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Senator's second bite at veto apple called legal

When the House of Delegates voted to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of a bill to speed restoration of felons' voting rights last month, Del. Craig Zucker of Montgomery County cast one of the 85 votes needed.

When the same bill comes up in the state Senate this week, Zucker — sworn in as a senator last week — is expected to provide the decisive 29th vote to make the bill law.

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The Republican minority in the Senate wondered whether it would be legal for Zucker to cast that vote. So they asked the attorney general's office.

The answer: a qualified yes.

The Maryland Constitution says it is up to the party of the departing lawmaker to determine who fills a vacancy in the General Assembly. When ailing Democratic Sen. Karen Montgomery retired, her party chose Zucker, a state delegate.

Sandra B. Brantley, counsel to the legislature, said it's up to the Senate to determine if Zucker is eligible to vote on the veto override. Democrats outnumber Republicans 32-15 in that chamber.

She added one caveat, saying that a single legislator voting twice on the same matter "creates an overlap between the two houses" that is in tension with the state constitution's requirement that the two branches be "distinct."

However, she said, "the more reasonable and persuasive view" is that the new senator is qualified to vote. Otherwise, she said, the district would lose representation.

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings of Baltimore County said he respects Zucker but plans to raise the issue during debate.

"You've got one person who's had two bites at the apple," he said.

A three-fifths vote of both houses of the legislature is required to overturn the governor's veto.

—Michael Dresser

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