A package of sweeping police reform measures is now law in Maryland, after a series of veto override votes in the State House on Saturday.
The votes came after a flurry of activity on police reform as the 442nd session of the General Assembly nears its end on Monday.
After months of negotiation, the General Assembly presented a bicameral police reform package to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) late Wednesday evening.
Hogan responded quickly to the reform package, vetoing three bills Friday night, and allowing two others bills to become law without his signature.
“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.”
The General Assembly acted with haste to override the governor’s vetoes before the session ends Monday, with the House overriding the veto of a sweeping bill sponsored by Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore City) within two hours after Hogan’s veto message was delivered publicly.
Both chambers overrode the remaining bills Saturday. Here’s a breakdown of the vetoes and the override votes:
Repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, House Bill 670
Sponsored by Jones, this bill, among other things, will repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights — an opaque, decades-old statute that lays out due process protections for officers during misconduct investigations — and substitute it with a new officer disciplinary process.
To sustain the veto: During the debate, Senate Republicans largely complained about how the House process destroyed their package of bipartisan bills.
Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) said that the disciplinary process that Jones’ bill lays out is complicated and destroys the uniform system that all of Maryland’s law enforcement agencies were subject to under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
“I think almost anyone in this room will struggle to go back and tell their constituents and explain exactly what this bill does,” he told the chamber. “It’s complicated for the public to know how we’re going to discipline police; it’s going to be complicated for police officers to know. But what you can take away from the system that we put in place is it’s not a uniform system.”
For the override: While Senate Republicans complained about the destruction of the chamber’s reform package, Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) defended the bill and the amendment process, insisting that it will bring much-needed change and accountability to the state’s policing system.
“These are positive changes — thousands of hours of work from the delegates, from our senators,” he said. “[This is an] excellent piece of legislation that will help Marylanders feel more protected and everyone can be served by public servants who are police officers.”
“…They’re not judge, jury and executioners,” he continued. “And why should we put up with any citizens being executed on the side of the street by police officer, like what happened in Minnesota? Unacceptable.”
“We need accountability. This bill will give us that accountability.”
The tally: The Senate voted to override on a vote of 31-16, with Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) joining Republicans. The House of Delegates voted 95-42 on Friday night to override the veto.
Requiring police body cameras, Senate Bill 71
SB71 requires that all police departments in the state require their on-duty officers to wear body cameras by 2025.
The bill also includes a statewide use of force policy, which was added by amendment in the House of Delegates. That provision would require officers to be trained in de-escalation and limit uses of force, except under imminent threat of harm to an officer or another person.
Officers that violate the use of force standard could face criminal prosecution.
The bill, which originally passed the Senate unanimously, lost Republican support in that chamber after the House amendments.
For the override: Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), the bill’s sponsor, said that Hogan’s explanation of the veto is based on concerns raised by people who are not adversely affected by what he called the “status quo.”
“The governor writes that this bill is ‘misguided’ and ‘threatens lives,’” He said. “Mr. President, the status quo is misguided and has taken and destroyed lives. The governor has made his choice, and we must now make ours.”
To sustain the veto: Del. Mike Griffith (R-Cecil and Harford), a former Marine Corps military police officer, said he was concerned that the use-of-force continuum described in the bill will slow down officers’ decision-making during dangerous situations and cost their lives.
If an officer pulls a gun on someone to compel them to show their hands but that person doesn’t have a weapon, an officer could face punishment for a show of deadly force, Griffith said. But if the officer doesn’t pull their weapon and a suspect does, they could be killed, he said.
“By the time I’m even pulling my weapon out of my holster, I’m dead. I’m dead,” he said. “Because I cannot even present deadly force as a deterrent.”
The tally: The House of Delegates voted 94-43 to override the veto. The Senate voted to override on a vote of 31-16, with Klausmeier, again, siding with Republicans.
Access to police disciplinary records, Senate Bill 178
Sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), Senate Bill 178, also known as Anton’s Law, would alter the Maryland Public Information Act to allow certain officer misconduct records to be available for public inspection. The bill is named after Anton Black, a 19-year-old who died after being in police custody on the Eastern Shore in 2018.
The bill also regulates how and when search warrants can be executed by law enforcement and includes restrictions on no-knock warrants.
For the override: Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery), who has sponsored a version of “Anton’s Law,” for several years, read the names of dozens of Marylanders who died in police custody for more than 90 seconds.
“This bill not only recognizes the humanity of a young man who still should be alive today for his daughter, continuing his education and supporting his family and himself. But this represents the work of advocates and people who have been coming time and again and sharing their trauma with each and every one of us,” Acevero said. “This bill says Black lives matter. This bill says Anton Black’s life mattered.”
To sustain the veto: House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) said the bill would allow the disclosure, under some circumstances, of unfounded claims against police officers.
“Officers who are exonerated will stand to be subject to having their records exposed. In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty,” Szeliga said.
She also said the restrictions on executing warrants unnecessarily impeded law enforcement.
The tally: The Senate voted to override on a vote of 30-17, with Klausmeier joining Republicans, once more. The House voted 91-45 in favor of an override.
The Juvenile Restoration Act, Senate Bill 494
Senate Bill 494 prohibits life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders and establishes a process by which juvenile offenders may seek reconsideration of prior sentences if they were convicted as an adult and have been imprisoned for at least 20 years.
In a veto letter, Hogan argued that the bill’s provisions would re-traumatize victims and families by requiring their participation in multiple sentence modification hearings, particularly in cases with multiple defendants. Hogan said the bill also goes beyond what other states have done after the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to sentence minors to death or mandatory life without parole sentences.
For the override: Sen. Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County), the Senate sponsor of the bill, acknowledged the progress that Hogan has made in regards to parole reform for juvenile offenders but in vetoing the Juvenile Restoration Act, Hogan “made a mistake.” West compared the policy to Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”
“Once the young man has broken society’s laws, he is to be regarded until the day he dies as a person damaged by God and not fit to live amongst his fellow citizens. But doesn’t ‘Les Miserables’ provide the answer to that proposition?” he asked. “Of course, ‘Les Miserables’ is just a novel, but I think all of us, deep down inside, believe in the possibility of redemption, believe that the least among us can overcome adversity and transform himself or herself into an honorable, law abiding citizen, who can contribute to society.”
To sustain the veto: House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said he was concerned that the sentence reconsideration hearings allowed by the bill would retraumatize victims and their families.
“I believe in second chances. I believe in forgiveness. And I have in my life been the recipient of both, and I try my best to give both. And I know that when you’re young, we make mistakes. You can make really bad, unthinkable mistakes,” Kipke said. “But I also know that there are some things that people do that are so horrible, so despicable, that they have to be met with both harsh consequences, and, in the interest of public safety and the victims, sentences must be honored to protect all the rest of us.”
The tally: The Senate voted to override on a vote of 32-15. The House voted 88-49 in favor of an override.
This bill would require government-funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages on contracts over $250,000 or when at least 25% of a project’s construction costs are from state funds; current law sets those thresholds at $500,000 and 50%.
“By applying the state’s prevailing wage law to a greater number of public works projects, this legislation will generate unintended and negative consequences for employers and workers,” Hogan wrote in a veto letter. “Legislation such as this that arbitrarily inflates cost, impedes participation, and stifles competition—all at a higher price for taxpayers—absolutely is not in the best interest of our state.”
Twenty-four states do not have prevailing wage laws; among the states that do, Maryland’s $500,000 threshold was the second-highest in the country. Multiple states impose no minimum contract amount, and others set the threshold as low as $1,000.
The Department of Legislative Services estimated that lowering the state’s threshold would apply the prevailing wage law to an additional 200 projects per year.
To sustain the veto: During the only debate on the override, on Friday night, Del. Christopher T. Adams (R-Lower Shore) said it was important to keep taxes low and regulations light in order to create a welcoming environment for businesses.
“We do that in the good times just so we can compete with our neighboring states,” Adams said. “During these unprecedented times, the rule of law should be: do no harm. Do no harm to our businesses: large businesses and small.”
He argued that the bill would hurt small, minority and women-owned contractors the most and raise prices for smaller governments.
For the override: House Economic Matters Committee Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) said Adams talked about everything but who would benefit by the prevailing wage bill: “the worker.”
“This is about helping working families,” Davis said. “This basically prevents any potential contractor from lowballing a contract to get it by underpaying their workers.”
The tally: The Senate voted 32-15 to override the veto. In the House of Delegates, the House and Senate bills were overridden by vote of 96-41 and 95-41, respectively.