One bill garnered a lot of attention as it supporters fought through staunch opposition to get the final votes needed for passage. The other received little mention after its release and glided its way into law without legislators ever taking a vote.
The two bills — one legalizing same-sex marriage and one redrawing state legislative district boundaries — marked the General Assembly's major accomplishments as state lawmakers reached the midway point of the 2012 legislative session Feb. 24. The legislature still has many issues to tackle before the 90-day session ends April 9.
The same-sex marriage bill passed the Senate Feb. 23 in a 25-22 vote; all three Howard senators supported the measure. The bill had narrowly passed the House of Delegates in a 72-67 vote Feb. 17.
Sen. Allan Kittleman, a West Friendship Republican, was the only Republican state senator to give the bill his approval; GOP Dels. Robert Costa, of Anne Arundel County; and Wade Kach, of Baltimore County, also supported the bill.
Kittleman said he believes marriage equality "is the civil rights issue of our generation" and that creating equal protections for same-sex couples under the law "was the right thing to do.
"I never once second-guessed my decision," he said.
Because Kittleman represents the more conservative part of Howard County, it's no surprise his position on same-sex marriage has not pleased all of his constituents.
"I've certainly had people, as recently as this past Saturday, say they're going to work hard against me" in the next election, Kittleman said.
District 9A Dels. Warren Miller, a Woodbine Republican; and Gail Bates, a West Friendship Republican, both voted against the same-sex marriage bill. The only other Howard legislator to vote against the bill was District 12A Del. Steven DeBoy, a Halethorpe Democrat.
Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the same-sex marriage bill into law March 1, but it is not slated to take effect until Jan. 1, 2013. Opponents are already pushing a referendum petition and are expected to collect enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot in November.
A bill setting the boundaries of the state legislative districts for the next decade became law Feb. 24. Though the legislature never voted on the redistricting plan, which was introduced by O'Malley at the beginning of the session, state law says the governor's plan becomes law if the General Assembly has not adopted a plan by the 45th day of session.
The new legislative boundaries, which will go into effect for the 2014 elections, create an additional delegate seat for Howard County in District 9, which is currently split into two subdistricts — District 9A in Howard and District 9B in Carroll County.
The new boundaries move the one-delegate District 9B from Carroll County out to Ellicott City. The two-delegate District 9A picks up a small part of Carroll County but still covers most of western Howard County, where it extends through part of western Ellicott City and picks up parts of Clarksville, Highland and Fulton along the Montgomery County border.
No incumbents live in the new District 9B. Thus, the seat is up for grabs in 2014, and both political parties are eyeing it.
"I think the Democrats have an excellent opportunity to pick up an additional delegate in the county," Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Mike McPherson said. "Who that is, I don't know yet. I haven't given any thought to it. Although, I have had some inquiries."
McPherson declined to say who had inquired about the 9B seat. He also noted that 9A "is not totally out of the question either" in terms of Democrats picking up a seat or two.
Howard County Republican Party Chairwoman Loretta Shields said the GOP sees the 9B seat as a good opportunity for the county to gain a third Republican delegate. Asked who she thinks would be interested in running for that seat, she said "it's too early to have that kind of conversation."
Because of the redistricting changes, District 13 lost population to District 9 along the Montgomery County border. Other than that, changes made to the district were minor.
District 12 looks largely the same — stretching from west Columbia across to the southwestern part of Baltimore County — with minor shifts along its borders that will mean the majority of the district's population is in Howard County instead of Baltimore County, as it is now.
The new redistricting map eliminates the District 12 subdistricts, making the campaigning area much larger for Columbia Democrat Del. Liz Bobo, who currently represents District 12B; and Halethorpe Democrats Dels. James Malone and Steven DeBoy, who currently represent District 12A.
Shields said District 12 could also provide an opportunity for a Republican to pick up a seat.
"You have a lot of conservatives on what was the 12A" side of the district, she explained.
Overall, Shields said the state redistricting plan for Republicans "was terrible statewide, but in Howard County, it's not that bad."