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Politics

Veteran Baltimore County, Howard County lawmakers join list of those planning to retire in 2022

Two more veteran lawmakers are opting to retire rather than run for reelection in 2022: Sen. Delores Kelley of Baltimore County and Del. Shane Pendergrass of Howard County.

Both are long-serving Democrats who chair key committees, and their departures will contribute to a significant amount of political turnover in 2022.

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“You have to realize that nothing is forever,” said Kelley, 85, who said she’s been helping her husband with health issues as well as dealing with her own.

“You need to have full attention to the work, and I want to be sure that I don’t in any way impact the productivity that the citizens have a right to expect in the General Assembly,” Kelley said.

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Kelley chairs the Senate’s Finance Committee, which reviews laws regulating businesses, including health insurance companies and utilities.

A former dean at Coppin State University, Kelley has been a member of the General Assembly for more than 30 years. She first won a seat as a state delegate representing a district covering parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County in 1990, then moved to the Senate in the 1994 election representing western Baltimore County.

Maryland state Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, urges her colleagues to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour by 2025 during a debate on Thursday, March 28, 2019 in Annapolis, Md. The Maryland General Assembly overrode the Republican governor's veto Thursday afternoon. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Kelley achieved a major policy victory this month, when it became law that Maryland governors no longer have a final say in whether inmates serving life sentences should be released on parole. The final decision will rest with the state’s parole commission under a bill that Kelley has sponsored for years. The bill passed in 2021, only to be vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan. Lawmakers overturned that veto during a special legislative session last week.

Already looking ahead, Kelley said “a lot more needs to be done” on criminal justice reform.

Kelley says that many criminal justice issues, especially involving children, are rooted in inequities that leave families struggling to make ends meet and children not receiving a quality education. She said she’s hopeful her colleagues will continue to work on untangling those challenges.

Kelley also has some items on her to-do list for her final legislative session that begins in January, including tightening the residency rules for candidates and members of the Maryland General Assembly.

“We ask people to vote for us, we ought to be obeying the law,” she said.

Even though Kelley is looking ahead to no longer serving as a senator, she plans to remain involved in politics.

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One of the most rewarding parts of her career, Kelley said, has been mentoring young talent. She was among a group of people who encouraged House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones to go into public office in the late 1990s.

And when longtime Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. stepped down from his post while in treatment for cancer in 2019, Kelley convinced Sen. Bill Ferguson to make a bid for the job.

“When the Dean of the Senate approached me about being the best person to lead a team of senators through this transition, it made me consider the possibility in a way I wouldn’t have previously,” Ferguson said after he was elected president.

Kelley said she hopes to mentor more young people in politics.

“We need younger people to move up and get their feet wet,” Kelley said.

Delegate Shane Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, speaks in support of her bill to allow the terminally ill with six months or less to live to end their lives with a doctor's help during a debate in the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday, March 7, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. The bill passed the House 74-66. It now goes to the Maryland Senate. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Pendergrass, meanwhile, announced in an email to supporters that she also is stepping down after 2022. She served eight years on the Howard County Council before winning election to the House of Delegates in 1994.

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Pendergrass, 71, chairs the House’s Health and Government Operations Committee.

In her announcement, Pendergrass called her political career “improbable,” recalling that she got involved so her daughter and her classmates could take tests in seats, rather than sitting on the floor of their elementary school’s cafetorium.

Pendergrass counts among her accomplishments making health insurance affordable for more people, protecting access to abortion and codifying a patient’s bill of rights.

One of her highest-profile efforts has been unsuccessful so far, establishing a right for people with terminal illnesses to end their life with the aid of medication.

The “End of Life Options Act” came close to passage in 2019, its fight time through the legislature. That year, the House of Delegates passed the bill after a tearful, heartfelt debate. Then the measure was defeated in the Senate on a dramatic and unusual tie vote, with one senator who was present and could have broken the tie opting not to cast a vote at all.

“Although I was unable to see the passage of the End of Life Option legislation, the discussion was important, and I hope that one day Marylanders will have this right,” Pendergrass wrote in her email.

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Kelley and Pendergrass join a growing number of lawmakers who are moving on from the General Assembly, either by retiring or running for other offices. Last month, longtime Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee, announced her plans to retire rather than seek reelection.

That’s in addition to half a dozen lawmakers who stepped down in 2021, resigning for personal reasons or other opportunities — including two who became judges, one who is now Maryland’s top federal prosecutor and Del. Dereck Davis, who will be sworn in as state treasurer later this week.


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