All three state senators representing Carroll County in the Maryland General Assembly have been assigned to a Senate committee tasked with reviewing legislation relating to legal matters.
Incumbent state Sens. Justin Ready, R-District 5, and Michael Hough, R-District 4, were reassigned to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee after serving on it over their last terms.
State Sen. Katie Fry Hester, D-District 9, which covers Howard County and a small sliver of southern Carroll, narrowly unseated incumbent Republican Gail Bates in the November mid-term election. While her predecessor served on the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Hester was assigned to the judicial committee.
“It’s a committee that deals directly with some of the most difficult and hot-button issues that our state faces,” Ready said. “For four years I’ve been able have a front row seat to hear a lot of people’s stories about how the criminal justice system, how our laws impact them.”
Ready won with more than 70 percent of the vote against Democratic challenger Jaime O’Marr in the November election. Hough, whose district encompasses parts of Frederick and Carroll counties, defeated Democratic challenger Jessica Douglass with almost 60 percent of the vote.
Maryland’s 188 lawmakers go back to work Jan. 9 for their annual 90-day General Assembly session. Top issues include money for schools, legalizing sports betting and raising the minimum hourly wage in the state to $15.
“Over the last four years we did a lot of work on criminal justice reform,” Ready said. “Both trying to find ways to give non-violent drug offenders alternatives to jail, but increase penalties on violent offenders, violent criminals that are committing violent crime. Obviously there are certain areas of our state where violent crime is out of control. We need to do more to address that.”
Going forward, Ready said, the committee will be tasked with addressing the law enforcement side of the ever-evolving opioid crisis, continuing criminal justice reform and Second Amendment issues.
“We had some laws that got passed the past couple years that need to be, I think people in my district would like to see them repealed and I would generally agree with that, but certainly it’s difficult to do that in the current makeup of the General Assembly,” Ready said. “How do we deal with gun violence and violent criminals that use guns, but expand freedom so law-abiding citizens can practice their Second Amendment rights.”
The incumbent Republicans will go back to work in the committee that reviews legislation concerning criminal and civil law, correctional facilities, juvenile justice and landlord-tenant law, among many other legal arenas. The committee is chaired by state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County.
Ready and Hough will return Wednesday, Jan. 9, to begin the 90-day legislative session. While they will see some familiar faces — including Zirkin, newly appointed Vice Chair Will Smith, D-Montgomery County, state Sens. Bob Cassilly, R-Howard County, and Susan Lee, D-Montgomery County — they will also have to work with at least five newly elected senators, only one of whom is Republican.
“After four years you kind of get an idea what each of the 11 members thinks is important and you kind of get a sense of how they’re going to go on certain issues, not always of course,” Ready said, adding that with new members come new perspectives and professional backgrounds.
“But with new members it’s a little bit like, ‘Hey, they’re hearing these issues for the first time, what’s their orientation, how are they going to look at it?’ So it’s a very exciting prospect.”
Hough said he’s familiar with a few of the new members — including state Sens. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, and Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery — from their time years ago serving together as state delegates on the House Judiciary Committee. Those new senators aren’t green as it relates to lawmaking and have experience on the House counterpart of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“My hope is that the dynamics of the committee remain similar to what they were in that our committee was known for not putting bad work products out on the [Senate] floor,” Hough said. “We didn’t put a lot of controversial items out on the floor and we didn’t put bad work products out there. While a lot of these bills get a lot of reforms, we had basically worked it out and come to a consensus on it, so we made it for pretty smooth sailing when it got out to the floor.”
Good work products are critical for a committee that handles legislation impacting people’s freedom.