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Maryland Senate votes to override Gov. Hogan’s vetoes of crime prevention bills

Maryland lawmakers began the task Friday of undoing more than a dozen of Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes of bills, including measures to expand violence prevention programs.

The Maryland Senate overrode 16 vetoes on party-line votes, with Democrats supporting the overrides and Republicans voting to uphold the vetoes. The House of Delegates must act before the vetoes are overturned and the bills become law.

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Much of the focus was on a trio of bills funding crime prevention programs, including efforts in Baltimore, which has experienced more than 300 homicides annually since 2015.

Republicans argued they originally supported the crime prevention bills because they were coupled with a Hogan-backed bill to toughen penalties for certain gun crimes. The Senate passed the Hogan-backed bill, but the House did not.

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“It was part of a compromise,” said Sen. Michael Hough, a Frederick County Republican who is the minority whip.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr., a Democrat who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said the compromise represented “the very best of the Senate.” But just because all of the elements of the compromise didn’t make it to the finish line doesn’t mean the Senate should give up on the elements that did.

“It’s not going to solve everything, but progress is progress,” said Smith, who represents Montgomery County.

Sen. Jill P. Carter sponsored one of the bills that was vetoed. It would require the governor to put at least $3 million in the budget each year for the Maryland Violence Intervention and Prevention Program, which gives money to local governments for crime prevention.

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“It’s well-established that in order to effectively reduce violent crime, you need five components: prevention, intervention, enforcement, rehabilitation and reentry,” said Carter, a Baltimore Democrat. “This bill gets at the first two.”

Another vetoed measure would create a state Law Enforcement Coordinating Council and require monthly reports on how state resources are used to fight crime.

The third veto that was debated was the PROTECT Act, with a series of requirements in Baltimore, including: designating 10 high-crime “micro-zones” and hiring an employee to coordinate community, youth and crime prevention programs; allowing state police to patrol state highways in the city; creating a warrant task force; and creating a partnership to offer closer supervision of people on parole and probation.

Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said the PROTECT Act was vetoed because of its financial requirements and also because the Republican governor does not believe it “meaningfully” addresses violent crime.

“The governor maintains that the General Assembly should act on crime bills that will actually solve the violent crime problem,” Ricci said.

All three crime prevention bills passed by overwhelming margins in 2020. The override votes Friday were all 30-15.

The Senate also overrode a veto on a bill that would levy a fee on drug companies and pharmacy benefit managers to pay for the operations of the state’s new Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

House leaders have indicated they don’t plan to consider the vetoes until February.

The Senate has more than a dozen other vetoes to consider. Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said he’s holding off on those because they either have significant financial implications or were not passed on bipartisan votes the first time.

Lawmakers have to decide whether to override Hogan’s vetoes of bills including: implementing an expensive and sweeping set of public school programs; requiring sales tax to be paid on digital downloads such as e-books and movies; and creating a first-in-the-nation tax on digital and internet advertising, plus an increase in tobacco and nicotine taxes.

The House and Senate won’t be in session again until Wednesday, when both chambers plan a limited session to accept the governor’s budget proposals. In such pro forma sessions, which were created due to the pandemic, just the presiding officers and the majority and minority leaders meet in near-empty chambers to conduct routine business.

The House held its first pro forma session Friday. It lasted less than three minutes and involved the introduction of more than 100 bills.

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