Thursday, April 12, 2012

GUEST POST: Maryland Senate Fails to Expand Montgomery County SMOB Voting Rights // A Local Student's Perspective

By Benjamin Feshbach, student at Thomas S. Wootton High School

Maryland State Legislature skips bills

On Monday, the Maryland state Senate seemed to think it a good idea to spend time celebrating one page asking his girlfriend to the Prom. On Monday, the Maryland state Senate also spent time arguing over gambling regulations. And on that same Monday, the Maryland state Senate failed to pass necessary revenue bills.

On Monday, our legislature once again failed to approve a bill, known as HB701, expanding the rights of the Montgomery County Student Member of the Board of Education (SMOB) to include a vote on budgets and other matters. The ‘SMOB voting rights’ bill already passed the Montgomery County House and Senate delegations, the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee, the full Maryland House of Delegates, and the Maryland Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, always with wide margins. Last Friday, April 6, Senator Brian Frosh (D- District 16), made a special order on the bill to delay it until Monday.

What happened Monday?

Monday morning, I personally witnessed Senator Frosh repeating his views against the expansion of  student member voting rights. Dubbing HB701 "the eleven-year old bill" (as 6th graders can vote for the SMOB), he called expanded voting rights "undemocratic" as the SMOB represents a different number of constituents than the rest of the board members do.  Both Senator Karen Montgomery (D- District 14) and Montgomery County Senate delegation chair Jamie Raskin (D- District 20) defended the bill, with Senator Montgomery asking to "just call a vote already." Senator Roy Dyson (D- District 29), who spoke with Senator Frosh before the bill’s introduction, motioned to again special order the bill.

The debate resurfaced hours later, before a prompt special order delay by Senate Majority Leader Robert Garagiola (D- District 15). Soon afterwards, the Senate temporarily adjourned.

The new legislative session started around 5:45 with an "official citation" order to certify that a Senate page invited his girlfriend to the Prom this May. One Senator smartly remarked that rather than "solving the budget crises, we're solving two young lovers". Shortly before 7 p.m., HB701 reappeared on the Senate floor. Senator Frosh told colleagues to "put Montgomery County out of its misery and vote against  this bill."

Senators Montgomery and Raskin argued for the bill, as well as for local legislative courtesy, the principle that other legislators should respect local bills passed by a county delegation. The debate over HB701 soon turned into that of different Senators arguing over why their own local bills and pet projects were not passed. Nevertheless, Senator Frosh ended up successfully making yet another special order.

The Senate never voted on HB701.

What now?

Current Montgomery County Student Member Alan Xie quickly responded to the Senate inaction, remarking that "our countywide SGA leaders and I are extremely disappointed and outraged at the lack of transparency and representation within this process, one in which a bill that has passed all the proper legislative hurdles can still be single-handedly shut down by a dissenting minority."

Considering the outcome, Xie noted that "we are examining the possibility of having the SMOB voting rights bill reintroduced during a special session that the Governor will likely call to resolve pressing budget issues; however, it does not seem likely that we will be able to reintroduce or successfully pass the bill during such a session. Nonetheless, we will persevere, and whether it is this year or the next, we hope to finally pass this much-needed piece of legislation”.

Student leaders were not alone in voicing outrage at the legislative failure. Commenting on the campaign for voting rights, Senator Jamie Raskin said, "student activists came closer than ever to victory in this Session and it took a series of parliamentary obstructions and evasions to kill the bill...The good news is that we have a strong pro-SMOB majority on the Montgomery County delegation. So we live to fight another day. I salute the students who came to testify and fight for their rights in Annapolis!" .

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has so far declined to call a special legislative session to solve the state’s looming budget issue, but many speculate O'Malley may still call the session.

When a minority of Senators oppose a bill, the democratic thing to do is to at least allow that bill to come to a vote, because that's what democracy is all about - not using legislative power to delay, defer, and purposely procrastinate.

*disclaimer-these remarks do not necessarily represent the opinions of any student groups, MCPS, or any organization of any type

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