Maryland Senate confirms Education Accountability Council members, approves mail-in voting reforms

A view of the Maryland Senate Chamber from the Visitors’ Gallery. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland Senate on Tuesday morning confirmed members of an education reform oversight committee after Republicans tried to delay nominations, citing concerns about geographic diversity.

Sen. Stephen Hershey (R-Upper Shore) again raised concerns in the Senate on Tuesday about how members of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Accountability and Implementation Board were chosen, saying the board does not reflect diversity of State.

Four of the council members reside in Montgomery County, three in Baltimore City, one in Baltimore County, and one in Anne Arundel County.

Hershey asked Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who served on the committee that appointed AIB members, about the committee’s outreach efforts to find candidates for the board, which is responsible for overseeing progress statewide education reform efforts and can withhold funding from local school districts that fail to meet certain goals.

Pinsky said the committee sent out public announcements to 40 media outlets across the state, and the 180 lawmakers, familiar with the accountability board, also had a responsibility to contact potential nominees.

Pinsky also pointed out that the rural representatives of the Kirwan Commission had approved the creation of a seven-member accountability council. “We only had seven slots — each county didn’t get a slot based on geographic representation,” Pinsky said.

But Hershey disputed that the nominating committee did not reconsider the nominees following letters from various groups – including the Maryland Latino Caucus and the Prince George’s County Executive – asking them to do so. “It wasn’t just a few pissed off rural county lawmakers,” Hershey said.

“What was the rush that this couldn’t be resolved?” He continued. “When letters are sent to the nominating committee regarding the composition of this council, and they have done absolutely nothing about it, they do so because they say – we are not responsible to the General Assembly .”

Pinsky pointed out that the board members were unanimously approved by the nominating committee, including the two members selected by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). “We think we made the right decision,” said Pinsky, who called AIB members “good, smart people who care about the state.”

Pinsky also criticized Hogan for delaying the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, first by vetoing the bill in 2020 and then by not including full funding for the Blueprint in his budget. Because the Blueprint officially became law after an overriding veto last year, Hogan didn’t have to include that funding in his proposed budget for this fiscal year, which began July 1. revenue will go to the accountability board, which is released as revenue is collected.

The Senate approved confirmation of the AIB nominees – who received initial approval from the Senate Nominations Executive Committee earlier this month – in a 31-16 vote, largely on the lines party. Two Democratic senators — Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) and Ron Watson (D-Prince George’s) — joined Republicans in voting against the candidates. Senator Edward Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) was the only Republican to vote for the candidates.

Senate approves postal voting reforms

A measure to give Maryland voters another chance to sign the oath on their mail-in ballot envelope passed the Senate in a 33-14 vote on Tuesday.

Maryland law currently requires voters who don’t sign the oath on a mailing envelope to have their ballot automatically rejected, but Senate Bill 163, sponsored by Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), would allow Marylanders to provide a missing signature by going to their local election commission or contacting election officials by phone, email, text or mail.

Kagan’s bill would require local election commissions to notify voters of the need for a signature within three days of discovering the error and would give voters until 10 a.m. on the tenth day after the election to correct the error. Kagan previously said more than 1,500 mail-in ballots were rejected due to unsigned oaths in the 2020 election, when this method of voting gained popularity.

Republicans had previously attempted to amend the bill to include signature verification measures and mail-in ballot audits, but that measure failed. Senate Republicans called again on Tuesday for signature verification measures.

Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) argued that adding measures requiring election officials to verify ballot signatures would make the process more secure, and noted that other states, including California, have similar measures.

“It’s not Republican or Democrat,” Simonaire said. “It’s about security, ensuring the integrity of our elections.”

Senate Democrats pushed back on Simonaire’s call for signature verification, with Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) noting that her 87-year-old husband’s signature changed due to tremors in his hands.

“A lot of people’s signatures change over time,” Kelley said.

The bill will now go to the House of Delegates for consideration.

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