On April 8, the Maryland General Assembly voted to send a ballot measure to voters in November to require Howard County Circuit Court judges to serve as orphans’ court judges and remove the election requirement of three orphans’ court judges. The bill would also make changes to state law, if the amendment is approved, to clarify that an appellant from the orphans’ court does not appeal to the circuit court but directly to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
The Maryland Constitution requires a simple majority vote in the state and the affected county in order for the amendment to pass, meaning a simple majority must also be achieved in Howard County for the amendment to be adopted.
To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a 60% supermajority vote is required in both the Maryland State Senate and the Maryland House of Representatives.
This amendment was introduced as House Bill 868 on February 7, 2022. On March 18, 2022, the state House passed HB 868 in a vote of 119-10. On April 8, 2022, the state Senate passed HB 868 by a vote of 41-4.
The Howard County Circuit Court is part of the Maryland Fifth Circuit. Maryland Circuit Courts hear criminal cases and civil cases, including juvenile and other family law cases such as divorce, custody, and child support. The Maryland Orphan’s Court has jurisdiction over wills, estates, and other probate matters.
Howard County would join Montgomery and Harford counties in overlapping circuit and orphan court jurisdictions.
Maryland voters will also be deciding four other constitutional amendments related to marijuana legalization, renaming the Maryland Court of Appeals, the amount in controversy in civil jury trials, and the state legislature’s residency requirement.
The Maryland General Assembly was set to adjourn on April 11.
From 1996 through 2020, 33 of 36 ballot measures appearing on statewide ballots were approved.