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Dozens of bills await Hogan's decision as deadline nears

Gov. Larry Hogan is deciding this week whether to veto roughly 100 bills passed during this year's General Assembly session that he has so far declined to sign.

He has until Saturday to either block the measures or let them become law.

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Among them is legislation intended to protect lead paint poisoning victims against attempts to bilk them. Another would require the state to save money to replace a 76-year-old toll bridge in Southern Maryland. Others touch on economic, education and environmental issues. Some are duplicative or would only affect a single jurisdiction.

The governor's office is remaining tight-lipped about Hogan's intentions, saying some of the bills will remain under review until Friday. Most of the unresolved bills passed both chambers by overwhelming margins, making it likely that the Democratic majorities in the Senate and House of Delegates could override gubernatorial vetoes next January.

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Attorney General Brian E. Frosh will be among those closely watching as Hogan makes his final decisions. He was the chief advocate for legislation seeking to rein in companies that offer to buy the rights to long-term settlements won by victims in civil suits for lump sums worth far less than the original payout. Such deals are often made in lead poisoning cases.

"It prevents people from being victimized twice," Frosh said. He added that the governor's office had not told him why the bill was not yet signed.

"All I can say about that bill is that it's still under review," Hogan spokesman Matthew A. Clark said.

Frosh, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit this month against one of the state's most active "factoring" companies, which specialize in buying structured settlements that extend the payouts in civil suits over many years.

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The attorney general said Access Funding LLC and its affiliates misled victims of lead paint poisoning and other injuries, persuading them to convert long-term settlements to smaller immediate cash payments. Frosh said more than 70 percent of Access clients were victims of childhood lead poisoning.

The lawsuit said that rather than providing those victims with independent counsel, as the law requires the company to do, a lawyer on the company's sales team provided advice. The company targeted "young, intellectually-impaired Marylanders, including numerous groups of Baltimore City siblings who were exposed to lead paint as children," the lawsuit states.

The legislation passed this year would require judges to review structured settlement purchases in the presence of sellers to ensure they understand the terms. Judges could then reject agreements they find unfair.

The bill would also require factoring companies to acquire a state license, for a fee. Hogan has generally sought to lower fees, though he has made exceptions.

Another measure that would impose new costs on Marylanders is designed to increase the use of renewable energy. The bill charges utility customers extra to cover the cost of the program.

One of the most likely bills to be vetoed is a measure sponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, that would create an oversight board for the Maryland Transit Administration. During the session, Hogan and his allies called the bill a politically motivated intrusion on gubernatorial powers.

Proponents said more rider input could improve service.

Another transportation measure that Hogan could veto would require the Maryland Transportation Authority to begin putting money aside to fund a replacement for the Harry W. Nice Bridge between Charles County and Virginia.

Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn has said resurfacing could allow the bridge to last another 30 or 40 years. Lawmakers are insisting on nothing less than a full replacement at an estimated cost of $1 billion.

Some bills are the subjects of organized campaigns to persuade the governor either to veto or let them go through.

Almost two weeks ago, two leading Democratic lawmakers held a news conference in Annapolis urging Hogan not to veto legislation that seeks to make higher education more affordable. It would do so by matching contributions to state-sponsored college savings accounts with state grants, and providing a refundable tax credit for student debt repayment.

Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County and Del. Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County noted that while the bill passed by veto-proof margins, a veto would delay the effect of its spending mandate by a year.

"This bill encourages Marylanders to do exactly what we want them to do — save and go to college," Madaleno said.

Another bill on the undecided list would launch a study of the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population. Watermen opposed the original bill, which would have put the University of Maryland in charge of the study. The watermen feared that a biased review could lead to curbs on oyster harvesting until the population bounces back.

But after a late-session compromise that put the Department of Natural Resources in charge of the study, watermen aren't campaigning for a veto.

"We're still not happy with it, but we can live with it," said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.

Brown added that his group would not object to a Hogan veto.

"That's his prerogative," he said.

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