The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Monday night to a measure that would create special elections to fill legislative vacancies ― in a year where nine new members will enter the House and Senate chambers by appointment.
The Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee last week unanimously approved Senate Bill 10, sending it to the chamber floor.
The only amendment there was to add five cosponsors: Sens. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard), Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), Justin Ready (R-Carroll) and Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County). Ready was initially appointed to his Senate seat in 2015 and has since won re-election. Sydnor was appointed to his seat this session.
The proposed constitutional amendment would require legislative vacancies that occur at least 21 days before a presidential election filing deadline to be filled by a special election. An appointed person would still serve in the position until the election, but a special primary and special general election for the legislative vacancy would happen at the same time as the presidential election.
If a vacancy occurs in the second half of a legislator’s term, the position would be filled by the current appointment process until the next regular election.
Proponents of the change say the number of vacancies in the House and Senate chambers this year ― and controversies when it comes to filling the positions ― highlighted the need for a change.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of situations recently where a bill like this would have helped with better accountability from our legislators,” said Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), who sponsored the bill with Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick). “I think it was recognized as a simple measure that will be able to increase accountability and make appointed legislators more responsive to their constituents.”
Lam said he thinks the bill is likely to receive final passage on the Senate floor later this week.
“I think there was a general recognition that we need to be accountable to our voters, regardless of what party we’re coming from. Increasing accountability back to our voters is not a partisan issue,” he said.
Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery), who has advocated for the change to special elections for years, said Monday night that he was “astonished, frankly” at the speed with which the measure moved through the Senate.
“It’s quite a bold statement,” he said, attributing it to an openness to “sensible reforms” among new leaders in the chamber.
“I hope that’s a sign for where the House is headed, too,” Moon said.
The House bill will be heard by the Ways and Means Committee this Wednesday. That measure is also bipartisan with Del. Kevin B. Hornberger (R-Cecil) as a chief cosponsor.