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General Assembly should go into special session to address election, police brutality and other issues | COMMENTARY

The Maryland Senate worked to pass necessary bills before the last day of the session on Wednesday Mar 18. The session was cut short in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Maryland Senate worked to pass necessary bills before the last day of the session on Wednesday Mar 18. The session was cut short in light of the coronavirus pandemic. (Kenneth K. Lam)

The Maryland General Assembly must reconvene for a special session to address the COVID-19 pandemic, police brutality and the 2020 general election.

My Democratic colleagues and I have sent letter after letter to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, pleading for him to take immediate action on police brutality, to extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and to send mail-in ballots to every registered voter without requiring they first request the ballot. To date, none of these requests have been met.

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Under the Maryland Constitution, the governor has the power to call a special session, and, if he does not do so on his own, he can be required to do so by a petition of the majority of the members of each chamber of the state legislature. With that in mind, a couple of weeks ago, I circulated such a petition to my colleagues.

In Annapolis, the Democratic Party holds veto-proof super majorities in both chambers, legislation can be passed without a single Republican vote, and even our Republican governor’s vetoes can be overridden with relative ease. It is a tragedy that during an international pandemic, when advocates say as many as 330,000 Marylanders could be at risk of being evicted by the end of the year, and after our governor has decided to put every election worker and in-person voter at risk to being infected by COVID-19, we are still allowing him to wield authority granted to him due to the General Assembly not being in session.

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Governor Hogan has not issued executive orders on police brutality and transparency that 99 House Democrats signed onto. Governor Hogan has directed $30 million dollars to go toward providing eviction relief, while advocates have called for four times that amount, and Baltimore City alone has set aside $13 million dollars for city renters. Most recently, Governor Hogan announced that elections would be held largely in person and added a requirement that mail-in ballots be requested unlike the recently held primary which sent every registered voter a ballot.

If the General Assembly reconvened, we wouldn’t have to cross our fingers hoping that a wealthy real estate developer extends the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until January. We could do that ourselves. We wouldn’t have to beg our governor, who has never demonstrated any interest in or commitment to addressing police brutality, to make common sense policing reforms like banning chokeholds and shooting at vehicles. We could enact such reforms and more ourselves. We would be able to make the general election completely vote by mail, or allow for a hybrid system more similar to our recent primary election. Instead we are allowing Governor Hogan to march droves of older voters and election workers into indoor polling precincts when we know COVID-19 thrives indoors and is more lethal with older individuals.

But instead of Democrats using our constitutionally granted authority, we are ceding our responsibility given by the people of Maryland back to the first Republican Governor to be reelected in decades.

Several state legislatures have found ways to work throughout the pandemic, including California; Hawaii; Michigan; Pennsylvania; Vermont; New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Rhode Island; Massachusetts; the Carolinas; Mississippi and New York. Some legislative bodies follow safety precautions more extensively than others. Some are even legislating remotely. But they have all been actively working to address these crises.

The longer we wait to take legislative action on these issues, the question will only get louder: Where’s the Maryland General Assembly?

Del. Julian Ivey (Julian.ivey@house.state.md.us) is a Democrat representing District 47-A in the Maryland General Assembly.

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