Veto Override Watch: 2019 Battles Returning to 2020 General Assembly

Photo by William F. Zorzi.

When General Assembly lawmakers convene in Annapolis next week, they’ll take up thousands of new bills ― and eight pieces of unfinished business from 2019.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) vetoed eight bills in May that, among other things, would expand the state’s Dream Act to provide in-state tuition for certain undocumented students, repeal the Handgun Permit Review Board, and impose restrictions on employers seeking criminal background information.

Six of the eight bills passed the chambers in 2019 with veto-proof majorities despite extended debates. The other two bills ― mandating a minimum number of crew members on freight trains and expanding oversight of the governor’s appointments office ― were voted on in the Senate chamber while a handful of Democrats were absent; those measures could have enough support for an override vote in that chamber this year.

All of the vetoes are likely to be taken up in both houses, but the timing of votes is complicated by the number of changing seats in the legislative chambers.

Here’s a quick look at the 2019 bills that were vetoed by Hogan in May:

Two-person train crew, Senate Bill 252 and House Bill 66

The bill would require trains carrying freight to have at least two crew members if the train is being operated “in the same rail corridor as a high-speed passenger or commuter train.”

The measure was backed by unions representing rail workers and safety advocates; it was opposed by the rail industry and business groups.

Measures like this have been debated for years in Annapolis and other state capitals, and in Congress, with the debate intensifying any time there’s a train mishap traced back to human error or a medical emergency involving a crew person.

In vetoing the measure, Hogan said the bill would harm Maryland’s economy and tries to solve a “private industry issue that should be negotiated between the employer and the employer’s representatives.” The governor also argued that the issue should be decided at the federal level since it involves interstate commerce.

A similar bill passed the General Assembly in 2018 and was vetoed by Hogan, a move that couldn’t be overridden post-election.

In-state tuition exemptions, Senate Bill 537 and House Bill 262

With dozens of Democratic co-sponsors, this bill would have expanded the Maryland Dream Act to remove some requirements for immigrant students to receive in-state college tuition.

The Dream Act, which first became law in 2012, allows Maryland high school graduates including undocumented immigrants to qualify for the lowest tuition rates at public colleges and universities under certain circumstances.

The 2019 bill would have removed the requirement that someone must go to community college before going to a four-year college and lifted a requirement that students must have attended three years of high school in Maryland, though graduation from a state high school is still required. The bill also would have continued a requirement that students and their parents show a record of paying taxes to be eligible for in-state tuition.

In vetoing the bill, Hogan said it did not go as far as his own “common sense” legislation to expand existing tuition relief programs to all Maryland students, including an expansion to cover tuition at four-year schools for students who received Community College Promise Scholarships.

Hogan said the bill passed by the legislature narrowly expanded state law while excluding other students, which he characterized as “unfair and unacceptable.”

Governor’s Appointments Office oversight, Senate Bill 751

Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) has sponsored similar legislation two years in a row, expressing concern that the Governor’s Appointments Office has helped in vetting state employees for non-political positions.

The bill would require a full report on the appointments office involvement in vetting state government job candidates and require the Maryland attorney general’s office to create an anonymous tip line and email where possible violations of the state’s hiring process could be reported.

At a briefing in November, Hogan’s Appointments Secretary Christian E. Cavey said his office is less involved in state hiring than some lawmakers believe, though Lam has continued to express concern.

In vetoing the bill, Hogan decried it as an attempt to usurp power from the executive branch and said the measure would have a “chilling effect” on the state’s ability to recruit qualified candidates.

Lam recently said he believes the Senate will have enough votes to override the veto this session, though the bill originally passed with 26 affirmative votes in the chamber, three shy of the number needed for a successful override.

Oyster management plans, Senate Bill 830 and House Bill 720

Hogan vetoed two measures aimed at increasing the Chesapeake Bay oyster population last session. The first ― to establish five permanent oyster sanctuaries ― was vetoed and overridden during the 2019 session. Lawmakers cast votes to bring the bill to law on the final day of session, a day after the death of late House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D), who championed the legislation.

In May, Hogan vetoed this measure, which would have created a consensus-based process to create a new oyster fishery management plan for the state involving environmentalists, watermen and seafood sellers.

Hogan said the bill was an attempt to delay the state’s implementation of a proposed oyster management plan and moved the goalposts on the state’s environmental targets.

State personnel grievance procedures, House Bill 891

The bill is identical to a measure vetoed by Hogan in 2018. It would direct some state employee grievances related to collective bargaining agreements that currently go through the State Labor Relations Board to the Office of Administrative Hearings instead.

Unions that advocated for the change said it would streamline grievances and create a more predictable process.

In vetoing the legislation for a second time, Hogan said the bill would shift the cost of the grievance proceeding from the negotiated process, which shares the cost between the state and unions, to one which would be borne entirely by the state.

Criminal record screening practices (Ban the Box), House Bill 994 and Senate Bill 839

This measure, which passed along partisan lines, would prohibit some private employers from asking an applicant about their criminal history at any time before the first in-person interview.

The bill would allow an employer to ask such questions during that interview and would allow a fine of up to $300 for employers who repeatedly violate the provision.

Advocates for the bill said it would help people who’ve made mistakes in the past and who currently face tough odds re-establishing themselves in society without gainful employment.

The bill was opposed by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

“Hiring the right team is one of the most critical activities a business does,” Hogan said in his veto message. “Employers have the right, and often the need, to know the criminal history of applicants they may hire.”

Repeal of the Handgun Review Board, Senate Bill 1000 and House Bill 1343

Maryland’s Handgun Permit Review Board has been the topic of legislative debate for the last few years, as lawmakers have raised concerns about Hogan’s appointees to the panel, which considers appeals of Maryland State Police decisions on handgun permits.

Last year, the General Assembly voted to repeal the board and consider appeals through the Office of Administrative hearings instead.

The bill was passed with a veto-proof majority along partisan lines, but some Democrats in each chamber joined Republicans in opposing the measure.

The majority of lawmakers and gun control advocates were concerned that political appointees to the board overturned or modified decisions of the Maryland State Police in more than 80 percent of cases heard between December 2017 and December 2018.

The board was also briefly left without a quorum this spring after the Maryland Senate voted down Hogan’s nominees to the panel.

A panel of new appointees began meeting in June under new rules established by now-chairman Frederic N. Smalkin, a retired federal judge.

Through Dec. 9, the new board has agreed with the Maryland State Police in about 85 percent of cases it’s decided, sustaining 96 decisions by the agency, reversing eight and making modifications to eight others, often with agreement from the agency, according to a review of meeting minutes.

The number of potential future appeals to the board was decreased over the summer after state police eased restrictions on carry permits for business owners, who had frequently sought modifications to license restrictions.

Bikeways and Central Maryland transit planning, House Bill 1281

This bill would require an annual $3.8 million allocation for the state to expand its bike lane program through the 2024 fiscal year.

The measure was introduced by Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) after Maryland transportation officials proposed eliminating funding for the state’s bikeways program.

In the Senate, the bill was expanded to make changes to the Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan, including requiring regular updates to a 25-year plan for maintaining and expanding public transit and transportation options in the city of Baltimore and surrounding jurisdictions.

In a veto letter, Hogan said the Senate amendments created “unnecessary and costly bureaucratic hurdles, risks federal funding, and impedes our progress to improve transit services in the Central Maryland region.”

Hogan announced late last month that his administration will make $3.8 million available in each of the next two years for the bikeways program.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.