly have begun conversations about off-site or virtual meetings, they have yet to adopt an official policy.
Del. Ronald L. Watson (D-Prince George’s) has asked Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) to conduct research on whether meetings away from the State House would be legal.
— If lawmakers come back in special session, they have to be prepared to tackle all the bills that Gov. Hogan vetoed in May.
Hogan vetoed a number of high-profile measures in May, citing the downturn in the economy.
If the legislature wants to override Hogan’s rejections of their bills, they must do so the next time they convene. A rushed special session would not be the ideal time to do that, senior lawmakers said, particularly because the extent of the epidemic’s impact on the economy isn’t fully clear.
“We have to protect the safety of the legislators, staff and the public,” said Pinsky. “You don’t come back for a special session unless you have close to a final product, and I am not convinced we do on police reform. And it could throw overrides into some jeopardy. So I think more conversation has to go in before calling for it.”
Smith and Pinsky both noted that Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and others have called on Hogan to use his executive authority to order police reforms.
Congress is debating several such proposals, included a ban on the use of choke holds and restrictions on no-knock warrants.
Del. Julian Ivey recognizes that in petitioning the governor to call a special session, he’s bypassing House leadership.
The son of former Prince George’s County prosecutor Glenn F. Ivey and County Council member (and former delegate) Jolene Ivey, he told Maryland Matters that he got into politics because of police “mistreating me when I was a freshman at the University of Maryland.”
The first-term lawmaker — now vice-chairman of the Prince George’s House delegation — said state troopers surrounded him “with their hands on their guns” on his first day of class.
“We have to use this moment that we’re in to do what should have been done years ago,” he said, a reference to the ongoing protests triggered by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
“I don’t want to wait for any more people to be harmed by law enforcement officers.”