Hogan Vetoes Three Police Reform Bills, Override Votes Begin in Final Hours of Session

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), and Senate Pres. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) appeared together at a joint press briefing in the State House in March. On Friday, Hogan vetoed three pieces of police reform legislation, a top priority of the presiding officers for the 2021 General Assembly session. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) vetoed three of five bills from the General Assembly’s bicameral police reform package Friday evening — and about an hour after the public announcement, the override vote on a bill from Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) was underway.

“These bills would undermine the goal that I believe we share of building transparent, accountable, and effective law enforcement institutions and instead further erode police morale, community relationships, and public confidence,” Hogan said in a veto letter. “They will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety throughout our state.”

“Under these circumstances, I have no choice but to uphold my primary responsibility to keep Marylanders safe — especially those that live in vulnerable communities most impacted by violent crime — and veto these bills.”

Hogan acted quickly on the measures after the full police reform package was delivered to his office late Wednesday night.

Vetoed bills include:

  • Senate Bill 71, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), which would order police departments throughout Maryland to provide body-worn cameras for on-duty officers by 2025, create an employee assistance mental health program and implement a statewide use of force policy;
  • Senate Bill 178, sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), which would alter the Maryland Public Information Act to allow certain officer misconduct records to be available for public inspection and regulate the execution of search warrants; and
  • House Bill 670, sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), which, among other things, would repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and substitute it with a new officer disciplinary process.

During an interview on WBAL Radio’s “C4” show Thursday morning, Hogan signaled that his administration would be amenable to “reasonable reforms,” but said that they hadn’t yet had an opportunity to read what the legislature had “slapped together,” adding that while some bills in the Senate package were “really good,” the House added “poison pills.”

House Judiciary Committee Vice Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), who worked on the police reform package since the inception of the House Workgroup to Address Police Reform and Accountability in Maryland following the death of George Floyd last May, refuted the suggestion that the House had “slapped” the legislation together in a rush.

“This was painstakingly put together to protect Black and Brown citizens in our state,” Atterbeary said on the House floor Friday evening. “We didn’t slap this together like the governor said.”

Hogan will allow two bills to become law without his signature: Senate Bill 600 sponsored by Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), which will prohibit law enforcement agencies from procuring weaponized surplus military equipment and create a unit of the Attorney General’s office to investigate fatal use of force incidents, and Senate Bill 786 sponsored by Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), which would re-establish local control of the Baltimore Police Department if city residents vote in favor of a charter amendment at either the 2022 or 2024 general election.

Hogan called these bills “meaningful steps forward” that “offer promise for much needed change.”

Lawmakers who labored over the policing bills said they aren’t surprised by the vetoes, but are still disappointed.

“It is unfortunate, but expected,” Carter told Maryland Matters in a text message. “It goes against the will of the majority of Marylanders have made it clear they want police accountability and transparency. We cannot improve public safety without improving public trust, so the only way to have a safer Maryland is to … improve the institution of policing. It starts there.“

In a brief phone interview with Maryland Matters Friday evening, Atterbeary called the vetoes “an absolute slap in the face” to the work that lawmakers have done over the last 11 months.

“I think it’s shameful during the trial of [former Minneapolis police officer Derek] Chauvin who murdered George Floyd that the governor of Maryland sees fit to veto legislation to protect all Black and Brown people of the state of Maryland,” Atterbeary said.

Within two hours of Hogan’s announcement, the House chamber overrode his veto of Jones’ House Bill 670.

Two Republicans, Del. Lauren C. Arikan (Harford and Baltimore counties) and Del. Daniel L. Cox (Frederick), spoke in favor of the governor’s veto.

“He vetoed this bill because he did not believe that it was going to make our state and our citizens any safer,” said Arikan. “I agree with the governor that, while we did a lot of work on these bills, they are not ready for primetime.”

Atterbeary and Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) rose in favor of an override.

“It’s not about casting aspersions on law enforcement. See the thing about our country is that the peace and the law and order that we depend on relies on this social contract where citizens agree to submit to the authority of sworn officers,” Wilson said. “But that submission requires trust. And that trust is eroding — you cannot deny that.”

Wilson said some lawmakers were moved to act on reform legislation by the death of George Floyd. For others, it was the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers. The proliferation of police brutality videos from cell phone cameras clearly shows the seriousness of the problem, he said.

“It was a surprise at one point that police brutality existed. Now it’s a given, it’s just what do we do about it?” Wilson said. “Doing nothing is not the answer.”

The veto was overridden on a vote of 95-42.

Senators are expected to begin debate on the other vetoed bills Saturday.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said the Senate also plans to take up a veto override vote on the Juvenile Restoration Act, which Hogan vetoed earlier this week, on Saturday.

As late as Friday afternoon, Ferguson was still holding open the option that lawmakers would extend the legislative session beyond 90 days to override police reform vetoes, though that seems increasingly unnecessary.

“The package that we put forward was very thoughtful. It was complex, it addressed a number of issues, and fundamentally, it expands and enhances accountability, transparency and trust in policing. That is what our state needs,” Ferguson said. “…This was a priority from the beginning, and so we’re going to keep every option on the table to make sure that that this gets done this session.”

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Editor’s Note: This story was updated throughout the night on Friday, April 9, to include breaking news developments. Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report. 

Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.