Senator Bobby A. Zirkin, Chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (Photo: www.bobbyzirkin.com)
Senator Bobby Zirkin, a successful attorney, knows about the importance of reaching compromise to achieve results. It is through his ability to work well with legislators from different party affiliations that he has been able to pass meaningful legislation in the areas of juvenile justice, family law, and criminal law. In speaking with Senator Zirkin I was able to learn about his background and gain insight into what he hopes to accomplish in the 2016 Session of the Maryland General Assembly.
Senator Bobby Zirkin was born and raised in Pikesville, Maryland where he attended Baltimore County public schools. After completing high school, Senator Zirkin attended Johns Hopkins University where he majored in Political Science. Senator Zirkin always had an interest in government and politics, however, it was in his time after completing college that he began to become heavily involved. After completing college, Senator Zirkin served as the President of the Young Democrats of Maryland. This early experience helped Senator Zirkin develop his leadership skills and would serve useful as he began to enter the political arena as a first year law student.
Following college, Senator Zirkin attended Georgetown University Law Center to earn his Juris Doctorate. During his first year of law school, Senator Zirkin organized a ‘Democratic Youth Bus Tour’ in which he spent the summer traveling the country with President Bill Clinton. During the 40 state trip, Senator Zirkin campaigned for the re-election of President Clinton, urged people all over the country to vote, and held events to convince young people of the importance of voting. Thanks in large part to his success on the tour, the Democratic Party tapped Senator Zirkin to deliver a nationally televised speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Senator Zirkin states this experience and his experience working for President Clinton inspired him to want to seek elected office. In the summer working with President Clinton, Senator Zirkin says he learned just how important government and politics are to people and how government can help people. “After that summer I wanted to do it for myself and be in the mix of making laws to help people’s lives”, says Senator Zirkin. Thus after finishing law school, Senator Zirkin decided he was ready to seek public office himself.
In 1999 Senator Zirkin decided to run for the Maryland House of Delegates. His decision to legislate on the State level was due in large part to his interest in issues surrounding criminal, civil, and family law. As such, he never strongly considered legislating on the county/local level. In 1999 he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. In 2007 he was elected as a member of Maryland State Senate and since the year 2015 Senator Zirkin has served as the Chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
In Senator Zirkin’s nearly two decades in Annapolis, he says he’s learned that legislators may come from different backgrounds but everybody in office is trying to make a difference. Senator Zirkin believes that every legislator in Annapolis is committed to making Maryland a better State. Due to this common goal the legislators share, Senator Zirkin believes “the best way to legislate is to allow party labels to mean nothing. It doesn’t matter if ideas come from Democrats or Republicans. The best way to help people is to roll up your sleeves and work with everybody”. Thus when asked of his proudest accomplishment in the legislature, Senator Zirkin stated it is being able to lead the the least partisan committee in Annapolis. “Every member of the eleven-member committee leaves their party label at the door and works hard to make the best decisions for the State” says Senator Zirkin. While he stated leaving party labels at the door doesn’t necessarily mean legislators will agree on everything, he believes it allows legislators to actually focus on substantive issues. Senator Zirkin referenced the back and forth banter between the Republican presidential candidates and Democratic candidates as an example of partisan politics gone bad. “You see what’s going on in Washington watching these debates. To me that’s not the way good government should work. It’s the reason people when they think about politics all they see is partisanship. All that should matter is the issue” says Senator Zirkin.
In his nearly two decades in the Maryland General Assembly, Senator Zirkin has tackled many issues in the areas of juvenile justice, family law, and criminal law. Throughout his tenure, Senator Zirkin has brought a renewed focus to the plight of kids in the juvenile justice system. Senator Zirkin’s attention to the juvenile justice system has helped reveal that many juveniles have been abused and put into massive jail-like facilities. Senator Zirkin also, with heavy support from Democrats and Republicans, introduced legislation establishing a mentoring program for troubled youth. It was Senator Zirkin’s hope that the mentoring program legislation would help to lessen the amount of repeat juvenile offenders. In the area of family law, Senator Zirkin successfully pushed legislation that modernizes the divorce laws in the State of Maryland. Senator Zirkin’s divorce legislation focused on couples with no minor children who seek to obtain an absolute divorce on a no fault basis. The approved legislation allows these couples to enter into voluntary separation agreements that resolve alimony and property distribution. The legislation also eliminates the requirement that couples must wait one year prior to filing or live separate and apart prior to filing. Senator Zirkin’s legislation has been vital in allowing divorced couples to move on with their lives, eliminating costs associated with the division of marital assets, and reducing the role courts play in divorce proceedings. Lastly, Senator Zirkin was the lead sponsor on a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. The bill made the use or possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a civil rather than a criminal offense. Additionally, the bill established a range of fines for possession of marijuana under 10 grams starting at $100. As of today, the bill has afforded police officers more time to conduct police patrol work. Furthermore, the bill has shielded many individuals caught with small amounts of marijuana from criminal records that hinder their schooling and employment opportunities. Senator Zirkin once again was able to put partisanship aside as then Senator Allan H. Kittleman, a republican, co-sponsored the marijuana decriminalization legislation.
In the 2016 Session of the Maryland General Assembly, Senator Zirkin is once again focused on reforming the criminal justice system. During this session, Senator Zirkin is looking to pass legislation aimed at addressing drug addiction and rehabilitation. “We need to treat addiction as a healthcare problem and not as a criminal problem” says Senator Zirkin. He believes that “warehousing” individuals who are addicted to drugs doesn’t address the root of their addiction and only leads to repeat offenses. Instead of putting these individuals in prisons, Senator Zirkin believes the State should establish a system that treats their addiction. In addition, Senator Zirkin believes the State should provide programs more focused on helping these individuals return to be productive members of society. Senator Zirkin believes that if this legislation passes, the State will be able to successfully rehabilitate people addicted to drugs, save the criminal justice system money, and save potential victims’ lives down the line. In order to accomplish his goal to pass this legislation, Senator Zirkin will once again have to look for support from legislators on both sides of the aisle. Given his proven ability to do such, Senator Zirkin is excited about what the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly has in store.
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