Voters to decide 4 ballot questions

Constitutional amendments

Maryland Votes 2006

November 03, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

Marylanders on Tuesday will vote on three proposed constitutional amendments that, if approved, would restrict the sale of state-owned lands and allow more court appeals in some instances, while instituting a monetary threshold for qualification for a jury trial.

A fourth question was placed on the ballot by petitioners concerned about a voting law passed by the General Assembly. If voters approve the measure, the law would take effect and local election boards would have to establish precincts on college campuses and publicize when and how they remove names from voter rolls. The law also requires all polling places to be equipped with computers containing a record of all registered voters in the county.

One part of the voting law passed by the Assembly provided more specifics on a proposed early-voting initiative - refining legislation adopted a year earlier. But opposition to early voting by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and a subsequent decision by the state's highest court declaring early voting unconstitutional, has rendered the issue moot.

Perhaps the most far-reaching of the proposed constitutional amendments is Question One, which would require the Board of Public Works to obtain approval from the Assembly before "the sale, transfer, exchange, grant or other permanent disposition of any state-owned outdoor recreation, open space, conservation, preservation, forest, or park land."

The proposed amendment, which has been lauded by conservationists, was drafted by Democratic lawmakers after the Ehrlich administration attempted to sell preserved land in St. Mary's County to a politically connected construction company owner.

The deal fell apart after it was reported by The Sun.

Republicans in the Assembly initially decried the proposal, but the measure passed after Ehrlich announced his support. The Assembly must pass constitutional amendments, which then appear on the ballot for voter approval during the next general election.

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which has lobbied voters to pass the amendment, filed a lawsuit in August after the secretary of state proposed ballot question wording that environmentalists said was misleading and designed to increase opposition to the proposal. The secretary of state modified the language to mirror the original wording passed by the Assembly, and the suit was dropped.

"In a state like Maryland, we're growing so rapidly and development in some places is out of control," said Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, which supports the amendment "as a way of preventing open space from getting gobbled up."

The second question on the ballot would establish "the right of a party who did not request an in banc review by the circuit court to appeal an adverse decision by the in banc court to the state's intermediate appellate court, the Court of Special Appeals."

An in banc decision, decided by a panel of circuit court judges acting as an appellate court, is sometimes called a "poor man's appeal," lawyers say. Currently, the party in the lawsuit who did not request an in banc review does not have the option of an appeal.

Cases are rarely brought before an in banc court and generally involve state law issues, said Robert A. Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general who represents the General Assembly.

The third ballot question, if approved, would allow the state to adopt a law that would limit civil jury trials to cases "in which the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000."

The measure is a remedy to a 1998 amendment passed by voters that was struck down by the Court of Appeals.

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