The MSBA strives to bring together Maryland leaders, elected officials, and MSBA members to learn about key priorities, challenges, and advocacy opportunities for the legal profession, via our virtual Coffee and Conversation series. In the most recent installment of the series, former Senator Bobby Zirkin connected with Senator Will Smith.
Senator Smith, who represents Montgomery County, serves as Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and the Senate Chair of the Maryland Veterans Caucus. He also serves on the Joint Committee on Administrative Executive and Legislative Review, the Legislative Policy Committee, the COVID-19 Legislative Workgroup, the Rules Committee, and a number of caucuses.
Senator Smith was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, He obtained his undergraduate and law degrees from The College of William and Mary and a Master’s Degree in Government from Johns Hopkins. He was a National Intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy Reserves as well.
The conversation began with Senator Smith noting that the recent election affected broad changes; namely, Maryland elected its first Black Governor, first Black Attorney General, and first woman Comptroller, there was a significant amount of turnover in the General Assembly, and there is single-party control in every tier of the government. Senator Smith thinks single-party is good in that it may make it easier to pass legislation but detrimental in that there is a chance that analysis and debate regarding policy doesn’t happen at the level that it should. The dynamic of the Judicial Proceedings Committee has shifted as well, as numerous members with significant expertise and attention to detail left to pursue other ventures.
Senator Smith then touched on bills he expects to arise during the 2023 session. He explained that a bill he sponsored in the 2021 legislative session resulted in the creation of the Independent Investigation Division of the Attorney General’s Office; currently, the division investigates deadly police shootings and then turns over the results of the investigation to the local state’s attorney to determine whether to prosecute the shooting as a crime. Senator Smith intends to introduce legislation dictating that the Attorney General’s office conduct the entire process.
Another issue Senator Smith plans to address in the 2023 session is the attraction and retention of police officers. He explained that as a result of recent reforms and political rhetoric, fewer people want to join or stay on police forces. While he is proud of the recent reforms, the subsequent consequences need to be addressed. A bill he will sponsor in the upcoming session essentially provides education benefits to people who stay on police departments for a certain period of time. Officers will be able to use the benefits to obtain a four-year degree or pass the benefits along to their children.
The conversation then turned to Maryland’s wear and carry permit process and whether it will ultimately be deemed unconstitutional. While outgoing Governor Larry Hogan suspended the “good and substantial reason” standard requiring applicants to provide reasons as to why they feel they need to conceal carry a firearm as a part of the concealed carry application, questions remain as to whether other requirements of the permitting process will remain intact, and whether Maryland legislators can pass laws expand the sensitive places restrictions.
Although Maryland codified abortion rights decades ago, Senator Smith anticipates the introduction of legislation protecting women who travel to Maryland for reproductive healthcare and doctors that perform abortions and other procedures on such women in light of the Dobbs decision.
Senator Smith touched on controversial legislation that previously arose in the General Assembly, the Hidden Predator Act, which among other things, removes the statute of limitations for pursuing civil damages for child sexual abuse. He explained that while the stories of childhood sexual abuse survivors in support of the Act are compelling and tragic, the proposed bill nonetheless raises constitutional concerns.
Senator Smith and Former Senator Zirkin also discussed legislation related to the licensing of businesses that grow, sell, and dispense marijuana and judicial elections.
You can access the entire Conversation between Senator Smith and Former Senator Zirkin here.