ANNAPOLIS – A bill that would expand Maryland’s jury pool by allowing courts to recruit from driver’s license records is making its ninth trip through the Senate.
“If you are going to drive in this state you should be eligible to be on jury duty,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, a co-sponsor.
But with delegates saying the measure is unnecessary, Senate support may not be enough for passage.
The bill would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to provide courts with the names of people at least 18 years old who have either a driver’s license or an MVA identification card. That would make them eligible for jury duty even if they aren’t registered voters.
“The most common reason … for failure to register to vote is that [citizens] do not wish to be called for jury duty,” Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D- Montgomery, the bill’s main sponsor, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Wednesday.
“I do not believe that anyone will refrain from obtaining a permit to drive because they will be included in the jury pool,” Ruben said.
But House Judiciary Committee member Dana Lee Dembrow, D-Montgomery, who has voted to kill the measure in previous years, downplayed the senators’ arguments.
“Many people in our society do honor the civic responsibility of serving on juries,” he said.
Dembrow and fellow committee member Phillip D. Bissett, D-Anne Arundel, also pointed to the federal motor voter law. That law automatically registers people to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses, unless they refuse.
“This bill is not needed because the motor voter requirement increased the pool,” Bissett said.
And one expert said such legislation should be based on careful study. Jose Anderson, professor of law at the University of Baltimore, called the arguments anecdotal – something the bill’s proponents acknowledge.
“People have different views about jury service,” Anderson said in a telephone interview. “Some value it as an honored service and others view it as an inconvenience.”
The bill has been recommended for passage by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for eight years, but always by a close vote.
“It’s not necessary to make a state law,” said Sen. Walter R. Baker, D-Cecil, the committee chairman. Baker, who has consistently voted against the bill, said that Somerset and Worcester Counties adopted similar laws on their own.
But others disagreed.
“It should be a statewide policy, not a local policy,” said Sen. Phillip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, a co-sponsor of the measure.
Massive turnover this year in the House of Delegates leaves the bill sponsors optimistic. “We just don’t know how the new legislature will react,” Jimeno said, adding “if it doesn’t pass this year, it probably won’t in the next four years.” -30-