Hogan signs Metro safety bill in private ceremony

Gov. Larry Hogan signed into a law a bill that creates a new safety agency for the Washington-area Metro transit system, which should lead to the release of $4.8 million in federal aid that had been withheld.

Hogan signed the bill Thursday afternoon in a private State House ceremony that was attended by a handful of lawmakers and staffers.

The bill creates the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission to provide safety oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metro trains in the Washington area. The commission's creation was contingent on Virginia and Washington, D.C., passing similar legislation. Both did so in recent months.

Maryland, Virginia and Washington agreed in principle to create the commission seven years ago after a collision killed nine people near the Fort Totten Metro stop. The three jurisdictions missed a deadline in February to create the safety agency, leading the federal government to withhold 5 percent of the money it sends to the state — about $4.8 million.

Del. Kumar Barve, who chairs the House of Delegates committee that handles transportation issues, said after the bill signing that the federal government's deadline was "arbitrary and unrealistic."

Still, he believes the bill was passed in time for the federal government to restore the money before the end of its fiscal year on Sept. 30. State transportation officials have said that as long as the money is restored by then, it won't affect the state's budget.

Federal transportation officials will need to certify the safety program before releasing the money.

Hogan held the bill-signing in private. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who also sign all bills, brought with them the lawmakers who worked on the Metro safety bill: Barve, Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr., Sen. Cheryl Kagan and Sen. Brian Feldman, all Montgomery County Democrats.

As an emergency bill, it became law once it was signed.

The Metro safety bill was one of more than two dozen measures that lawmakers sent to the Republican governor Wednesday. He is required to sign the bills into law or veto them before the end of the annual 90-day General Assembly session on April 10 — giving lawmakers a chance to override any vetoes.

Hogan has not said which bills he will sign or which he will veto, and his office has not announced any plans for bill-signing ceremonies.

Hogan previously promised to veto one of the bills on the list: a measure that would limit steps the state can take to reform low-performing public schools, such as putting them in a separate "reform" school district, giving the children vouchers to transfer to private schools or turning them over to private operators.

Hogan has offered his support for another bill on the list that bans hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," for natural gas, a controversial type of drilling that's been proposed in Western Maryland.

pwood@baltsun.com

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