Maryland’s state lawmakers return to Annapolis on Monday for the purpose of approving new boundary lines for the state’s eight congressional districts. But they’ll also face another key task once they’re in session: whether to override dozens of Gov. Larry Hogan’s vetoes on measures ranging from limiting immigration enforcement to setting tighter rules on state contracts.
Hogan, a Republican, indicated he expects many of his vetoes will be overturned by the legislature, where Democrats hold more than twice as many seats as Republicans.
“I’m sure they’re going to be working on trying to override some common-sense vetoes that most people in Maryland agree with me on,” Hogan told reporters Wednesday.
Hogan said he presented the case for the vetoes to Senate President Bill Ferguson in a private meeting: “I tried to explain to him they would be making a mistake if they go against the overwhelming will of the voters, but I’m not sure if I convinced him on all of them.”
Del. Eric Luedtke, the Democratic majority leader in the House of Delegates, predicted the veto override votes will proceed smoothly in the House.
“We have the votes to override every single veto,” said Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat.
Here’s a look at the measures that will be up for veto override votes.
Limitations on immigration cooperation and enforcement
The Dignity Not Detention Act would prohibit county governments from housing federal immigration detainees in local jails. Some counties had housed detainees as a way to make money while using jail space that otherwise would be empty, but the number doing so has dwindled. Howard County is the latest to end such an agreement with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under pressure from residents who were opposed to the practice.
The Maryland Driver Privacy Act would bar the federal government from accessing state databases and running facial recognition programs on driver’s license and state ID photos for the purposes of immigration investigations.
Hogan derided the bills as “sanctuary state legislation.”
Decriminalizing more types of drug paraphernalia
Lawmakers passed a bill decriminalizing syringes and other tools used by people who inject drugs, arguing that strict penalties for paraphernalia possession force people to use drugs alone or lie to police officers about whether they have needles on them.
Opponents, including Hogan, raised the specter that drug dealers could take advantage of the law to enhance their illicit businesses.
“This bill would permit drug dealers to stockpile large quantities of paraphernalia, such as needles and syringes, and sell it to vulnerable individuals suffering from addiction,” the governor wrote in his veto message.
While the bill cleared the House of Delegates last spring with more than enough votes to override a veto, it was one vote short of the override threshold in the state Senate. Advocates have been working to line up support for the override.
Removing the governor’s ability to block parole for life sentences
Under current law, when the Maryland Parole Commission recommends that an inmate serving a life sentence should be paroled, the governor can veto the decision.
After several years of efforts, lawmakers passed a bill removing the governor’s final say and requiring at least six of the state’s 10 parole commissioners to vote in favor of an inmate’s parole. The current practice is for only two or three commissioners to consider each parole request.
Hogan defended his pace of allowing prisoners serving life to be paroled and argued that the governor’s role in the process is not political, but about oversight of the process.
Funding for mass transit
The Transit Safety and Investment Act would require the state to spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year on backlogged mass transit maintenance projects through 2029. Supporters say the state’s train and bus systems have been woefully underfunded.
Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore, one of the lead sponsors, said that the investment in fixing transit will ensure that buses and trains run on time, which is important for people who need to get to work and school.
“This is how we move our region, our state and our city forward,” McCray, a Democrat, said during a video news conference.
Hogan opposed the bill because it ties his hands — and the hands of future governors — in the budget process. He also has routinely objected to spending mandates from the legislature.
Lawmakers passed three bills to alter the processes for how the state enters into emergency contracts. Changes would include requiring multiple verbal estimates for emergency purchases, limiting upfront payments for such purposes, requiring the legislature to be notified of emergency purchases and limiting midyear budget cuts during emergencies.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Lawmakers said they were concerned about the Hogan administration’s extensive use of emergency contracts as officials scrambled to buy tests, masks and other supplies during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the deals did not work out as intended, such as $9 million spent on tests from South Korean company LabGenomics that couldn’t be used and had to be replaced at additional cost of $2.5 million.
Another problematic deal involved $12.5 million worth of masks and ventilators ordered from Blue Flame Medical, a new company formed by political operatives. The state didn’t get deliveries as quickly as promised, and alleged a breach of contract that eventually was settled.
Flexibility for local taxes
Another bill vetoed by Hogan would have given counties and Baltimore City flexibility in setting their local income tax rate, also known as the “piggyback tax.”
Unlike state income taxes, which charge progressively larger rates on higher incomes, local tax rates are currently a flat percentage that’s charged to everyone regardless of how much they earn.
The bill, called the Local Tax Relief for Working Families Act, would give counties the power to set different rates for different levels of income. Democratic County Executive Steuart Pittman of Anne Arundel, a chief proponent, has given the example of raising the tax rate on earnings above $500,000, while giving a tax break to the first $30,000 of a person’s earnings.
Hogan and others have argued this would open the door to tax increases for some, which the governor said would be “unconscionable” as people recover financially from the worst of the pandemic.
Other vetoed bills that will be up for consideration include measures that would: require the governor to develop a plan for handling the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic, make it easier for unions to enroll state workers, require higher pay for crews working on certain utility projects and require higher pay for workers at companies receiving job creation tax credits in areas designated for revitalization.