Maryland General Assembly moving quickly to thwart potential Hogan vetoes

A General Assembly session that began with a show of Democrats' strength is poised to end the same way.

Controversial bills are being approved quickly enough that if Republican Gov. Larry Hogan issues a flurry of vetoes, lawmakers will have time to override them before the legislature adjourns April 11.


Legislation that would usher in a series of spending mandates, adopt a new way to rank transportation projects and strip some of the governor's appointment powers, among other bills, could be presented to Hogan by the end of the week.

That would give the governor a week to veto the bills or let them become law — and allow lawmakers enough time to reverse any vetoes with a three-fifths vote of each chamber. Bills given to Hogan later than this week must be signed or vetoed by May 31, and any overrides by the legislature would have to wait until it meets again in January.


Republican lawmakers say Democrats are rushing bills.

"The deadline is to get stuff to the governor by April 1," said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican. "So, yes, that seems like that's what's going on. … It seems like political gamesmanship."

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said lawmakers are acutely aware that Hogan exercised his veto power aggressively after last year's session.

Among other bills, the governor vetoed measures that allowed recently released felons to vote and made possession of marijuana paraphernalia a civil offense, not a crime. All six Hogan vetoes put up for a vote were overturned in the first weeks of this year's session.

"Legislators are approaching our policy-making work with eyes open," Ferguson said. "We hope for collaboration, but we always need to plan for the alternative."

Hogan said in a recent interview that he's prepared should lawmakers send bills to his office while they are still in session.

"I think there are a couple of things they'll send up to us, and we'll look forward to taking a look at them," the governor said.

The looming confrontation could give Democrats the opportunity to show they are undaunted by Hogan's popularity. And they could force the governor to make difficult calls on whether to concede defeat or potentially go down fighting.

But legislative victories could be costly to the Democrats if public opinion favors Hogan.

"Even though it may seem like they're winning a few, it still plays well with the governor's base because he's standing up to the Dems," said Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Norris said the confrontation is avoidable.

"The sad thing is both sides know it's avoidable, but they're not willing to compromise in meaningful ways," he said.


While veto override votes typically occur at the beginning of the following session, there is precedent for quicker action.

In 2006, Democrats sent a package of 15 early-passed bills to Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s second-floor State House office on the Friday afternoon 10 days before session's end — only to find the doors locked before the usual closing time.

The Democrats secured an attorney general's opinion that Ehrlich's action was invalid, and the governor cast vetoes before his week was up — giving lawmakers time to override several on the final day of the session.

Most of the controversial bills on a fast track this year have received enough votes in either the House of Delegates or the Senate to indicate they would withstand a veto. It takes 85 votes in the 141-member House of Delegates to revive a vetoed bill and 29 in the 47-member Senate. Democrats have large enough majorities in both chambers to reach those targets, even if a handful of lawmakers defect.

One of the most obvious candidates for a potential veto and override is a bill that would shift the power to appoint members of the Baltimore liquor board from the governor to the mayor and City Council. Hogan could still avert that by approving the bill and naming three replacements acceptable to the city's Senate delegation.

The governor signaled in an interview last week that he might wash his hands of any further involvement with the liquor board — a result he could achieve by letting the bill become law.

Another bill would set up a system for scoring major proposed transportation projects around the state — a measure that according to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has taken on a symbolic importance that outweighs its actual substance.

For Democrats, it's an implicit rebuke of Hogan's massive reshaping of the state's transportation priorities last year, which came after little consultation with the legislature. Hogan, meanwhile, has said the bill would dismantle the state's long-standing process for making transportation decisions.

The legislation has already passed the House and appears on track for final approval in the Senate by Friday.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer castigated the legislature's fast-track strategy. He pointed to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee's approval of the House version of the transportation bill before a scheduled public hearing.

"The fact that a so-called transportation 'transparency' bill was voted out of committee prior to a public hearing would be laughably ironic if it wasn't so transparently political," Mayer said.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat, rejected the criticism, noting that the panel had held a lengthy hearing on the Senate version of the bill.

Madaleno would not comment directly on the legislative strategy for putting the transportation bill in Hogan's hands.

"It's a good bill that deserves to go to the governor's desk as soon as possible," he said.

Also sailing through the legislature is a package of bills intended to aid Baltimore. The legislation requires funding for extended public library hours and after-school enrichment programs, a mentoring program to help poor kids qualify for state college scholarships, and more money for demolitions in the city, among other programs.

The legislation, supported by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Miller, has passed the House. Some of the bills received preliminary Senate approval Tuesday, while others are expected to receive it Wednesday.

Some of the bills could become a target for Hogan vetoes because they include the type of required minimum spending he opposes.

Other fast-tracked bills that could face gubernatorial opposition because of spending mandates are ones that would require future spending on a new hospital in Prince George's County and future pay increases for providers of mental health care and substance abuse treatment.

If the legislature waited until next January to override vetoes, the spending requirements wouldn't take effect until the budget year that starts July 1, 2018.

Norris said the results of a series of final-day overrides are predictable.


"It'll leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth," he said. "The prospects for cooperation down the road get harmed even worse."

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