While congressional redistricting headlines the upcoming special session of the Maryland General Assembly, which begins Monday, as their first order of business, lawmakers must take up Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes from the state legislature’s last regular session, which wrapped up in April. Bills passed by large majorities are expected to easily have their gubernatorial vetoes overridden by the minimum three-fifths vote. And many of the more than two dozen bills the governor vetoed are not the stuff that works up the average Maryland resident — say, how a new light rail line in the D.C. suburbs is marketed or the minimum wages paid by public utility contractors.
But there are at least a half-dozen measures of consequence that deserve public scrutiny. In each of the following cases, we would urge the General Assembly to override Governor Hogan’s veto, the arguments for the legislation simply outweighing those against. The doubters are welcome to review public testimony available on the legislative web site, mgaleg.maryland.gov. Most are not an especially close call.
Senate Bill 420. The bill would decriminalize the possession of drug paraphernalia. Proponents argue that arresting drug addicts for possessing a needle — especially one given to them by public health workers trying to guide them toward treatment — is nonsensical. Mr. Hogan argues that decriminalization would invite overdoses; in fact, it should do the opposite by bringing addiction out into the open. Throwing drug users in prison is costly and an ineffective treatment strategy.
House Bill 16. Certain law enforcement agencies have chosen to enter into partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to racially profile and harass people of color, tossing them in for-profit jail cells and then arranging their deportation. The result? A loss of trust in law enforcement that makes Maryland less safe. This bill would ban the practice. It also prevents police, state and local, from inquiring about immigration status during routine police functions such as roadside assistance.
Senate Bill 202. No longer would Maryland’s governor have the final say on parole decisions, leaving it instead to the Maryland Parole Commission in most cases. This helps remove politics out of parole. Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, was famously resistant to reducing prison time in order to project a “tough on crime” approach to voters. And it’s not like the measure is soft on murderers; it actually increases the minimum time served on a life sentence to be eligible for parole from 15 to 20 years.
House Bill 319. Shouldn’t the wealthy face higher income tax rates than than the less affluent? That’s at the heart of the “Local Tax Relief for Working Families Act of 2021″ that authorizes local governments to bracket their income tax rates instead of keeping them flat. Under the proposal, the top potential rate would remain unchanged at 3.2%. It does, however, raise the minimum tax rate from 1% to 2.25% which the governor did not like. But given that most counties have rates well above that, the legislation’s claim about offering tax relief to working families is valid.
House Bill 719. For businesses that were forced by law to shutter during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 such as restaurants, this legislation represents a glimmer of hope. The bill would protect commercial lease tenants from being held personally liable for failing to pay the rent during the state of emergency. Mr. Hogan’s opposition is that this will shift the cost to commercial landlords. But, on balance, property owners are generally better positioned to absorb that economic blow than their small business tenants.
House Bill 114. Remember Governor Hogan’s cancellation of Baltimore’s Red Line? This might be the best legislative answer to that we’ve seen so far. It simply requires that the state spend more to upgrade Maryland Transit Administration systems in the years ahead including bus, light rail, subway and MARC services with existing transportation revenue.
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