Howard County League of Women Voters President Grace Kubofcik is feeling more confident that a General Assembly bill making it easier to qualify signatures on referendum petitions will be introduced in January after a meeting with state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chairwoman of the Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
"She clearly understood the issue," Kubofcik said of the Dec. 10 meeting with several statewide and Howard County League leaders in Conway's district office in Northeast Baltimore. "I think legislation is coming."
Conway said she will likely have a reform bill drafted, but she's waiting for Howard County Circuit Judge Timothy J. McCrone to rule on a legal challenge to current law on the issue before submitting any legislation. If he upholds current state law, as is expected, she'll likely submit a bill, she said.
"We really feel that something needs to be done," she said, referring to herself and the committee's vice chairman, state Sen. Roy Dyson. "I think we really need to change the law."
League officials want the enforcement of state law to return to past practice, enabling a person who signs a petition to have that signature counted if authorities are reasonably certain of the person's identity, even if the signature doesn't exactly match the one on state voter rolls.
The law, as interpreted by the Maryland Court of Appeals in a December 2008 decision, requires an exact match, and also requires the signature to match the person's printed name on the petition, or include the person's first and last names and middle initial accompanied by the date and home address as shown on voter rolls. That decision led to the scrapping of a drive to place zoning approval for a large supermarket at Turf Valley on the 2010 ballot.
Emergency legislation to ease the signature validation process offered in late March by state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer died in committee, but Kubofcik is hopeful Conway will back a bill this session, and the earlier in the session the better, she said. She does not expect any new legislation to be retroactive, she said.
Everyone gets a turn
The annual exercise in musical chairs, in which the four Democrats on the Howard County Council switch leadership positions, isn't typically motivated by politics - except for the majority party's dominance in making the decisions.
The council chairman's job is more of an administrative burden than an ego boost for whoever gets it and the extra $1,000 that goes with the job, and any political advantage is highly suspect.
After all, in December 2005, Republican Christopher B. Merdon, the GOP candidate for county executive, managed to become chairman by wooing Democrat David Rakes to join the council's two Republicans. Merdon lost the county executive race to then-Councilman Ken Ulman, a Democrat.
This year, the annual rotation of posts changed course as Vice Chairwoman Jen Terrasa moved to head the zoning board a second time instead of taking her turn as the body's leader.
The zoning board is "an area of great interest to me," Terrasa said, noting that she had served previously on the county planning board. Terrasa, a lawyer and mother of three young children, said she feels comfortable dealing with zoning issues.
Mary Kay Sigaty, who represents town center in Columbia, said she wants to keep concentrating on the huge redevelopment plan even after a scheduled council vote on the rezoning Feb. 1.
"I'm tired," Sigaty said of her year as chairwoman, spent organizing the council's move into temporary quarters and shaping and monitoring the debate over rezoning central Columbia.
Calvin Ball now commutes daily to work at Towson University, so he took the lower-profile liquor board post, which left Courtney Watson, whose administrative skills will be welcome as the council moves back to a renovated George Howard building from Columbia later this year, and as the political campaigns rev up after what promises to be a very difficult budget deliberation.
"It comes easy to me, running meetings," Watson said. "I'm happy to do it." Sigaty said there was another factor, too.
"The reason she ended up being chairman is because she has the time to do it," Sigaty said about Watson. "I have this Columbia project," which has kept her in late-night planning board and council meetings for months. Even after the zoning is done, there are scores of important aspects of the plan to follow, from feasibility studies to design guidelines.
Three-year liquor board Chairman Greg Fox, the only Republican, was removed from leadership. He abstained on all the leadership votes Dec. 7 because, he said, he was left out of the discussion, not because he didn't retain a chairmanship.
"I recognize that as the majority that it is their right to exclude me," he said. "I'm just hoping this is not shades of things to come since it is an election year. Despite our political differences at times, we have been a very collegial group."
Watson agreed, noting that with only three chairmanships available per year, not every member can be chairman of something every year.
"This council has been very cooperative despite party affiliations, which is the way it should be," she said.