Gov. Larry Hogan celebrated the difference between the political climates of Washington and Annapolis as he signed 114 bills into law Tuesday, including significant bipartisan legislation on school safety and health care.
The Republican governor, flanked by the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly, hailed the legislature's achievements during the 90-day session that ended Monday night.
"Unlike Washington, where nobody works together and nothing seems to get done, here in Annapolis we have chosen a different path," Hogan said.
Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch were together for the annual ritual where the state's three top leaders put the battles of the session behind them. The first bill Hogan signed Tuesday — and one he praised as an example of bipartisanship — was a school safety bill sponsored by Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat who is one of the Republican Party's leading targets in the November election.
While Klausmeier may find Hogan supporting a Republican challenger for her seat, the ceremony yielded a picture of her watching the governor sign her bill, which adopts statewide standards for keeping children safe at schools. Hogan noted that among its provisions is the establishment of a system to identify students who may pose a harm to others and intervene to help them.
Another measure Hogan signed is designed to shore up the state's individual health insurance market, which was destabilized by changes Congress made in its effort to dismantle the federal Affordable Care Act. Despite Republican opposition to what is called Obamacare in principle, Hogan worked closely with the Democratic leaders to protects Marylanders' health insurance.
The new Maryland law imposes a tax on insurers to collect $380 million to help curtail surging premiums for 150,000 Marylanders and prevent the state's Obamacare marketplace from a potential collapse.
"We faced this crisis together," the governor said.
Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Hogan is striking the precise tone he will need to win reelection with the same coalition of Republicans, independents and moderate Democrats that delivered him to victory in 2014.
"Bipartisanship does benefit everybody and everybody likes bipartisanship," Kromer said. "Bipartisanship polls really well."
But Kromer said the warm feelings don't run all that deep.
"There's a little bit of grumbling that these weren't bipartisan bills but some of these were Democratic ideas that Hogan has worked to co-opt," she said.
In some years, depending on who is governor and how bitter the session's battles have been, the post-session event can be a tense affair. But Tuesday's signing was a convivial gathering, reflecting the governor's upbeat mood.
While the session had its moments of partisan rancor, especially when the majority Democrats overrode Hogan's vetoes, it was notable for the level of cooperation on issues that often divide the parties, including gun control. Legislation approved by the Assembly and supported by Hogan bans the sale in Maryland of bump stocks, the accessory used by the gunman in the Las Vegas mass shooting.
"We can come together and find common-sense bipartisan solutions to the serious problems that face our state," Hogan said in his opening remarks.
Hogan called attention to two bills he signed Tuesday that recalled the health problems he and Busch have faced since the 2014 election.
One, sponsored by Busch, will provide a tax break to help with the expenses of people who donate organs for transplant — as the speaker's sister did for his life-saving operation last year. Another measure will lift restrictions on students bringing sunscreen to school. Hogan, who recently had surgery for skin cancer, said the legislation would get rid of school policies he called "idiotic."
For many legislators, it was a day for packing up offices and saying goodbye.
Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat who is retiring after 24 years in the House of Delegates, was winding down from a final session capped off with the passage of a groundbreaking bill that gives free community college tuition to some students. He said the two parties worked well together this year.
Turner, vice chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, said the majority Democrats tried to involve the panel's Republicans in their decision-making.
"We didn't just try to shove things down their throat," he said. "We try to work with them."