Md. voters approve constitutional changes Amendments pass on judicial review, 'lame duck' governors

Election 1996

November 06, 1996|By Marina Sarris and John Rivera | Marina Sarris and John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Maryland voters amended the state constitution to give the public greater influence in the disciplining of judges and to limit the powers of "lame duck" governors.

Of the six constitutional questions, voters passed five by wide margins.

But they balked at allowing the Harford County Council to use the "quick-take" method of condemning unimproved property needed for a right of way for road, storm drain, sewer or water projects.

In Harford, voters overwhelmingly rejected the property measure. With all but one of the county precincts reporting, it was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin. It went down statewide as well, with 56 percent voting against it and 44 percent in favor, with 76 percent of precincts reporting.

Passage would have required approval by voters in Harford County as well as statewide. Similar questions have been controversial with voters in the past; opponents say they give local government too much power.

It was one of two Harford provisions that were subject to a statewide vote. The other passed.

Voters approved Question 5, allowing Harford to provide for the election of County Council members by councilmanic district, instead of countywide.

Maryland voters approved a ballot question changing the makeup of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which investigates complaints against judges and recommends disciplinary action to the Court of Appeals.

Question 1 increases the number of "lay people" on the commission and reduces the influence of judges. Specifically, it changes the commission's membership to three judges, three lawyers and five members of the general public. The current makeup is four judges, two lawyers and one member of the public.

Supporters of Question 1 said the commission has been slow, secretive and reluctant to punish misconduct by judges. Such criticism grew in recent years after two incidents involving Baltimore County circuit judges.

Marylanders also approved Question 2, limiting the appointment power of a departing governor. Executive branch appointments would be prohibited after a primary election in which the governor was not renominated or did not run, or after a general election in which the governor was defeated. The governor could fill some vacancies temporarily.

The issue gained momentum in 1995 after then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed about 130 people to state boards and commissions in his last two months.

Marylanders adopted Question 3, which exempts public safety workers from a constitutional provision that prohibits holding more than one paid public office. Supporters said the exemption puts police officers on a par with teachers and deputy sheriffs, who are allowed to be state legislators.

Voters approved a fifth ballot question allowing Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, Talbot, Wicomico and Baltimore counties to enact laws to provide for filling county council vacancies through special elections. Currently, local officials appoint replacements to fill midterm vacancies.

In local elections, Prince George's County residents rejected an effort to repeal the county's property tax cap, known as Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders (TRIM). Voters also supported a related question about expanding the tax cap. A referendum would be held whenever the county government wants to increase any tax or major fee.

In Garrett County, residents in 15 of 19 precincts voted against allowing restaurants and private clubs to serve alcohol with Sunday meals. However, two districts, Avilton and northeastern Garrett County, supported the question and vendors there will be able to start selling alcohol beginning Dec. 14. Two precincts narrowly opposed the sales but absentee ballots could alter the balance.

Md. constitutional amendments

Question 1: Judicial Disabilities Commission. Increases the number of non-attorneys on the state's judicial disabilities commission, which investigates complaints against judges and recommends discipline. 95 percent reporting.

Yes -- 890,622 -- 73%

No -- 329,211 -- 27%

Question 2: Gubernatorial appointments. Prevents lame-duck governors from making last-minute appointments to boards and commissions. 95 percent reporting.

Yes -- 1,016,244 -- 82%

No -- 217,527 -- 18%

Question 3: Dual offices. Allows nonelected members of a law enforcement agency, fire department or rescue squad to hold a salaried public office, including one in the General Assembly. 95 percent reporting.

Yes -- 777,784 -- 64%

No -- 429,849 -- 36%

Question 4: Chartered county special elections. Permits Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's, Talbot, Wicomico and Baltimore counties to enact laws that would fill county council vacancies through special elections instead of by appointment. 95 percent reporting.

Yes -- 956,464 --83%

No -- 197,679 -- 17%

Question 5: Harford county council. Allows Harford County to provide for the election of County Council members by district rather than countywide. 93 percent reporting.

Yes -- 550,914 -- 78%

No -- 151,677 -- 22%

Question 6: Harford county "quick take." Would allow the Harford County Council to use the "quick-take" method of condemning unimproved property needed immediately for a right of way for road, storm drain, sewer or water projects. 93 percent reporting.

Yes -- 393,734 -- 45%

No -- 476,548 -- 55%

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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