Straw poll bill passes House, moves to Se­nate

Record Observer - - Front Page - By JACK SHAUM jshaum@kibay­

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.

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