Recently, Senator Jeff Waldstreicher joined former Senator Bobby Zirkin for the latest in the MSBA’s continuing series: Coffee and Conversations with Legislators. MSBA Director of Member Experience and Programs, Shaoli Katana, said the MSBA started the series this year in an effort to bring the voices of Annapolis to our members. Waldstreicher represents the 18th District, Lower Montgomery County, and is Vice-Chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Before being elected to the Senate, Waldstreicher served two terms in the House of Delegates. Waldstreicher is also a practicing attorney who handles complex litigation matters in state and federal courts.
Zirkin and Waldstreicher began with a broad overview of the past legislative session. Waldstreicher remarked that it’s easy to forget now, after a Memorial Day when people were able to walk around maskless, and Covid restrictions have been lifted, how tough things were just a few months ago before everyone was vaccinated. Legislators had to wear masks and maintain social distancing with plexiglass between them. Despite the inconvenience and difficulty, Waldstreicher said they had a productive session.
Waldstreicher said there were three big areas where they succeeded in passing much-needed legislation: Covid relief for small businesses, renters and families, police reform, and the climate crisis. Zirkin mentioned a fourth: it was a bill that would raise the “amount in controversy” in civil litigation in the state from $15,000 to $25,000. The bill, which passed the legislature, still needs to be approved by the voters. Should the measure receive ratification by the voters, it would go into effect next year. Waldstreicher was also proud that Maryland became the first state in the nation to pass a Right to Access law for certain renters eviction cases.
Looking ahead to the next session, Waldstreicher hopes that the legislature will make progress on cannabis reform. He would like to see recreational use decriminalized, and he favors expungement of some prior convictions. Waldstreicher hopes the legislature will make progress on expanding Grace’s Law to include speech aimed at adults. Waldstreicher also favors reform of the selection of judges in Maryland. Waldstreicher said the process is unnecessarily complicated. He believes Maryland should abolish the election of judges and adopt an appointment system similar to the federal model. And Waldstreicher wants to see more progress made on police reform beyond the landmark legislation that passed last term.
Zirkin and Waldstreicher both observed that the number of “lawyer/legislators” has shrunk over the past decade or so. Waldstreicher said that the drain of attorneys from the legislature was caused, at least in part, by the increasing demands of the job, which have made it difficult for practicing attorneys to balance legislative and professional responsibilities. Waldstreicher noted that this was unfortunate because lawyers bring with them an innate sense of justice, fluency, and nuance. Speaking directly to members of the Bar, Waldstreicher said, “Your voices are needed more than ever,” and “having lawyers involved is a critical aspect of what we do.” He urged MSBA members to contact him directly. Waldstreicher hopes that members will develop relationships with individual legislators, get involved with the MSBA legislative leadership by contacting MSBA Legislative Director, Richard Montgomery (email@example.com) , and by calling folks that interact with legislators regularly and encourage your Section Counsel Council to get involved.
Finally, Zirkin asked Waldstreicher his views on bipartisanship. Waldstreicher said that he does not believe in compromise for the sake of compromise. However, “We work better as a body when everyone’s ideas are at the table.” Waldstreicher said it is important that legislators work together to see “if we can find solutions.”