A side conversation and Jim Crow states

“Sandy, can we pull the two proposed bills, or slow roll them, while this side conversation takes place?”

A constituent sent me that message today.

I met with him and several colleagues in December to discuss how their businesses could benefit from changes in state law.

That side conversation is taking place, I replied, because the bills were introduced.

I may withdraw this legislation before the hearing dates, March 1 and 15.

Between now and then, however, the side conversation may result in agreement on a policy change that would benefit my constituent and serve the public interest.

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At a bill hearing today, I began by saying that House Bill 353 is based on a simple but fundamental premise: before administrative changes are made that could affect the fundamental right to vote, the public is entitled to adequate notice.

My legislation deals with any action related to voter registration, provisional voting, absentee voting, or the location of a polling place.

The state or local boards of election would have to give 48 hours’ notice of a proposed change if it’s on the agenda and post such changes online within 48 hours after they’re made.

This used to be a problem only in Jim Crow states.

However, the Montgomery County Board of Elections voted two years ago to move an early voting polling center from a working class neighborhood to a more upscale community.

After a furor arose, both locations were open for early voting.

All of the skeptical questions today were from Republican legislators.

January 16 – Action on voting rights

John Lewis nearly died when he marched over the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

Alabama state troopers fractured his skull.

Within days, President Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress.

He concluded his speech introducing the Voting Rights Act by declaring, “We shall overcome.”

The Supreme Court gutted the enforcement provision of that law in a 5-4 decision in 2013.

President-elect Trump concluded his recent tweet to Congressman Lewis by saying, “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad.”

My response: Enact the “Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014,” which would restore the protections undone by the Supreme Court.

The lead sponsors in the House of Representatives are both former chairs of the Judiciary Committee, which wrote this law.

One is a Democrat and one is a Republican.

On voting rights, Mr. Trump is not alone.

In light of the response that my post/letter to the editor generated, some additional thoughts.

North Carolina’s restrictive voting law imposed voter-ID requirements, reduced the number of early-voting days, and changed registration procedures in ways meant to harm African-Americans’ right to vote.

“The new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that struck down the law for violating the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.”

A recent study looked at around a billion ballots cast in the United States from 2000 through 2014 and found only 31 instances of impersonation fraud at the polls.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/08/06/a-comprehensive-investigation-of-voter-impersonation-finds-31-credible-incidents-out-of-one-billion-ballots-cast/?tid=a_inl

Mr. Trump is not alone in relying on ungrounded assertions of voter fraud. Republican-dominated state legislatures have passed restrictive voter-ID laws in approximately 20 states since the 2010 election.

 

 

January 21 – The most fundamental right a citizen has

“When I spoke to this body on Opening Day, I talked about our obligation to address the needs of the least among us,” I began my speech on the House floor today.

“The people who would be able to vote because of this bill – those who have been imprisoned but are now on parole, are the least among us.

“But when George Washington was elected our first President, only white men with property could vote.  The majority of the adult population was the least among us.

“Voting is not a reward. This debate is not a distraction from other more important issues, as some have contended.

“This debate is about the most fundamental right a citizen has.

“John Lewis knew that when he marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma. President Johnson knew that when he introduced the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  And the Supreme Court knew that when it declared that the right to vote preserves other basic rights.”

The Governor’s veto was overridden, 85-56.

From Selma to Annapolis

In the opening scene of “Selma,” Oprah Winfrey’s character seeks to register to vote.

Asked to recite the preamble to the US Constitution, she knows it.

How many trial judges in Alabama?  Without hesitation, the correct number.

Name them, says the clerk.  Silence.

Application denied.

The end result of the civil disobedience and violence that follow is the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That law gives the Attorney General of the United States the authority to go to court when there is reasonable grounds to believe that an election law violation is imminent.

My legislation to give that same power to the Attorney General of Maryland passed the House of Delegates in 2013, 91-45.  Forty two of the “no” votes were cast by Republicans.

My desire to pass the bill has intensified after seeing “Selma.”

Advisers but no consultant

I have political advisers, but I don’t have a media consultant.

He who represents himself has a fool for a client. I learned that in law school.

Even if you have a good political (or legislative) gut, you should bounce your ideas off of someone whose judgment you trust.

But after we decided to do a mailer emphasizing my civil rights record, I had to draft the text.

Fair Elections. Workplace Discrimination. Religious Freedom. Death Penalty. Holocaust Responsibility.

Sandy Rosenberg was the lead sponsor of major laws that protect our civil rights.

 The Voters Rights Protection Act makes it a crime to influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward. The Election Day robo calls violated this law. HB5/SB287, 2005

 The Lilly Ledbetter Civil Rights Restoration Act of 2009 gives workers the opportunity to file a claim for unequal pay, reversing a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court. HB 288, 2009

A business owned by an Orthodox Jewish family was provided an exception to the Sunday blue laws because they could not work on Saturday, their Sabbath. HB 624, 2011

Capital punishment is costly, is not administered fairly, burdens victims’ families, and does not deter murderers. We are a better state for ending the death penalty. SB 276, 2013

The French national railroad company made public its records transporting Jews and others to Nazi concentration camps. HB 520, 2011

 

I also drafted statements for other elected officials to make on my behalf.   How do I compose something that sounds like them?

Google “the office holder and the issue.”

Mitt Romney is not the problem

The Republican nominee is being thrown under the bus for saying that he lost the election because, in part, free contraceptives were among the gifts President Obama gave to Democratic constituencies.

However, Mr. Romney is not outside the mainstream of today’s Republican party, as the following examples demonstrate.

When the Maryland General Assembly adopted the marriage equality bill, only one Republican senator and two Republican delegates voted yes.

Twenty years ago, when the legislature enacted the law protecting a woman’s right to choose,  three GOP senators and ten delegates voted yes.

Three years ago, I successfully introduced a bill dealing with the removal of human remains from a burial site.  Among the people who can arrange for the reinterment is a domestic partner of the decedent.  For that reason, 28 Republican delegates and all but one of the GOP senators voted no.

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  That provision applies to states and localties with a documented history of discrimination in their election laws.

Consequently, they must obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to their laws.  This past month, several states were prevented from implementing voter-identification laws or changes in early voting.

If the Court rules that this requirement is unconstitutional, the Obama administration would introduce legislation to protect voting rights.  When President Johnson sought Republican votes for civil rights legislation, he appealed to their membership in the “party of Lincoln.”

Absent a major reversal, such a plea today would fall on deaf ears.

The secret word is suppression

The first grade classrooms at Cross Elementary School haven’t moved.

I returned to my alma mater to sit in on the class of Aaron Sohaski, a Teach For America corps member whom  I’m sponsoring.

It was at the far end of the first floor corridor, just like 55 years ago.

One of the students guessed my age, but no one could do the math to figure out what year I was in first grade.

Turning from math to English, Aaron taught the difference between grouch, grouchy, grouchier, and grouchiest.

I doubt if I knew who Groucho Marx was when I was these kids’ age.  So, like Harpo, I said nothing.

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Voter suppression – requiring voters to have a government-issued ID or making misleading robo calls the afternoon of Election Day, is an issue I’ve worked on for several years.

During the Great Depression, “paper exclusion” laws were used to deny the vote to people on relief, I learned from an op-ed in today’s New York Times.

When my niece and nephew, Rachel and Elliot, were in the first grade, we tried to coax them into eating mashed potatoes by saying they were French fries’ cousin.

Today’s voter ID requirements are the cousin of denying the vote to the unemployed.