Governor Larry Hogan talks about Bills that are being signed by himself, Democratic Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Pro tem Adrienne Jones. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun video)
Gov. Larry Hogan has until Saturday to decide whether to veto any of the remaining bills on his desk, and he’s got a few big ones left to consider. So far this year, he’s made some regrettable vetoes that the legislature was still in session to override — allowing school systems to set their own calendars and tightening protections on oyster sanctuaries, for example. And he has allowed to become law without his signature arguably the most important bills of the year: funding for the first two years of Kirwan Commission education reforms and the Clean Energy Jobs Act. But the remaining big issues before him leave Governor Hogan plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his values and leadership. Here are some of the highlights of the bills Mr. Hogan might still veto, and the message he could send about himself by signing them instead.
A politician who doesn’t just talk but acts
President Trump has talked a lot about lowering the cost of prescription drugs, but there’s reason to doubt whether the proposal he issued in February to address the issue will accomplish much. He’s going after the system of rebates drug manufacturers provide to pharmacy benefit managers and others in the supply chain, arguing that any such benefits should go to the patient instead. But that doesn’t actually address the cost of the drugs themselves, and drug companies would remain free to pocket the now-banned rebates in the form of windfall profits. (Indeed, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association praised Mr. Trump’s idea, which may tell you all you need to know.) Meanwhile, insurers are warning that premiums may go up to compensate for the lost rebates.
Maryland health care advocates have come up with a more straightforward approach in a proposed Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which the legislature passed overwhelmingly. It would create a group that would be tasked with evaluating the cost of new, expensive drugs (those costing more than $30,000 a year) or those whose prices go up substantially in any given year. The group would get input from a stakeholder council, including pharmaceutical industry representatives, and consider all the factors that go into a drug price. If it finds the drug price unjustified, it could, starting in 2022, set an upper limit for how much state and local governments would pay for those drugs. (The legislature would then have the option of extending those limits to all purchasers.)
Governor Hogan allowed a generic drug price gouging bill to go into law without his signature two years ago, though he issued a letter detailing significant reservations about it. The law was subsequently struck down in the courts. This measure is designed differently to avoid some of the legal issues posed by the generic drug bill and addresses Mr. Hogan’s concern about the extent to which name-brand drugs prices are burdening consumers. The bill has bipartisan support — Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican, has been particularly outspoken about the positive impact it could have on his county’s finances — and statewide, voters backed the bill 85 percent to 10 percent in a recent poll. Governor Hogan made remarks during a recent quasi-presidential-campaign trip to New Hampshire that suggest he may favor this legislation. We hope he does.
A bi-partisan pragmatist
Signing another major piece of health care legislation sitting on Governor Hogan’s desk would highlight his ability to work with Democrats quietly and without drama to benefit Marylanders. Last year, without partisanship or rancor, Mr. Hogan worked with the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly to pass legislation allowing the creation of a reinsurance pool to help control costs in the Affordable Care Act exchange. The policy was complex, and so were the politics — funding it required the establishment of a state-level health insurance premium tax, not something the anti-tax Mr. Hogan would ordinarily be inclined to do. But the federal government had suspended its premium tax for a year as part of the Trump-Republican tax cut of 2017, and this new state levy was enacted as a one-year replacement.
The reinsurance pool worked — big projected rate increases on the individual market turned into decreases, a trend that is carrying over into next year. But the funding is only sufficient for about two and a half years. During this year’s General Assembly session, lawmakers worked on a plan to extend the premium tax to support the reinsurance pool, and again the Hogan administration worked behind the scenes with Democrats to reduce the size of the proposed tax. But the governor has not said whether he supports the bill itself.
Signing it would be a reminder that he is not among the Republicans who are bent on destroying the Affordable Care Act but is instead committed to making it succeed. It would show his willingness to compromise when it helps his constituents and to support practical solutions that work.
A conscientious objector in the culture wars
Governor Hogan is personally opposed to abortion, but when he ran for office in 2014, he pledged not to seek to change Maryland law on the matter, and he’s kept his word. He was also outspoken at the time about his support for making birth control more readily available. But thanks to the anti-abortion, anti-family planning agenda of the Trump administration, maintaining the status quo in Maryland requires Governor Hogan to act.
This year, the Trump administration proposed an update to federal rules that would prohibit any facility from receiving Title X funds if they are physically or financially connected to a provider of abortion services and would drop a previous requirement that Title X recipients provide a broad range of medically approved family planning methods. That doesn’t mean the Trump administration is trying to stop the federal government from funding abortions — it never did — but that it is trying to punish abortion providers by de-funding their other services, from family planning to cancer screening. House Bill 1272, sponsored by Del. Shane Pendergrass of Howard County, would prohibit the state from accepting Title X money under those conditions.
Maryland is already suing the federal government over the proposed rule change, and it already has a trigger law in place to provide state funding for service providers (like Planned Parenthood) that might be affected by it. Mr. Hogan allowed that bill to become law without his signature. By signing this one, he would demonstrate that he isn’t interested in trying to score points in the culture wars and is instead focused on making progress in other areas.
He could make a similar statement by signing legislation eliminating Maryland’s Handgun Permit Review Board. This is admittedly a tough sell, since it entails removing a power from the executive branch, but there are practical, good government reasons for it.
As with abortion, Mr. Hogan said when campaigning that he would not seek to loosen Maryland’s gun laws, and in fact, he has supported some measures to strengthen them. But his appointees to the Handgun Permit Review Board have been much more willing than those appointed by previous governors to reverse or loosen Maryland State Police denials or limitations on permits to wear, carry or transport handguns. During the last year, Mr. Hogan’s appointees overturned the denials or restrictions imposed by the state police more than 80 percent of the time.
The legislation on Mr. Hogan’s desk doesn’t eliminate the ability of Marylanders to appeal restrictions or denials by the state police, it just transfers the venue for them to the Office of Administrative Hearings. That means greater consistency from one administration to the next and less likelihood that those making such decisions will operate from a pro- or anti-gun agenda.
Finally, Governor Hogan has the opportunity to take a small but meaningful step to make Maryland more welcoming to the LGBTQ community by allowing people to select “unspecified” as their gender on driver's licenses. There are no real practical downsides to such a step, which several other states have already taken, but the difference for individuals who are too often marginalized could be great. There’s really no reason to veto this bill other than to stoke the culture wars, and we certainly hope that’s not something Governor Hogan would do.
Is Governor Hogan willing to make a bold statement with the remaining bills? His announcement about the Clean Energy Jobs Act suggests he might.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act allows Maryland to do just that. It increases the state’s goals for how much of its electricity comes from renewable sources from the current goal of 25 percent by 2020 to 50 percent by 2030. More significantly, it requires that the state develop a plan to transition to entirely renewable energy by 2040.
It’s notable that Mr. Hogan would allow the bill to become law just two years after he vetoed a less stringent renewable energy bill, calling it a “sunshine and wind tax,” but what’s more notable are his stated reasons for not signing it. He argues that it allows too much dirty energy from trash incineration and other sources (very true) and that as structured it won’t do enough to make sure that the economic benefits of the new green economy accrue in Maryland rather than other states. He promises new legislation in January to correct those deficiencies. We’ll need to see the details, but if he wants a bolder, cleaner approach to Maryland’s energy future, we’re all for it.