Hours after Maryland lawmakers adjourned their annual session, Gov. Larry Hogan signed off on dozens of new laws Tuesday, including measures that set standards for compensating the wrongly incarcerated and restructuring the leadership of the Maryland Environmental Service.
The Republican governor was joined by the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly, House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson. Because of the coronavirus that is still spreading through Maryland, the trio had a limited audience of a few staffers and journalists.
“This session was unlike any other, and I believe that together we achieved more than any of us expected,” Jones said.
The bills that Hogan signed into law include the Walter Lomax Act, which sets guidelines for how much money the state must pay individuals who have been wrongly convicted and sent to prison.
It’s named for a man who spent nearly four decades in prison before having his sentence commuted and later having his conviction wiped from his record. It took five years after Lomax was formally exonerated before he was awarded about $3 million.
Maryland lacked a system for calculating payments to exonerees, and each person’s award was handled on a case-by-case basis. Hogan previously blamed the legislature for not passing a law setting up a system for payments.
Lawmakers came close to passing the bill last year, but the legislation fell victim to an early end to the 2020 session as the coronavirus started spreading in Maryland.
“It was a year late, pandemic delayed, but this will be a very big victory,” Ferguson said.
Another bill signed into law restructures the board of directors of the Maryland Environmental Service, an agency thrown into the spotlight last year after The Baltimore Sun reported it paid outgoing executive director Roy McGrath about $238,000 when he left to become Hogan’s chief of staff. McGrath resigned less than a week after The Sun’s first report, and lawmakers continue to investigate his tenure at the environmental service.
The bill bans the type of severance McGrath received and removes the MES executive director from the board of directors, a move intended to increase the board’s oversight of that person.
Hogan said the bill will “bring accountability and oversight” to the environmental service.
Other bills he signed include a measure creating an Office of Statewide Broadband and one that requires the 211 phone system to study how to offer referrals for mental health treatment, named for U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin’s late son, Tommy Raskin. Tommy Raskin died Dec. 31 by suicide, and his family’s public discussion of his death and their grief raised awareness of mental health needs.
All told, state lawmakers passed 817 pieces of legislation this year. Hogan has until the end of May to decide whether to veto, sign or allow bills to become law without his signature.
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Hogan thanked Democratic leaders for working with him, particularly on the state budget and aid to people and businesses harmed financially by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we’re all sending a strong and clear message that while we may have disagreements on certain issues, we can work together in a bipartisan way for the people of Maryland and deliver real results,” Hogan said.
Still, the governor isn’t on board with all of the work done by the legislature.
Hogan has vowed to veto at least one bill, a measure that bans jails from being paid to house immigration detainees and that limits when local and state government can provide information to immigration authorities. Hogan derided the bill before its passage Monday as one that would make Maryland a “sanctuary state.”
Hogan also expressed opposition to a bill that removes the governor’s role in the parole process for people serving life sentences in prison, saying that it would put too much power in the hands of the Maryland Parole Commission.
Both bills passed by sufficient margins that lawmakers can overturn any vetoes when they are next in session.
Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole contributed to this article.