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Maryland General Assembly opens with Larry Hogan's vow of open door

Gov. Larry Hogan welcomed the Maryland General Assembly back to Annapolis on Wednesday with the promise that he was just a phone call away.

"I want you to know that I'm always available to you," Hogan told the Senate.

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He delivered a similar message to the House of Delegates. Hogan is a Republican; both chambers are dominated by Democrats.

"Just pick up the phone, let us know whatever you want to talk about," he said. "As I've said before, I don't care which side of the aisle the ideas come from."

The governor has already borrowed some ideas; two of the four plans to cut taxes he announced Tuesday were first proposed by Democrats in the legislature.

However, amid the goodwill and ceremony of the Assembly's 436th opening day, Hogan's call for clear communication was greeted with skepticism by Democratic leaders.

"I haven't gotten any of the governor's plans so far," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. He warned that the governor's tactic of announcing plans to the press before talking to lawmakers could jeopardize big initiatives this year.

"In terms of how things get done, somebody needs to tell him that there's a chief executive, but the legislature has got to adopt his proposals," Miller said. "It would help if they knew about them ahead of time, so he could get buy-in."

Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch complained in a joint interview Wednesday that they had not been briefed by the administration in advance of recent announcements, such as plans to fund demolition of vacant buildings in Baltimore and the rollout of tax proposals.

The first day of the annual 90-day session is usually brief and given to pageantry. But lawmakers in each chamber made quick work of scheduling debate next Wednesday to override six vetoes that Hogan issued last year.

One of the bills would have granted voting rights to felons before they complete parole. Another would have made it a civil offense and not a crime to possess marijuana paraphernalia.

Two measures would have changed the way Maryland hotel taxes are collected from online booking sites. One proposed a statewide law; the other would have applied only in Howard County.

Another would have raised the standard of proof for seizing money and assets from suspected drug dealers.

In a radio interview Wednesday with Marc Steiner before lawmakers convened in the State House, Miller and Busch predicted that the Assembly would override most of those vetoes.

Hogan expressed his strongest objections to the measure that would have made it easier for felons to regain the right to vote.

"Politically and legally, I just think it's a bad idea," he said.

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Busch noted that the bill received 84 votes in the House last year. He predicted that proponents of the measure would pick up the 85th vote needed for an override in that chamber.

If there were not enough votes to overturn the veto, Miller said, the legislature would pass new legislation within the next two weeks that accomplishes the same goal and resolves enough concerns that the bill would be approved by a veto-proof three-fifths of the chamber.

Already, 182 bills are waiting for lawmakers to act, and more than 1,200 others are waiting to be drafted. Veteran lawmakers have begun rallying their advocates for initiatives they hope to pass this year.

"We're going to score the big one this year," Sen. Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton told environmental advocates working on his clean-jobs bill.

The legislation would require more electricity to come from renewable sources, creating a greater demand for jobs in that industry.

"Sell the idea," Middleton said. "We need every single vote!"

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