The Maryland General Assembly voted Thursday to override five bills vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, including a measure that prohibits employers from asking prospective employees about any criminal history on job applications.
It was the latest example of the Democrat-controlled legislature flexing its muscle over the Republican governor.
Lawmakers voted largely along party lines ― 31-15 in the state Senate and 95-43 in the House of Delegates ― to override Hogan’s vetoes of legislation to expand the state’s Dream Act, which allows students who are undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates for college, and to abolish a Handgun Permit Review Board. The board had a history of overruling Maryland State Police decisions, which resulted in more people legally carrying handguns.
It takes 29 votes in the Senate to override a veto and 85 votes in the House.
State Sen. Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, was the lead sponsor of the “ban the box" legislation, which will limit when employers can discuss a job applicant’s criminal record. Carter spoke Thursday in favor of the veto override, arguing it’s important to help people re-entering the work force after time in prison or jail. If an ex-offender isn’t ruled out before an interview, he or she has a better chance to land a job and contribute to society, Carter said.
“It’s good for Maryland’s economy," Carter said. "It’s good for public safety. It’s a common-sense bill.”
Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill in the House, said people shouldn’t have a “scarlet letter” that keeps them from finding gainful employment.
“This is critical, this is sensible, this has been bipartisan all throughout the entire country,” he said.
Republicans argued the bill only wastes the time of employers who can’t ask about criminal records until later in the job application process.
“I agree we need jobs,” Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Harford County Republican, countered. “Where I disagree is whether this is a good vehicle for that.”
The Senate took up the Dream Act expansion legislation first Thursday morning. It eliminated a requirement that undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children go to community college first before receiving in-state tuition at a four-year university.
“This is about opportunity,” said Sen. Malcolm Augustine, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “This is about the best and the brightest reaching their potential.”
But Sen. Justin Ready, a Carroll County Republican, argued the state is being too lenient regarding illegal immigration.
“Really through no fault of their own, they’re breaking immigration law,” Ready said. “It’s not right. It’s basically saying we’re going to let people who are in this country come ... and get in-state tuition.”
The day wasn’t a total loss for Republicans, however.
Lawmakers opted not to vote to override three of Hogan’s vetoes, including a bill that would have required two-person crews on freight trains passing through the state and legislation that would have put additional restrictions and reporting requirements on the governor’s appointment powers.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said some in the legislature agreed with some of Hogan’s objections to those bills. Ferguson cited the economic health of the port of Baltimore as a consideration in not overriding the freight train legislation, a bill unions supported.
“It was a collective decision that the timing wasn’t right or there were ways to hone the policy even more moving forward," he said.
Lawmakers also decided not to override a veto of legislation to fund the state Bikeways Network Program and add required elements to the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan. Democratic leaders said Hogan put money for the bike projects in his budget, so the legislation was no longer needed.
Hogan had fought lawmakers over the bills he rejected last year, sending letters to Democratic leaders that described his objections.
In one, Hogan attacked the idea of eliminating the Handgun Permit Review Board. 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.
In the House, Republicans argued at length that lawmakers should allow the board to continue to exist, calling it a long-standing and necessary part of the permitting process. But Democrats said the board had become politicized, with governors appointing members aligned with their views about guns.
Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat, said it would be better for state administrative judges to hear appeals in an “unbiased, nonpolitical manner.” Atterbeary said eliminating the board will “take politics out of the decisions of who should, in the state of Maryland, carry a weapon on them at all times."
The Democrats also voted to override Hogan’s veto of legislation to create a system for making decisions about Chesapeake Bay oyster harvesting rules. Their goal, the legislators said, is to bring together regulators, watermen, scientists and environmentalists to make “consensus” decisions about oysters, which are an important harvest and a key part of the ecology of the bay and its rivers.
The Chesapeake oyster population is at less than 1% of the levels scientists say were present before European colonists arrived. A recently completed and long-awaited study found there are 300 million market-sized oysters in the bay, half as many as in 1999.
Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said after the vote that new process will stall progress on improving the oyster population.
“The real consequences of this vote are delaying our ability to enhance our state-managed oyster sanctuaries and further straining the relationship between the very stakeholders the legislature wants to come to a consensus,” Haddaway-Riccio said in a statement. “Both of these things will delay us from reaching our goals on oyster restoration.”
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But Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said the legislation merely requires opposing interests to come together to help save a struggling oyster population.
“The oyster fishery is a mess and no one has come up with a solution,” Pinsky said. “One side is not hearing the other side.”
Haddaway-Riccio said her department will continue to work toward a sustainable oyster harvest.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation praised the new process as a way for different parties to work jointly to halt the decline of the oyster population.
“It’s time to work together toward the common goal of increasing Maryland’s oyster population to improve the state’s environment and the fishery’s long-term outlook,” said Alsion Prost, the bay foundation’s Maryland executive director, in a statement.