- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller pressed lawmakers Thursday to find a way to ease or stop the financial impact of a court ruling that requires taxpayers to provide lawyers at bail review hearings for poor defendants in criminal cases.

The 2012 ruling by the Court of Appeals is “a problem crying out for a solution,” Miller told senators during session. If lawmakers again fail to find a solution, Miller said he would put together a panel of lawmakers to work on the issue this summer.

“We’ll put together a select committee and have a select committee work at it, because it cries out to be addressed,” Miller said.

Maryland now provides about $10 million in the state budget to help pay lawyers to handle bail hearings. Miller, D-Calvert, has been an outspoken critic of the court ruling. He urged members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday to find a solution after “two years of hell.”

The legislative session is scheduled to end April 13.

Lawmakers failed to reach a consensus last year on the matter. A panel that studied the issue last year criticized the Legislature’s practice of setting aside $10 million from the judiciary’s budget to pay private attorneys $50 an hour, saying the public defender’s office was created to represent defendants who can’t afford an attorney.

A measure now before lawmakers would give police more discretion on whether to make an arrest or issue a citation to ease pressure on court commissioners, who decide bail. But the bill was questioned by senators Wednesday.

The Senate suspended its rules Thursday to allow the late introduction of a constitutional amendment that would leave it to voters to decide whether a state-funded lawyer should be required at an initial bail review. Such an amendment would undo the court ruling with voter approval.

The Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled 4-3 that having an attorney at the initial bail hearing is a constitutional right.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, noted that lawmakers exerted a significant effort last year and still failed to agree on a solution.

“I think that you’re going to have a tough time with that initiative, so I don’t see any real resolution coming to that, if you want to know the truth,” Busch said Thursday.

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