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Unfinished business: Maryland legislature should override governor’s vetoes

The Maryland legislature kicks off its 2020 session Wednesday. Members will reconsider legislation vetoed last year by the governor in the coming weeks.
The Maryland legislature kicks off its 2020 session Wednesday. Members will reconsider legislation vetoed last year by the governor in the coming weeks. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)

When the state’s General Assembly convenes its 2020 session Wednesday, members will take up hundreds of issues important to Marylanders, and among them will be a handful of holdovers from the 2019 legislative session. Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed eight bills that lawmakers put forth and passed last year, and they’re expected to weigh whether to override them in the coming weeks. Here’s a look at what didn’t make the governor’s cut and what legislators should do about it.

HB 66/SB 252: Freight rail crew requirements

Legislation: Requires certain freight railroad companies that use the same rail corridor as high-speed passenger- and commuter- trains to have at least two people per crew when operating in the state.

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Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “The increased costs associated with this legislation, negative impact on the approximately 37,300 jobs generated by port activity, and potential to jeopardize the livelihood of Maryland workers who depend on a thriving Port of Baltimore is too harmful to allow these bills to become law.”

Our view: Critics complain the bill is too onerous on the rail industry and unnecessary because all major railroads are supposed to have automatic train stopping technology, known as “Positive Train Control,” in place by the end of the year. While that will undoubtedly make the rails safer, it doesn’t negate the need for at least two crew members on duty. Rail cars carry all kinds of hazardous materials that can wreak havoc on a community, including crude oil, and we’re more comfortable with a human back-up plan. The legislature should prioritize rail safety and override the veto.

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HB 262/SB 537: Dreamer tuition rates

Legislation: Expands the Maryland Dream Act by removing certain restrictions to qualifying for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “Our goals must be more broadly focused to ensure all Marylanders have access to a world-class education, instead of giving favorable treatment to just one small group.”

Our view: Maryland voters approved the Dream Act via referendum in 2012, allowing undocumented individuals who attended state high schools for at least three years and received a diploma (or its equivalent) to pay the same tuition rates at public four-year colleges and universities as regular resident students. But they were first required to complete two years at a Maryland community college. If the voters’ goal was to expand education opportunities, the community college diversion is arbitrary and unnecessary, and it goes against the spirit of their intent. The legislature should override the veto.

HB 720/SB 830: Oyster fishery management

Legislation: Reestablishes an “Oyster Advisory Commission” and requires the Department of Natural Resources to delay altering boundaries of existing oyster sanctuaries until consensus recommendations are reached (in coordination with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science) and a fisheries management plan developed.

Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “Following on the heels of the three-year statutory delay that prevented the revision of oyster management practices until the completion of an oyster stock assessment earlier this year, the same group of legislative and environmental advocates is again making an end run. Under this bill, the department’s implementation of thoughtful and science-based management practices is forbidden for at least another two years or until the cumbersome, reconstituted Oyster Advisory Commission — nearly double in size from the original OysterFutures workgroup — is able to develop a statewide consensus package.”

Our view: The bill would require DNR to consider more views in developing its management strategies. Though this would lead to a delay in development and implementation of a fisheries management plan, it should ultimately lead to a better, more inclusive proposal that satisfies both watermen and environmentalists. The legislature should override the veto.

HB 994/SB 839: Banning the box

Legislation: Prohibits an employer with 15 or more full-time employees from asking about criminal records on job applications or before the first in-person interview.

Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “Employers have the right, and often the need, to know the criminal history of applicants they may hire. Senate Bill 839/House Bill 994 prohibits businesses from requiring an applicant to disclose this important information until the first in-person interview. This would result in costly and time-consuming human resources work that ultimately goes nowhere.”

Our view: We disagree with the governor’s suggestion that getting to know a candidate based on their qualifications before considering their complications is a waste of time. It simply affords applicants the opportunity to be evaluated on their merits — something many never get when they list their faults up front or are asked to check a box revealing their criminal history. Maryland already has a “ban-the-box” statute affecting state hiring. It’s natural to extend it to private sector employers; they will still have an opportunity to consider a criminal record and pass on an applicant, they’ll just have to consider the person first. The legislature should override the veto.

HB 1343/SB1000: Abolishing Handgun Permit Review Board

Legislation: Repeals the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ Handgun Permit Review Board, which hears appeals of those whose ability to wear, carry or transport a handgun is restricted or denied by the Secretary of State Police.

Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “Abolishing the Handgun Permit Review Board is not a solution to violent crime problems. It is just another in a long series of politically-motivated and ill-conceived power grabs.”

Our view: Of the 259 appeals the Handgun Permit Review Board considered and decided in 2018, it sustained the determination of the Maryland State Police only 14% of the time. The rest of the rulings were either reversed or modified, suggesting that either the state police are woefully bad at judging gun owners or the civilian review board is. We adopt the latter view; the review board has become little more than an end run around an unfavorable decision by state police and should be disbanded. Those seeking gun permits can still appeal state police decisions, but they’ll have to do it before a trained administrative law judge within the Office of Administrative Hearings. The legislature should override the veto.

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HB 891: State personnel grievance procedures

Legislation: Expands grievance procedures to include certain state employees who are subject to a collective bargaining agreement that was previously excluded.

Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “This is yet another ill-advised attempt by the General Assembly to insert themselves into the collective bargaining process and to interfere with the good faith efforts by our Administration to negotiate an agreed upon grievance process with the state employee unions.”

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Our view: The bill simplifies the grievance process. The legislature should override the veto.

HB 1281: Bikeways Network Program funding

Legislation: Expands the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan; codifies and mandates funding for the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Bikeways Network Program, requiring the governor to include at least a $3.8 million appropriation from the Transportation Trust Fund in the annual state budget for the program’s operation.

Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “In the final days of the legislative session, language was unfortunately added to House Bill 1281 that fundamentally and inexplicably changes the scope of the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan, creates unnecessary and costly bureaucratic hurdles, risks federal funding, and impedes our progress to improve transit services in the Central Maryland region.”

Our view: In December, Governor Hogan said he would make $3.8 million in funds available for the Bikeways program in each of the next two years, and we thank him for that. But this bill would have gone a step further and provided a dedicated funding stream for a longer period, and shown a commitment to the transit needs of central Maryland residents. Its veto suggests that the governor is not interested in a robust urban transit plan. We are. The legislature should override the veto.

SB 751: Governor’s Appointments Office

Legislation: Requires the Governor’s Appointments Office to produce an annual employment report regarding actions toward those overseen by an appointing authority, and the Attorney General’s Office to create a hotline for violation reports.

Comments from Governor Hogan’s veto letter: “This unconstitutional law will impede the Executive Branch’s ability to do business and have a chilling effect on our efforts to recruit qualified candidates. Personnel matters are confidential by law for a reason. Applicants for jobs trust their potential employer to be discreet and professional in every way. Having every movement logged and reported will have a detrimental effect on applicants for positions that affect every Marylander.”

Our view: This bill would make extra work for the Appointments Office, but it would also provide more transparency regarding personnel decisions and potential protections for workers. The legislature should override the veto.

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