New Senate Chairmen Promise Streamlining, Other Reforms

The two new leaders of state Senate committees convened their first hearings Thursday, pledging to reform and streamline the legislative process.

Before their first bill hearing of the session, members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee held an organizational meeting Thursday afternoon to settle start-of-session housekeeping matters — most notably, the introduction of new faces, like Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) and veteran members filling new positions.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), with one year as vice chairman and four years on the committee under his belt, replaced former Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) as the chairman. Zirkin, who headed the committee for five years and devoted 20 to the General Assembly, announced his retirement in December.

New Vice Chairman Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) filled Smith’s former seat.

In his opening remarks of the organizational meeting, Smith complimented his predecessor, saying that Zirkin’s desire for bipartisanship was “one of the things Bobby got right,” adding that the issues the committee addresses “rise above that.”

“Some of the policies that I’ve developed this session are aimed at ensuring that all of us have a bite of the apple,” said Smith, and in the instance that a consensus can’t be reached to “ensure that everyone had a fair say.”

In an interview, Smith said that this session he is looking to streamline the committee’s procedures by making voting lists available to members on Tuesday, asking that any amendments be in by Thursday and implementing early voting on Friday to “get things off our plate sooner.”

The meat of the organizational meeting was dedicated to the new bill hearing process, with paperless testimony — which prompted some complaints from committee members — and a tutorial on how to use the updated General Assembly website.

The committee then held hearings on three pieces of legislation, which lasted about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Budget & Taxation Committee held its first meeting under the leadership of new chairman, Sen. Guy J.  Guzzone (D-Howard).

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) put Guzzone in charge of the influential panel after the Howard County Democrat supported his bid to succeed long-serving Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).

He replaces former chairwoman Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery), who backed another candidate in the succession battle. She remains a member of B&T and was tapped by Ferguson to serve as Senate majority leader.

In his opening remarks, Guzzone said he hopes to reduce the amount of time lawmakers spend in committee sessions. He said he will make greater use of work groups, which are similar to but less formal than subcommittees, and he plans to impose a three-minute limit on witness testimony.

Guzzone said the Kirwan Commission work group is going to be “tricky” because “everybody is going to want to be engaged” in discussions about the panel that has worked for three years to boost educational outcomes in Maryland.

Guzzone also said he expects the committee to spend a good chunk of time dealing with corporate tax matters, including the issue of “combined reporting,” a system of apportioning the income of corporations among the states in which they do business.

At the committee’s first session, lawmakers were briefed on the legislature’s new website, including the Senate’s transition away from paper copies of legislation and public testimony.

Miller, a rank-and-file member of the Senate for the first time since 1982, was given a position on Budget & Tax.

Original Article