Maryland lawmakers convene for redistricting session

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A new congressional map that could enable Democrats to gain a seat and sweep all eight Maryland U.S. House seats was advanced Monday by a legislative committee, which did not act on a separate proposal by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The committee’s 18-6 vote on the first day of a special session on redistricting sends the proposal to the House of Delegates, which is expected to take up the map Tuesday.

Democrats who hold a supermajority in the General Assembly control the redistricting process in Maryland, but at a hearing there were plenty of critics who say the proposal continues the state’s legacy of gerrymandering — in which politicians draw district lines to favor one party.

“Citizens living in gerrymandered districts feel as though their vote means nothing, so they stay home on Election Day rather than exercise their right to vote,” said Brigitta Mullican, of Rockville. “They believe you will do whatever you want and ignore the voters because they have seen this over and over.”

Democrats now hold a 7-1 advantage over Republicans in Maryland’s U.S. House delegation. The proposed map would bring the 1st Congressional District, which includes the Eastern Shore and is now held by Republican Rep. Andy Harris, across the Chesapeake Bay and into Anne Arundel County. It would make a now strongly Republican district lean Democratic, creating a competitive district.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, other residents expressed support for the map that is moving forward. Some urged the panel to go even further and add the city of Annapolis to the 1st Congressional District, a move that would add even more Democratic voters to the district.

“I do a lot of back and forth to Annapolis. I have my doctors there. I have businesses that I go to there. Annapolis is very much part of my sphere, my social sphere,” said Louise Miller, of Chestertown, which is on the Eastern Shore.

The map that is advancing was approved by a panel that consisted of four Democratic state legislators, including House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, and two Republicans, as well as the former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services, Karl Aro.

Hogan, who has long supported redistricting reform to take politicians out of the process of drawing political boundaries, submitted a separate map that would have mostly kept the 1st Congressional District as it is, while restoring a district in western Maryland largely to how it was when the last Republican represented it about a decade ago, when Maryland had two Republican congressmen.

The map Hogan submitted was drawn by a commission with nine members, including three Democrats, three Republicans and three Independents.

Democrats say the map that is moving ahead was put together after 10 in-person public hearings with input from residents around the state, as well as two virtual hearings.

“This map is more compact and contiguous than the current congressional map in Maryland,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat who was a member of the legislature’s redistricting panel. “It continues our decades-long commitment to diverse representation in districts four, five and seven.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers also started to override Hogan’s vetoes of measures from the last legislative session.

The Senate voted 31-16 to override a veto of a bill to repeal a requirement that parole for an inmate serving a life sentence must be approved by the governor. The long-fought measure puts the decision in the control of a parole commission.

Meanwhile, one of Hogan’s high-profile vetoes will stand. A bill that would decriminalize the possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use passed the Senate earlier this year 28-19, one vote short of the 29 votes needed for an override.

David Schuhlein, a spokesperson for Ferguson, said a veto override on that measure won’t be brought up in the special session.

“It’s an incredibly complicated issue and we are committed to addressing it in regular session,” Schuhlein said.

Lawmakers are expected vote on veto overrides on for two bills supported by immigration advocates, including a measure that would prohibit local jails from entering into agreements with federal authorities on immigration-related detentions.

The bill bans local jails from being paid by the federal government to detain people on immigration matters in Maryland. The other measure Hogan vetoed would require state employees to deny inspection of records or use of facial recognition technology by any federal agency seeking to enforce immigration law unless provided with a valid warrant.

The special session is expected to last several days and could be wrapped up by late this week.

In other business, lawmakers also are scheduled to select a new state treasurer to replace Nancy Kopp, who is retiring. Last month, a panel of lawmakers voted unanimously to recommend Del. Dereck Davis, a Prince George’s County Democrat, to become the state’s next treasurer.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Photo: AP

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