The Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill that would restrict members of the Anne Arundel Board of Education from running for public office during their five-year term, even if they resign early.
The bill generated an unusual battle over a local bill. The senate narrowly passed SB 637 26-20, though a final vote still needs to take place.
Opponents of the legislation said during the debate that passing the bill would set a dangerous precedent. Sen. Jamie Raskin D-Montgomery County, who is also a law professor at American University, said the legislature should avoid restricting an individual’s right to run for office.
“I think we have to tread very carefully,” he said.
The bill’s sponsor, Anne Arundel Republican Sen. Bryan Simonaire, said the legislation only means to assure that the board’s members are invested solely in their school board position and are not distracted by maintaining a competitive political campaign.
Simonaire said the county wants to avoid members who might take advantage of the visibility of their position as a springboard to run for a higher office.
“The thought is that if you’re going to be on the school board, your primary focus should be on the education of our children,” Simonaire said.
The governor appoints the board’s members, though a local commission provides nominations after vetting candidates during public hearings.
Raskin questioned if the county had considered alternative solutions, rather than enacting legislation, or if the commission asked candidates during interviews if they intended to run for office.
“If you’ve got this whole elaborate process set up with the nominating committee, why can’t you just weed out the people who are there for ulterior motives?,” Raskin said.
Simonaire said he consulted with the Attorney General’s office to ensure the constitutionality of the bill, a point Raskin also questioned. The unamended bill actually required board members to wait two years before running for office, a stipulation that was struck by the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Officials in the Attorney General’s Office corroborated that the updated version would be upheld in court.
When crafting the final draft of the bill, Simonaire modeled it after a U.S. Supreme Court case, Clements vs. Fashing, which established that states must have “legitimate interest,” in essence, good reasoning, in discouraging certain officials from running from office.
Baltimore City Democrat Sen. Nathaniel McFadden spoke against the bill, questioning whether that state did have a legitimate interest in the case of Anne Arundel. McFadden called the proposed limits “a serious matter.”
“I know this is a local issue, but it establishes a precedent,” he said. “When you take away a person’s right to run for office, especially when you have an election coming up in a few months. It doesn’t look good.”