Nurse practitioners, midwives and other nonphysician medical professionals will be able to perform abortions in Maryland after the Democrat-controlled General Assembly overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Abortion Care Access Act on Saturday afternoon.
Hogan’s veto of the measure, which will also require most health insurance plans to cover abortions at no cost to patients and fund training for abortion providers, was among a series of the governor’s vetoes that were swiftly overturned Saturday.
Lawmakers also voted to launch a paid family and medical leave program for nearly every worker statewide, despite Hogan’s objections.
The series of override votes fulfilled vows from Democratic leaders to use the party’s veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. Final passage of the paid leave program, abortion legislation and several other proposals came less than 24 hours after Hogan moved to block each with a slate of vetoes on Friday evening.
The creation of a paid family and medical leave program, slated to begin paying benefits in 2025, comes after a lengthy campaign by progressive groups. Top Democrats, including Senate President Bill Ferguson, made it a priority this year after proposals in past legislative sessions fell short.
Hogan, in a letter to lawmakers explaining his veto, objected to the program’s potential costs, especially for smaller businesses. Hogan also raised concerns that the legislation leaves details like the precise contribution rates charged to workers and businesses to fund the program up to soon-to-launch actuarial studies aimed at projecting the program’s precise costs.
But paid leave supporters rejected Hogan’s contention that funding the benefits could prove a drag on the state’s economy. Many contended that the coronavirus pandemic’s strain on family caregivers highlighted the need for the program and that providing leave for working families would draw more people into the state’s workforce.
“It means high-quality, educated, experienced workers want to move to Maryland and work in the industries that drive our economy,” Del. Eric Luedtke of Montgomery County, the Democratic majority leader, told colleagues on Saturday. “Our economy is fantastic, Maryland is doing well … and part of the reason it’s doing well is, frankly, because of bills like this.”
The insurance program will offer workers up to 12 weeks paid time off to welcome newborn babies, take care of sick or ailing relatives, recover from medical issues or prepare for a military deployment. New parents who also experience a separate illness or family crisis would be able to take an additional 12 weeks of leave.
The program, with annual costs estimated in the hundreds of millions, will be funded by a payroll tax split between workers and businesses with more than 15 employees. Weekly benefits for workers claiming leave from the fund will be based on prior earnings but will be capped at $1,000 per week, although that figure will be adjusted in the future based on inflation.
Del. C.T. Wilson, a Charles County Democrat and one of the proposal’s sponsors, hit back at criticism from Hogan and other Republicans over objections that the lingering pandemic and rising inflation made now a bad time to launch the program.
“It’s never a good time, the economy is never good enough” for critics of the paid leave program, Wilson said, pointing to years of opposition. “If not now, when? … Ten other states have already done this. This isn’t an impossibility.”
Minutes after overturning Hogan’s veto of the paid leave program, lawmakers got back to work polishing off overrides of several more of Hogan’s vetoes.
The abortion legislation was among the most debated measures of this year’s legislative session, with Democrats eager to expand abortion access amid fears that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade.
Del. Ariana Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat and the sponsor of the bill, said abortion services should be treated like any other medical care and the bill’s provisions seek “to make sure people can access the care that they need, when they need it.”
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“Within the next two months, we are going to have 50 years of progress on access to reproductive health care for women turned back in this country — and Maryland is not hiding from that fact.”
Republicans repeated concerns that allowing anyone other than physicians to perform abortions would put patients’ health at risk. The bill includes $3.5 million to train medical professionals in safely performing abortions.
“I am not proud of Maryland becoming known as an abortion destination,” said Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, a Republican from the lower Eastern Shore.
But Democrats in the Senate had the minimum number of votes needed to override Hogan — 29 — while the House advanced the bill to law with 97 votes, well more than the necessary 85.
Lawmakers also brushed aside Hogan’s objections to pass into law new requirements that police contact parents and provide an attorney before interrogating juveniles; a mandate for the Hogan administration to move forward with long-discussed plans to expand MARC passenger rail service; and an expansion of prevailing wage rules for government contractors.
Lawmakers also overturned Hogan’s vetoes of a bill to require licensed firearms dealers to take certain steps to secure their guns against potential thieves and another bill that aims to shield appointed county public health officers from firing except for cause,
Final votes to overturn Hogan’s two remaining vetoes — of separate measures to grant collective bargaining rights to public defenders and to allow Maryland Transit Administration Police sergeants and supervisors to join the existing rank-and-file union — are expected to come on Monday. Lawmakers have until midnight on Monday to complete any veto overrides and wrap up legislative business before the General Assembly adjourns.