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Advocates Press Ferguson to Bring Drug Paraphernalia Bill Up for Override Vote Despite Senate Rules

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Advocates on Wednesday made another push to bring a bill that would decriminalize drug paraphernalia to the Senate floor for an override vote, but according to parliamentary procedure, that bill won’t be able to be revived during the 2021 special session.

Senate Bill 420, sponsored during the regular 2021 session by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), would legalize possession of hypodermic needles, syringes and other instruments obtained with intent to use controlled dangerous substances. It would also reduce the penalty for possessing drug paraphernalia from a $25,000 fine and up to four years in prison to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) decided to table the bill on Monday as the Senate was addressing Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s vetoes, saying in an interview before the start of the special session that the General Assembly needs more time to give the “very complex issue” the appropriate attention.

“We really want to make sure it’s done the right way. It’s an important issue that we really have to figure out,” Ferguson said Monday morning. “And we’ll take it up again in our coming session [in January 2022]. We just have to get it right.”

According to the Maryland Senate Rules, once a bill has been postponed indefinitely it is no longer debatable and can’t be reconsidered, leaving hopeful stakeholders to wait until next session to see how the fate of Carter’s drug paraphernalia bill plays out.

Carter said Monday that she plans to reintroduce the bill during the 2022 legislative session that begins next month.

Advocates have railed against Ferguson on social media since discussion and a vote on the bill was postponed indefinitely, calling the decision cowardly.

“This bill increases legal access to sterile equipment, reduces the transmission of infectious diseases, and most importantly, lowers the likelihood of overdose,” Rajani Gudlavalleti of the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition said in a statement Wednesday. “Failure to act is a reckless abandonment of the state legislature’s promise to care for those who elected them. And it means we are turning our backs on those who need help the most.”

In a news release Wednesday, the coalition and other reform-minded organizations touted Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier’s support for Senate Bill 420. The moderate Baltimore County Democratic voted in favor of the bill when it hit the Senate floor earlier this year, when the legislation passed 31-16, but became a no vote when the bill returned from the House and passed with a 28-19 vote — a vote short of what’s needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

According to the news release, Klausmeier’s affirmative vote would have been enough to secure an override and would allow the bill to pass on to the House, where it passed with a veto-proof majority during the 2021 regular session.

Klausmeier did not respond to a text message Wednesday asking whether she would support the bill in the upcoming session.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.

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Advocates Press Ferguson to Bring Drug Paraphernalia Bill Up for Override Vote Despite Senate Rules