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Senators criticize Hogan administration for being a no-show in the legislature

Multiple state senators criticized Gov. Larry Hogan and his administration Wednesday for being a frequent no-show in the legislative process.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, said on the Senate floor that state agencies have submit "letters of information" that don't take a firm position in support or in opposition to a bill. Agency heads also do not often appear at bill hearings to answer questions, Pinsky said.

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"It seems that this is a coordinated effort from the second floor to not offend anyone, I guess. I don't know why they don't put on their big boy pants and take a position," said Pinsky, who is vice chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. The second floor refers to the location of Hogan's office in the State House.

Pinsky said senators -- regardles of whether they agree or disagree with the administration -- are working with their hands tied behind their back because they are without the executive branch's expert opinion.

"One, we don't know where they stand and two, they're not there to help us in our deliberations and I find that disrespectful to all 47 of us," Pinsky said.

Pinsky, who has been in the General Assembly since 1987, said senators immediately look to see where the administration stands before voting, whether the governor is a Republican or Democrat.

"It's one thing to be pragmatic," he said. "It's another thing to be AWOL."

Hogan's spokesman, Matthew A. Clark, didn't mince words in defending the governor's dealings with the legislature.

"These complaints sound like a wild outbreak of Hogan Derangement Syndrome and the affected legislators should probably seek out treatment options immediately," he said in a statement.

More seriously, Clark said: "This is baloney. The Administration and state agencies have provided detailed testimony on hundreds of bills during the session and has been working at full speed evaluating almost 3,000 bills introduced by lawmakers."

Hogan was traveling in Frederick County on Wednesday.

Two Republican senators offered a defense of the Hogan administration.

Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, a freshman Republican from Harford County, said he thinks it's "refreshing" that Hogan understands the separation of powers between branches of government. Cassilly said he rejects the idea that the administration should "chime in on everything."

Sen. J.B. Jennings, the Senate's minority leader, cautioned senators not to criticize those who serve in the administration. Many agency employees provide technical information about bills that end up in the nonpartisan fiscal notes that explain the financial and other impacts of proposals, he said.

"It's up to us to ask them for a position," he said.

But Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, offered an example of the administration not offering a position on a bill despite being asked repeatedly.

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Brochin said the Judicial Proceedings Committee has been considering legislation that would increase the allowable weight of chicken trucks -- a proposal that would help the Eastern Shore's poultry industry.

But senators needed more information about whether it would be safe for Maryland roads. Despite multiple requests, the administration didn't offer a position on the bill, so it was voted down, Brochin said.

"We need them to come and give us an opinion," he said.

Sen. Delores Kelley, another Baltimore County Democrat, said she knows "there is a lot of talent" in state agencies that could be helpful to lawmakers. There's no reason for senators to "be in the dark" about the administration's positions, she said.

"I think it is a tactical error to not allow the department heads to be at the table ... They have valuable information," she said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has been in the General Assembly since 1971, said governors take different approaches, with some being more hands-off with lawmakers than others.

But Miller said the governor can't avoid participating in the legislative process and then criticize lawmakers for the decisions they make.

Miller noted that Hogan was "very critical" of lawmakers for not being business friendly during a speech before a business group on Tuesday, yet Hogan didn't have his secretary of commerce participate in the legislature's Augustine Commission that reviewed the state's business climate, Miller said.

"Let us be clear: We're not asking the governor to come and testify at all," Miller said. "But just the department heads who have the expertise, who have the staff people who have expertise, to give us their opinion."

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