When the House of Delegates meets Saturday to vote on dozens of pieces of legislation, including whether to decriminalize marijuana, one representative from Anne Arundel County won't be there. He'll be in jail.
Del. Don Dwyer Jr., spends weekends in the county jail in Glen Burnie, serving time for convictions last year on charges of drunken driving and drunken boating. His absence — he checks into jail on Friday evenings and is released on Sunday nights — means the Republican can't vote on matters that are being decided on the final weekend of the 2014 General Assembly session.
"It troubles me to my core that he's absent," said fellow Republican Del. Nic Kipke, the House minority leader. He said Dwyer's constituents have a lesser voice because of his incarceration.
Dwyer declined to comment about his weekend jail time. Already in this 90-day session, the Pasadena delegate missed one Saturday voting session in March, when delegates approved 58 bills. Kipke said he's grateful none of those votes came down to single-digit margins — Dwyer's absence hasn't changed the outcome of any votes thus far in the Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats.
One measure he missed directly affects Arundel — the House voted 131-0 on technical changes about how Anne Arundel and Annapolis collect hotel taxes. Saturday's agenda includes two Anne Arundel-related bills: one to create a new liquor license for wine, beer and liquor tastings in the county and another to change how the salary for the county state's attorney is increased.
Not only can Dwyer not vote while he's in jail, he also can't vote in committees at any time — he was stripped of his assignment on the House Ways and Means Committee at the start of the session by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a fellow Anne Arundel resident.
The jail time and loss of committee position stem from Dwyer's legal troubles. In August 2012, he was involved in a boat crash on the Magothy River that injured several people — including himself. A year later, he was pulled over on Route 100 after a police officer saw him speeding and swerving. Dwyer pleaded guilty to drunken boating and drunken driving, respectively, in those cases. A judge sentenced him to 60 days total in jail on the two charges, to be served over 30 weekends that began in November.
State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, a Pasadena Republican from the same district as Dwyer, said he doesn't condone Dwyer's actions but added that losing the committee assignment amounted to a loss of "fundamental voting rights." Dwyer might have deserved to be censured or expelled, Simonaire said, but if he's in the Assembly, he should have the duty to vote in committees, where the fate of most bills is decided.
"My district has been handicapped because we're missing one-third of the delegate votes," Simonaire said. The district currently includes Pasadena, Brooklyn Park and parts of Glen Burnie and Severna Park. Busch has said he stripped Dwyer of his committee seat "to protect the integrity of the House of Delegates."
Dwyer isn't the only lawmaker to miss time during the 90-day session. Often, one or two of the 141 delegates and 47 senators are absent for reasons ranging from illness to family emergencies. Del. Rudolph Cane, an Eastern Shore Democrat, for instance, is missing the final week of this year's session — he's retiring at the end of the session, but didn't make it to the end because of scheduled surgery.
Dwyer has not been inactive during the session. He's the sole or primary sponsor of six bills, though none is expected to pass. One would have required state officials convicted of drunken driving to serve the same punishment he has: 60 days (or 30 weekends) in jail, counseling, a vehicle ignition lock and three years of supervised probation. That bill was killed in the Judiciary Committee.
He also sponsored a measure to expel members of the legislature convicted of drunken driving, though its passage would not have retroactively applied to him.
While he balances his responsibilities, Dwyer has another task — running for re-election. He has scheduled post-session meet-and-greet events at local libraries, signed up to attend candidate forums and asked Facebook friends if they're willing to post his campaign signs in their yards.
Dwyer was first elected in 2002 and is considered one of the most conservative members of the House, in the past fighting against policies to assist illegal immigrants and to legalize same-sex marriage. He's trying to win re-election in a redrawn District 31B. The district has two seats available. Dwyer, Kipke and six other Republicans have filed to run for those seats in the June 24 primary. Three people are running in the Democratic primary.
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