Fate of some bills remains in air after Hogan holds final signing ceremony

The fate of some of the most consequential measures passed by the General Assembly this year remains up in the air Thursday after Gov. Larry Hogan signed 209 bills in the final such ceremony of the year.

The legislation the governor signed included several bills aimed at fighting the state's opioid addiction crisis, including a measure he proposed that will increase the penalties for distributing fentanyl — an often lethal additive to heroin.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was present for the signing of about a half-dozen city-related bills, including one that would return the power to appoint city school board members to City Hall after 20 years of sharing it with the governor.

Proponents were disappointed to see several high-profile bills left off the list. The governor has the option to veto them as late as Saturday or let them become law without his signature. Hogan scheduled a news conference at 3 p.m. Thursday at which he is expected to announce veto decisions.

Many of the bills were passed by veto-proof margins in both the Senate and House of Delegates. But unless vetoed bills are taken up in a special session of legislature, their advocates will have to wait until the Assembly reconvenes in January for override votes.

The most prominent unsigned bill is a measure that would require businesses with 15 or more workers to offer qualifying employees the opportunity to earn up to five days of paid sick leave. Hogan offered his own version of such legislation, relying more on incentives than requirements. But Democratic legislative leaders spurned the Republican governor's version and adopted a broader measure that Hogan has threatened to veto for being anti-business.

Hogan has also declined to sign measures giving the Attorney General's Office new authority to sue distributors of generic drugs over so-called "price gouging" and allowing pharmacists to dispense oral contraceptives over the counter. Other measures that haven't been signed include a "ban the box" bill prohibiting colleges and universities from asking about criminal history on the initial application. Another would make it easier to expunge past convictions for marijuana possession.

Another measure still in limbo seeks to curb the suspensions and expulsions of children in pre-K through second grade. The legislation would require schools in most cases to offer specialized treatment to young children with behavioral problems rather than to simply send them home.

A bill restructuring the state's beer laws also remains on hold amid complaints from wholesalers and retailers that it favors brewers and from craft beer companies that it imposes unreasonable restrictions.

Other measures Hogan signed include three overhauling the state's dated system for procuring goods and services, making it easier for divorced people to resume the use of their former names and requiring schools to grant an excused absence to students who have conflicts due to pregnancy or parenting responsibilities. Another bill signed was hailed by advocates as the first of its kind nationally to protect bees and other pollinators on state land.

The governor hailed the passage of the heroin-related bills, which include measures to limit the amount of opioid painkillers that physicians can prescribe and to bolster drug education in the schools.

"These critical initiatives will help us continue to lead the charge against Maryland's heroin and opioid crisis in our state," Hogan said in a statement. "Our administration remains committed to treating this crisis like the emergency that it is, and I thank the legislature for working with us to provide additional tools to save the lives of Marylanders – before it's too late."

Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat, joined Hogan and legislative leaders for a photograph of the signing, wearing a star-spangled, red, white and blue vest under her jacket.

Klausmeier was prime Senate sponsor of a bill that would, among other things, set up a network of crisis centers around the state to help people with addiction problems.

"I am a proponent of fighting this crisis with whatever tools we possibly can," she said.

Klausmeier said she personally knew three people who died of overdoses within the last five years.

The final signing ceremony all but winds up a 2017 session in which the Republican governor can claim many victories in the face of overwhelming Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers.

One is a package of bills intended to modernize the system under which the state purchases billions of dollars of goods and services from outside vendors. One bill raises the bar for what is considered a small procurement to $50,000 for most contacts and $100,000 for construction projects. Another seeks to increase participation of small and minority businesses in state contracting, while a third creates the office of chief procurement officer in state government and consolidates most state contracting in the Department of General Services.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who led the administration's procurement overhaul effort, thanked lawmakers for supporting the package.

"Creating a more centralized procurement system that ensures the efficient use of resources and produces a more consistent implementation of procurement law, regulation, policy, practice, and procedure is an important part of making state government more transparent," he said in a statement.

Hogan also signed his legislation ensuring future funding of his P-TECH initiative, which brings together high school and community college instruction in a singe technology education program. Two P-TECH schools now operate at Carver-Vocational Technical High School and Dunbar High School in Baltimore.

The governor also highlighted his signing of Amber's Law, a measure sponsored by Del. Aruna Miller, a Montgomery County Democrat. The measure allows domestic violence victims to ask a judge to require accused abusers to wear a GPS-tracking device to monitor compliance with protective orders.

A veto of the beer bill could imperil the plans of the international liquor company Diageo to locate the North American hub of its Guinness brewery operations in a former distillery complex in Relay. Diageo's hopes of turning the brewery into a tourist draw prompted it to seek legislation increasing the amount of beer it could sell on-site. As the legislation progressed, it turned into a tussle between the broader Maryland craft beer industry and the entrenched wholesale and retail liquor lobbies.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller publicly admonished Hogan for not signing the compromise bill, saying it would be an economic boost for Southwest Baltimore County.

"The enemy of the good is the perfect," the Calvert County Democrat lectured. "We need the bill signed. By the way, Happy Birthday."

Hogan turned 61 Thursday. Caught in the act of turning away with an angry expression, he grinned at Miller's sudden pivot.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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