Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Shift Coming to Critical Maryland House Committee, December 30, 2010, by Kate Ryan

WASHINGTON – Witnesses headed to testify before lawmakers on sensitive topics like domestic abuse, cyber-bullying and drunk driving have complained that members of Maryland’s House Judiciary Committee could be rude, sarcastic and even insulting.

That criticism came from former Del. Sue Kullen (D-Calvert), who protested to House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) about the treatment of witnesses, particularly those testifying on issues related to domestic violence.

But while the leader of the Judiciary Committee — Del. Joseph Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) — will remain committee chair when Maryland’s General Assembly convenes next month, he is getting a new vice chair: Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery), a lawyer with extensive experience in family law.

Dumais was asked about the new assignment and the selection of a woman for the job.

“It’s a new perspective to have in the ‘back rooms’ so to speak, and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” she says.

Dumais has heard the criticisms of the committee, and said there’s no need to alienate witnesses. But she also says the committee is a policy-setting body and must sometimes ask probing questions.

As an example, she cited the debate over interlock devices for those found guilty of drunk driving.

“We hear heart-wrenching stories of people that have lost loved ones to drunk driving, but there still has to be a balance with the Constitution,” she says.

Dumais says with committee members who have strong feelings on opposite sides of an issue “it’s often a balance between a victim’s rights and a defendant’s Constitutional rights. And it’s tough to balance those sometimes.”

Among the issues she expects to see come up in committee this year? An attempt to repeal or weaken the death penalty, laws regarding drunk driving that include an attempt to get the interlock device legislation passed and cyberbullying.

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