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Maryland Democrats present legislation billed as curbs on Trump

In a challenge to Gov. Larry Hogan, General Assembly Democrats unveiled a package of initiatives Tuesday they billed as a defense of Marylanders' rights against the actions of President Donald J. Trump.

The measures include expanding the authority of Maryland's attorney general to take legal action against federal government actions without receiving the governor's permission. The legislation would free Democratic Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to more aggressively fight Trump administration policies in court.

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State Senate and House of Delegates Democrats advanced the five-bill package the day before the Republican governor is scheduled to deliver his third State of the State address. Members of the Assembly's majority party explicitly challenged Hogan to speak out more forcefully against the new Republican president on such matters as immigration, health care and consumer protections.

"We've seen little evidence that the governor is stepping up, so we will," said House Majority Leader C. William Frick, a Montgomery County Democrat.

The move is part of a larger pattern in which Democrats have tried to tie the popular governor firmly to Trump, who won the Electoral College and the presidency but was trounced in Maryland during the November election.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer rejected the criticism.

"The governor and our legislative agenda will remain focused on Maryland," he said. The legislature "should do the same."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller joined House Speaker Michael E. Busch in presenting the package and criticizing Trump's actions in the days since he took office Jan. 20.

Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, said Maryland is especially vulnerable to the White House's change in direction. "We're going to protect ourselves from Washington," he said.

Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, accused Trump of acting to curb civil rights and equal rights. "We are a state that prides itself on its diversity," Busch said. "We are going to continue to do that."

The measures Democrats are proposing are a mix of non-binding resolutions and substantive actions. They said the five bills are just the small part of their overall agenda that deals with the Trump administration.

The most substantive appears to be the one Democrats dubbed the Maryland Defense Act of 2017. Frosh said it would significantly expand his independent authority to sue the Trump administration in areas such as immigration. He said he currently would need to get permission from either Hogan or the legislature, which is out of session nine months of the year.

Frosh said Maryland's attorney general's office is one of the weaker in the country in terms of independent power to sue federal authorities. He said the bill would correct that.

"This legislation could put us in a position where we no longer need to apply on a case-by-case basis," he said. "We could jump in and protect Maryland citizens."

Mayer said the governor's office hasn't see the bill, but added that it "sounds unconstitutional."

"Sadly, this is just one of many ham-handed and overtly political attempts over the past two years to strip the governor's office of its long-standing authority," Mayer said.

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Other measures the Democrats proposed would:

•Urge Hogan and the state's congressional delegation to strongly oppose efforts to repeal provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act that provide health insurance to at least 400,000 Marylanders.

•Create a commission to monitor federal actions on health care insurance and position the state for any reduction in coverage of Marylanders.

•Set up a task force to study changes Trump might make to federal consumer protection laws and to monitor steps the state should take.

•Withdraw Maryland's decades-old calls for a new federal constitutional convention under Article V of the Constitution. Democrats expressed concern that any convention called during the Trump administration could weaken liberties and civil rights protections.

There has never been a U.S. convention since the original one in 1787. But Article V allows for such a gathering to be convened if two-thirds of the states pass resolutions calling for one for the same purpose. About 28 states, including Maryland in 1977, have at times passed resolutions calling for a convention to pass a balanced-budget amendment, leaving proponents six short.

Constitutional experts are divided over whether such a convention, if convened, could be limited to a specific purpose or whether it would be free to propose a rewrite of the entire document. Some conservatives have called for a convention with an eye toward limiting federal power, restoring school prayer and imposing term limits on Congress, among other goals.

The Democrats' proposed resolution would cancel all of the state's previous calls for a convention, including ones calling for the return of school prayer and abolition of the federal income tax.

Frick, the House sponsor of the legislation, said Democrats are concerned that even though Trump would have no formal role in such a gathering, his supporters could dominate.

"There would actually be a very strong influence," he said.

Any proposals coming out of such a convention would still have to win approval of three-quarters of state legislatures before becoming law.

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