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Override Hogan's vetoes

Overrides of gubernatorial vetoes in Annapolis tend to be highly politicized occasions. Back in the last days of divided government in Maryland, many Democrats viewed attempted overrides of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's vetoes as a way to knock the Republican executive down a peg, while members of the GOP rallied to defend his actions regardless of their wisdom.

It needn't be that way. In contrast to Mr. Ehrlich, who invented the "veto ceremony" as a means to publicize (and politicize) his own actions, Maryland's new Republican governor, Larry Hogan, has been relatively muted (at least in public) about the bills he vetoed and his defense of them. Likewise, legislators of both parties should examine the issues on their merits, and by that rubric, there is a solid case to override Mr. Hogan on all counts.

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Hotel tax parity

Senate Bill 190 is about creating a level playing field between hoteliers and online reservation sites like Travelocity and Expedia when it comes to sales taxes. Here's the problem: As it stands, such online sites buy blocks of hotel rooms at a discount and then charge full retail price to their customers. But they apply the state's 6 percent sales tax to the lower price they paid rather than the full price the consumer paid. The result is that they have an unfair advantage over the hotel chains themselves — and shortchange the state by $3 million to $5 million in taxes every year. The CEO of Maryland-based Marriott is urging an override of Mr. Hogan's veto of the bill, saying it would "promote fairness and a competitive landscape for hoteliers in Maryland." Mr. Hogan's rationale for his veto —that the matter is currently subject of litigation — doesn't hold up. Even if the courts may eventually rule against the online travel companies, there is no harm in clarifying the law now.

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Lawmakers should also override Mr. Hogan's veto on a related piece of legislation, House Bill 209. It deals with Howard County's room rental tax, and the same principles apply.

Ex-prisoner voting rights

Under current law, those convicted of felonies lose their voting rights until they have completed not only their term of imprisonment but also any term of parole or probation. Senate Bill 340 and House Bill 980 would expand voting rights to that group as soon as they are released from incarceration. That would put Maryland in line with growing number of states — between 15 and 20 at last count — that allow people to vote while on parole or probation. (Two actually allow people to vote while in prison.) We don't expect this measure will have a huge impact on voter participation, but it does send an important signal about the state's willingness to reintegrate people into society after they have served time in prison. Governor Hogan has rightly taken up the cause of the "collateral consequences" of incarceration that prevent people from living productive lives after prison, such as ineligibility for certain professional licenses or types of government aid, and this bill is of a piece with that effort.

Asset forfeiture

The nation's civil forfeiture laws grew out of an effort to attack the assets of drug kingpins, but too often they have been abused by local, state and federal agencies to seize cash, cars, real estate and more from people who are never charged with a crime. Worse, in order to recover those assets, the burden of proof is on the individual to prove that the assets are not ill-gotten gains, rather than on the government to prove that they are tied to illicit activity. Such a system is probably unconstitutional, but it is nonetheless the law. Senate Bill 528 contains important reforms that restore proper legal protections for individuals' assets. It specifies that the burden of proof is on the government to show that assets are tied to violations of drug laws committed with the owner's knowledge, and it requires law enforcement officials to notify those whose assets are seized of the process to retrieve them.

Two of its provisions have been particularly controversial. One prohibits the seizure of cash in an amount under $300 unless it is directly connected with the distribution of illegal drugs, and another prohibits the state from sharing seized assets with the federal government except under specific circumstances. The first is designed to protect those who really have few assets from being made destitute through the process. It does, not, as critics assert, amount to giving money back to drug dealers. If the state can show that assets of any kind are directly related to drug dealing, they are fair game. The latter provision is important because the federal government lacks the kind of due process provisions this bill provides to Marylanders.

Drug paraphernalia

When Maryland decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, lawmakers, in an obvious oversight, did not decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia. Thus, it is not illegal to have up to 10 grams of pot, but it is illegal to have the pipe to smoke it. Senate Bill 517 fixes that. Critics complain that if the bill becomes law as-is, police won't be able to pull someone over for smoking a joint behind the wheel or arrest them for doing it in a park or other public place. The first charge is simply untrue; Maryland's laws already make driving under the influence of marijuana just as illegal as driving while drunk. There is no need to include a separate provision to that effect in this law. As to the second, the bill establishes civil penalties for smoking marijuana in public — including a $500 fine for the first offense. A penalty of that magnitude should give police sufficient power to deter that offense.

Maryland Hall funding

Governor Hogan struck $2 million in funding for renovations to the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis from the capital budget. It was a fairly naked retaliatory move against House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who clashed with the governor during the legislative session over various issues, including whether to reopen the State Police's Annapolis barracks, which former Gov. Martin O'Malley had closed as a cost-saving measure. Mr. Hogan claimed he was using the $2 million to help pay to reopen the barracks, but money for a capital project can't be used to cover operating expenses. The money would be used, among other things, to improve handicap access for a facility that serves 100,000 patrons a year and provides education programming for 5,000 students.

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