Vallario to return as House Judiciary Committee Chairman

by Michael Dresser

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., who last year incurred the wrath of the General Assembly's women's caucus over his panel's treatment of witnesses, will return to his post for the session that starts next month, according to a source close to the Democratic leadership.

Vallario, a Prince George's County Democrat and a defense attorney, has long been viewed as the chief obstacle to passage of tough drunk-driving legislation in Maryland. He was first elected in 1974 and has headed the committee since 1993, earning a reputation as a dogged advocate of defendants' rights on a panel that deals with many tough-on-crime proposals.

According to the source, House Speaker Michael E. Busch has decided to reappoint the veteran legislator along with all other incumbent House committee chairs. But in a gesture toward women legislators, he will name Del. Kathleen M. Dumais of Montgomery County as vice chairwoman of the committee. The former vice chairman, Del. Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore, will move to the No. 2 spot on the Ways and Means Committee under Del. Sheila Hixson of Montgomery County.

The Women Legislators of Maryland sent a protest to Busch last March over what it's chairwoman called Vallario's "tyrannical leadership" of the committee. Del. Sue Kullen, D-Calvert, who has since been defeated for re-election, said the committee's "rude behavior" toward witnesses on sensitive topics "relects poorly on all of us."

Vallario hhas also been the subject of criticism from law enforcement offiicials and advocates for drunk driving laws. Last year, he effectively blocked passage of Senate-approved legislation that would have required all convicted drunk drivers to have devices installed on their vehicles to prevent them from being started if the operators had been drinking alcohol. Vallario held out for a bill that would have applied to only repeat offenders and those with blood-alcohol readings far above the legal limit. The so-called ignition interlock bill died without a formal vote in his committee after advocates rejected the compromise.

At the time, some Vallario opponents hoped he would be vulnerable to a challenge iin the Democratic primary. But Vallario won his contest easily.
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