ANNAPOLIS – On election day, Marylanders will find they have to choose more than a president.
Voters will also decide on six proposed changes to the state constitution, and although two affect only Harford County, all must be approved by a majority of those voting on Nov. 5.
QUESTION 1 deals with expanding the number of members on the Judicial Disabilities Commission.
This seven-member commission is responsible for investigating complaints against judges. Following an investigation, the commission can recommend by a majority vote to the state Court of Appeals to reprimand, retire or remove judges against whom complaints are made.
The proposed amendment would raise the number of members to 11. It would add a third lawyer and four public members, for a total of five, while reducing the number of judges from four to three.
QUESTION 2 would end lame-duck appointments to the executive branch by an outgoing governor. The only exception would be for emergency appointments made on a temporary basis.
QUESTION 3 would permit police officers, firefighters and rescue squad workers to serve in the General Assembly.
Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel, said the measure is a reasonable constitutional change that means these public servants will no longer be denied their constitutional rights.
“Our feeling on this was that these people are really civil servants and we saw other civil servants who were serving in elected office. They ought to be allowed to participate in the governmental process,” said Astle, a former Baltimore City police officer.
The state constitution forbids such personnel from doing so in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest. In the past, voters have approved exemptions for members of the National Guard, military reserves and notaries public.
Astle said sheriffs will be excluded by the new amendment because theirs is already an elected office.
QUESTION 4 would allow charter counties to pass local laws allowing them to hold special elections to fill vacancies on their councils. Charter counties include Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties.
By the state constitution, a charter county governs itself by a voter-approved, written charter, which addresses the express powers of local government reserved to the county by the General Assembly. A charter provides for broad home rule because the Legislature may not pass a law affecting any of these local laws, unless it does so for two or more charter counties.
However, election laws are not part of these reserved powers and are still controlled by the state.
QUESTIONS 5 and 6 are specific to Harford County and must be approved by a majority in that county as well as the state.
The state constitution and the county charter now mandate that Harford County residents elect their council members through countywide at-large elections.
If approved, Question 5 would give Harford residents the option of continuing the current method or changing to electing members by district, which requires amending the county charter.
Question 6 allows Harford County to utilize “quick-take” condemnation of unimproved land to speed construction of roads, sewers, storm drains and water facilities.
Currently, the county can take private property for public use after initiating proceedings to “condemn” the property. These include contacting all property owners, obtaining appraisals, making offers, holding hearings on use and adjudicating any appeals to the amount offered.
Meanwhile, the land may not be used until all compensation issues are resolved.
George Harrison, public information officer for Harford County, said the “quick-take” provision does not change the normal procedure and only takes effect if an owner disputes the county’s offer.
If that happens, “quick-take” allows the county to initiate a project while placing its offer into an interest-bearing escrow account until the appeals process is finished.
Areas of the state that already utilize quick-take are Baltimore City, Baltimore and Montgomery counties and municipalities in Cecil County. -30-