Straw poll bill passes House, moves to Senate
ANNAPOLIS — Legislation to put a straw poll on the November ballot in Queen Anne’s County to gauge public opinion on how county commissioners are elected has won final approval in the Maryland House of Delegates.
HB 1344 was passed on third reader by the House on Thursday, March 31, said sponsor Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s. It will now be taken up by a State Senate committee and then go to the full Senate.
Before sending the bill to the full House on March 29, the House Ways and Means Committee amended it to remove one of the two ques- tions that would have been asked in the straw poll.
The original legislation sought to have questions asking the public for its opinion on whether commissioners should be elected by district and be elected to staggered terms.
Arentz said the Ways and Means Committee removed the question about staggered terms, which means that if the bill is ultimately approved and signed, voters will only be asked in the November straw poll about electing commissioners by districts.
He said committee members deleted the staggered
election question because it would have required an amendment to the Maryland Constitution.
“I don’t think they were prepared to let me do that this time, even in a straw poll,” Arentz said.
George “Smokey” Sigler, president of the Queen Anne’s County Council of Governments, which unanimously backs the straw poll, said the committee approval is a step in the right direction.
“I’m very happy it’s moving forward,” he said. “All we want is to let the people decide. We want them to have the opportunity to vote on an important issue like this.”
The results of the straw poll would be non-binding and are designed only to measure public opinion on whether the matter should go forward. It would ask if residents want commissioners elected only by the voters in the district in which they live, with the at-large commissioner continuing to be voted on county-wide. An actual vote on the question, however, would not appear on this November’s ballot.
The non-partisan Department of Legislative Services said in its fiscal and policy analysis of the legislation that the straw poll would not affect the finances of either Queen Anne’s County or the State of Mary- land. It also referred to the requirements of the Maryland State Constitution pertaining to the election of state and county officials.
“Subject to exemptions for Cecil County (which changed its commissioner election process several years ago) and members of any elective local board of education, the Maryland Constitution requires that state and county elected officials hold office for terms of four years and be elected every four years during the gubernatorial elections,” Legislative Services wrote.
The staggered elections process, as envisioned by the COG, would have some commissioners elected during a gubernatorial election year and others elected in a presidential election year so that there could not be a turnover of an entire board of commissioners at one time.
When the Ways and Means Committee held its hearing on the Arentz bill on Wednesday, March 9, it was given a number of documents, including letters from County Commissioners Jim Moran, Jack Wilson, and Robert Buckey in which they said they were in favor of putting the straw poll on the ballot. Buckey said that even though he supports the straw poll, he does not favor elections by district or on a staggered basis.
As of Friday, April 1, there are 11 calendar days, including weekends, before the General Assembly ends on the night of Monday, April 11.
If the legislation is approved it would take effect on July 1.