- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 7, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate this week will vote on overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that would allow felons on probation or parole to vote — and one lawmaker, newly installed Sen. Craig Zucker, is getting a second bite at the apple.

Mr. Zucker voted for the override a few weeks ago in the House, and he is expected to be the deciding vote in the Senate, thus giving the bill’s backers the three-fifths majority they need.

A Montgomery County Democrat, Mr. Zucker was appointed to fill the seat of Karen Montgomery, who retired in December. He was sworn in last week.

Republican leaders, who back the governor’s veto and are trying to scuttle the override, say what Mr. Zucker is trying to do may be illegal, arguing that it seems unfair to give the same person an override vote in both chambers.

The office of the attorney general has weighed in with an advisory letter saying the move is probably legal but acknowledging it’s a gray area.

Sandra Benson Brantley, who is the attorney general’s lawyer for the General Assembly, said there have been prior instances in which someone has moved from one chamber to the other in a session, but added that she couldn’t find any occasions where that lawmaker voted twice on the same bill.

Still, she concluded that Mr. Zucker is probably good to go.

“The more reasonable and persuasive view is that a member of the Senate who was appointed to fill a vacancy [under the Maryland Constitution] may vote as the qualified senator of his or her district. I can find no authority in Maryland law or elsewhere that precludes the senator from voting under these circumstances,” she wrote in the advisory letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, Baltimore County Republican, said Mr. Zucker would be wise to abstain from the vote to be on the safe side.

“I could see this potentially turning into a lawsuit,” Mr. Jennings said.

The vote had been scheduled for Friday but was delayed because two Democratic senators were absent, and the override would have failed. The vote is now expected Tuesday.

The House already has acted, voting last month to override Mr. Hogan’s veto from last year. At the time, Mr. Zucker was a delegate and backed the override.

Now a senator, Mr. Zucker faces the same piece of legislation due to the departure of Ms. Montgomery. Last year she voted for the felon rights bill, and it passed 29-18 — the exact number needed to override a veto — so Mr. Zucker’s vote now is pivotal.

“I think it’s important for us to make sure that voters aren’t disenfranchised, and I think you’ve got people that are on track to do the right thing, and this gives them the opportunity,” Mr. Zucker said of the bill.

Mr. Hogan said he vetoed the bill because he doesn’t believe that anyone on probation or parole has completed their full sentence and should not have their full rights restored until they do. He has lobbied hard for senators to uphold his veto.

But advocates say that restoring such rights is a sign of faith on the part of the government, giving ex-felons the opportunity to rejoin society fully.

“It doesn’t poll well, but it’s the right thing to do,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Calvert County Democrat, said Thursday.

Reginald Smith-Bey, a member of advocacy group Communities United and an ex-felon, arrived Friday morning at the Annapolis State House to see the veto overturned and said he “didn’t feel good” about the delay.

“I’ve been home since 2012, and everything’s been slammed in my face. This right here would have actually [given] me the ability to be a full citizen, to vote, to cast a vote for who I want to represent me in office,” he said. “[Since] you’re going to take my taxes, give me the right to choose who I want to represent [me].”

Smith-Bey spent 13 years in prison — “I broke laws,” he said with a shrug and refusing to elaborate — and before that, had spent 11 years in the Army. The West Baltimore native, who is currently out on unsupervised probation, said he doesn’t know when he would regain his right to vote without the bill.

The ex-felon voting rights bill will be the sixth veto taken up by the legislature this year. The other five vetoes were related to marijuana paraphernalia, criminal asset forfeiture, hotel-booking websites and funding for an Annapolis arts center — and Mr. Hogan’s vetoes were overturned on each of them.

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