Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday he will not block a new law giving the Maryland attorney general's office authority to take generic drug makers to court to challenge allegedly excessive price increases.
The groundbreaking measure was one of dozens the governor allowed to become law without his signature, including one putting strict limits on the ability of public schools to expel or suspend their youngest students.
One day after announcing his veto of a measure requiring employers to allow workers to earn paid sick leave, Hogan also stopped one more bill from becoming law. The so-called "ban the box" measure would have barred colleges from asking in initial application forms whether an aspiring student has a criminal record. Supporters of that bill contend that automatically barring felons from consideration based on that question denies them opportunities to get their lives back on track.
Lawmakers will have the opportunity to override the vetoes when they return to Annapolis — whether next January or in a possible special session before then.
The Republican governor's actions resolve the final questions surrounding the disposition of bills considered by the General Assembly in the 90-day session that ended in April.
Hogan sidestepped confrontations with the Assembly's Democratic leadership on many issues by declining to either veto or endorse their actions. In most cases, the bills passed with veto-proof margins in the Senate and the House of Delegates.
The measures becoming law include legislation that will:
•Allow pharmacists to dispense oral contraceptives without a physician's prescription;
•Make it easier for people convicted of possessing more than 10 grams of marijuana to have their records expunged by cutting the waiting period from 10 years to four;
•Place new restrictions on the use of antibiotics in raising farm animals as part of an effort to maintain their effectiveness in treating human diseases;
•Allow owners of beehives to use lethal force to protect the hives from marauding bears on their property if they first take other preventive steps.
Hogan explained his Friday veto in a letter telling Assembly leaders that the "ban the box" bill curtails the ability of colleges to "ensure a safe campus environment."
The governor said the bill makes no exceptions for "violent or lengthy" criminal histories.
"This could lead to situations where a school unknowingly admits a student with a violent past or feels it must accept a student with a criminal history for fear of running afoul of the law," Hogan wrote.
Caryn York, senior policy advocate at the Job Opportunities Task Force, disputed Hogan's assertions.
"It's very clear the governor and his team did not even read the bill that passed the General Assembly with veto-proof majorities," she said. "The box is not protecting your campus. It's a red herring and it is a fear tactic."
York said there's nothing in the bill that prevents colleges from conducting criminal background checks. She said one aim of the bill is to ensure that applicants with criminal records are not discouraged from applying to college.
Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, hailed the governor's decision not to veto the drug price-gouging bill. He said the measure was the first of its kind in the United States.
"This is great news for Maryland consumers," he said. "Prescription drug prices have been like the Wild West — completely uncontrolled. Now there's a new sheriff in town in Attorney General Brian Frosh."
Frosh, along with DeMarco, was a leading proponent of the legislation.
In a letter, the governor expressed concern about the constitutionality of the measure, saying it could violate the interstate commerce clause. He also criticized the definition of "excessive" drug prices as too vague.
"I am not convinced this legislation is truly a solution to ensuring Marylanders have access to essential prescription drugs, and may even have the unintended consequence of harming citizens by restricting their access to these drugs," Hogan wrote.
The legislation on suspensions and expulsions, which restricts the practices for children in pre-K through second grade, was a top priority of the Legislative Black Caucus.
The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Will Smith, said those forms of discipline are used disproportionately in cases involving minority and disabled children. The Montgomery County Democrat said the bill prohibits expulsions in almost all cases and makes out-of-school suspension a last resort.
Schools would instead be required to offer children with behavioral problems "restorative" programs such as counseling, in-school suspension or "time-outs" from contact with other students.
"This law is now going to give more children a second shot, an equal chance of fulfilling their academic potential in our public schools," Smith said.