Maryland Gov. Hogan vetoes bill that would have abolished handgun board; he'll allow foam ban to become law

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday that he’s vetoing a bill that would have dissolved the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board, while allowing another measure to become law that creates a first-in-the-nation statewide ban on foam food and drink containers.

Hogan’s office announced the decisions as the Republican governor attended events on the Eastern Shore to kick off the summer tourist season. By law, Hogan had until Friday to make decisions on hundreds of bills the Maryland General Assembly approved this year.

In a letter to the Democratic leaders of the legislature, Hogan attacked the idea of eliminating the Handgun Permit Review Board, which hears appeals of Maryland State Police decisions on applications from handgun owners for permission to carry their guns. He said eliminating the board wouldn’t prevent violent crime.

“It is just another in a long series of politically motivated and ill-conceived power grabs,” Hogan wrote.

Critics of the board, which is supposed to be made up of five civilians, say it’s too permissive in granting previously denied permits. The board routinely modifies or overturns state police decisions, allowing most people who appeal to carry handguns with few restrictions.

“In a lot of ways, anything that we do about gun control is seen as political. It’s one of those ideologies that the two parties are very different,” said Sen. Pamela Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who sponsored the bill. “But when you have a civilian board overriding the state police, who follows the law, I don’t think we as a legislature can allow that to continue.”

Under the bill, gun owners who wanted to appeal state police decisions would have taken their cases instead to administrative judges.

Bonnie Schofield, a volunteer who observes handgun board meetings for Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said her group will encourage lawmakers to override Hogan’s veto when they return in January for the next legislative session.

“Eliminating the board is not about politics, it’s about public safety,” she said. “The board has become a way to circumvent Maryland’s concealed-carry laws.”

Gun-rights supporters argue the board provides important oversight of state police. They argue the state police are too restrictive in their interpretation of whether a handgun owner has proved under state law that they have a “good and substantial reason” to carry the weapon.

The handgun board hasn’t been able to hear appeals since April because state senators refused to confirm Hogan’s appointees to the board. There are 520 appeals pending.

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor plans to appoint people to the board so it can resume its work.

Lawmakers passed the bill to abolish the handgun permit review board with veto-proof margins in the Senate and the House of Delegates.

Hogan also vetoed a bill that would set up a new system for making decisions about Chesapeake Bay oyster harvesting. The goal was to bring state regulators, watermen, scientists and environmentalists together to make “consensus” decisions about oysters, which are an important harvest as well as a species significant to the ecology of the bay and its rivers.

Hogan wrote in his veto letter that the new process would have meant state regulators could not implement “thoughtful and science-based management practices” for at least two years under the “cumbersome” system.

Officials with the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation had hoped the new oyster management system would promote collaboration among the groups that have a stake in the health of the species.

“Business as usual won’t bring back Maryland’s oysters,” said Alison Prost, the foundation’s Maryland executive director, in a statement. By vetoing the bill, Prost said, Maryland “will continue the same failed strategies that led to overfishing and perilously low population levels.”

Hogan also criticized a provision in the bill that would have allowed the Oyster Advisory Commission to discuss its decisions behind closed doors.

“My administration strongly opposes secret, backroom dealmaking that will endanger the state’s long-term oyster restoration efforts, especially at a time when we are just making measurable progress,” Hogan wrote.

House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Democrat, said the governor should expect override votes come January.

“It is disappointing that the governor is vetoing so many important policy initiatives, particularly around gun safety and improving the state’s oyster population,” Jones said in a statement. “I will be talking with House leadership and President Miller about specific vetoes, but I am confident the House will take up many of these overrides in January.”

Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said override votes would be coming on several vetoes.

“I am disappointed that Governor Hogan vetoed so many commonsense pieces of legislation, many of which passed the Senate with bipartisan support,” Miller said in a statement.

Other bills that Hogan vetoed included a “ban the box” measure that would have limited when employers can discuss a job applicant’s criminal record. Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill, said it is an important measure to help people re-entering the work force after time in prison or jail.

“The No. 1 precursor to recidivism is lack of employment and economic opportunities,” Carter said. “Our ‘ban the box’ law was one small step towards improving these odds.”

Carter noted that the city of Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and 10 states have similar laws.

“Maryland needs to stop being a back-bencher and move to the forefront of social progress by passing ‘ban the box’ and vigilantly enforcing it,” she said.

Hogan also announced he would allow nearly 300 measures to become law without his signature.

The ban on foam food and drink containers will go into effect July 1, 2020. It targets a material called expanded polystyrene foam, which many mistakenly refer to by the brand name Styrofoam. Maine’s governor already signed a bill into law banning the foam containers, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2021, so Maryland is expected to be the first with a statewide ban.

Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, sponsored the ban bill.

“I’m thrilled that Maryland will now be leading the way to eliminate foam containers from our streams and waterways,” Lierman said. “I’m glad that we are acting now to ensure Maryland’s children inherit a cleaner, greener world.”

Another bill that will become law without the governor’s signature sets up a board that will review the prices health insurance plans for state and local government workers pay for prescription drugs.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, celebrated the success of the bill.

“This legislation promises to bring down the costs that governments are paying for drugs, which will benefit taxpayers,” DeMarco said. “This board will be a public watchdog and establish fair and affordable costs for state and local governments.”

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will get an additional $3.2 million in state funding under another bill becoming law. The BSO is counting on the money to help resolve a labor dispute with musicians.

“Governor Hogan is a great supporter of the arts, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra,” said Ricci, the Hogan spokesman. “Last year, our administration approved a bonus grant for the organization, and we are exploring ways to leverage additional resources to help the BSO.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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