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Politics aside, General Assembly Democrats see areas of agreement in Hogan's agenda

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's top legislative priority is repealing what he calls the "road kill bill," the transportation law that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed over his veto last year. Democrats, meanwhile, have spent the past few months trying to weaken the governor's popularity by linking him to polarizing Republican President Donald J. Trump.

But amid the partisan sniping, lawmakers are holding hearings on a number of Hogan administration proposals likely to gain bipartisan support. Top legislators and staff say at least half of the governor's agenda may become law if he is flexible.

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The bills with the best chance of passage are not on the scale of last year's Justice Reinvestment Act, the sweeping reform of the state's approach to criminal justice backed by Hogan's administration. But his proposals — including jobs initiatives, environmental programs and crackdowns on crime and drugs — are neither trivial nor symbolic.

Rather than swinging for the fences, political observers say Hogan is trying to hit enough singles and doubles to call the 90-day legislative session a win and strengthen his position heading into the 2018 election.

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"I think he views this as one hit at a time or one run at a time, and all that matters is that you have one more run than the other guy," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland.

The first hearings on pieces of Hogan's agenda began last week. This week, proposals to repeal the transportation project scoring law, offer targeted tax breaks, strengthen the fight against sex trafficking and ease student debt were scheduled.

Hogan aides say they're optimistic that when the Assembly adjourns in April, the governor will be able to point to a substantial list of achievements in the third session of his term — typically the most productive of a governor's four years. They say the administration learned from the setbacks of the first two years and retooled some of his proposals to make them more palatable to Democrats.

"This year it's part of a natural progression," said Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer. "We submitted a robust legislative package."

Democrats say they have no interest in scuttling the bulk of the governor's agenda and want to reach common ground where they can.

"There's a number of areas where there's overlap, where both the legislature and the administration would like to see some improvements," said House Majority Leader C. William Frick, speaking for the Democratic leadership.

Proposals to create tax credits for cybersecurity firms, encourage purchases of "clean" electric cars, relieve students from debt, create a Maryland Energy Information Institute, crack down on sex trafficking, expand technology training and overhaul the state's hidebound procurement system are most likely to be approved by the legislature.

"We disagree when we disagree, but that doesn't stop us from agreeing when we do," said Del. Kumar Barve, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the House Environment & Transportation Committee, who cited the governor's bill to encourage electric-car ownership as a palatable proposal.

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said Hogan is working "brick by brick" to build a legislative record.

"He's trying to methodically transform this state in a way that's business-friendly and it's easier for Marylanders to live here," said Jennings, a Republican who represents part of Baltimore and Harford counties.

Bills in Hogan's agenda break down into a few categories. Some are highly partisan and likely doomed to defeat or to being watered down beyond recognition. The most obvious of these is Hogan's effort to repeal the transportation scoring bill the Assembly passed over his veto last year.

The administration christened the measure the "road kill bill," and said the bill requires the Department of Transportation to submit a doomsday plan that cancels funding for all highway projects in most counties. Legislative leaders, who say the threat is based on a questionable reading of the law, declared his repeal demand dead on arrival. But during a hearing Wednesday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller made clear that the legislature was willing to compromise.

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Hogan administration officials replied that any conversation about compromise would have to start with repeal.

The governor's proposed bill transferring the power to redraw congressional districts to an independent commission is also unlikely to pass. The same applies to his bill curbing spending mandates the legislature uses to require the governor to include their priorities in his budgets. Lawmakers are confident they can enforce or ease mandates on a year-by-year basis, which preserves their leverage in budget negotiations.

Both measures are likely to become campaign issues.

Other Hogan bills bolster his Republican bona fides even though they have little chance of passage in a Democratic-dominated legislature.

His bills promoting charter schools and a defined-contribution alternative to the state's traditional defined-benefit public employee pension systems are examples of measures that Democrats could only support at the risk of offending their core constituencies.

Some of Hogan's tax proposals, such as giving breaks to retired military and first responders, could come down to how much the breaks would reduce state revenue. While both groups are popular, the Assembly's tax-writing committees are skeptical that they would do much to stimulate the economy.

Hogan aides think their overhaul of a bill giving tax breaks to manufacturers gives it a chance of passage, but Miller is skeptical the legislation would have much impact.

But on a range of issues, Hogan is proposing broadly popular measures or incremental reforms that stand a good chance of winning bipartisan buy-in. In doing so, the governor has borrowed liberally from traditionally Democratic ideas.

One example is the issue of paid sick leave. The legislature came close to passing such a bill last year but instead spent much of the summer and fall hammering out a Democratic consensus on how to handle the issue.

Then the governor made a more modest proposal. Legislative staff members predict a version of a paid sick leave mandate will pass but say it's unclear whether it's something the governor would welcome or spurn.

Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Hogan's agenda shows an astute balance of pragmatism and ideology.

"He's going to really please his base by trying to get things he can't get," Norris said. "He's going to be able to appeal to independents and conservative and moderate Democrats by being a reasonable guy in other areas.

"That's a hard package to beat."

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