Maryland voters will decide Tuesday whether to make it easier to obtain a protective order on a weekend and to disband a government office or board on an emergency basis.
The state Judiciary Committee and the state Judicial Conference both support ballot question No. 1, which would allow battered women and other people who feel threatened to seek a civil protective order or a civil peace order from a District Court commissioner, rather than a judge.
Under current law, domestic violence protective orders and peace orders, which apply to situations that do not involve domestic partners, can be issued only by a District Court or Circuit Court judge. Because the courts are open only on weekdays during business hours and are closed on holidays, domestic orders and peace orders cannot be obtained on weekends and at night.
District Court commissioners are judicial officers who are appointed by the court's administrative judges and approved by the chief judge. The commissioners issue arrest warrants and set terms for pretrial release in criminal cases.
Carole Alexander, executive director of House of Ruth of Maryland, a statewide organization that provides shelter, advocacy and social services to battered women, said the legislation would allow victims to obtain protective orders on weekends and nights, when most domestic violence occurs.
"We believe it is the right direction in terms of creating access for victims of domestic violence," Alexander said. House of Ruth of Maryland supports the ballot measure.
Ballot measure No. 2 would amend the state constitution to allow the General Assembly to adopt emergency laws creating or abolishing any office or changing the terms or duties of any officer.
The Maryland Constitution says that a bill cannot take effect before June 1, a requirement that frustrated lawmakers last spring who were trying to disband the Prince George's County school board immediately. The genesis of the ballot measure, though, was concern for quickly enacting anti-terrorism legislation.
An emergency bill is defined as a measure that is necessary for the immediate preservation of public health or safety. It is passed by the General Assembly by a vote of three-fifths of the elected membership of each chamber of state legislature.
State voters will also weigh in on a constitutional amendment that would allow Montgomery County to expedite condemning land for road projects.